Sewing Room Envy | Closures Essay
The following reader story was the featured Closures essay in Threads #135, Feb./March 2008.
Sewing room envy
I envy my mother’s sewing room. It’s off the main hall of a contemporary split-level home—across from the garage door. You can sneak a bolt of fabric into that room without anyone upstairs ever knowing!
My mother’s sewing room is enormous. Even lined with shelves of Rubbermaid boxes and peppered with cutting tables and cupboards, it still feels as if there is space for you to walk an imaginary catwalk in the outfit of your dreams. But it isn’t the size of my mother’s sewing room that I envy as much the level of activity and camaraderie within it. At seventy-six, my mother still spends hours every day in that room. Two weeks after my last visit, I received a beautiful tapestry handbag; a week later, new kitchen curtains arrived in the mail. My two aunts—both in their eighties—join her weekly, and together, they turn out hundreds of items to support the local hospital.
When I was growing up, the hub of our home was as often the sewing room as it was the kitchen. Even though we moved every few years (as military families typically did), my parents always found homes that had a special place for the sewing machine. And my mother was as likely to be there as she was to be anywhere else in the house. We reported on the events of our school days as she bent over the shiny black Singer.
Just before Christmas, my siblings and I became fascinated with the sewing room, as presents were hidden there, and we knew it.
Sometimes, we even went looking for them; we held our breath so as not to spill a fabric-scrap box or knock over the pins. One year, I received a shoebox filled with Barbie clothes, each lovingly recycled from my mother’s cocktail dresses. My Barbie had more shimmering, strapless gowns and sequined skirts than those of any of my friends.
My mother passed on her sewing skills to me, her only daughter. She showed me how to prepare fabric, lay and pin a pattern (using the cat as a weight), and machine-sew a straight seam. Sewing was time spent together and took us through the tumultuous teen years.
I stopped sewing when I left university. For a professional career, I felt I needed tailored clothes that were beyond my sewing capabilities. Despite having spare rooms, I never set up a sewing room. Instead, I used the dining room table—with the rationale that if I wanted to eat, I’d have to finish efficiently. Spare rooms eventually turned into children’s bedrooms.
I’ve often wondered if my life would have been different if I had a designated sewing room. Would I have allowed myself to linger on weekends in the fabric district, fingering the imported cloth? Would I have found a special group of friends with whom I would go to the sewing shows at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre? Would I have had a better place to hide the Christmas gifts?
Perhaps it isn’t too late. As I contemplate the retirement years ahead of me, I hear my parents’ voices emphasizing the importance of a hobby. Pretty soon, there will be spare rooms in the house again. I’ll probably never have a sewing room as big as my mother’s, but if I move the bed in the north bedroom just a little, and empty the closet …
Jann Everard lives and writes in Toronto, Canada.
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Other Closures essays you may like:
“Mom to the Rescue” by Cynthia Rothbaum, from Threads #107, June/July 2003.
“A Sewing Legacy” by Sharon Broussard, from Threads #76, April/May 1998.