The Perils of Sewing

Ralph's Blog

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This one's a good thirty years old, but nothing much has changed.

There's something wrong here. It says on my resume, of which I have mailed out approximately 6.37 billion in the last year of semi-employment, that I am a highly skilled electromechanical technician. It says a lot of other glowing things, but in essence it means I can go into a factory somewhere and quickly understand and repair several millions of dollars worth of complex machinery that is doing something the normal maintenance staff cannot fix. At the risk of hubris I'm good at it too. So why is it that the common household sewing machine strains my abilities to the breaking point and beyond.

I have gone from semi-employed to flat out unemployed for the last two months, so with Christmas coming and lots of time on my hands I decided to stretch my meager resources and sew some gifts for people, like my wife and daughter. As a Sensitive New Age Man, I don't care that some consider sewing the quintessential feminine activity. Soft fabrics, lace, needles, delicate stitching, ribbons and loving craftsmanship. be damned - I need cheap Christmas presents. (Sorry - the politically correct haven't come up with a gender neutral version of the word and I refuse to use such an unlikely construction as craftspersonship.)

The local fabric store cooperated by having as sale on some of that lovely, shiny silky fabric that real men never, never touch, not even while eating quiche, so I had a start. With pattern in hand and bundles of fabric and notions laid out carefully I approached the task.

The preliminaries went well. I put the company tabletop on the kitchen table, laid out the fabric and cut out a dress for my daughter and a blouse for my wife. As I was cutting I might have gone too far when I indulged in fantasies of medieval ladies gathered in a sunlit room of some castle, dressed in lovely long gowns, each with a potential new long gown on their lap placing precise stitches by hand, but nobody else knew what was going on inside me head - at least not until I wrote this. Eventuality the daydreams faded and I could put it off no longer; it was time to confront my old enemy - the dreaded sewing machine.

I doubt if Mr. Morse Knew what havoc he would bring to my life when he invented the thing. On the surface it is a rather simple device. A motor, a few gears and cams and a needle bobbing up and down hypnotically. My wife has used this machine for years and never had a problem with it, but every time I come within six feet of it, it becomes a hypochondriac. Needles fall out, belts break, and gears grind. The thread tension becomes as erratic as the chart of a brain wave, leaving great gobs of thread on the underside of whatever is being sewn.

This time I approached it as I would a faithful old dog. I patted it on the head, spoke kindly nonsense to it and stroked it's well worn spine. I softly explained what I was doing as I loaded the thread, filled the bobbin and threaded the machine, hoping this would keep it from being confused and doing something awful to my sewing. It seemed to work, pieces of cloth began to assemble into something resembling a blouse. I was amazed; I uttered not one profane word during the entire process. The blouse was finished and all that remained was to sew on the buttons.

I should have known better, it was just too easy. The machine worked perfectly, the operator didn't. I lined up the front of the blouse to place the buttons, but the ruffle was off a good four inches on either side of the blouse. I swear I matched all the foolish notches, dots and markings, but there it was. Now I used those profane words as I wielded the seam ripper on those all too perfect and tight stitches, rearranging the ruffle and cutting one side short. Success, only the buttons to go.

Remember my fantasy of lovely ladies hand sewing gorgeous garments? Forget it! If there is anything more boring than hand sewing I have yet to experience it. Next time I'll use a pattern with a zipper. Have you ever tried to keep a button in the exact right place while sewing it onto that slippery fabric that looks so good? They tend to migrate to uncharted regions of cloth having no relationship to the front of the blouse despite the best efforts of humanity. With perseverance I completed the task and began to think about the other garments cut out and waiting for me. So I did what any reasonable person would do, I came up here and wrote this article, and I am fully prepared to discover several other urgent projects before I approach the sewing machine again. Wish me luck, there's only three weeks left to Christmas.

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