Today I’ve set aside time to do some sewing, one of my favorite pastimes. I didn’t learn to sew until I was in my mid-thirties. It began with a friend, a noted teddy bear artist, who needed someone with a creative bent to design and sew clothes for her creations. With no experience to speak of, I armed myself with a Simplicity Learn to Sew manual and from the pages there, taught myself to set the wee sleeves, make darts, and attach collars for sailors, ballerinas, soldiers, and countless other characters of the small and decidedly furry set.
Up until that point sewing was, for me at least, something other people did well. During my pre-teen and teen years I was a latchkey kid. My mother worked long hours and often didn’t arrive home from work until just before it was time to start dinner. Consequently, there wasn’t much spare time in a day for her to teach me to cook or use a sewing machine, things girls were expected to learn in those days.
This did not become an issue until I entered the eighth grade. At the time Home Economics was a required course. The course was broken up into two sections, as I remember, cooking and sewing. Cooking came first, and to my mind, would probably prove the easiest. Not so fast, Sherlock. After some classroom instruction, our first challenge was to prepare breakfast for the teachers. My team leader, observing my obvious lack of knowledge in the workings of a kitchen, tasked me with making cinnamon toast. After reading the recipe, it boiled down basically to four ingredients, bread, butter, cinnamon and sugar. A myopic orangutan could have pulled it off. To my credit the dry goods were all stored in similar plastic containers, but to be honest they were well-marked. No matter how you shake it, no pun intended, SALT does not spell sugar, and salt and cinnamon do not cinnamon toast make. Cue monkey.
Although certainly not excelling, I managed to complete the remainder of the cooking portion without having to change my name and move to another city. Next came sewing. In the beginning they introduced us to the workings of the machine itself; threading a bobbin, setting the tension, etc. After we had grasped the basics, our measurements were taken. That first weekend we were to choose a pattern and material at the fabric store and bring the items to class the following Monday. In order to get a grade for this part of the course you had to wear your completed garment to school. Seriously? Even if by some miracle I could produce a garment, odds were it was going to be a total abomination. Wasn’t it enough that we were hormone driven, self-conscious, pre-teens plagued with body image issues and skin eruptions, did we have to commit social suicide?
Knowing nothing in the world about how to pick out material, my mother and I entered a fabric store on our virgin visit. Bolts of fabric in every imaginable color and type were piled on shelves and display racks. They were tagged with exotic sounding names like chambray, chenille, and taffeta, none of which I’d ever heard of. Being clueless, I picked out a material that I was unaware had some elasticity to it. As you can imagine, even if you’ve never sewn a stitch, elasticity would indicate stretching characteristics. An a-line skirt pictured on the front of a pattern marked “easy”, was added to the basket and we were done.
I cut out the pattern at home. In school we took turns at the limited machines. It was as though I’d never used my fingers before. Actually with my history of catastrophes, I feel fortunate that I didn’t simply stitch them together. Struggling with attaching the waistband, I muddled through somehow, but the zipper totally escaped me. I put it in and tore it out so many times the fabric became really stretched and puckered in that area. By the time I had finished it, or at least it was attached to the skirt, it was so out of shape you didn’t notice that I was.
We were instructed to take our finished products home, press them, and wear them the following Friday for our grade. I chose a white blouse to go with the red and white checked skirt. The zipper got stuck half way up, but between my mother and I tugging at it (stretch, stretch) we managed to manipulate it to the top. So stretched now, the material rolled up and down along the side of the zipper like a slithering snake and the waistband puckered, and in places stitching showed through. I thought of wearing a jacket, or better yet a pair of coveralls or a bee keepers suit, but it was the middle of June.
Unwilling to step foot out of the car, in the end I had no choice as my mother had to go to work. I held my books in front of me hoping to pass unnoticed. The hem was longer on one side then the other, so I kept tugging at the waistband to even it out. Awful, I just can’t tell you. As I write this I can feel the blush returning to my cheeks.
Home economics was the class right after lunch for me. I sat with my friends at lunch and chose uncharacteristically not to go out on the playground. Walking down the hall towards the classroom, the entire garment just give up the fight and released around the waistline. Standing in the hall in my slip, I wrapped the fabric around me and dashed into the closest door marked “girls”. No way was that zipper ever going back up again. A hall monitor checking the rest rooms found me. In total disgrace the staff borrowed a sweater from the lost and found box and covered me. Once the classes reconvened, I was taken to the home economics room where the teacher sewed me into my skirt, lest I get arrested for indecent exposure on the way home. She never looked at me just sewed and made grunting noises with her throat. Maybe she was remembering the cinnamon toast.
When I think that I ended up later in life creating a business around sewing fabric together it makes me smile. Along with so many other things, it’s becoming somewhat of a lost art. Looking back, I think I’ve hit the comeback trail more times than Brett Favre, but I’m always willing to try something new. A local kitchen store has asked me to show some of my aprons and fabric art. This is an example of a tote I just finished.
1 lb. ground chuck
1 large onion, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium head of cabbage, finely shredded
1 14 1/2 oz. can petite diced tomatoes
1 14 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with jalapeno peppers
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
3 cups water
1 1/2 Tbsp. freshly chopped parsley
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. sugar
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
Brown beef in large deep saucepan. Drain fat and return to pan. Add chopped onion to meat and simmer for 5 mins. until onions are translucent. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 3 mins.
Add tomatoes and tomato paste. Mash tomatoes with potato masher to break up. Add water, parsley, seasonings, and sugar. Bring to boil over medium heat and simmer for 5 mins.
Add 1/2 of the shredded cabbage to mixture. Cover and simmer for 5 mins. until slightly wilted. Add remaining cabbage and mix well. Reduce heat to low and simmer covered for 90 mins. stirring occasionally. If mixture becomes too thick add a little more water. Adjust seasoning as desired.
Note: This is one recipe I like even better the following day when the flavors have married.