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Wednesday, 26 September 2012

A Stitch in Time.

My mother was educated by nuns. There is a lot than can be said for such an education, not all of it positive, but one thing is for sure: the woman can sew. Nuns, apparently, do not stand for sloppy stitching.

I, on the other hand, can not sew. I mean, I can replace a button, and I can mend a spilt seam, something I have had to learn thanks to my penchant for buying slightly cheap clothes. But I cannot knit so much as a scarf. I have never embroidered a handkerchief, taken up a pair of trousers or even customised a t-shirt. Well, there was that one unfortunate incident with some tie-dying, but perhaps we had better brush over that. The follies of youth and all that jazz.

Some people never learn...
The thing is, I have had an accomplished seamstress at my disposal for my whole life. I have worn countless outfits lovingly designed, fitted and executed by my mother. I have had a golden dressing-up cloak made out of some curtains, a voluminous petticoat, a skirt so lavishly and wonderfully beaded that everyone asked me where I bought it. I have had mini skirts, maxi skirts, long dresses, short dresses, jumpers and trousers. I have had pincushions, handbags, pillow cases, cushion covers and scrunchies. Soooo many scrunchies. But at thirty years of age I had never made any of those things myself. I had never sat at a sewing machine and felt anything other than abject terror and the absolute belief that in this particular battle between woman and machine, I was destined to lose.

What is this? What does is mean? What the heck are feed dogs??

When I was looking for suggestions for this year of new challenges, several people proposed making an item of clothing, but only my mum was clever enough to add a caveat. The challenge would only be complete, in her eyes, if I WORE what I made, outside the house, at least three times. She knows me well enough, you see, to know that if I thought I could get away with not wearing whatever I made, I would be in danger of not putting the required amount of love into the project. My mother believes that love is the key ingredient of all things, most especially cooking and sewing. With every year that passes I become more convinced that she is right.

An early example of an outfit made with love.

So, on my latest trip to my mum's place in Spain, I travelled armed with some fabric that I liked and an idea for a skirt. I armed myself too, with a big dollop of patience. It was perfectly possible that the sewing machine was going to try and take this opportunity to vanquish me once and for all. Tears of frustration were likely to well up several times, and that teeny tiny nun that sits somewhere in mum's psyche might just make an unwelcome appearance. She's always watching, you know...

Mum later confessed that the first wave of fear and doubt washed over her when I asked if we seriously intended to attempt to make the skirt in one day. In my mind this was a week-long undertaking, in mum's it was going to be done, dusted, and hanging off my hips in four hours. As usual, mum was right.

As regards providing a decent story, I'm sorry to say that there was remarkably little drama involved in the whole thing. At one stage my zig-zagging became wildly erratic and mum was forced to ask me what on earth I was thinking, but that's the closest we came to any kind of disaster. This is what I had to do: (Sequences shortened...)

1. Make a pattern.

2. Cut the fabric. Gulp. Mum says: "Use the whole length of the scissors." I find it impossible to cut with anything but the tips.

3. Pin stuff. 
Pin stuff to other stuff. 
Then unpin it. 
Then pin it again. 
Turns out I have relatively elite pinning skills.

4. Sew various things together and then iron them. Ironing, it transpires, is a fundamental part of the process.
Ironing one half of the waistband.

5. Listen to and follow instructions. I'm good at that,  I've had plenty of practice.

6. Sew elastic into the waistband.

Probably more concentration than I have ever previously dedicated to a piece of elastic.
 7. After sewing a zig-zag stitch down the sides of the waistband, thread some thin elastic through it to create a ruching effect. That's the technical term for it. Ruching.
Please note, dog featured is NOT a feed dog.
8. Baste the hem of the skirt. Having marked the desired width of the hem with an iron, I roughly stitched all the way round to hold the hem in place when finishing it off with the sewing machine. Amongst mum's many pearls of wisdom was this one: you can baste a hem without ironing it, if necessary. But you must never attempt to sew a hem without basting it first. I wonder if this is a metaphor for life. Probably not.

Basting. It's different to what you do to a chicken, apparently.
The other kind of basting. The more delicious kind.
 9. Sew a hem on the sewing machine. Turns out this is difficult. Top tip: Don't stare at the needle. Look at where you want to go instead. My driving instructor used to tell me the same thing about large, oncoming trucks.

It's really easy to concentrate with someone STARING OVER YOUR SHOULDER. Not.
10. Finally: Iron it, hang it up, and look darned pleased with yourself.

The finished product!!
There you have it. It really wasn't that difficult. It certainly wasn't as impossible as I'd made myself believe. It required being a little bit brave when it came to pushing down the foot pedal. It required concentration. It required remembering to breathe. But what it required above all things was the will to do it, and to do it properly. Such is the lesson that keeps coming back to me on this journey. Undertake all that you do with purpose. Undertake all that you do with love.

Make it with love. Always.
That would have been a nice note to end on, except that I KNOW you haven't forgotten that my mum had also insisted on me wearing the skirt in public. She'd specified three times, but I have to say that between it being extremely comfortable, and also really quite pretty, and the fact that I was secretly a little bit proud of myself, I ended up wearing it about five days in a row. Actually, she had to ask me to stop wearing it so that the other people in her building wouldn't start thinking it was a uniform of some kind. Here's the skirt on parade:

Outing one: The skirt gets ready to go for Chinese. Spring Rolls, Crispy Chilli Beef and a Lemon Fanta, thank you very much.

Outing two: The skirt goes dolphin watching in Gibraltar. Hello dolphins!!
Why would you NOT want to see a picture of dolphins? Dolphins are amazing, even if they can't sew.  Fact.

Outing three: The skirt messes around in the park.
I will never be the seamstress that my mother is. I strongly suspect that I will never knit anything, let alone a jumper as truly awesome as the fluffy white clouds further up this blog piece. I am unlikely to ever embroider anything for fun. But I will probably use a sewing machine again. In fact, I quite fancy a long version of the skirt, and could even be said to be quite keen on making it myself. Who knows, I might even make something, one day, that someone else wants to wear. That would be a fine thing, I think.

Eight down, twenty-two to go...