Sunday, January 27, 2013

Stitching up a memory . . . .



You might remember that a few posts ago I mentioned having to sew on one last button for a baby sweater I'd knit. The project had stalled because I lost one of the 5 buttons bought to complement it, and then having bought a replacement button, I realized I had no more matching thread to stitch it on with. So yet another shopping trip before the sweater was completed. (You may be relieved to know that all buttons have now been bought, stitched, and the garment in question has even been worn by the baby giftee, who managed to stop growing for a few days so he could fit into it.)

Once upon a time, I could have opened the narrow drawer of my vintage oak sewing machine cabinet, releasing the rich fragrance of decades, and rolled through a rainbow of colours in a wealth of hues, all good quality threads, all ready for whatever task presented itself. The drawer above held out my pincushion, always dotted with several already-threaded needles as well as a few empty sharps and a hedgehog's worth of pins. Various sizes of scissors were ready to snip or slice through fabric, and a few stitch-rippers were handy should a seam need to be opened. Tape measures both metric and Imperial were ready to count the centimetres or inches.

I thought of those drawers and their useful, reassuring contents the other day when, after buying a spool of Gutermann's beige to sew on that wooden button, I realized I couldn't find a needle to pull it through the button band. We gave away that old cabinet when we had a new shelving unit built in our kitchen/dining area, and the contents got shifted. Remembering, finally, that Paul had moved them all to a drawer out in the guest cottage, I hurried out to find a needle and finish the sweater. And sure enough, there was my old pincushion, handmade 25 or so years ago from fabric leftover from a dress I'd made one of my daughters. But while it was still stuffed with pins, there wasn't a single threaded needle to be found. Surely I wasn't going to have to make yet another shopping trip before I could cross the project off my list.

But no. There was a tiny pack of needles, 9 sharps all in a row, piercing a narrow plastic bar glued against a small rectangle of cardboard. Probably purchased at Eaton's or Woodward's back when department stores meant you could pick up a few sewing odds and ends while replacing your toddler's shoes, meeting a girlfriend for lunch, and grabbing the pork chops for dinner, all while your car was safely ensconced in free parking.

Threading the needle, I made quick work of that last button. Snipping the thread, holding the needle with its truncated tail, I sensed the stirring of a long-neglected kinaesthetic memory. . .  my hand was ready to thread that needle into a nearby kitchen curtain where it would easily be found next time someone needed a hem caught up or a button stitched back on. Was mine the only family that did this? We haven't had  kitchen curtains for 15 or so years now, not since we moved to this house, but before that, I always followed the practice of my mother, and my grandmother before her, of keeping two or three needles handily stashed in the fold of a curtain's flounce. I'm quite sure that practice hasn't made it to the next generation. I'm not even sure any of my sisters copied my Mom in using window coverings as pincushion. But that memory stitched me instantly to my early adulthood and then wove me right back into my childhood.

And I thought I'd share the memory and ask you where the threaded needles were kept in your homes through the years. Do you keep one at the ready even now? Or, like me, have you come to rely on outsourcing most of the mending to the point where even having to sew on a button means searching for supplies. I must say, this most recent experience has me restocking and reorganizing. . . . what about you? Thread that needle for me, would you, and sew me a wee memory?

23 comments:

  1. Oh the memories this post stirred up. My needles are in a basket inherited from my MIL's second husband's first wife's mother. Layers and layers of sewing history there. There are always a couple of needles threaded - sometimes three. There will be black and white and whatever other colour was last used. I don't sew much anymore but all is ready. My mum had a sewing tin that always sat on the kitchen counter. I have the tin now too but use it for embroidery notions.
    Neither of my sisters sews so I've been teaching my nieces each time I visit. Last Christmas I gave each of them a stocked sewing basket.
    Happy Sunday from the ferry terminal at Tswassen where I wait for the ferry to take me to work for the week. .......

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    1. What a great gift for your nieces -- along with the bigger gift of teaching them to sew.
      Interesting that your sewing basket came to you through your MIL, as did my sewing machine cabinet.. . Hope your ferry was on time and that you had a smooth sailing!

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  2. What a lovely post. When I was a child, all sewing stuff (and there wasn't a lot as my mother can sew but hates it!) was kept in an antique lacquered wooden basket - actually, she still keeps her stash in there. I have a much less attractive sewing box, and a stand for my spools of thread, but we do still know where things are - in fact, just this morning Kid 2 went off to locate needle and thread to sew up some holes in her favourite blankie, while I stitched up the jumper I'm working on. And yes, I always leave a few threaded ... I love the idea of keeping a threaded needle in a curtain, but we don't have curtains in our kitchen. I will stash that thought in case I ever have a house in which that will work!

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    1. I love that your kids know where to grab a needle and thread to do some mending on there on.
      It does seem practical, keeping the needle in a curtain at the ready, doesn't it? I rather miss it, although I hadn't even thought of it for years and years.

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  3. I have a vintage Chinese Wedding basket I use as sewing basket. It is stocked with pin cushion, needles, buttons, scissors etc, but my needles are not threaded. I keep my millions of spools in an antique pharmacists cabinet.

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    1. Now you're making me envious . . . I want millions of spools as well, and I'd love to store them in an antique pharmaceutical cabinet. Wonderful!

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  4. If it's something simple, like a loose button, I do it myself. Anything else I leave with my tailor. I have a very old sewing box with threads, needles, etc., but I'm sure it's dusty from so little use.

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    1. This is where I've got to as well, and even the simple things like securing the loose buttons, often mean a garment languishing in the mending pile for far too long. . . .

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  5. Love this post! It especially resonated because I just finished baby sweater yesterday -- and discovered there are not five matching buttons in my stash, so I must go shopping. I keep needles threaded with black, white, and khaki thread in the drawer of my bedside table for those last-minute button replacements. I hadn't heard of the kitchen curtain tip -- but I love it!

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    1. So do you have a button box? Or is yours a stash of buttons on cards? Or? You'll have fun searching out five new matching ones for a baby sweater -- such a dangerous distraction! ;-)

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  6. Gosh, sewing was such a part of our lives growing up. My mother actually had a sewing room, and a wicker sewing box with all the usual tools. Just having the sewing machine in a place where you could just plunk yourself down and stitch a quick seam was fabulous. I've never had that though I spent many years sewing my own clothes. I consider sewing a basic life skill and it is reinforced every time a see a woman (both young and not so young) wearing pants meant for a person 5" taller. No one, it seems, knows how to hem pants or even bothers to pin them up. They just wear them out and throw them out. That's the real legacy of fast fashion. I have a sewing box and there's nothing I like better than darning and patching. What a lucky baby to have a knitted sweater with buttons and buttonholes. A good start in life.

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    1. My Mom didn't have a sewing machine but the machine was always set up, open and ready to go -- and you're right, it was so convenient. I used to have a corner that I kept mine in, but somehow in the move to this house (almost 20 years ago) that got forgotten. I really want to work it back into my life, I'm beginning to realize, and all these wonderful comments are really affirming that desire. Thank you!

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  7. What an evocative post! I have no memory of my mother ever sewing or mending anything but she did have a wicker sewing basket with a top handle (derelict-seeming) that she probably had had since her childhood. I wonder where that went.

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    1. Interesting. How do you think garments got mended? Were hems outsourced along with button-replacements? This makes me wonder, now, what my daughters do, especially the two with their own daughters. Now to approach the subject, oh so cautiously . . . ;-)

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    2. I truly have no idea. I have to ask. I only assume that they were sent out. On my own clothes, frequently, I just lived without a button. Never occurred to me to ask my mother about fixing. (Scary, I realize).

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  8. Mother was a great seamstress. She had oodles of thread and needles and a very full pin cushion.
    Your post transported me back to the days when I would sit by and watch Mother ply her craft.
    What a beautiful post to wake up to mater. Thank you.

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    1. Did she sew for you and your sister, or mainly for herself? And if for you, can you remember any particular garments?

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  9. I loved this post. When I was a child, my mom had a sewing kit that I just thought was the most amazing box of goodies ever. It was a large, latched box with multiple compartments. These days I have no idea where my small travel sewing kit is. So my buttons often go unreplaced for long stretches of time when I lose one.

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    1. Yep! My buttons too.
      From a child's perspective, a sewing kit must be quite magical. I remember sorting buttons from my grandmother's Button Box, and then watching my children do the same thing with mine (got rid of it at some too-efficient moment of downsizing, sadly!)

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  10. Never heard before about the kitchen curtain tip. It sounds like a very practical place, as women earlier spent most of their time in the kitchen.
    I have no memories of my mother or grandmother sewing anything, but my father had a small roundish zippered leather case, where he kept his needles and threads. He mended small things ( his own ).
    My late MIL had an ugly sewing kit. No one was allowed to open it without her permission. Luckily I never had the need.
    My own " sewing kit " is in three small boxes in a chest of drawers. I pull out the thread from the needle when I´m finished.
    Everyone is free to use the needles and threads ; ).

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    1. How interesting and how practical of your father to be able to do his own mending, and to be so organized that he had needles and thread ready. Realistically, during their military service, many men must have learned these skills (and perhaps many of them tried to cleverly "forget" what they had learned in favour of delegating the mending to their wife)
      I like your last comment -- letting others "feel free" to use the sewing materials is much better than guarding all the mending tasks to oneself! ;-)

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  11. My mother hated sewing and always had a too large needle with too thick thread, invariably black or white, so that anything she did had cross, clumsy stitches all over it. My grandmother by contrast was a demon with the sewing machine, an old treadle. I like to sew although I abandoned it for years when I was working seventy hour weeks and flying all over the world. Now I have a rather beautiful Cath Kidston sewing box (not sure if you have Cath in Canada, lovely stuff) but also half a dozen boxes filled with my mother in law's sewing things which I neither use nor throw away!

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    1. You sound like me -- although I never flew all over the world, nor worked 70-hour weeks. But life seems to have interfered, for a few decades now, with my enjoyment of sewing. One of these days . . .
      And I do believe Cath Kidston can be found in Canada, but not so easily -- from what I've seen, I agree that it's gorgeous.

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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