Grits and Purls

Spinning yarns about the grit of life

IMGP2077I reach for the seam ripper and think immediately of my mother. She taught me to sew, but patience, even at my mother’s knee, has never been a virtue of mine. I sigh and rip the seam open—the seam that should not have been sewn–and wish that Mom was here to do it for me, like she used to.

Now, I am the Mom making my daughter’s Halloween costume. I designed the simple pattern myself, but in my zeal to complete the project, I didn’t stop sewing with the side seam.

No. I paused the machine, lifted the presser foot, turned the material smartly around the needle, and sewed up the hole through which my daughter was supposed to put her head.

Of course I didn’t discover the error until I turned the dress inside out to admire my work.

Every family has its traditions.

When I was growing up, we always made our Halloween costumes. Several of my costumes were made by my big sister; several were made by my mom. I remember in particular an angel costume that my sister made me and the party that she hosted for me and my six-year-old friends from school. I have a Polaroid picture of that party. In it my halo is missing, my wings are askew, and I am a barefoot angel. It was a great party.

My daughter is going to be Pebbles Flinstone this year. I bought some furry leopard print material, some black tights and a black T-shirt to go underneath the dress. I also made a bone for her pony tail out of felt. The costume fits perfectly, now that the dress includes an opening for her head, and she’s really adorable as Pebbles.

There is something about the act of sewing, maybe it’s the act of creating form from that which is formless, that takes me back, creating visions and comfort from hazy, formless memories.

When I was in high school, the first play that I was in was about a bowl of fruit. I was Patty Peach. Mom, my sister and I had a blast making that costume (and the costumes of other fruits as well). One time, I volunteered to make the costumes for a reader’s theater production we did, Under Milkwood. Mom and my sister had to help me finish the costumes. We were a great team.

In college my first year, I made the costumes for a production of Oedipus Rex. After the performance, my mom told me that she almost couldn’t stop laughing through the entire production.

“Mom, it’s a Greek tragedy. Why on earth were you laughing?”

“Because all of your costumes had treads hanging from the ends of the seams. The stage lights accented them beautifully.”

For years she had been trying to get me to do a better job of trimming the seam allowances and threads when I sewed.

I also made costumes for the elves at the opening of our class’s STUNT production my first year of college. Since college I have designed several Halloween costumes. One year I was Cleopatra. One year I made a last-minute costume from a black sweat suit and duct tape—I was a zipper. One year I went to the graduate student party as a pink flamingo, standing on one leg for the entire evening.

As I ripped out the seam in my daughter’s costume, I thought about all of the things I had sewn or the things that had been sewn for me like the red velvet dress with the pink apron that my sister made me when I was very young, or my nurses uniform that I loved so much.

I’m a thousand miles away from my sister—even further from my mother now— but as the blade removes each errant stitch, I’m quiet and I smile, knowing that in this moment, I am incredibly close to my family and childhood. These experiences have woven for me rich and varied tapestry that surrounds me with love and laughter.

I look up, smile and take a little extra time to trim the seam allowances and threads at the ends.

© 2008, 2009 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.

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