I’m no seamstress.  To me, darning a sock is sewing up the part where my toe has poked through.  A button replacement equals minor but successful surgery.  My maternal grandmother, who at 94 no longer sews, once made most of my clothes for me, and they were so well-done that they looked like the store-bought ones my elementary school pals wore.  On the couch now is an afghan my paternal grannie made.  Inspired by both, I taught myself to cross-stitch, although the back of my piece was never neat and knot-free like it was supposed to be.  However, I received a certain satisfaction from stitching – it was a type of concentrated meditation.  Cross-stitching allowed me to leave behind the angst of teenager-hood, to focus on little “x’s” that made a pretty pattern.  One Christmas I gave each family member a cross-stitched ornament.  I think I was more pleased than they were, as there was something very gratifying about giving my own art.

While I failed miserably at making actual clothes (I tended to set the pattern up all wrong, never understanding when the fabric or onion-skin pattern should be face-up or down), I found two years ago that knitting soothed my frazzled, working/writing mom nerves.  Again, an air of tranquility came over me.  Never mind that I was using a beginner’s knitting set bought at the dollar store – it is the cheapest therapy I’ve found yet, and I have about 20 half-decent scarves balled up in a basket in my room and sometimes thrown around my neck in cooler weather.

I’m currently reading Middlemarch by George Eliot, and a few nights ago stumbled upon IFC’s showing of Mrs Dalloway.  In both the novels and the film, the women sew.  One sees Mrs Dalloway working on a tapestry in her lovely sitting room, and Dorothea and Celia, the sisters in Middlemarch, often have discussions over their needlework.  Even though I was not expected to sew (as most women once were), I chose to take up this art, which for many generations was one of the few artistic expressions acceptable for females. It was over the quilting frame, in the thick of knitting circles, and over tapestries (depending on time, place, and economic status) that women bonded.  Sewing/needlework was a creative outlet, a form of art and expression for women when other venues were slim.

So why does this interest me?  Well, the cultural connection to sewing is one we inherit as females.  While culture has changed – we have many more options on how to express ourselves and no longer have to have a pen name, such as George Eliot, to be taken seriously – we still have ways and traditions passed down of which we may not consciously be aware.  For me, sewing fits into this category, even though I do not do it well, nor do I do it often.   But everyone should know how to thread a needle.  From sewing up a human body to replacing a button or patch, sewing is a skill almost as basic and as necessary as building a fire or changing gears while using a clutch.  Recognizing that thread and yarn and fabric were once the stuff of gathering places for women  gives my sewing endeavors a sense of reverence and respect.  I’m more apt to tackle them,  and I do so with a mindfulness that connects me to my past –from women in my own family to those whom I’ve never met.  I feel their presence and am grateful for it.


6 thoughts on “Stitchery

  1. I was never successful with my sewing endeavors. Although I thought I followed the pattern exactly, I made the garment too short, and that happened two times with the same pattern. I figured that was a sign for me to try something else.


  2. Stitching means something to me. I was born with a cleft palate that needed extensive surgery. Thousands of children are born everyday with cleft palates. I was lucky. My Mother made sure I got the surgeries. I can still feel those stitches in my upper lip. I recall the swollenness and the feeling of having the stitches cut and pulled out after my lip healed. A good Dr. Burton took me on and did three major surgeries on me. My only lack is having a broad s sound with words that end with an s. I was afraid that my children might be born with a cleft palate. It did not happen. I admire their mouth, fully formed and whole. Having a stiff upper lip has a definite meaning for me.


    • i have never noticed your lack of a broad sound with s-ending words. I do recall those photos of you as a boy — your arms wrapped straight out in cardboard so you wouldn’t touch the stitches! amazing doctor you had, and amazing mom for making sure you got the surgeries! Yes, “stiff upper lip” does have more meaning for you, I’m sure!


  3. How interesting! I appreciate John’s comments. I also laugh at Glenda’s comments because they remind me of a pair of shorts I tried to sew a few years back from a pattern. They turned out looking like a cartooned cowboy just getting off his horse. I laugh heartily everytime I think of it because my Rob said of those shorts, “They look they’d fit a chair.”
    I did sew basic A-line dresses for my girls, have enjoyed simple cross-stitch, and can totally relax with my feet up knitting a scarf.
    I don’t want these arts to die. I think the creativity, and synapse connections are worthwhile for women, and a few men have discovered them too.


  4. You do seem to lock onto common experience! Myself tempted to stitchery only three times in my life – once in college when everyone else was knitting and I had to prove I could do it too, once as a sort of therapy when I hooked a small rug, and once when I was working part-time at Michael’s and bought a cross-stitch Christmas stocking kit. Maybe all this was also in homage to my dear mother who found much solace in needlework of all kinds, a woman of her time with few other outlets. (I recognize after saying this that I have given her short-shrift. Actually, to give her her due, she was a great cook, read often, loved crossword puzzles, engaged in church activities, played the piano in addition to working as a teacher, legal secretary, and county clerk’s assistant.
    Sorry, mama, I owe you much more for your example of working mother and
    creative artist – a real struggle “in your time”.)


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