Monday, June 25, 2012

The Fabric of Our Lives

One of a series of occasional essays by Elaine L. Orr

My father was the sewer in our family.  It was not a common role for a man in the nineteen-fifties and sixties, but he was a natural.  For one thing, he was a sales manager at the local Singer Sewing Machine store for many years following World War II, so he pretty much had to learn.  And my mother could not sew more than a button. 

She sent me to a sewing class the summer after seventh grade.  I was far from the star pupil.  Our first project was an apron, just the bottom half.  Mine looked fine on the front, but when you turned it over there were lots of extra folds and tucks.  The family's 1946 Singer machine won every battle.

Dad enjoyed making things, whether with fabric or wood.  He reupholstered several chairs--we won't talk about the fabric he chose--and built everything from a rabbit hutch to an outdoor shed to a basement family room. 

Two things held him back from being a good sewer.  First, he was color blind.  The combinations he chose might have delighted Andy Warhol, but they embarrassed his children.  Second, he was incurably thrifty, wanting to use every piece of fabric or inch of thread.  He never understood why his sons did not want to wear blue jeans that had been patched with old pieces of a worn flannel shirt.  He did know better than to even try to sew for his daughters.

His two daughters have very different takes on the issue.  I did learn, and can do a respectable job at simple curtains or a vest.  I have no intention of making clothes again.  My sister has gone mother's route.  I remember a pair of pants she tried to hem when she was pregnant with her youngest daughter.  The woman who can compute the interest on a 30-year versus 20 year-mortgage almost in her head had created an impossible mix of knotted threads and tangled lines.  But I miscalculate my check book at least once a year, and she never does.

I don't see any sewers in the next generation.  I hope that one of my nieces or nephews decides to learn more than what is taught in consumer economics (what my friends and I called Home Ec), but I'm not very hopeful. After all, it's the 21st century.  Why mend when some designers actually sell paper clothes?  I wonder how they would respond to that old Singer?

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