Sunday, August 24, 2008

Connecting Threads

So I've been learning to sew lately. That's one of my very first projects above -- the ubiquitous tomato pincushion. It's been such an interesting process. I grew up in the 80s, with a high-powered corporate attorney mother. She is a brilliant, talented lawyer, but she certainly didn't sew. And while one of my grandmothers was actually quite an accomplished craftster, we weren't especially close, so I never learned any of this from her. I wish now that I HAD asked her to teach me to sew, knit, crochet, etc when she was still alive. I think it would have been a wonderful way to get to know her better. But, alas, I wasn't all that interested in this sort of thing until recently.

So, at the start of this process, I could not have been more of a beginner. I could sort of sew a button on a shirt, but I'd never actually touched a sewing machine before. I started by taking this class called "Crash Course Sewing" at a local sewing shop, StitchCraft. It was a 2-hour course on the basics of using a sewing machine, and I cannot recommend it enough. Nicole, the owner of the store, is a fantastic teacher! She made it all SO easy and non-intimidating, even for an utter newbie like me. After I took the class, I immediately went out and trolled ebay for a sewing machine. Then, last weekend, I took a second course with Nicole, on making a summer blouse. I used this pattern, by Mahnee Titus and this was my result:

(Please ignore the off-center buttons, I need to pull them off and reattach them. Or add a second set parallel to them. I haven't decided which yet. Since they're purely decorative and don't actually have any fastening function, either is a possibility)

And here I am wearing the shirt. (Sorry for the out-of focus picture -- my camera would NOT cooperate). But, do you see? It FITS! And for any of you who actually know me you can see that it is totally, as my friend Lisa would say, a Chris shirt. I even wore it to work on Thursday!

I was very glad to have someone walk me through the process. Nicole gave me lots of hints about working with patterns, cutting fabric, etc. that were SO helpful in getting around some of the things I had struggled with with my very first project -- a dust cover for my sewing machine.

So, anyway, I was laid up all weekend with this crazy summer death cold (In August! WTF?!?) Here is what I spent most of yesterday and today making:

Isn't it SO cute!? It's the Birdie Sling from Amy Butler, and it is a ginormous bag. Much bigger than I usually carry, actually, but it was so cute I couldn't resist. And I'm glad I made it. It can fit books and a water bottle and a sweater and all kinds of stuff all at once. And it's made of quilting cotton with a layer of fusible interfacing to give it a little more strength, so it's pretty light-weight. It turned out so well that I'm actually planning on making several of them to give as Christmas presents. So, uh, if you're a girl who is likely to be on my Christmas list, pretend you never read this. Uh yeah.

For any of you who are interested in the details, the main fabric here is from Amy Butler's Midwest Modern Line, and the polka-dotted fabric for the handles is from Mary Englebreit's line of quilting fabrics. You can't see it in this picture, but the bag is lined in pale yellow and has two big pockets. The pattern had a lot of steps, but was quite easy to make, actually. I only had to Google one thing -- how to make gussets (The folds that square up the bottom of the bag a bit so it sits flat). And I'm getting better at using my machine, too -- I also only had to "unsew" and redo a couple of seams that I messed up. I am just thrilled at how this turned out! It's completely made me want to run out and buy more patterns and make more and more and more cool things . . . I think this hobby could get out of control!

But anyway, the thing I wanted to say is that in this weird way learning to sew has made me feel this closeness with my grandmother that I never really felt while she was still alive. She and my grandfather, my dad's parents, were typical midwest farm types -- stoic, practical, not especially warm. Wonderful people, but I always felt sort of . . . distant from them, especially in contrast to my mother's side of the family -- effusive, raucous italians. When my grandmother died a few years ago, I saved some of her old sewing and craft materials. Something about them just called out to me. And so I sewed this purse using my grandmother's measuring tape, seam ripper, straight pins and I felt, I dunno, almost like she was there with me. My grandmother stored her sewing pins in a small plastic compact that was once filled with face powder. Every time I open it, her scent wafts up to me, bringing back memories of her, wearing a sweatshirt she had made herself, bringing us jars of cherries preserved from her own back yard. Her working at one of her many looms, making a colorful rag rug. The green velveteen stuffed frog she sewed for me before I was ever born, which is in so many of the earliest pictures of me in this world. I wish I would have asked her to teach me to sew when she was still alive, but at least as I'm learning now, I feel like there is a little bit of her here with me, anyway.

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