Copyright 2001 Linda Marcas - All Rights Reserved
Crank's Corner: Commentary by Linda Marcas
Just Sew Sew
Although I'm not a seamstress, I have four sewing machines. I suppose you could call what I do
with them "sewing," in that it usually involves needles, thread, and fabric, but giving it that name would
imply that I know what I'm doing, which I do not. My legendary aunt was a seamstress, and, back when I
was a teenager, she tried to teach me how to sew. I still have the sewing machine I was using back then, a
Kenmore portable zig-zag that I named Lucifer. You can guess how I felt about it from the name.
When my aunt worked in a sewing factory during the Thirties, she used to sew through her finger
so often that the other women there would holler, "Get the first-aid kit! Betty sewed through her finger
again!" My own mother only sewed through her finger once, but that was enough to put her off using a
machine forever, and the red spot where the needle went through her finger is there to this day. I grew up
hearing these cautionary tales, and I always try to keep my fingers far from the needle. I've been lucky so
far, but the precision of my seams has suffered from my caution, wobbling as though I was drunk instead of
I'm no whiz at hand sewing, either; no matter how cautious I try to be, I always end up stabbing
myself. Back when I used to do a lot of embroidery, I was always ready to drop my work in order to
bleeding on it. I think basting is something you should do to a turkey rather than to a hem, although I
sometimes break down and pin things in place if there's absolutely no way around it.
So, if I'm such a stitching-impaired klutz, why do I have so many sewing machines, why do I snip
zippers and buttons from worn out clothes, and why do I buy bags of thread at the trhift store? Because,
despite my lack of sewing skills, I have a passion for textiles. I buy old draperies in the hopes of turning
them into patio furniture covers someday. I have bags full of vintage and exotic materials, planning to use
them to make marvelous tapestries. I haven't thrown out a pair of blue jeans in twenty-five years, because
think that someday I'm going to finish the denim quilt that I started in 1976.
Instead of "sewing," I call the things I stitch "textile projects." This gives me some room for
excuses when they don't turn out as I had originally planned, or when they get stalled at varying stages of
incompletion. By approaching them as art rather than as domestic endeavors, I free myself from the
pressures of perfection. Most of my attempts do turn out adequately well; pillow covers, curtains, and
tablecloths don't have many tricky parts.
Clothing, however, is a much more challenging textile project. I have bunches of vintage skirts
made of really cool printed cotton, the kind with yards of material gathered at the top to a tiny waistband,
that I keep meaning to retro-fit into drawstring waists that will fit me. I have odd dresses that I plan to
longer by the addition of a wide ruffle. I have ruined, felted wool sweaters that are waiting to be turned into
curious winter hats. I actually did make a few of these hats a couple years ago, but the cat toys that I made
out of the leftover wool scraps get more use.
And then there's Mending Mountain, that pile of things that wait for me to be "in the mood" to
repair them. A button or two here, a blown seam there, holes in the knees or the seat of pants, a torn lining
in a winter coat; you get the picture. None of them are projects that would take very long, at least not the
ones that I could do by hand, but, by allowing them to pile up, I can turn "mending" into an all-day affair
that I never seem to be in the mood to do.
Over all, I am more likely to use sewing machines to make or do things which I otherwise could
not afford or find. One of my machines is an old treadle-type that will sew through anything if only one
goes slowly enough; I've used it to replace the twelve-foot heavy-duty zipper in a cabin tent. I used the
same machine to create a floating raft by sewing channels into a pair of blue plastic tarps (with a half-inch
space between channels to allow for flexing) and then stuffing them with empty two-liter bottles and lacing
the open end shut. It sounded somewhat crunchy, but it worked quite well.
A few years ago, I used my zig-zag machine to make sleeveless shells and tunics out of some
colorful string dishcloths that I found at a discount store. Eight dishcloths for a shell; twelve or eighteen for
a tunic, depending on length. I had to buy bunches and bunches of dishcloths in order to separate out the
ones with colors that matched, but the end results were garments that looked a lot like very expensive
woven "art clothes." I sold quite a few at a friend's store in Columbus; I think I even made a profit.
Unfortunately, my ideas for textile projects usually outstrip my ambition to do them. I'd like to
make a quilt out of fresh, pink, never-used "shop rags" like they use at car repair garages, then applique
gasoline, oil, and racing patches onto it for a "Gasoline Alley" theme quilt. I want to make nifty potholders
from scraps of 1940's bark-cloth curtains lined with batting from old slipcovers. Imagine a room-sized rug
made entirely of woven loop potholders, sewn together; you'd need hundreds, but it would be really cool.
Once, years ago, I made a window valance out of a bunch of crocheted antimacassars. The possibilities
endless, but my energy is not. As far as needlework goes, my conceptions are marvelous, but my actual
products are just sew sew.
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