My memories of Halloween as a child are not of trick or treating, but of my mother sewing. Each year she turned the kitchen table into a sewing cockpit. Front and center sat her ancient green sewing machine, a gift from my father. Fanned around her, in reaching distance, were all the bits and pieces of the project; most notably, mysterious shapes of fabric with brownish tissue paper pattern pieces pinned to the back.
Invariably I hovered over her, anxious to try on my new costume. After a while, I would get bored with her concentration and the monotony of her actions and go watch t.v. Then I'd pop back in to hover during commercials, sometimes with regret as a rogue needle found its way into my sock. But no matter how late I stayed up, I didn’t get to see the finished project before heading up to bed. I would lie there and listen to the intermittent hum and rat-a-tat of the green machine until sleep took over.
My mother was the kind who was breaking stray threads with her teeth while I was trying to line up for a Halloween parade. Still is, really. My sister and I have given her seven grandchildren and while we reuse most of the costumes mom has already made, she can still be found pulling at least one all nighter each fall. This is one of last year’s projects:
I don’t know why I never learned to sew from her. I asked my grandmother to teach me to knit, but I never asked my mother to teach me to sew. Perhaps because by the time I outgrew wearing homemade Halloween costumes, I also wanted nothing to do with any other homemade clothing.
Now that I am older and value handmade a smidge more than my materialistic teenage counterpart, I find myself coveting my mother’s skill. This past Christmas she bought me my own machine and for its maiden voyage I lugged it to her kitchen and set up my own sewing cockpit. I also took her with me for my first trip to the fabric store as a chooser rather than a bystander. After spending a ridiculous amount of time picking out fabric, I looked into the faces of my children standing with us in the cutting line and in a flash remembered what it was like to be in their shoes. It was a weird sort of kharma.
That weekend at mom’s I completed my first project, a make-up brush holder. Today I made a book cover for a blank journal. So far I have learned two things about sewing: 1. It is not as easy as my mother makes it look. 2. Attractive fabric hides a multitude of sins.
I can’t for the life of me figure out why I can’t make a straight line when I have a machine trying to help me do just that. But as a knitter and a potter, I am well familiar with the hours one has to put in to achieve any kind of competence with a craft. So I am going to just keep plugging away.
I have no intention of ever making Halloween costumes for my children. The holiday has a renewed magic for me and I again get to hover, only now with a lot more appreciation, if no more patience. For the record, I still have yet to stay awake to completion. I love this tradition and my children will be wearing my mother's costumes as long as she and they are willing.
But one day, I do hope to achieve some level of competence so that if I have a grandson and he tells me he wants to be a duck, I can answer, like my mother, with, “No problem.”
I like to throw things.