From the time I was a toddler, my mother sewed my clothes. She’d spend hours down in the basement back room with its painted hospital green cement block walls, brown speckled linoleum tile floors and unfinished ceiling with its exposed wiring and floor board joists — her sewing room with its ironing board, old yellow Formica kitchen table with the “portable” green Elena sewing machine at the table’s edge where she sat pushing the knee pedal to power the stitching while sitting in an old straight backed kitchen chair with blue vinyl seat cover. She pushed and pulled pins on a little red pumpkin shaped cushion strapped around her wrist like a bracelet. A huge factory lamp holding two four foot long florescent bulbs hung from the ceiling blasting the little room with viciously bright light. Mom was in her element down in that space. And, quite frankly, she was good, very good. However, there was always too much of a good thing.
Most all of my school and play clothes were sewn by her until I escaped to college. As I remember, the only store bought clothes I owned were presents from my grandparents or outer coats, underwear and swimsuits. Oh, a two prom dresses. She even knit sweaters. As a child who survived the depression living in St. Louis, the armpit of the country as my father described it, Mom learned to believe that if you want quality, you have to produce it yourself AND it saved lots of money when there was little to be had. She could not escape those beliefs no matter how hard she tried. When we shopped downtown, I hid in the next aisle as she fingered the clothes I lusted after saying in a clear throated voice for all to hear, “This is cheap fabric and the seams! They’ll ravel in no time!” As we headed for the doors with sales ladies shaking their heads in disbelief, we’d stomp to the fabric store so she could find a pattern to substitute for the dress I had wanted. It was my job to make do and her job to do the making.
I was my mother’s daughter, dutifully learning to sew by sitting at her side from the time I was 10, soaking up technique and instruction. Over the years I got good at it, sewing suits, tailoring jackets and making dress shirts, slacks and skirts. I too learned to knit, although not very well. Instead of endearing me to the craft, I was sick of it by the time I was in my late twenties. I started buying my clothes as soon as I could afford it, vowing never again to sew. The last dress I made was a white cotton with small red roses, full length with a peter pan collar and belted bow in the back for my four year old soon to be daughter, our flower girl when I married her dad. That daughter is now in her 40’s. That’s how long it’s been since I used a sewing machine.
When I saw the yards of old but very usable canvas from the now defunct sail cover of Dolce Vento, I just couldn’t throw it away. Something inside me snapped. I became my mother. A voice in the back of my head, told me we could save some cash by having me make ten much needed hatch covers to protect the interior from the blazing summer sun. Hatch covers would be simple enough; all I had to do was follow the video instructions at sailrite.com and buy a few required items along with the hot knife for cutting sunbrella canvas so the edges would not unravel. Before I could resist or go crazy, I listened to the voice and got to work just like Mom.
A sewing machine in an apartment is a mess in the making so I joined the TechShop right next to our apartment building where I took advantage of the large tables and learned to use one of their commercial grade sewing machines. The toughest part was threading the machine and managing the foot pedal. I swear it stitched faster than the speed of light, if I wasn’t careful. The UV resistant thread and the machine did not get along well. But I persisted, broke two needles, swore at it like a sailor, and finally came to a negotiated settlement with the beast. If I was gentle with the tension and do not use reverse, I would be allowed to sew and it agreed not to speed. The work went well enough; we’ve agreed to a second project – a lee cloth.
As of tonight, I’m half way done with the hatch covers. Most difficult was getting the measurements correct, which I did after four tries. After the measuring, two days of cutting pattern pieces and two days of sewing in the draw strings, I am ready to take them to the boat for the custom fitting of the hatch cover corners. Then it will be two more days of sewing those corners.
You just never know when old skills come bubbling up from the depths of experience. Thanks Mom. I couldn’t have done it without you.