Yesterday I saw the delight in another mom’s face as she finished one her first sewing projects on the sewing machine. One of my daughters had helped set her up on the machine a few days ago and felt very proud in being able to help an adult and for me, it was a proud moment because I know what it took us to get there.
There is this joy in the ability to mend things. The ability to make one stitch at a time to create a whole textile or piece of clothing or item to hold precious things. The power of a line of thread.
Ever since she was born, she has needed to move from the moment she wakes up until the moment she sleeps.
It was cold in Toronto on our recent trip. My children have outgrown their winter wear which I won’t replace. On the “warmer” days, my daughter rode her bike for the entire morning. On the colder days, she did one of two things: she baked or she pulled out the sewing machine.
Toronto weather reminded her of practices that help direct her energy on days when she can’t unleash it outdoors. When she was little, I spent many years trying to understand how to contain her incredible outburst of energy when the weather (and a gaggle of siblings) prohibited us from going outside all day.
“When you can step back at moments like these and see what is happening, when you watch people you love under fire or evaporating, you realize that the secret of life is patch patch patch. Thread your needle, make a knot, find one place on the other piece of torn cloth where you can make one stitch that will hold. And do it again. And again. And again.”
― Anne Lamott, Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair
As a three and four year old, she loved kneading bread dough. She would wake up early with me and make bread. She would stand on a chair beside me and pound the dough using her whole body. We would prepare the dough early so by lunch, we would have freshly baked bread (or bagels, or challah, or pretzels). There were mornings when I didn’t have the energy to get up and make the bread and I would pay the price with a screaming child who could not handle any transitions throughout the day – getting dressed, brushing her teeth, going to the bathroom, coming downstairs to eat, putting on shoes, going to the car, getting out of the car, etc.
In the afternoons, I needed a plan too. For those afternoons when I couldn’t satisfy her need to be outside and moving or heading to a rock climbing gym or ice skating or gymnastics class, I set up a handwork basket. I would put an embroidery hoop with a linen cloth and a few blunt needles threaded with different colours.
When I would sit and sew, she would sit and sew. I remember her first creation was “sprinkles.” It was multiple colored stitches of short lengths all over the cloth. It lasted twenty minutes but I could see her focus all of her energy on moving the needle to where she wanted it.
Next she asked if I could draw a rainbow shape on the cloth so she could follow the lines to make a rainbow. I threaded rainbow colours on needles and every afternoon she worked on following the line. Again, I could feel her energy focused on that needle. Once she was good at that, I taught her other stitches to embroider.
Then she saw her sisters knitting. She taught herself finger knitting in one sitting and wanted the needles immediately. I thought she was too young and that I would just get frustrated with her but as I sat with her and patiently guided her hands to knit each stitch, she quickly had the rhythm of it. After years of knitting and hand sewing, she was ready for the machine.
She tells me now that I didn’t inspire her to sew. (Let me just say that as a mother of five, I am humbled by my kids every day.) She says that she remembers how her teddy needed a blanket and her sister went to the sewing machine and made a tiny quilt for her.
Not all of my children love to sew and to knit. I initially taught them so they could help me make gifts and mend things. They can still do it if they must but the interest has waned as they have gotten older. But not for this child.
Her older sisters made things with their hands because they could. She makes things because she needs to use her hands.
At times when I didn’t know what to do with my spirited child and felt overwhelmed, she taught me how to be patient and focus on the stitch in front of me. This one stitch leads to another and to another. Sometimes you just need to patch a hole. Other times you find scraps that you salvage for a quilt pieced together to give warmth. Or sometimes, you mend something that you never knew needed mending in the first place.
- Make something with your hands today: Mend something. Hand-sew something small. (You simply need a needle and thread and fabric.) Make bread.
- Copy the Anne Lamott quote above.
- Do you have any memories of making things with your hands as a child or recently? What would you like to learn if you could now?