At this time of year, I begin to deepen my gratitude practice for my ancestors. I share this with you in honor of them, and the threads of connection that still live in me and the women of my family whom are “earth-side”.
Some of my oldest memories are moments of making, of “women’s work”, of learning how to sew, cross-stitch, knit, and french knot from my mother, Nana T. and Nana M. I remember it being a special thing I did with the women in my family. I remember heads bowed over a project, our crowns almost touching as I learned whatever skill was being offered. My little fingers contrasting with the nimble quick movements of my women folk. Even then, I knew I was learning skills that had been passed down from generation to generation, and knew to hold the work with a kind of reverence. My mother, being an art historian, also surrounded me with visual art experiences that ran the gamut from paintings and sculpture to an appreciation for antiques and structural art. Our houses were always filled and decorated with colorful handmade quilts, delicately embroidered pillows and wallhangings, feathery crocheted lace, paintings from all eras, and pieces of furniture that had been passed down or found in little markets.
Learning these skills and being surrounded by art instilled in me a kind of confidence that I can design and create what inspires me. Of course, I had to learn how to work with “imperfection” and my works in progress. Let’s be real: I am still learning this! Regardless of the finished product, I found I always loved working with my hands. This has led me down many paths of exploration from photography and stained glass, to clothing design and jewelry making, to all kinds of DIY projects. I find that I need some sort of creative project going all the time to keep me sane. However, the type of project shifts with the seasons - both of the year and in my life. This past summer I was called to the sewing machine once again.
I had a vision of walking in the garden in the early morning wearing a flowing nightgown/shift and feeling free and connected with the earth and my surroundings. The image was so vivid I could taste the morning air and smell the sun! I was hooked and wanted to bring that vision to life. However, I didn’t have that kind of garden, or the kind of land I had imagined, but I did have a sewing machine. I knew the garden nightgown couldn’t be found in any department store and I longed to just make it myself. So I went on the hunt for a vintage pattern, consulted my mother, the quilter, for the softest cotton I could find, and pulled out my machine.
A quick love note for my sewing machine: just like the skills I learned, it was passed down to me; this time from my mother. Aside from a costume construction class, it has been my sole partner in my clothing ventures. I recently found the layaway receipt tucked in the pages of the instruction manual and discovered the machine is older than I am. I love that my mother’s persistent desire to create carried her through slowly saving for this purchase. I love the years of projects and quilts that were made on that machine and I am so grateful she decided to pass it to me. It’s one of my favorite possessions. Thank you, Mom!
When I was growing up it was cheaper to make your own clothes than buy them at the department store. Today, the “Slow Fashion” movement, while one I love and resonate with, is really a privileged one. While I love the idea of creating your own clothes for purposes of creativity (hello gorgeous Insta Feed!), variety and taking a step away from huge corporation quick fashion, buying fabric, notions and supplies for your clothes can get quite expensive. So, when I am called to “Tra La La” with my Singer Sewing Machine, I make sure it’s something I really want, that the pattern is something I can manage and is hopefully timeless. Then I take the time to really enjoy the process - no matter how long it takes.
This past weekend, I finished my garden nightgown and I am LOVING it. It’s not quite what I imagined but it is also so much more. I feel the brush of soft cotton, the colorful flowers of my imaginary garden and the slips of azul disintegrating with the sunrise. I also feel my women folk in the swish of the skirt, and their loving arms with the cinching of the ribbon at my waist. I am so grateful for my sewing skills and the privilege of bringing something from an intangible vision to a manifest reality in the palm of my hands. I am grateful for the journey of creation and knowing the terrain with all its hills and valleys. I am grateful for the tools to cut and rip out the threads of mistakes, to the surrender and humility for those mistakes that must stay, and the story of the threads now woven into this garment. Whether they knew it or not, I was learning important life skills as a young tot picking up needle and thread. I get the chance to circle back again and again to that wisdom, head bowed over my projects to learn anew with every stitch. Thank you, dear ones. Thank you.