by Claire Roth (’14)
Mom’s sewing room is a kingdom with borders stretching across half the basement floor. Inside the walls heavily decorated with pictures, our childhood artwork, cards, and quirky signs, both magic and mystery abound. Here, Mom created impossible things. She would disappear for a few hours and emerge with a new dress, new pajamas, a new quilt for the new baby at church, or a new shirt for Dad. Even the old things, the fabric collected from long ago, became new once pieced together in Mom’s magical room.
When we were young, my sisters and I would visit Mom in her sewing room. We would ask about the mysteries. What are you making? Who’s it for? What does this button do? Our questions changed as we grew older. Can I help? There were times she sent us away, but soon she sat us down and taught us how the magic worked.
“Be careful with your fingers. This is not a plaything, it is a sewing machine. Here is the pressure foot lever. Let’s start by just going in a straight line. That’s it. Now raise the pressure foot. Try it again. Very good. No, don’t worry about pressing buttons. I’ll do that.” She also did the ironing and the roller cutting. Those blades could go through skin as easily as fabric, so she waited until we were older to teach us to hold the guide still, check that the blade was right up against the edge, then push forward along the guide, cutting straight strips. Each strip was laid atop another and attached with a quarter-inch seam.
Log cabin quilts were our first magic projects. We covered our beds and gave them as gifts. She taught us new projects like quilted pillows, stuffed frogs, drawstring skirts, pajama pants, and sleeveless dresses. Each one removed a little of the sewing room’s mystery, but the magic remained. It was what kept Mom going back again and again.
The sewing room changed to include other activities as my sisters and I demonstrated our own interests. A scrapbooking area gave Mom and Anne the chance to organize our vacation photos. Fuzzy fabrics collected on the daybed in the corner because Jane loved the feel of them on the back of quilts. Both Anne and Jane loved the skirts and dresses, so Mom expanded her collection of zippers, buttons, and threads and learned tricks for sewing on different kinds of fabric. I learned to love building models and painting, so Mom added a table at the end of her sewing counter for me. She didn’t mind that I covered it with nicks, scratches, and paint stains. Anytime we approached her with something new, she would help us try it. Frustration was no stranger, and a few projects never made it out of the magical room. There was room for failure amidst the many colors and textures, but we never enjoyed ripping out seams or undoing our mistakes. We all learned when to keep trying, when to quit and move on, and when to just stop for the day.
I can keep going. Each time I sit down to write, I see the colors in Mom’s wall of fabric and hear the sound of her sewing machine. Out of the old comes something new. I piece together words. She made a world out of quarter-inch seams and a good iron.
Claire is a senior finishing up degrees in English and Mathematics. As the middle kid of three sisters, she enjoys absurd laughter, having the last word, and tea parties. Claire intends to join the hallowed halls of academia as an English professor, but will start grad school only after a year spent in shenanigans, mischief, stunts, escapades, and anything that strikes her capricious fancy.