Because I wanted to sew for my dolls when I was a child, Mama taught me and turned me loose with her old pedal-type sewing machine. I made pajamas, dresses, rompers, coats, and hats and undoubtedly had the best-dressed dolls in Hazlehurst. We discovered that I had a flair for sewing and I enjoyed it. Soon I moved from sewing for my dolls to sewing for me—skirts and dresses galore. No pants, of course. No well-bred young lady of the ‘60s wore those. I made prom dresses and even a wedding gown for my sister. Mama’s early instruction paid off well because I made most of her clothes from the time I was twenty. I very much enjoyed my sewing talent until I did all the sewing for my sister’s wedding. The flower girl’s outfit was fun, but after the second bridesmaid’s dress, I was swearing. Fortunately, I’d done the wedding gown first.
After the wedding, I gave up sewing for several years. For a long time my sons could hardly convince me to sew on a button. And then one day the quilting bug bit me. It wasn’t a new trick for an old dog; it was a variation on an old one so I figured I’d be okay. Besides that, some old dogs are smart enough to learn new tricks. I bought a book to guide me through the project, purchased the fabric, and set to work. I pored over that book day and night, cut squares and triangles, basted and hemmed. Of course, every seam had to be ironed flat. I spent my whole summer working on that project, but I loved it. When all the squares—the log cabins, the monkey wrenches, the ladies’ fans and baby’s blocks were finished, I quilted the thing by hand. What was I thinking when I took on such a project?
The finished product was and still is beautiful. I was so pleased that I decided to make one for my eldest son and his wife for Christmas the next year. I collected fabrics with sunflowers and blue gingham, Julie’s favorites. And then I worked and worked and worked. I got to the point where there was no turning back. I had invested too much time and effort to quit. I did finish it just in time for Christmas, but it did for me what the wedding party sewing spree had done. I gave up quilting—well, at least for the time being.
Every now and again, my youngest son, Josh asks, “Mom, when are you going to start on my quilt? You did promise me one. Remember?”
I assure him that I do remember and that I’m just resting. I haven’t given up permanently. His quilt will come, hopefully before I die.
I enjoy quilting. I really do. I like seeing the patterns emerging and the whole project coming together. Seeing the bed covered in a beautiful quilt that I made myself gives me great satisfaction and makes me feel connected to my mother and grandmothers. They sewed of necessity, but some hunger for beauty made my grandmothers create the intricate patterns that covered their beds during my childhood visits. And though Mama didn’t actually teach me to quilt, she taught me the first step—how to sew. I took it from there.
My mother and I didn’t always get along well during my adolescence, but she did the best she could. I can see that now. I couldn’t then. There is the old adage about hindsight being 20/20. I hope my children don’t hold against me the many mothering mistakes I made.
I see so many other things now that my teenaged wisdom blinded me to. I see myself taking up so many of my mother’s habits. She lived to see me turn into a master cook just as she was. She’d probably be shocked though if she could see me on my hands and knees carefully tending my flowers. Back then, I thought gardening was for old folks. Now that I think about it, maybe it is. It’s just that now I’ve become an old folk and am entitled to all the benefits thereof. After all, membership has its rewards.
04/22/12 at 08:50 AM
Mary Ann, I just discovered that I can read your articles on the web. I absolutely love them! This one sounds like me. My mother and sister taught me to sew when i was about 13 or 14 because I was tall and had a hard time finding clothes long enough. I'm sure you remember that the dresses were extremely short in the late sixties and early seventies. I also did most of the sewing for my sister's wedding and have made several quilts over the years. About a year ago I bought the material to make a new quilt but have not started it. I know it will consume my time and my house once I start so I keep putting it off.
Keep up the wonderful work on these columns. They are a joy to read!