Your great grandmother, my momma, taught me to sew when I was younger. She said it was part of learning how to be a good woman. Her mother taught her when she was younger than me. She had been told the same thing; it was how a woman made her mark in the world back then. ďWhen he can come to see the house in order, itís one less thing fer him to worry Ďbout.Ē But that isnít why it makes you a good woman now a days. In fact, it has little to do with it.
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We sew because itís who we are. It lets us remember our mothers and those who came before us. Each and every stitch is a tribute you see. Every time you prick your finger it reminds you of the generations before that worked until their hands were callused. It made them stronger, and itíll make you stronger too.
Donít believe me? Well, go ahead and pick up that needle and that spool of thread over yonder and Iíll show you. Yes, thatís the one, but youíll need the smaller needle. There. Now, take the thread, like this in your mouth. Thatíll make it easier to thread. Youíve almost got it, but if you hold it like thisÖ right. See there? It slips in real easy like. Pull it through a bit further, like mine so you donít loose it while you work.
Itíll get easier and easier the more you do it. Just like anything worth doing, it takes practice. If itís that easy to do right off, then anybody would be able to do it, now wouldnít they? If you have to work at it, youíll appreciate it later on. Youíll respect yourself for being able to do it. Hmm? Is that so? Well, it donít matter what little Jeanie Thompson thinks. If she thinks itís old fashioned to learn to sew then itís her loss and it means youíll always be able to do something she canít. Anyone who doesnít think that somethingís worth learning, well, sheíll figure it out the hard way about patience and such.
Oh yes child! It takes all sorts of patience to sew. You know the quilt on my bed, the one with all the different little stars on it. Yes, thatís the one. Did you know my grandmother did every last stitch in that quilt? And did you know it took her over a year to finish? And that was before her mother helped her do the quilting on it. It was the first one she ever made. Thatís why you can see some of the lines arenít too straight and the stitches arenít too tight. No, you donít need to worry about that now; Iíll teach you how to do that later.
Now, these two pieces are already pinned together for you, and I even marked a little line for you to follow. No, I donít need the lines anymore hun, but Iíve been doing this for a while. Youíve gotta pull off enough thread to finish this line. That should do it. You donít want too much or youíll end up wasting it. I know weíve got plenty of thread, but we may not always. Waste not, want not, I always say.
You know, there used to be a time when we had to make do with what we had. But it wasnít just us; it was everybody. Everyone just went and got poor about the same time. I donít know; itís just the way things were. Weíd wear the same clothes until they completely wore out. Even then Momma would use any bits that were still good for quilts or patches or something. You should always be thankful for what you have, Ďcause tomorrow you might not have it.
Now, put the end of the thread in your hand like this. Right, and you loop it like this and then twist it off your finger. Yes, youíve got it. Now just pull it tight and youíll have a knot. Oh, itís okay if you have a few little loops hanging out like that. Itíll still hold just as well as mine does. Thatís right. Itíll be on the back side too, where no one will ever see it Ďcept you and me. Now, be careful that your thread doesnít tangle up. Keep it stretched out so that it doesnít. There, thatís better.
Did I teach your mother to sew? Yes, I did. She took longer to learn than most, even longer than me. But she kept practicing and practicing until she figured it out, and once she did, she became a pro. She made the quilt on your bed, with all the little Dutch girls. She made more than quilts, too. She used to buy those patterns youíd see at the drug store for a dime, and weíd sit down and make her dresses and skirts and blouses together. The scraps would go into a pile and sheíd use them later for quilts once she got enough saved up. Once she learned how to do it, sheíd just zip along with her needle like it was nothing. Sheíd sit and listen to the radio programs while she sewed, or out on the front swing in the evenings when it was still warm out. For a while you could hardly catch her without a needle and thread.
She even fixed her doll that your uncle John broke. He was a little terror then, but she didnít even ask me for help. She wanted to do it herself. And you know what? She did, tears and sniffles the whole time. Thatís when I knew she was good at it. I didnít even need to go back and reinforce it; she did such a good job. Yes hun, some day Iím sure youíll be just as good as your mother was. Youíve just gotta keep practicing.
Youíre doing good, but try and keep your stitches smaller. The more there are the better itíll hold. No, they donít need to be that small. About like mine, see? Thatís better. Now take your time and keep the line straight. Itíll make it look better when you open it up. Be careful or youíllÖ well, is it bleeding? Let me see. Oh, itís not that bad? So long as you say so then.
You know, youíre growing up really fast. Before you know it, youíll be full grown and ready to move out. But youíve gotta learn how to sew and cook and all sorts of things first. What? You already know how to cook? Well, ainít you something? I bet youíre real good at it too. Heh, Iím sure your daddy loves your macaroni. Youíll have to fix some for me sometime. Was your mother a good cook? Yes, she was one of the best. Used to come by and help me can peas and such all the time. Your grandpa and me, and your mother and daddy, weíd all sit down in front of the television each with a bucket of peas to shell. We had been picking them all day, peas and corn and okra. I bet I still have some from that last summer before you were born. Remind me when your daddy gets back and Iíll take a look see.
Well, thatís coming along nicely. Just make sure you pay attention to what youíre doing. Youíve gotta try and keep the stitches even, so it looks the same all the way down. A sewing machine? Yes, I have one; I just donít like to use it much. Itís too much trouble to get out and everything. Besides, this way keeps my hands busy, keeps me from fidgeting. Iíll probably start using it more when I get too old to sew by hand, but with any luck that wonít be anytime soon.
Oh sugar, I know Iím getting on. It happens to us all. Yes, like Grandpa, one day itíll be my time to go. No, Iím not worried about it. Well, because I know that when it is my time, your daddy and youíll both be taken care of and I wonít be needed anymore. Oh hun, I know youíll always want me near, but thereís a difference between want and need. Now donít go getting all upset, itís okay. Iím not going anywhere for a good long while.
Let me see how youíre doing. Looks good hun, real good. My, you catch on quick. No, itís okay you go a bit slower than me. Iíve been at this a lot longer. Iím glad youíre taking it slow. Means youíre doing it right and thatís most important. Come here, and let me show you something. You can stop in the middle; just put your needle half through like this and set that bit on top so you donít loose it. Itís good to take breaks or you get tired.
Now, come here and help me with something. Here, hold this. Iíve just about got to itÖ there. Now hand me those old blankets youíve got and Iíll just put them back. Grab the quilt I just pulled out. Why, thank you. Iím glad you like it so much. Here, unfold it. Mmm, smell that? No, it doesnít smell musty; it smells like memories.
You see this patch here? That was one of my favorite dresses from when I was Ďbout your age. It had that little black and white checked pattern all over it. I wore it every time I got the chance. Momma used to get mad; worried the neighbors would think we didnít have the money to buy me more dresses. Silly, huh? The solid yellow ones, they used to be one of her aprons before I got hold of it. It was much brighter back then, like a ripe banana. Yes, there are lots of little tears in those pieces. She wore that apron when she cooked, and that was almost all the time.
That blue piece with all the pretty flowers was from the dress I wore on your grandpaís and my first date. And the polka dotted one was the skirt I was wearing when he asked me to marry him. You see the green stains on the back? Thatís Ďcause weíd use this quilt all the time when weíd go on picnics and to the park. I think your mother had even borrowed it for a picnic the day that your daddy proposed.
You think that piece is a bit plain? Well, Iíll tell you a little secret about it, okay? Iíd actually run out of pieces and that was the last square for the quilt. Thatís how most quilts are made. You stitch the pieces into squares and then you stitch the squares together. You see the boxes here? Right, itís like that all the way through. Well, anyhow, I was out of fabric scraps and so I snuck in and grabbed a pair of your grandpaís boxers! Oh, he laughed when he finally saw it! Iíll never forget the look on his face.
Mm? Well, that red piece was part of a Hawaiian skirt Grandpa brought back from the war for me. Yes, he fought in the war. Thatís a picture of him over there on the table. No, the one in the hula skirt. He always was a joker. Kept him from remembering why he was there. I worried about him so much while he was gone. He wrote me letters every week, never missed a single one. I still have them in my cedar chest. It was my hope chest, where I could keep all the things Iíd need when I left home until I did. After I married your grandpa, I started putting things I wanted to keep safe in it.
I finished this quilt just before your mother was born. Didnít get around to actually quilting it Ďtill just before John was born. Well, I guess it kept me busy while I was waiting on them. Yes, I needed to stay busy, kept me from worrying or fretting over small things.
If you look really close right thereÖ do you see it? Itís a little hand print. Your mother got into something, I never could figure out what it was. Well, it took me forever to get it that close to out. I thought my beautiful quilt was ruined when she did that. I was crying when your grandpa came home, and you know what he told me? He said it wasnít ruined; it was just more full of memories. He reminded me why Iíd made this quilt to begin with, so Iíd always remember the good times, the happy times. And you know what? I will.
You know, youíre almost done with that line, arenít you? I bet we can finish before your daddy gets back, then you can show him. Yes, Iím sure heíll be real proud. Thatís it, just keep going like you were before. Donít forget about the stitch sizes. There, just like that. Youíre doing real good.
Oh, youíll be able to make your own quilts soon enough sweetie. Youíve just gotta start saving up pieces now, and as soon as you have enough, Iíll show you how to make a real pretty quilt. Yes, just like the ones your mother made. Iím sure theyíll be just as pretty as hers too. Oh? Just as long as theyíre not prettier? I donít think youíll ever have to worry about that. Her quilts will always be special, so long as you think they are, and because she made them.
Well, letís just wait and see how they come out, okay? Maybe youíll make them especially pretty just for her. Of course she can still see them. You know she looks down and watches over you and your daddy every day. She even keeps me company sometimes, like your grandpa. No, itís not silly to believe in such things. I wouldnít make it every day if I didnít think he was there to keep me company still. I talk to him every day. Yes, he can hear me. Well, because I just know. I can feel it right here, in my heart, and I know.
So, do you understand why sewing makes you a good woman? No, itís nothing like that. Itís because when you sew, you remember. I remember when I was taught to sew, and I remember all the different quilts Iíve made. I remember Momma telling me about sewing and being a good woman. I remember how special it felt to make something all by myself, like you are now.
I guess I sound silly, donít I? You donít think so? Well, I that means youíre learning then. Because if you werenít, youíd think I was just rambling on, not making much sense. You should always listen to people, no matter how little you care for them, because they just might have something important to say for a change.
You see? Youíve just about finished now. All you have to do is tie it off. Just go back over that last stitch a couple of times. But the last time, you see, goes like this. Right, now pull it tight. There you go. All done, and it looks so good. Now I can add these pieces to the ones Iíve been working on. Of course you can help me with the rest. You did very good, hun.
Youíre a very quick learner, and I donít know what Iíd do without you. Iím very lucky to have you. Yes, you are a good girl, just like your mother was. But soon youíll grow up to be your own woman, and youíll have your own family. Then you can show your daughter the quilts youíve made and tell her about your mother, when you teach her how to sew.