catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 17 :: 2006.09.22 — 2006.10.06


Sewing bat's ears

After a simple supper I haul out my mother’s 1947 Singer sewing machine. It was not built to carry, but instead built to last, with every tiny part made of metal and the whole machine weighing about the same as a stack of bricks. I lift it into place on the oak dining table, also my mother’s. We open the bag from the fabric store.

Generally, the making of Halloween costumes has meant bribing my husband to take the children out of the house. The costume design and fitting would take me one hour without assistance and interruptions, but this year my children are interested in how things are made—a teaching moment.

I told myself, when Madeleine decided she wanted to copy Brendan’s costume from last year, ah! That means another seven dollars worth of fabric, whew! But add one six-year-old shopper to the occasion and of course the price multiplies. “That fabric matches our room, exactly,” he sighed, petting a yellow polar fleece with sculpted stars.

“Would you like soft pillowcases in that fabric?”

“You are the best, mama! Yes, I would love that so much.” Another twelve dollars, well-spent.

While waiting for the lady to cut our fleece lengths, Brendan fell in love with a folding sewing kit, well-made and also matching the pillowcase fabric. One for him and one for my daughter, fourteen dollars, also well-spent.

And while waiting to ring up our purchases, the line snaked past the rickrack, or “squiggly yarn,” as Brendan called it. Another two dollars. And two thimbles, child-sized.

So when I unfurl the fleece across the living room floor, gasps of pleasure fly as everyone pets the fleece, and Madeleine jumps up and down at Brendan’s thoughtful choices of the sewing kit and thimbles. While I make a pattern for fuzzy black bat wings for Madeleine, to match Brendan’s fuzzy black bat wings from last year, children wind small cards of sewing thread for the zipper pocket in their new sewing kits. While I sculpt the ridges for the bat wings, sewing long seams, they use their new measuring tapes to plan for the pillowcases. Brendan counts the inches, and Madeleine writes down the dimensions as I dictate.

I only begin to get truly impatient after an hour of work, when kids need all the parenting to move them toward bed. Just as lights-out is imminent, I ask Madeleine to try on the brimmed fleece hat which will hold the little black bat ears. “Perfect, mama! I knew you could do it!”

A mouth full of dressmaker’s pins, I finish running the long seams a half hour after children are asleep, and though I have a head cold, I remember that the sewing machine still held black thread from last year’s bat costume when I brought it out, so the likelihood of me hauling it out again is…not worth counting on. I cut and pin and sew up the yellow fleece pillowcases with stars, too. After I pack up all the sewing gear and stash it away, once again, I slip into their bedroom and slide the new pillowcases on, then place each child’s head on the fresh creation. They will laugh when they awaken, like it was Christmas and not Halloween.

What inspires the creative spirit at my house? Children! Mine have needs for busy hands and busy minds, and thanks be to God, I have know-how, inherited from my mother like the sewing machine and the table. My children attend a Waldorf school, which places a high premium on “handwork,” and children witnessing parents’ householding tasks, like the creation of birthday presents for their school friends. The Waldorf school teaches knitting, sewing, penmanship, carving and a hundred other practical arts. My after school life, as a child, was filled with a similar kind of activity, crafting and candle-making and sculpting and building, with the hum of my mother’s sewing machine in the background. She upholstered furniture, and my children have inherited her curiosity about how things are built. My father works with wood. My younger brother sewed all the curtains for his home, and his wife teaches courses on fused glass. My older brother builds tools for surgeons in a home office. I have invested years toodling with wool, carding, hand-spinning, knitting, felting.

When we bump into a new idea for creating, we explore it. This year, Pysanky (Ukrainian) Eggs, Navajo weaving, flat-woven friendship bracelets. I might have thought to try my hand at these without children—but I would have never, ever tried something like Ukrainian egg dying without hours to fill and children to involve. I’m glad for the challenge, and I’m thrilled with the resulting designs. I’m glad for the joy in my fingers and the bright colors I would never see without this calling.

With the new yellow pillowcases beneath their heads, both of my children sleep through the night, miraculously, and it’s a good omen for the pillowcases and for me. I wake early, before sunrise, rested for the first time in weeks, which feels like its own Christmas. Off to make my breakfast and begin the week’s chores.

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