Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Teach a Man to Sew and...

When I was in eighth grade ('77-'78) home-ec classes were still mandatory for girls. There was a slight shift afoot-- dare we call it progress: boys were allowed to sign up for cooking and sewing classes, too (a couple of them did) and girls could sign up for woodwork and auto shop (at least I think so-- and while I can't recall any of us doing so I'll never forget that when I signed up to lift weights after school, this I had to undertake in the boys' locker room-- where the administrators had decided the equipment should be installed). As possible proof that sewing is not a genetic trait, I -- daughter of an amazing seamstress-- sucked ass at that particular challenge. My teacher, she of the apt, Dickensian title Mrs. Haggard, probably got more frown lines during the time I was under her watch than during all her other years of teaching combined.

My wraparound skirt was a wraparound disaster. My drawstring skirt looked like a flour sack with the bottom cut out. I hated sewing and sewing hated me. As time marched on, irony would creep in, as irony has a tendency to do. Despite my loathing of fabric-related activities, I accidentally stumbled into the world of quilting. What was meant to be a simple, one-off article for the Dallas Morning News somehow morphed into a book about quilting. And then another. And then, yes, a third-- this last a massive tome tracing the history of quilts through all of time and eternity. That one about did me in. Along the way, though I never mastered the art of sewing, I did stick a cautious toe into the waters. I was driven by two things. Thing one: I had a notion (or at least told myself) that if I was going to write about quilts, I should at least master the basics (namely not running a needle through my finger). Thing two: My friend Sarah, who got this whole quilt ball rolling, started taking me to the International Quilt Festival in Houston.

IQF is where each fall nearly 60,000 rabid quilters gather to oooh and ahh over 2,000 award winning quilts. They also shop until they drop. Even if the mere thought of sewing causes you to break out in hives, visiting IQF fosters a very When-in-Rome sort of response. And so, year after year, I'd come out of my trance on the drive home to realize that, even though I couldn't really sew, I had just purchased a bunch of fabric.

Over the years, I actually have cranked out a few incredibly sloppy quilts. (Which reminds me-- I also recorded 23 hours of film footage for a documentary I will likely never finish. Among those I interviewed was a blind quilter I met in Waco who told me that she had actually heard someone standing near her booth criticizing the unevenness of her stitches. In quilt circles, we refer to these assholes as the Quilt Police.) One of my favorite sloppy quilts, still not done, is a wolf-themed quilt I made for Henry, he being one of those kids that loves the whole ironic-wolf-t-shirt thing. I enhanced this quilt with googly eyes and also some doll eyes to maximize the creepy effect. Really, one of my masterpieces.

So last year at IQF, even though I never really got over my sewing aversion, I once again fell into the trance. I noticed, at the end of my tour of the convention center, that I seamed to be clutching an antique Singer Featherweight sewing machine. Oops, I did it again-- made another big sewing related purchase. In fact, this was hardly the first antique machine I'd bought. Because-- oh, still more irony!-- over the past several years I have also operated what is known as Fashion Camp. As at least four of the six of you know, my fashion sense leaves me looking like a cross between a '70s lesbian and Kurt Cobain. But never mind my lack of seamstress skills or fashion sense-- I know how to have FUN and I also know how to hire hip young seamstresses. Thus oftentimes when I spotted an old machine in a thrift store, I couldn't resist-- "We'll use it for camp!" I reasoned, even though each and every machine I lugged to camp netted me not-even-thinly-veiled eye rolls from my assistants.

But the Singer Featherweight-- oh, she is a different beast. She is magnificent. A beauty to behold. Runs like a dream. Doesn't have any fancy settings. You got forward and backward. That's it. Even I find it hard to fuck up on a machine like this (bear in mind we all define "fuck up" differently and I've heard more than a few quilt guild members, upon seeing the show-and-tell I offer after a lecture, burst out laughing at my seams).

Well today I was thinking maybe it's time to finally knock out this current quilt project, the one that's been waiting for about two years for me to finish. This plan was derailed by my son, but that turned out to be a very wonderful thing. Because Henry, who is an amazing artist, recently finished a giant silkscreen patch featuring Audrey Hepburn and a bunch of skulls. He asked if I would sew it onto the back of a denim coat for him. I asked him if he wanted me to teach him how to do it himself.

Give a man a fish, I told him, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.

I continued: Teach a man to sew...

Henry finished: And he'll get a girlfriend!

My boy! So smart!

So he ironed the patch out flat, then I showed him how to pin it on the back of the jacket which, I would like to note, was not the sort of denim jacket I envisioned when he described it. Oh no. He got this super tacky hooded number more often seen on middle-aged women from New Jersey. (I think this is tangentially related to wolf-t-shirt-irony.) Before it was over, we each bled a decent amount, and Henry suggested he might invent pins with little caps for the novice pinners among us. I like this idea-- those little bitches poke a mean and deep hole.

It didn't take anytime at all-- post-pinning that is-- for Henry to get the hang of the machine. Presser foot up. Needle down. Presser foot down. And hit the gas! (I recommended he treat the machine pedal as if he were driving through a school zone. He took this as an opportunity to remind me of the time I called him to tell him that I was driving in a school zone, going the limit-- he himself had just gotten a ticket for driving 25 in a school zone. He cheerfully told me that it was great I was driving 20, but did I realize there was a TWO HUNDRED DOLLAR FINE for talking on my cell phone in that zone?) There was one point when the machine was making a bad noise and he asked for help and we noted, together, that he had sewn through the patch, the jacket back AND the sleeve. I congratulated him, telling him this is how we learn! And then we had a lesson on stitch ripping.

So you can see, it was a most cheerful day. I got so excited I proposed that we open an Etsy shop. I even gave him an idea for our first project. He, being so darling, and wanting to hasten his escape, nodded earnestly.

1 comment:

Emily said...

Love the jacket! Love the post! Love the handsome boy sewing! Thanks for sharing this.