Sunday, November 30, 2014


Dear U,

Thanks for this lovely message. Wow! A sewing machine! And you probably know how to use it, too. I admire that.

I went through a brief but intense period of sewing garments for myself and others. After putting so much into them, of course I have kept them all. But since I am instruction-challenged, it was one of my more masochistic activities. Even so, it was fun to look through all the pattern books and fantasize.

In my excitement about color and texture, I have a long history of collecting fabric. My mom's mother was a Russian furrier who could make anything without the need for a pattern. I really admire that. Jim's grandpa was a tailor, aka The Clothes Doctor, and Jim's mom learned from him when he lived with them towards the end of his life.

It's interesting to see how popular needle arts like knitting have become in Yale's stressed academic community. As an adolescent, I actually took up knitting as a stress reliever, which helped. A friend of my mom's used to watch me nervously pumping my crossed leg a mile a minute, and predicted that knitting would put a stop to it, because "who could knit while swinging her leg that" ?

It turns out that I could--and did--but even so, I felt more relaxed and better balanced with hands AND legs in motion. Not to mention all the beautiful mohair cardigans I turned out. Three of my 55-year-old creations outlived the dear now deceased aunts for whom I made them. My own sweater and that of my 90-year-old mom are still going strong, whereas her insightful friend who taught me to knit died just last year.

I wish I had gotten to tell her about the longevity of those sweaters that had only cost about four dollars and a whole lot of leg shaking to make. We had the good luck to live near a mohair factory (Montgomery Mills is STILL in business!), and in addition to the generous discounts, I still recall the magic of those gorgeously-colored balls of fluff lying in the box, en route to becoming a warm, becoming sweater. It was hard to choose a color. Mine ended up a yellowish gold that matched my hair. Mom wanted white to go with everything. The others were the richest red and royal blue.

And then there was my Seattle Yemenite embroidery phase. At first, I would come home from every class in tears when my empathetic husband would cheerfully ask, "how did it go?" This was after spending hours on a postage-stamp sized collection of sampler stitches that would never have won me a husband. As the teacher explained, a Yemenite girl's marriageability depended on the quality of her embroidery sampler. My husband who loves reading instructions and who can follow three-dimensional diagrams said, "Don't worry. We will get you a book and figure it out." He was right, and I still treasure my hard-won Yemenite embroidery sampler and the jean patches we made in the class.

I finally got the hang of it. Once I did, I made this for myself  and the red one for my husband, and we actually wore these garments! Now they are a special feature of my office decor.

I still like hand sewing, which feels soothing and useful. In my family we have always mended socks. Maybe all girls whose parents lived through The Depression did. I still have my mother's beautiful wooden darning egg. In our current throwaway culture, however, such objects seem like quaint relics.

Looks good from any angle, no? (But there is something a bit funereal about this last one)

Maybe my 19-month-old granddaughter or her imminent baby sister will carry the darning egg and my mohair sweater into the next generation? And if they need a precious old wooden washboard that has enjoyed a long, useful life and is nowhere near ready to give up the ghost, I know just where to find one.

I am happy to see that the Columbus Washboard Company, established in 1895, is still making this great product. But mine is in no danger of wearing out. This baby was built to last!

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