My mom and grandmother both sewed and luckily, somewhere along the line, my mom taught me some sewing basics. I have a serviceable sewing machine, tons of thread, some supplies passed down from her and some of my own.
Like many other frustrated designers, I threaten my family routinely not to use my sewing scissors to cut paper, even though I rarely use them at all. I have a special shelf and box for all my bobbins, my seam ripper, elastic, bias tape, ricrac, and extra needles.
I am not designing haute couture fashion or something you will see on a runway, and my daughter won’t pass on any clothes I made for her to her own children. My expertise lies in small, one afternoon projects; I can make a straight stitch and can follow a pattern.
So over the course of this quarantine time, I have been sewing face masks. Some of them are made from a very special fabric provided by St. Luke’s through a group One Mask at a Time, begun by a friend. My mom and even my husband helped cut them out, and I pray over each one I sew, that a professional healthcare worker will be safe and can continue to care for the infirm.
Other masks are from cotton fabric that has just been waiting to be included in such a special project as this. Boy, if that fabric could talk. Anyone who has been to Joanne’s on a rainy Sunday afternoon may relate to my fabric stash. In fact, if someone says you have too much fabric, stop talking to them. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.
Much of my fabric stash was purchased with good intentions. There is a cheery Hawaiian look cotton print that thought I would make fun, matching mother daughter skirts with. My charming then four year old would come out of her room, dressed in some wild looking outfit, and say, “Match me, Mom! Match me!” I tried. I really did.
When I could not re-create her special brand of pattern mixing, I decided I would sew some things for us to match. She is 14. Trust me when I tell you, she no longer wants to match.
There were various, beautiful deep purple fabrics that were meant to pay homage to my alma mater, Truman State University (just FYI, when I attended, it was Northeast Missouri State University, where my piddly ACT score was still perfectly acceptable).
I visualized myself sitting in Stokes Stadium on a beautiful fall afternoon, under a handmade quilt of many purple shades and hues, taking compliments on my loyalty to my school as well as excellent sewing skills. “Bulldogs, Bulldogs, bow wow wow!” I yelled, as I stood up to cheer on the team, gathering my quilt to place it back across my lap, a potential future alumnus of the year, just waiting for the call.
I haven’t been to Homecoming in about five years, due to the aforementioned 14 year old’s schedule, and the fact that I cannot hold my liquor like I used to, and reunions tempt me to try. Well, that and the fact that I never finished the quilt.
There are whimsical fabrics in my stash as well, like a black and white cow print, cute little cowboys standing near a covered wagon, and a yard or so of red bandana like cotton. I feel like they were going to be a part of a Halloween costume that likely got purchased at the last minute and not handmade after all (think Toy Story’s Jessie).
Or maybe I wanted cute scarves or headbands for a trip we had dreamed of taking out West. Turns out the farthest west I have been lately is Olathe, Kansas, and it seemed like such a long trip that I had to take snacks.
I must have gone through a bird phase as well. My flock of fabric included owls, eagles, and the cutest fat breasted bird in a repeating pattern. I can’t remember any reason for having purchased these at all. I am guessing that I got to that section and glanced lovingly at the bolts, unable to leave any of them behind. Or maybe they were 50% off. Yep! That’s it.
My plaid phase is a little easier to explain. You see, the plaids were going to serve two purposes. The first is, like many ill-informed middle class moms, I assumed I would own a cute little lake house or country retreat by my late 30’s, where my family would go each weekend every Friday, right when we got off the clock, and where we would stay and commune with nature until late Sunday afternoon, where we would grudgingly head back to our daily lives.
And, like all good woodsy retreats, it would be decorated in homey, comforting plaids. I mean, that’s what’s in the movies, right? If not a house or cabin, at least a back yard She Shed, like Sheryl’s right? Silly little things like a mortgage on a real house, a car payment, and the need for groceries got in the way of that dream. But the plaid evidence still exists.
The second way I wanted to use the plaid was for an ill-conceived conversion for my husband from regular ties to bow ties, ones that I would of course make. I have written about my husband The Coach before, so many of you are wondering if you missed the chapter where he trades in his baggy elastic waist shorts and screen printed t-shirts and becomes a dapper businessman, who eschews tradition of boring long ties, and shows up at his appointments in a neatly pressed oxford cloth button down with a bow tie and matching pocket square.
You did not miss that chapter. But I did miss the mark. As with many of my mistakes, I blame Pinterest. Darn that perky housewife who talked her husband into wearing bow ties and then posted her finished projects, complete with a PDF of the instructions.
When I approached my husband with the idea, after he checked for all the signs of me having had a stroke, determined I had not, realized I was quite serious, and then took a deep breath, he explained what I had missed. He said it was not that he would not want to wear anything that I had hand-sewn, but more that he felt the longer ties really made him appear thinner—you know, vertical lines and all. The plaids took their place in the stash.
And finally there were dog prints in my stash. I love dogs. In fact, after having been in the house for almost a month with my family, my dog is easily my favorite family member.
In a well-trained stash of fabric were French bulldogs wearing jaunty scarves and long-legged greyhounds frolicking with Pekinese on turquoise backgrounds. There were dogs wearing glasses and ties, because who doesn’t like dogs who look like people?
There were dogs with Christmas wreaths and dogs breaking out of Easter eggs. There were no dogs who had been COVID-19 quarantined and desperately in need of grooming.
Since I had apparently been working on my PhD (projects half done), all these fabrics and a few more from my Oriental phase, made their way into cotton masks for family and friends. If you got a mailbox or driveway delivery, maybe you will read about your fabric here.
I can promise you, each mask was made with only a little regret over the project it was originally meant for, but with much love and hope for the person it was made for.
I will leave you with a poem that I wish was my own, but for whom I can find no attributed author:
Soft Fabric, Warm Fabric,
Buy it by the Yard
Happy Fabric, Pretty Fabric
Here’s my Credit Card!
Please stay safe and at home!
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.