Sew frustrating, and yet sew calming

I come from a long line of good sew-ers.  Observe my mom’s handiwork:

She made me this Pooh Bear when I was two.  Over the years, I loved him so much that one eyebrow wore off.  Mom recently gave him some facial reconstruction surgery, so he now looks much the same as he did thirty-plus years ago.

And check out my grandma’s sewing.  She made this doll for me one Christmas when I was eight (nine?).  The grimy patches on her face and legs are a testament to how many hugs she’s received over the years.

Grandma also made this adorable bear for Matthew when he turned two.  Her name is Ruth, so we called the bear Rufus, as as sort of homage to his creator:


With great sew-ers like this in my family, I do tend to feel slightly inadequate, because I am simply not gifted with a needle and thread.   Sure, when I was a kid I could make simple doll pillows, and when I was in college I got to be pretty good at fashioning long skirts that were actually decent-looking enough to be worn in public.   But that appears to have been more of a flash-in the-pan kind of thing than evidence of any actual skill.

Let me tell you about the last big sewing project I ever did.   It was during a summer vacation when I was in college, and I had dreams of making an actual dress — a sleeveless, long,  pretty dress in black calico.  I had a great time cutting out pattern pieces on the floor of my parents’ living room, and making my mom’s old blue Singer whir merrily away, and with Mom’s help I even managed to make buttonholes, which are like the Black Diamond of dressmaking.  It was all terribly exciting, seeing the dress actually take shape.

Trying on the finished product was an entirely different story.  The thing was huge.  (Sorry,  did I say huge?  I meant HUUUUGE.)  You could have force-fed me until I went up twenty dress sizes, then cloned me, then cloned me AGAIN, then put all three super-sized Ginnys into the dress, and it would still be too big.  In a desperate attempt to keep it from looking like a black calico parachute, I fashioned a cloth belt.  This addition made it look like a black calico parachute with a belt.

The entire experience was so demoralizing that I hung up my tape measure for good.  And my experience with soft toys was no better than my experience with the dress.  If you don’t believe me, take a look at this doll, the work of my hands.


To be fair, I made her when I was about ten.   It was during my “Annie” phase, and she was supposed to be one of the orphans, though frankly she looks more like someone who saw action on the beach at Normandy.  I keep her in the sewing basket that my mom gave me when I was a kid, and I will say this in her favor: she is the one object in the world that makes my husband laugh out loud, every time, without fail.

It’s a little sad that I’m not a good sew-er, honestly, because I would love to craft cute little matching outfits for the boys, and make them their own Pooh Bears, and things like that.  It seems like such a mom thing to do, you know?  I like to think that maybe someday I’ll get past my traumatic sewing fails and try again.

For now, my forays into the sewing box consist entirely of finding the necessary materials to sew on a button or to darn a hole in the toe of Luke’s sleeper.   Hemming pants is about the most ambitious sewing project I do these days.  But here’s the thing: in spite of the traumatic experiences of my past, I really like these little mending projects.  I honestly do.  It’s hard to fail at sewing on a button, and it’s actually very meditative to hem the cuff of a pair of pants. Sewing works best when you do small, precise stitches instead of the large, loopy ones, and that means that I have to really slow down and focus on the task at hand.  It’s tremendously mindful, going at such a leisurely pace.  I find myself going into a sort of rhythm, kind of like I do when I pray the rosary.  This is probably why I’d rather  mend than do just about any other household task.

So what are your experiences with sewing?  Is it something you love to do, or something you’ve never tried?  Do you find it frustrating or calming — or a little of both?

7 responses to “Sew frustrating, and yet sew calming

  1. I love this! I have such wonderful memories of learning to sew with both my grandmothers. I never made clothes for myself, however, I did have my own personal line of Barbie fashions. Of course, grandma’s Barbie fashion line was far superior (I did the cloth belt thing to save my overly huge creations as well haha). I still have all those little outfits saved.
    It’s definitely a lost art among my generation, I feel, which is what makes me want to hold on to it all the more. It keeps my grandmothers with me. 🙂

  2. What great memories, Viki … and how nice to have that emotional link back to your grandmothers.

  3. Oh my gosh, this post made me laugh out loud. Love that photo of the doll you made – and I too have moments of guilty inadequacy as a woman and mother because sewing is Just Not My Thing. My mom made us countless Halloween costumes and I still use tablecloths and napkins that she sewed. And yet I send most of my dress pants out to be hemmed. Pathetic! Literally the last thing I had written on my “to do before baby comes” list was to repair a stack of cloth diapers, and I now regretfully will be turning on the sewing machine this weekend b/c I have nothing left to do. It will inevitably result in a blue cloud of profanities coming up from the basement, and my husband will laugh. So glad to know I am not alone!

  4. Glad to have a partner in sewing-inadequacy! 🙂 Good luck with all those diapers!

  5. I love to craft-sew all of those things. However, the sewing is hard! I had a terrible time learning how to work the sewing machine to sew a pillow for my aunt and make a cute purse for me. This was before I was a mommy. Now, I wish I could but maybe when my little guy is older I will try again.

  6. I thought I left a comment, but perhaps it did not take. In any event, I once was quite the sewing person and now I simply long to take it up again! I love your bear!!

  7. Thanks, Fran! Those bears (and the doll) are very precious to us.

    Elizabeth, we need to create a support group for Moms who Can’t Sew. Maybe we can call it Sew-Sew Moms? 🙂