“In my end is my beginning.” – T.S. Eliot
On Friday I received the news: my sewing machine was irreparable. It was a simple machine and old, but it represents so much of who I am that as I listened to the pronouncement, tears sprung to my eyes. Old faithful will stitch no more. But before she is sent to the landfill, she has at least one more story to tell, that of her coming into my life.
The story begins in an 8th grade Home Economics classroom with my beloved teacher, Mrs. Sargent. Mrs. Sargent was artsy and impractical and what she lacked in classroom discipline (read: prone to chaos) she made up for with genuine kindness. When I needed a safe adult from whom to seek advice, she was my first pick. So when Mrs. Sargent recruited me to enter a sewing contest, I was in. This was a statewide Bicentennial sewing contest sponsored by the McCall pattern company and the winner would receive a brand new White sewing machine.
My mother was supportive but cautiously so. With four kids and one income, disposable income was tight and entering the contest meant purchasing a pattern, fabric and trims to create an outfit that would in all likelihood have no useful value. While I was already an adept seamstress, making many of my own clothes, the carrot of a sewing machine for the first place winner seemed far-fetched in a statewide contest. To save money, my mother taught me to make pin-tucks in the outfit so that I could use the cheaper edging lace. We’ve always shared a laugh that the pin-tucks, born of austerity, were likely what drew the judges to my outfit.
Several months after the dress had been made and sent, Mrs. Sargent came beaming down the hall waving the award letter. In probably the most competitive contest of my life, I had won first place. My mother and I would now go to Detroit’s downtown Hudson store where I would model my dress and receive my prize. For the momentous trip, we took the train and I was treated like a queen. And I came home with my very own brand new sewing machine.
The machine has stitched many miles. Throughout high school and college and even my early 20’s, I made clothes and curtains and even quilts. For a brief time old faithful was dormant when I was given my grandmother’s more high brow Viking. But after a few years of intense sewing, the Viking bit the dust and old faithful came out of the closet and was back in service. Except for a few tune ups, she has sewn faithfully for more than three and a half decades.
Admittedly she’s been pretty dormant for at least a decade, this season of my life bringing less opportunity for textile creativity. About a year ago, I tried to coax her into action for a few hems and she did a half-hearted job. I realized that the tension was off, the stitch regulator was stuck, even the zig wouldn’t zag. But I left her alone with her problems. Sewing was a part of somebody that I used to be.
While creative sewing may be a dormant part of my life, survival sewing (read: hemming) is becoming increasingly insistant. Finally last week I located a service center and took old faithful in. At the repair shop which is also a showroom I looked at all the fancy light weight and computerized machines with intrigue and a bit of skepticism, grateful for the heft of old faithful which made her worth the trip for repair. But as I heard the sad news of her broken parts which are no longer manufactured, I realized that all good stories come to an end.
An end is, of course, a place of new beginning and so it is that I am the proud owner of one of those new lightweight computerized models. The journey of letting go touched so many sweet memories that I found myself rediscovering an old love. For a couple of days now I’ve been happily measuring, figuring, stitching, and creating. The new machine is wondrous, but far more significant is the rediscovery of a part of me that loves the geometry of patterns and the creativity of sewing. Herein lies the timeless truth that winter must come before spring, closing a chapter allows a new one to open, letting go of a non-functioning tool allows us to grasp one that will empower.
As I sit with the combination of sweet memories with old faithful and excitement about a day of sewing before now me, I am mindful that in our parting we are wise to take time to tell the stories. Pausing to sit with the stories before I rush headlong into the newness of the day, I find beautiful memories that deserve to be cherished and that inspire much gratitude. Old faithful may have sewn her last stitch more than a year ago, but her last act was most surely that of sharing story. And stories, well, they never die.