Sewing History, Part II: My First Act of Rebellion…

Me and my oldest sister playing dress-up wedding at Grandma and Grandpa Komm’s house, right around the same time this story happened.

While my first encounter with a sewing machine was a traumatic disaster, the second one was totally the opposite — it was one of those special experiences where the heavens open and rays of light shine down and angels sing. Well, metaphorically at least.

My oldest sister — not the one who sewed through my finger — had been sick for a week or two and had missed enough of her eighth grade Home Ec classes that she had to catch up on her pillow sewing project at home. My mom was showing her how to use the old green Bernina downstairs, and I was wandering around looking for her. As soon as I found them — sitting at the sewing machine with the fabric, scissors and notions all set out — I thought to myself, “I have to do that.”

I stood nearby and watched, completely mesmerized. When they were done, I asked my mom when she was going to teach me how to use the sewing machine. Her reply (obviously referencing my first encounter with it) was, “Oh, Murf,*  you’re too young! You’ll sew through your finger!” To which I silently replied, watch me. It was game-on as far as I was concerned. A seven-year-old never had a clearer or more compelling mission — and this one needed to be covert. I would figure out how to sew without her help and prove her wrong!

The OGB was set up in what had been my older brother’s bedroom before he went away to college. Because it was downstairs and at the end of the hallway, it was the perfect place to sneak into and never get caught. I spent all my free time in there, figuring out, by trial and error, what this knob did and that. Once I had taught myself enough to sew a straight line, I thought I had it all figured out. When a bobbin ran out of thread, I would wind a new one. By hand.

I used scraps from my mom’s old sewing projects as well as my old, too-small clothes as fabric. My Barbie doll doubled as both muse and mannequin; I studied her clothes to find out how they were constructed and what shapes I would need to cut out of my old jeans to make her some new ones. I even found some teeny snaps and scraps of Velcro in my mom’s wicker sewing basket so I could finish the pants just like Mattel did.

*When I was born, my brother (whose room eventually became the sewing room) started calling me Smurfette. The moniker stuck, as did its derivatives: Murfette, Smurfy, Smurf, Murfy and Murf (which is what my mom still calls me).