Our Common Thread

As we walked through the neighborhood this morning, I saw a large birdcage on the front porch of a house.  I stopped and stared, trying to figure out if it was empty.  After a few seconds, the colorful parakeets hopping around inside registered with me, and I tugged on Dave’s sleeve.  “Look!  There are birds in there.  They’re the same color as my mom’s pants!”

Bright blue and cheerful yellow, the parakeets cheeped as we continued down the sidewalk.  They really were a close match to the pants (and one shirt) my mom had dropped off for me to hem yesterday, and thinking about it made me smile.

I spent some time this morning going through my thread stash to find colors to match the bright, tropical shades.  I had some golden yellow thread that matched one pair of pants perfectly, but I needed bright orange for the shirt sleeves I was shortening, and bright blue for the second pair of pants to be hemmed.  I pulled out the old Tupperware box I inherited from my maternal grandmother when she passed away.  I was the only one in the family that sewed, so I got her thread, buttons and, best of all, her fabric scraps and unfinished quilts she was working on.

My grandma had lots of colorful thread, and I had no trouble finding spools of blue and orange that were a perfect match.  I sat down to sew and realized that we had come full circle, my mom and I.  When I was a kid, she had to hem almost everything I wore.  If it didn’t need to be hemmed, then the waist needed to be taken in.  And now here I was, hemming her pants.  (Not because she can’t do it herself, but because I’m the one with a sewing machine, so it takes half the time.)

I sat there in front of my Pfaff, which was the first big thing I purchased on eBay back in 1999, sewing and thinking.  Oddly enough, the one thing every member of my immediate family does is sew.  I started in the mid 90s.  Before that, the only sewing I did was by hand, in junior high Home Ec class.  I was nursing Paige and despairing at the price of nice nursing tops.  I got the crazy idea in my head that I could just make my own, if I knew how to use a sewing machine.  Knowing myself, I decided to rent a sewing machine for a week to see if I really liked it and would keep doing it, before investing in one.

It wasn’t hard to get the hang of using it, and I had a blast during that week.  My parents ended up buying me a sewing machine that year.  (For my birthday?  For Christmas?  I can’t remember.)  I bought patterns and fabric, made a few nursing tops that got me through the two years that Paige nursed, and then branched out into baby/toddler clothes for her.  After a while, I decided I really didn’t like sewing from a pattern.  I decided to try quilting instead, taking classes with a friend of mine and following the directions in books and magazines.

Quilting hooked me big-time; I loved picking fabrics that worked well together, and seeing the pattern come to life as I pieced.  The quilting itself wasn’t my favorite part (and I have quite a few unfinished projects to show for it).  After suffering through a few bed-sized quilt projects, I switched to lap quilts which were quicker to piece and easier to quilt with my machine.

I had a blast with my grandma’s partially-finished quilt squares.  It was like holding history in my hands; all of the fabric was either from clothing my mom or aunt wore as children, old flour sacks, and other old, retro patterns.  I could see her careful stitches, and I imagined her sitting and sewing.  (Was she alone or with a group of other quilters?)  I made quilts for my mom and my aunt from the unfinished pieces, and still have a boxful waiting for me.  Someday I’ll finish those pieces into a quilt for me and Dave.

Dave jumped on board and started sewing too.  He had his own machine, and we worked on lots of quilts together.  We started a millennium quilt for the year 2000, which we never did finish (and I ended up dividing into two lap quilts for the kids for Christmas last year).  We did a project with Paige’s kindergarten class, helping them make animal-themed quilt squares with crayons and freezer paper; after the quilt top was sewn, we showed the kids how to tie the squares (rather than actually quilting the top) so they ended up with a hand-tied class quilt that was displayed in the school for years afterward:

Paige's kindergarten class quilt, 1999-2000

Paige’s kindergarten class quilt, 1999-2000

Like my mom before me, I sewed Halloween costumes every year for the kids.  We had the best time coming up with costume ideas, including Sailor Moon for Paige and Lightning Bolt Man for Eric (his own custom superhero).

Paige caught the sewing bug at a young age, and we bought her a couple different toy sewing machines.  They always frustrated her and she would reject them for hand-sewing.  Even when she got older and we showed her how to use a regular sewing machine, she still preferred to sew by hand.  She made pillows, quilts for her dolls, wall hangings for friends; even a carrying case to bring her hedgehog home the day she got him.

Eric dipped his toe into the sewing pool in high school.  It started with Acen (Anime Central), an anime convention held yearly in our area.  He planned elaborate, detailed cosplay costumes each year, sewing late into the night the week before the convention.  He branched out into customizing his own clothes; soon he was sewing enough that we picked up a used sewing machine for him at a thrift store.  We’d hit Goodwill and Salvation Army, and he’d snap up every suit jacket in sight.  He customized pants, shirts and jackets nearly every week.

Eventually, he got to a point where he couldn’t find a used jacket that would work for the Squall costume he was making.  (Squall is a character from the Final Fantasy video game.  And Eric dressed as Squall for just about every high school class photo, except his senior picture.)  I took him to JoAnn’s and he looked through the patterns until he found one he liked.  I tried to discourage him, telling him that sewing from a pattern could be really frustrating.  I gave him a book I had that covered general sewing tips and set him loose.  In just two days, he had a perfectly-sewn jacket from that pattern, customized for his Squall costume.

We all still sew, although I rarely quilt these days.  My sewing consists mainly of hemming, fixing tears and rips in clothes and old quilts, and little projects like the fleece cage liners I made for Spike the hedgehog.  Paige still sews by hand; over Christmas break from college, she spent a week repairing her childhood quilt by hand-sewing new squares over the ones that were getting worn out.  Dave will sit down at the sewing machine too, although not as much lately since he gave his sewing machine to Eric a few months ago.  Eric is still customizing his own clothes, doing things like making drop-crotch pants from a sweater:

Eric's drop-crotch pants; he made them from a Calvin Klein sweater!

Eric’s drop-crotch pants; he made them from a Calvin Klein sweater!

Oddly enough, at this point, my 23 year old son is the most prolific at sewing in our family these days.  I still think he should pursue a career in fashion design (something he’s considered doing in the past).  I’m mostly happy to hoard fabric and think about the quilt tops I’ll piece and then never finish.


About wendiwendy

I'm a real-life bionic woman.

Posted on August 2, 2013, in Family, Not Related to Hearing Loss and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Charlotte winkler

    I never miss reading your blogs. You are a remarkably fine writer. I can just imagine how a published anthology would fly off the shelf of a bookstore, that is if one could find a bookstore these days. They seem to be disappearing everywhere.
    Charlotte W


  2. Loved this post. Made me all nostalgic. Perfect title for it too!


  3. Hi Wendy, I was searching for ideas for a child-made quilt as a teacher gift, and found your blog! What a nice read this was. I was wondering if you could tell me more about your crayon/freezer method of making this quilt?


    • Thank you, Heather! 🙂 The crayon quilt was a lot of fun, and really pretty simple. We ironed freezer paper to the back of muslin squares, and then the kids drew on the muslin with crayons (in class). The teacher gave the squares back to us and then we set the crayon into the fabric by laying the fabric/crayon side down on a paper bag, then ironing the freezer paper side so that the excess crayon would come off on the bag. After that, you peel the freezer paper off and you sew the squares into your quilt in whatever pattern you prefer. It really is a cute project!

      As a side note, this was for my daughter’s kindergarten class … and now she is married and expecting her first baby in December. How is that possible?! 😉


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