Last weekend was a fairly quiet one. M and E headed out late Friday afternoon for a weekend camping trip with E’s Girl Scout group. That left me and the little one and a pretty open schedule. We filled them with a lot of extra reading – we’re on our second round of Ivy + Bean books (in a row), and she just can’t get enough of them. On Friday night, F was out like a light by 7:00, and I spent several hours working on the garage plans and elevations. Saturday was so, so cold – we headed out early for my yoga class, and then we ran a couple of errands (with a side activity in the lumber department at Lowe’s). After her last indoor soccer game of the season, we decided to venture around to some garden related shops around the area. I was looking for a hanging planter for the aforementioned toothbrush holding, and maybe we were also looking for a spot of spring at the same time. We struck out at a few places – some had closed early due to the really cold temps, but we had fun browsing around at K.Hall Designs where I didn’t find a hanging planter, but I did find this lovely vase. We also ran into one of F’s teachers there, so that made the afternoon really special.
I’ll post more about this project when it’s complete, but I wanted to write a short post about the beginning of it first. A sort of Valentine to my grandmother; a bit of a love letter to myself.
Her sewing machine has been idle for many years now, and I will admit that I’ve been reticent to open it up again. I think I was afraid of what I might find – that it would overwhelm me, or that I’d attempt to start it up again and it wouldn’t wake up. That I’d have to take it in for service and pretend like I have any clue about what I’m doing with such an amazing machine. I’ve done some minor sewing projects over the past few years, but I knew Momaw’s machine was the Cadillac. I was intimidated by it, and I let it sit for years because of this.
I’m not sure what convinced me to tackle that fear last weekend, but I did. I had empty hours ahead of me, and no reason not to just dive in. I opened the manual, and started at the beginning. Reading every step two or three times before attempting anything at hand. I completely expected some sort of snarl each point along the way, but there were none. Every piece was stored where it should have been, everything in its place, working, functional, beautiful. Only the bulb didn’t work – I ran upstairs and borrowed the lamp from E’s desk, and got to work.
Each time I turned the page in that manual, I’d catch myself holding my breath. And then I’d tackle the next step, smooth as can be. Eventually I turned off all the background noise in the room and in my head, and I set to work. I sketched out my plan, I vacuumed and mopped the floors meticulously, and then rolled out the bolts of fabric from the kitchen to the dining room. I made the first cuts around 10:30, and then I was committed. I worked until the wee hours of the morning. I couldn’t stop.
I wonder if there was a moment when my grandmother knew that she was closing up that machine for the last time. She didn’t die a sudden death, it was a slow decline that was difficult to watch. As a child, a teenager, an early adult – I can’t remember a single visit to her house when she wasn’t, at some point, in her sewing room. She always had projects going, organized stacks of materials and copious notes, written on paper scraps, tucked into the piles for safekeeping. At some point she turned off that machine for the last time. I’m not sure what her last project was, I know she had dozens of unfinished projects. She never ran out of ideas or drive. She just ran out of time with a cooperating body.
I know it was late in the night, and I was alone with my thoughts, and those two things alone can turn the ship towards nostalgia with little effort. But I felt like she was there, troubleshooting any issues before they arose, urging me forward, confident that I could study enough and figure it out. And I did.
The machine is a dream – I’ve never sewn on anything like it, anywhere. The drapes are not perfect – I’ve adjusted my original ideas many times in my head over the years, but I’ve adapted those into something I’m pretty proud of. I could have hired someone else to make them. Honestly, we could have skipped them altogether. But this idea was generated somewhere in my head around the time when she was leaving us, and it’s never left. I took a few classes, I made lists of supplies, I’ve read countless books and articles and tutorials about the process.
When I made that first row of stitches on the hem at a few minutes past midnight… it’s hard to explain how that felt. I tried to explain it to M when he returned home. The word I kept thinking of was exquisite. It wasn’t me, it was that machine. I merely offered the steady hand, which wasn’t even that steady. Exquisite made me think of this part of her obituary that I wrote –
Jo was a gifted artist, particularly with textiles, and graciously shared her numerous talents throughout her life with family, friends, and the many church homes served by Jo and George. She was exquisite in every sense of the word, and she leaves a lasting legacy of a beautiful life and a life made beautiful.
The house was quiet, but I wasn’t alone. The end product will not be perfect, but I will never forget how I felt when I pressed that pedal and laid down that first tidy row of tiny stitches.
…..Another post I wrote about my grandmother, and sewing.