This summer my eleven-year-old son learned to use a needle and thread. Grouped on a track at College For Kids with his first choices of Rocket Science and Physics, Recycled Textiles never held great allure for him. None of us realized he’d learn to hand-sew and surprise us with gifts–a denim jean purse for me, a wallet for his dad, and a pillow made from a Minecraft t-shirt for his younger brother.
The Minecraft throw pillow–once full of cushion-promise for even the weariest gamer–started loosing its seems. It sat for weeks, exposing its stuffing guts, reminding me of a man desperate to keep his sweatpants up after having lost the drawstring. Today, in a moment of clarity that I needed oxygen sunshine and quiet, rather than laptop, popcorn and stolen hunks of my kids’ cinnamon rolls, I sat on our front stoop to try and shore up the breech and restore a measure of dignity to our pillow friend.
I rifled through the tired ziplock bag jumbled with hotel sewing kits, and happened upon the exact shade of royal blue, pre-threaded on a needle. Auspicious hand-sewing universe high-five! I knotted the new thread intertwined with my son’s original handiwork, and began to mend.
Metaphors and memories flooded me where fingers full of contraband cream cheese frosting languished mere moments before. I did not expect to find lessons in nine minutes of sewing, beyond the obvious Good things happen to those who stop chomping and internetzing on a beautiful summer day.
I thought of Grandma Jo darning my cheapo white socks that I didn’t think worthy of her effort. She likely couldn’t abide by holes in socks, but I never figured her darning for an act of love and doting that maybe delighted her so many years after the last of her own boys’ socks disappeared from her home.
I remembered fetching my mom’s sewing basket for her, and the retractable tape measure inside. She taught me to thread a bobbin on the sewing machine I broke time and time again tapering my jeans in high school.
The miniature sewing projects my step-sister Amy and I enjoyed as girls came to mind, and how as the youngest child of four I delighted in her attention and perfectly straight stitching.
Mostly though, as I hemmed on our front stoop, I thought about how much I preferred this sewing circle of one over the toilet cleaning circle, the getting children to pick up their dirty socks in the living room circle, and especially the So help me God I have to feed them again tonight and we ate out last night circle. Regardless, I prioritized the pillow, while patting myself on the back for having becoming a superior person by learning to sew in the first place.
In theater school, the requirements for every acting student included mandatory technical theater credits and stage-hand hours. These requirements made us more well-rounded in stage craft, expanded our income-generating potential, and more importantly they served as diva-proofing. A leading lady and man should know what it means to render and cut patterns, iron and steam, wash dance belts and dress shields, place props, assist with costume changes, work a lightboard, build a set, etc…so he will a) not become an insufferable helpless wench, b) appreciate the incredible fortune of being surrounded by people with the sole purpose of making him or her look good, and c) know how to do something with their hands besides JAZZ them.
I’m glad my son learned to sew this summer, even if he had no desire to do so. Knowing how to remedy a split-pants situation on the fly may prove useful. Also, when you grow up buying everything from a store or paying others to do the handwork of life, you can fall into diva-like behavior off stage, too. You’re more likely to act kindly as a customer if you’ve waited a table, worked a register, cleaned someone else’s toilet, whacked a weed, or checked the oil–plus you might end up learning a trade that serves your future in ways you can’t imagine. My friend Melissa took costume design as an acting requirement and it changed the course of her career.
As I sat working the needle and poking myself over and over instead of bothering with a thimble, I noticed slack in more places. Minecraft pillow friend will need plenty of reinforcements to survive for long. I considered how I view work–internal and external–as finite somehow, that if only I fix this loose end, satisfaction and serenity await. I found a moment of acceptance over the inevitability of bulging stuffing and frayed edges. I realized that I can reinforce my sweatpants when needed, and feel thankful that I possess the fortitude to participate. I felt a sudden luck for the holes as challenges that keep me inspired and engaged.
I tied-off the last (for now) stitch, and thought about how badly our country needs mending in terms of our violent and systemic racism problems. I considered how people working toward becoming effective allies can show up with hope and able hands and thread and thimbles–even and especially when things seem at their worst, as the fabric of our society seems to rend right down the middle as a result of white supremacist structures. As our peers of color continue weaving threads, worn heavy and frayed by anxiety and grief that comes with seeing faces like yours and your beloveds in jail or killed, maybe we can avoid bemoaning our self-consciousness over crooked stitches or a lack of confidence in our sewing ability.
Our basting won’t undo the centuries of damage, but we can attend, watch others, and gently begin to find our place in the circle of repair. Instead of abandoning the effort and deeming the project too damaged and irreconcilable, we can celebrate the magnificence of this quilt that our sisters and brother artisans of color helped create and sustain. We can acknowledge the gaping holes, stains and blight our people have inflicted upon the tapestry of history, and our own part–even if unintentional–in profiting off of, co-opting, or coercing today’s material even as we endeavor to enrich it. Rather than throw up our hands in hopelessness or defensiveness, we can make our way to a frayed edge and begin to mend.