Often on Friday afternoon, when I am supposed to start on next week’s blog post, I realize that I have nothing, but nothing, to write about. I have already written everything I can remember of my past, and the world does not need another lament about the state of the world. I could write about something that’s happened to me lately, but nothing’s happened to me lately.
Still, it’s Friday afternoon, and I must write, so I cast my inner eye around the inside of my mind—a vast, empty, silent space, a sort of abandoned attic festooned with the occasional cobweb. But then I catch the slightest whisper, as of a mouse scurrying across the floorboards. Except it’s not a mouse. It’s an idea! Albeit one even smaller and duller than a mouse. But beggars can’t be choosers, so I open my laptop and type in “Patches.”
This week’s post is about sewing a patch on my husband’s flannel L.L.Bean robe. He is attached to that robe as he is attached to anything that’s been in his possession for a while: a certain pair of flipflops, a certain pillow, a certain wife. He’s had that robe for almost as long as he’s had me, but the robe is aging better than I am, the only sign of wear being a tear in the elbow of the right sleeve.
Since the entire area around the tear is worn thin, I can’t simply stitch the edges of the rip together. Besides, it would look sloppy, but to whose eyes? Not my husband’s or mine. It’s my mother’s eyes I’m concerned about, and her mother’s, and her mother’s mother’s, gazing disappointedly down at me from Paradise.
No, the only thing for it is to make a patch. Putting a patch on a tear should not be a big deal to a woman who was introduced to needlecraft (with much angst and mixed results) in early childhood and sewed her way through the funky 1960s and 70s. But that was a long time ago, and as my eyesight and dexterity have declined, so has my patience. And if there is one thing you need for a sewing project, besides needle and thread, it’s patience, that quintessentially feminine virtue.
So I fetch my bag of fabric scraps and cut out a square of black cotton (close enough to the robe’s navy). I turn down the four raw edges, secure them with pins, baste all around the square, remove the pins, pin the patch to the sleeve, (putting my hand inside the sleeve to prevent sewing it closed), and follow the pinning with another basting.
By the time I’m ready to apply the patch, I am bored out of my mind. I want this to be over, yet here I am, barely at the beginning. I start at the first corner with an overcast stitch, and when I arrive at the second corner I look at the clock. Just that one side has taken me ten minutes! Life, I say to Bisou, who is hoping for an early dinner, is too short for this. But I persevere, making my stitches as small and regular as possible, although not as small and regular as my mother, and her mother, etc. would have liked.
Every time I have to rethread the needle, I snort with impatience. My hands sweat. My eyes water. I keep glancing at the clock. Here I am, in my eighth decade, feeling as enslaved and rebellious as I did when I was in pigtails.
When I’ve stitched around the whole patch, I remove the basting, take off my thimble, and hold up the sleeve. The patch is a thing of beauty, if you don’t look too closely. Plus, I have given a beloved garment a new life, something one can’t do for, say, a pet. And for a moment I feel like a worthy link in the chain of women, my ancestresses, who over the centuries spent sunny afternoons sitting by a window, patching sleeves, letting down hems, turning collars, darning socks, and mending sheets, napkins, towels, dust cloths, and handkerchiefs, so that almost any piece of fabric you picked up under their roof bore the imprint of the patient, thrifty fingers of the woman of the house.
I’ll still do an occasional sewing job for husband or me. It is a labor of love and takes way too much time, but otherwise he will have to throw something away – a beloved pair of shorts, the apron he uses to keep his dinner off his shirt when we eat while watching TV, the soft pjs (like your husband’s robe) that should have been replaced ages ago and which I should never let him wear in public (such as the annual vacation with the children).
I have two of those small jobs waiting for me – I’ll get to them eventually (he bought a three-pack of the aprons).
But your post resonated in the soft way posts about mending and repairing anything do these days: I used to, but now only do it as a favor because it is HARD and my eyesight and manual dexterity are not what they used to be.
We don’t live in a “mending and repairing” culture, but a throwaway one.
What a wonderful description of how little patience I have sewing a button on or hemming a pair of trousers. I have never been a seamstress and what little repair seeing I under take is slow torcherress.
I wonder if our foremothers hated sewing as much as we do? I suspect many did, but had to keep quiet about it.
Like you, Lali, I learned how to sew, mend, darn, etc. in grade school growing up in Switzerland. There is a Swiss painter, Albert Anker, who often portrayed the grandmothers sitting beside the tile stoves in the kitchen with their darning basket and quietly patching a sock or shirt while the rest of the household bustles along. That image always touched me. I am not sure if this is why I always used to love to mend. The thrifty part of me certainly felt satisfaction in giving anything torn and unraveled a new lease on life. I also did not grow up in a throw-away society. Once introduced to the quilting of the early New England settlers, I resonated with them using every bit of fabric scrap from old sheets or dresses to create their patchwork blankets. After all, every piece of fabric had its origin in the sheared wool from a sheep, or in fibers harvested from the flax grown in their fields. After all the gathering, the carding, spinning, and weaving or knitting, who would want to throw the bits and pieces of so much labor wantonly away!? Today, as a grandmother, I connect even more with those paintings by Albert Anker and welcome the pile of shirts, socks, pants, etc. on my mending basket. I have gained the reputation by my grandchildren that I can “fix it all” since I pride myself in mending what often looks unmendable. And my family seems to like the patches and darning on their clothing.
I loved your blog which resulted from the whisper in your “attic”….and lead to the connectedness with the generations of women …
Heavens, Carol, you actually have a MENDING BASKET? Now all you need is a tile stove….You are lucky to have a family that likes to wear the evidence of your needlework.
We actually do have a tile stove….!
An Albert Anker painting! Wish I could see you darning by the stove.
I was a complete failure at sewing, and I am frustrated by even attaching buttons. (In middle school, I’d have to rip straight seams made by machine to create a simple pillow. It’s bad. I have zero patience.)
I feel your pain!