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.