Like many, I spent much of 2020 and 2021 making stuff. Imposed isolation and the absence of work and social commitments provided a kind of time abundance that, while difficult in the face of a global pandemic, also came as a kind of relief. An opportunity, despite the circumstances to turn inward and ask myself seriously: If time is my currency, how do I want to spend it? Writing, of course, my ever faithful and lifelong companion provided refuge. I also found myself curiously drawn toward handicrafts—knitting, crocheting, embroidery and machine sewing. I find making soothing, and god knows, we needed soothing during the endless months of Covid-19 and worldwide political upheaval. The thing is, I’ve never been into sewing. I’m a writer, a sometimes painter, occasionally a paper crafter, and a committed and excellent home cook (if I do say so myself) but I’ve never taken to sewing.
Let’s turn back time to Home Economics c. 1971. I am in Grade 8 and have been informed, to my general dismay, that all young women in my grade must take Home Economics electives – both cooking and sewing. I am interested in other things at age 13, things mysterious and confusing, and I am highly skeptical that Home Ec is going to help me sort them out. Nevertheless. Onward. Foods class was a cinch, given that our first assignment was to make toast. I had mastered toast at around age seven and had been helping with cooking at home fairly regularly since then. Despite my disgust that toast was actually considered something worth teaching about, I excelled in my first semester of Home Economics—whipping egg whites to perfection, pulling chewy-on-the-inside, crisp-on-the-outside oatmeal-raisin cookies out of the oven by the dozens. My baked macaroni and cheese was a thing of creamy wonder, earning me an A+ and the dubious honour of serving it to the school principal for lunch.
Second semester: Sewing. Gah! I flunked sewing outright. I sorely lacked both the mechanical aptitude needed to run the machine and the sheer finicky patience required to properly measure, pin, cut, baste, stitch, bind and finish a project. The tool that became most familiar to me was the seam ripper and by the time I got through the multiple undoing and redoing of any pattern I was sick to death of it.
Fast forward to early Covid times 2020, and I dust off the old Kenmore 8. Even as a non-sewist, I consider a sewing machine to be a necessary household appliance. They are excellent for mending, useful for quickly making pillow covers or placemats. Thanks to learning the most basic of basics from Miss Eainarson in Grade 8, I can run the damn thing, and sew a straight line. I determine that I am going to make fabric masks for family. But something changes as the machine takes up residence on our dining room table.
I find myself watching sewing videos, enchanted by the simplicity of needle and thread going through fabric. I become enthralled by the Din Life series on hand sewing and make tiny cloth baskets by the dozens. These are followed by pincushions, and scrap fabric hot pads, collaged with rustic West Coast scenes—textile interpretations of cedar forests, the seaside, Newcastle-Sayshutsun Island. December arrives and all manner of Christmas potholders and placemats ensue. I am sewing! Drawn to making purposeless items like drawstring fish bags, Ann Wood’s button-eyed cats and tiny fabric fish with the merest of scraps for fins and tails, stuffed lovingly with old thread and snippets of cloth. Some even have eyelashes. These tiny fish captivate and charm me, feeling like a fish myself as I take up wild swimming in the winter of the Salish Sea.
So where am I going with this? Well, that really is the question, isn’t it? On a macro level, there is a big global change going on. Change happens on the micro level, too. Who is this stress-crafting woman, awake before light to swim in a frigid dawn, sewing as the midwinter afternoon darkens, crocheting by moonlight? I wrote about the question of identity not that long ago in an essay (find it here). The crisis of Covid is in many ways an identity crisis. We are finding new edges, new boundaries, exploring new ways of being in the world and with each other.
These days, Writer remains firmly my primary identity. Yet something is emerging for me in the realm of textiles. If I were to lay claim to it, I would say I am a budding textile artist. Unexpectedly. The accidental artist. My friend Faye (she who is the wisest of the wise and an artist herself – find her work here) is convinced that this new materialization is intrinsically linked to my writing, in service to my being as a creative. I do not understand my fascination with yard goods and sewing, the imperative I feel to stitch things together. And yet…and yet. My advice to coaching clients is the very advice that my dear Faye offered: “Trust it, honey.”
Patience, that finicky quality that eluded me completely in high school, is needed here now. Faith, too, that my strange maritime desires, my briny interests, and the urgent pull of thread and bobbin are leading me somewhere. Faye’s advice is always worth taking so I will follow the little fishies and see where they swim.
How about you? What is emerging for you at the edges of your interests? What captivates, charms, fascinates? I’d love to hear about it. Drop me a comment.
Lovely article, thanks for sharing and bearing your home ec. experiences from back in the day, your article helped me relive my 7th grade home ec experiences. I had forgotten about those lovely oatmeal cookies. I remember feeling like we were breaking some school rules when we got to gorge on our baked goodies. I also remember my task was to cut and sew an apron of all things. Why would a 12 year old motorcycle racing, football playing, tree climbing boy ever need an apron? But an apron I made and it was a sturdy, colourful hippy design at that. ~ My pandemic (extra time) has been filled with learning to make wine. It’s been an extremely satisfying experience, patiently observing the fermentation process, sterilizing the equipment, adding and mixing the necessary ingredients and chemicals. It’s a hobby that takes time, patience and a certain amount of trust in the whole process. One must trust that the outcome will be satisfactory and hopefully shareable. 😀