It was not until long after she was gone that I realized, or perhaps allowed myself to acknowledge the inadequacies of my mother’s talents as a seamstress. I spent my childhood in appreciative awe of the magical garments that spun forth from her sewing machine, much like gold from Rumpelstiltskin’s spinning wheel. She labored, lost in her creations and dreams, as we children slept or played within earshot of the steady hum of the old Necchi machine. Silently her knee pressed the motor steadily and ever faster, her graceful, tapered fingers guiding the fabric in its path to completion. Piles of dress up outfits, suitcases of doll clothes, stuffed toys, intricate Halloween costumes, matched seasonal ensembles for her three little girls…they all appeared in a flurry of material remnants and her imagination. I spent my early years, joyfully clad as a nurse, ballerina, bride, elegant lady, and even a cowgirl. Encouraged to indulge my fantasies, I had only to express my desire, and I would find myself transformed into the world of my dreams.
My school years were marked with daily compliments of “I like your dress.” from the girl friends that admired the outfit for which I had stood patiently a day earlier as my mother pinned a newspaper pattern to me, designing the one of a kind garment. It was not until much later that I began to wish for just one dress that came from a store or catalog.
She dressed me for school plays and debate tournaments, high school formals and homecoming queen, beauty pageants and college wardrobe. She sewed my assortment of bridesmaid dresses and my own first ill-fated wedding gown.
Eventually, her love would be delivered in a wrapped brown paper package, to a homesick young bride and expectant mother…maternity smocks and tiny knit sweaters in soft pastels. It was her hands and machine that continued to dress my sturdy little man children in furry bunny suits and jambos, denim overalls and parkas, miniature flannel shirts, engineer hats and cowboy vests.
Full circle. Mother to child to grandchild. Her sewing machine sang. And then she was gone. There would be no more.
Not once in all that time had I ever really inspected the quality of the garment that clad me and my children. I didn’t turn them inside out to observe the often raw edges of seams and crooked top stitching. I didn’t look because it didn’t matter. My eyes just saw the finery with which she clothed those she loved most dearly. Each stitch echoed the song which must have played in her head as she sped to produce quantity rather than quality. “Hurry, hurry,” it said, “time is short.”
There would be no more tiny he-man shirts, cut from remnants of flannel, pieced together from her imagination and zigzagged with threads of love.
And so I washed and folded them carefully, packed them away, took them out from time to time, caressed the miniature collars, cuffs and buttonholes. Treasures of my heart from the woman that guarded her emotions. I smile at the knowledge that it was never her goal to sew a “perfect” garment, and yet, she did. That was her gift.