The unintended life lessons my mother taught me through sewing

Spring has finally met us like the creeping tendrils of growth that it supplies —slow and steady. It’s been here quite some time now yet you don’t notice it right away until the new green catches your eye in passing. Its a loud sort of green just short of yelling at you. Its not easy to ignore once you’ve seen it.

With the warmer weather it gets harder for most to stay motivated. Yet, for me, I find the fresh air of the nascent season to be a great motivator. It is full of possibilities and clears out the self doubt that starts to build up in layers within me. The windows of my one-room studio bare themselves open like an anticipated embrace and I let the sounds of the world refill my winter-shut apartment. As expected, my project list has grown two fold. I am just about to add four new stuffed animals to my Etsy store to herald spring’s arrival and yet I feel there is more I ought to be doing.

 The insistent need to accomplish at least one thing a day is something I inherited from my father. Like him, I rile against the closing hour. Even as the days get longer there never seems to be enough time, to read, to write, to draw, to think, to learn something new. Its easy to forget the peace of taking things slowly when you get stuck in this deadline-driven mindset.

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My sewing machine has been a source of comfort lately in that regard. The steady hum, the chance to let my mind run its course through the events of the day — it is a means to work and relax. I am a firm believer that everyone should have a proper working knowledge of a sewing machine. It should not be stigmatized as a woman’s task. Sewing is valuable. Not only has it been a practical tool for me but it also has shown me a deeper appreciation and satisfaction in living a quiet life.

In the twenty odd years of growing up beneath my parents roof the dining room only became a formal dining area two times a year at the holidays. For the rest of its existence it was in flux as a crafter’s haven. The lanky ironing board wobbling in stark contrast beneath an oil painting of pink roses. Life within my parent’s walls was messy but always full of life and creativity. In the middle of all the chaos of five children outgrowing this and changing that sat my mother and her sewing machine: fixing holes in torn jeans from working hard outside, shortening hems for the perfect homecoming dresses, sewing handmade gifts for birthdays, and making blankets to cuddle up together under during the winter.

Senior year homecoming. My mom made the dress.

It was my mother who first taught me how to sew. First cross stitching then beneath the needle in the machine. When I had an idea of what project I wanted to make the two of us would go to Joann’s on a day the boys of the family were busy checking out the pawn shops and she and I would weave back and forth through the aisles of color together like the threaded needles we would work with. I was always the one leading. There were times I would spend at least twenty minutes debating the blues in the chiffon before abandoning my indecision and settling on a new fabric all together. Not once can I recall hearing irritation in her voice as she helped me figure out measurements. Though it must have tried her patience. I’m sure it must have. But my mother knew how important it was to get it just right. To see the work of your hands become something exciting and beautiful. For moments like that she knew she had to let me decide in my own time. It was my own creation to bring to life. It was something I must be proud of. In the early years of my sewing career I went through my fair share of hand sewn fleece print pajama pants. And yes, I was sure as hell proud of them.

As the temperamental thirteen year old that I was there were many times my interest in a project faded or my frustration got the better part of me. Half sewn seams lay gaping back up at me like the cracks in the pavement of our driveway that I would endlessly scooter up and down.  When it seemed those projects had lost all hope my mother would always be there patiently picking up where I left off and sewing until it was complete. Never scolding, never questioning. All that time I just thought it was about putting together a nice dress to wear during the summer but in truth my mother’s encouragement of sewing was less about constructing a garment and more about constructing a purposeful life.

So much of my mother’s life is echoed in that art of sewing. Fabric, she once taught me, cannot run through a machine on its own. A gentle hand must be there to guide it. If you push the fabric through it risks puckering and ruing the grain. You must also be well aware of the material you choose to sew with because different types of fabric require different amounts of attention and time. All must pass with an even pace.

For my siblings and I, my mother has always been that gentle hand, walking along side each and every one of us through the natural joys and pains of growing up — heartaches, first car excitements, anxieties about school, career dreams. With twelve years between the oldest and youngest child and five of us to contend with you can imagine our personalities ranged across the spectrum. There was the jokester, the introvert, the nurturer, the adventure-seeker, and the willful one. But that was no concern to her. Whether she was conscious of it or not, my mother fostered each with an individual care like every satin, polyester, and wool that ever went under her needle. And because of her constant assurance we each were all able to discover what it was that defined us, who we would become as adults, by her simply being there during moments of insecurity and moments of joy.

Families are not always neat. They aren’t meant to be. They are full of opinions that don’t always agree. High flung emotions. Bickering. Moments that make it difficult to forgive. Not for my mother. I very much admire the quiet fortitude she holds. She deals with so much yet never asks for a thing. Whatever life gives us my mother is and always has been the unassuming strength that holds us together. The one simple unseen thread that binds it all and keeps us close like a well-tailored jacket. I have only ever seen my mom cry once in recent years but even then it was nearly undetectable. I guess when you live a life raising five children you learn to put your own emotions aside to be a steadier hand for littles to hold and a sturdier shoulder for young adults to lean on.

So when I look back at the times my mother helped me with a sewing project I realize now that there was more to it all. When she was advising me on what fabric was right for a specific garment she was also teaching me the value of compromise and a need for open-mindedness. And she wasn’t just showing me how to lay out my patterns on the fabric she was giving me a better understanding of prudence and the value of being resourceful.

The more I sew my stuffed animals and sit before my own sewing machine the more I think about my mom and how her life continues to exemplify the grace of living quietly and working with your hands. Her work is never done and yet she tirelessly pursues it with her heart, weaving in lessons about life and love through her dedication.  It’s not about deadlines or quantity or checking something off the list. It is about what you give to this world and how you give it. I am forever grateful to my mother for introducing me to sewing but more importantly to sharing with me the little modest life lessons that a craft can teach. It is my hope that with every sewn critter I make I continue to enjoy the process and succeed in sharing with others what I have learned in life through the quiet work of my hands.

Thank you beautiful bloggers reading this and who practice writing on a daily basis. I love to read your stories and how little things inspire your day-to-day life. I hope to take a page from your book and write more often. Even if it is just short few sentence sentiments. And now I must ask:

What craft(s) do you pursue? And what about life have you learned from it (them)?



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