Sewing with a thread that weaves us together

I’ve sewn as long as I can remember, beginning with the cardboard sewing cards and yarn I practiced on in pre-school, followed by someone giving me and my older sister a set with which to practice at home. I still remember the over-sized pink plastic needle I used to clumsily “sew” the cartoonish outline of a lion, with bright orange shoelace-like “thread.”

Noting my interest in needlework, Grandma Smith took out her “workbasket,” (not to be confused with the needlework publication called “Workbasket” to which she subscribed) and got me started with real thread, an over-sized darning needle, a thimble and cloth from her massive scrap collection.

Although Grandma Smith nimbly wore a thimble to protect her needle-guiding finger, it did more harm than good with my first sewing projects. The thimble kept falling off and either rolling across her gray-flecked linoleum floor or tumbling into the deep recesses of the living room chair where I sat. When Grandma Smith wasn’t looking, I would take off the thimble, which resulted in some painful needle sticks to my fingertip.

Typically, I ended up bleeding on whatever item I had been sewing, usually some kind of Barbie doll blanket, thereby grossing out the other passengers aboard Barbie’s Beach Bus. I would either work it into my doll-play storyline, pretending Barbie and Skipper had picked up a crazed killer (played by Ken) on the way to Malibu, or I’d asked Grandma Smith for blood red fabric to hide the evidence of ineptitude.

Over time, I became adept at thimble management and moved from sewing doll goods to household items. I became our family’s go-to person for mending frayed curtain seams, repairing lace tablecloths and hemming slacks. But sewing on buttons was my main duty. Practice improved my speed.

I’m still on duty as an adult, sometimes taking mending to my kids’ activities. Understandably, they prefer I limit my public sewing to button-reattachment versus underwear and/or bra repair. Interestingly, sewing can be a social activity.

When I was a therapist at Starr Commonwealth’s residential complex in Albion, Michigan, I did a lot of mending for the students in my cottage group. However, one boy never asked for my help – until winter when three of the six buttons had come off his coat.

Although this15-year-old was desperately in need of a friendly touch, he shied away from all physical contact. Hoping to kill two birds with one stone, I helped him put on the coat for me so I could pin the button sewing locations.

After I had sewn on the buttons, he again tried on the coat for me, which gave another excuse for physical contact as I tugged and touched the repaired spots to test the alignment. That proved to be an important turning point for him. Afterward, he was much less adverse to physical contact.

Sewing’s simple importance was driven home last summer, when my children’s paternal grandfather died and I drove four hours north for his funeral. At my former in-law’s house, I found three of the guys in button jeopardy. I went to work parting out cuff buttons to replace missing button-down collar buttons and stitching in spare buttons on shirtfronts. It was one last thing I could do to honor my former father-in-law.

Not long ago, the funeral home where I work had me go pick up a burial outfit from someone’s caregiver. When I got there, the caregiver was lamenting the suit jacket’s sole button was missing.

“If you’ve got a spare, I can sew it on,” I volunteered. The older woman thanked me and added her diminishing vision made needle-threading and sewing difficult. She produced a button box and I selected the closest match and set about sewing the button onto the jacket. We sat at her kitchen table, chatting about faith and her long-standing friendship with the woman who had died.

I think it was both cathartic and comforting to have someone there, engaged in the very domestic acts of sewing and listening. I recognized God was using my sewing hands as His hands. The simple act of stitchery was made sacred through connecting the threads of our lives. No thimble required; enough blood already shed.

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