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Sewing Therapy

Sewing saves my sanity, and it's cheaper than psychotherapy.

Occasionally, when I have had an overwhelming week, I feel a pressing need to create something beautiful with very pink and flowery fabric, in an attempt to counterbalance all the testosterone flowing through our house.  I pull out my sewing machine from the garage, lug it up the stairs, and set up shop on the dining room table.  Then I drag out my fabric bin from underneath the couch, pull out one or more of my many unfinished projects, and get busy cutting, ironing, and sewing.

My sewing is directly proportional to how challenging my life has been recently. For example, after the period of six weeks when I broke my toe, had the stomach flu, got a cold, got Influenza B, and got an ear infection, not to mention all the same illnesses being passed around the boys, my husband’s two consecutive weeks of travel, and the boys’ alternating spring “breaks,” I went on a serious sewing binge. Every nap time or evening after the boys went to bed, I sewed.  Every moment that the boys were occupied by a DVD or the Wii or playing outside, I sewed.  On the rare mornings that all three boys were healthy and at school, I sewed.  I stayed up until midnight a few nights, browsing on Ebay and Etsy for fabric.  I made four separate trips to my favorite fabric stores.  In 10 days' time, I made three quilts, two quilt tops, and a superhero cape.  I was nearly manic.  

I love so much about sewing.  I love when two seams line up neatly, or when the iron hisses and spits out steam as it presses a perfect crease.  I love the artistry of designing a quilt through color, print, and pattern, and the beauty of fabrics, piled up in a stack as they await their destiny on my cutting mat.  I love the order and geometry of cutting and sewing pieces together.  I love the sense of completion when I finish a project.  Sewing, for me, is restorative, rejuvenating, life-giving.  It taps into a part of me that rarely surfaces in the daily administrations of being a mother.  

Several years ago, a long period of time passed when sewing was virtually absent from my life.  Not only was I in the throes of sleep deprivation and juggling an infant, toddler, and preschooler, but trying to sew with three boys around seemed hazardous and downright foolish.  I learned this the hard way.  I once came down the stairs to find our middle son with scissors in hand, cutting up the first quilt I ever made, a queen-sized country floral with prints in cream, sage green, and dark red.  He only made a few small cuts, but the damage was done.  

On another occasion, I was in the garage/play room working on a baby quilt for a friend.  The boys were dumping out various bins of toys and tossing them about.  When our youngest son heard the sound of my machine turn on, he came over, intrigued.  “This is Mama’s sewing machine,” I told him.  “Only Mama is allowed to use it.”  Already a gadget guy, he stared longingly at the touch screen and its inviting virtual buttons.  “No touching,” I said firmly.  At some point, I turned away, distracted by something, and when I came back, he appeared to have lost interest and was playing with trains.

I continued sewing.  When I finished, triumphant, I lifted the quilt from the machine and turned it over to make sure the fabric hadn’t bunched up.  To my horror, the stitches on the back of the quilt were a tangled mess of thread, like hundreds of mini bird nests sewn onto the fabric.  In the moment that I had turned away from my machine, Carter had fiddled with the touch screen and had changed the tension and stitch length settings, creating the jumbled mass of threads on the back of the quilt.  It took me two hours to pull out the stitches, one by one.

The final affront occurred when I was sewing gifts for my oldest son’s teachers.  A few minutes after watching me stitch mushroom appliques onto aprons, Jonah lost interest and jumped off the chair to find something else to do.  As he leaped down, his foot caught the power cord and ripped it out of my machine with an ominous clatter.  We tried to plug the cord back in, but the sewing machine no longer worked.  I cried.  A phone call came from the repairman a week later, who said that it would likely cost somewhere in the range of $500 to fix it, and might not be worth repairing.  I cried again.

While I give my husband a hard time for being a gadget guy and buying me non-sentimental, technological items as gifts, in this situation it worked in my favor.  Knowing what an important role sewing played in my life, he supported the purchase of a new sewing machine.  I was happy.  I did, however, feel that after all the sewing debacles I’d had with the boys, I could only sew when they were asleep or out of the house, for the safety of my sewing machine, the projects I was making, and my sanity.  

Now that they’re older, and because a broken toe has left me with extra time that I had previously spent exercising, I have been sewing much more frequently.  I set up my machine in the least trafficked corner of our dining table.  I keep the table clear of Lego creations, artwork, puzzles and toys, and wipe it down meticulously after each meal.  I put the cover on the machine when I’m finished with a sewing session, to make it less enticing, and unplug the power cord and the foot pedal and coil them up carefully.  I watch the boys like a hawk whenever they go anywhere near my machine, and restate the “Only Mama touches the sewing machine” rule whenever possible.  

While I have assumed up until this point that, without a daughter, sewing would be a solitary pasttime for me, the boys have recently taken up puffle-making.  A puffle is, in essence, a stuffed roundish pillow of any size.  We recently began to adorn them with buttons for eyes and mouths, and they are beginning to resemble the heads of nonsensical snowmen.  The boys are now crazed about puffle-making, and ask me at least once a day if I can make them a new puffle. 

For our mother-son date last weekend, my six-year-old requested a trip to the fabric store so he could choose out fabric and some buttons for a new puffle.  He didn't choose out anything pink or flowery - our current puffles are made of train, transportation, polka dot, and wild animal fabrics - but I'm thrilled that going to the fabric store with me is now seen as a special treat.

I am happy to support this new interest of theirs, as long as I get my own time to sew.

Anne Lynch April 15, 2011 at 07:46 PM
Great article Alice. I love reading your weekly column! I also love the homemade puffles. Teaghan and her friends are totally into puffles too. Unfortunately, I do not sew so I have had to purchase hers! :(
Kristin Burns April 15, 2011 at 11:52 PM
I need to learn how to make a puffle! I enjoy sewing too. I am a lousy pattern fitter, so making clothes is hit or miss. Hooray for quilts and pillows and the like! These days, however, I am knitting. Scarves on big fat bamboo needles, to be exact. This is an especially satisfying project because it goes so fast. I love selecting yarn - picking one that looks and feels just right. I love wandering through rows of fabric bolts too... Anna (age 8.75) has inherited the handcraft bug and also enjoys knitting, sewing, embroidery, all kinds of crafts, really.

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