by Janet Gilmore
When I was a kid, my nice grandmother, who lived next door to us, let me sit with her when she sewed at home. She worked in a sewing shop; in fact, she helped to unionize the shop.
She used an old Singer treadle machine, which I observed closely from her lap and from the floor. Every once in a while, something would go wrong with “The Machine,” as she called it, and I learned how to fix it.
Grandmom taught me to be safe around machines and how to put pieces of fabric together to make magical things. She taught me about love at the same time. I had another grandmother. She worked in a knitting shop. She crocheted afghans in wild colors for family members.
“May I have one?” I asked.
“When you get married,” she crabbed.
I tried to crochet. My grandmother scolded my efforts and made me rip out what I had done wrong and do it again. It was no fun whatsoever. Not to crochet, not to be her granddaughter, and later, not to try and find a husband.
When I got a teaching job, I moved out of my parents’ house into my own studio apartment in Center City. I lived on the eighth floor of a tall building. The windows faced west, and I had unimpeded afternoon sunshine and a breeze in fine weather. I set up a tiny sewing room in a tiny closet. I spent many happy hours in my nook sewing articles of clothing and later quilts, especially on nights when I couldn’t sleep. I loved the quiet and privacy of the sewing world I had created. A man asked me to marry him. Well, really, my father asked me,
“Do you think that guy, B__, and you will ever get married?”
“Um, I don’t know, Dad.”
“Well, it’s time,” he declared.
I passed on my Dad’s message to B__ later that evening, and he said, “Yeah, OK; wanna?”
And that’s how we became engaged. We set a summer wedding date, and I bought fabric to make my wedding dress into which I planned to sew my hopes and dreams. B__ had decided not to move in with me before we were married, so little changed in my life before our wedding.
He didn’t know much about my insomniac sewing nights. Because I was a schoolteacher, I could spend all summer sewing if I chose to. The days were mine, made poignant by the fact that they were going to end at my wedding. We planned to move; I might never have the afternoon sun and breeze all to myself again while I sewed quietly and thought about life. If I had thought a bit harder, I might have realized that all was not well.
B__’s should-have-been influence as my fiancé, all the power he might have had over me, evaporated like a morning fog before the wedding. I kept sewing, though. I ran into a small glitch with the sleeve of my wedding dress. A friend came over, and we spent the afternoon fixing the arm scythe and talking. Would I have as much fun as a married woman? Would a husband be willing to eat a dinner of canned soup in the pot over the sink? Wouldn’t I have to make dinner in the late afternoons? Or something?
I finished hemming the dress in the car on my way to my wedding. I had many doubts. What was I doing? Why was I getting married? I was happy already. My crocheting grandmother gave me an afghan as a wedding present.
B__ came to live in my apartment after the wedding. Late on our wedding night, he was fast asleep, and I was still wide-awake. I walked into my sewing niche, turned the light on and started looking for projects. “
What’s going on?” asked my new husband, reasonably. “Why are the lights on? It’s late; Jan, turn them off and come to bed.”
He was a very nice man, just not the right man for me. We parted amicably after three years. Eventually, I met someone else. We were crazy about each other. The first time he came to my small apartment, I was in the midst of making dance costumes for a local company. Tulle and glitter lay everywhere. There was nowhere to put them away and no point in vacuuming before I was done.
He asked, “What’s going on here?”
I apologized for the mess. I explained how much I loved making costumes and seeing dancers bring them to life on-stage. He looked around at the glitter, scattered and sparkling, all over my floor.
“I could fall in love with a woman like you,” he said.
And he did. We’ve been married for a long time. I got rid of a lot of my fabric and sewing supplies at first, partly to be a tidy wife and partly to de-accession my past. When we moved into a bigger place, though, I inevitably began to accumulate fabric all over again. If no one else in the house had any possessions, I’d have room for everything.
My family must understand: the love of sewing that a sweet grandmother planted in my heart when she let me sit with her and learn will be with me forever. I adore my husband and son, but they must give me some sewing time. Even at 2 a.m. Especially at 2 a.m.