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Tag Archives: sewing

making lines

DAK pink stitched piece, undatedI don’t recall my mother ever sewing anything as practical as clothing or curtains, but sometime after I had left home a sewing machine was installed in her studio. She began to ‘draw’ on paper with lines of stitches.

In this piece, the underlying paper (8″ x 10″) is visible only at the very edges. Except for that ragged and tormented margin, where a tint of paint can be seen, all of the apparent color is thread, stitched and overstitched, turning the paper into a dense, canvas-like material. She may have used the painted image as inspiration, but at some point, all that was left of the painting was the lines of thread that covered it completely. Some deep puckering suggests that the paper must have ripped, but she kept stitching, row upon row, in an impasto of thread.

I don’t know if Dorothy considered this finished, or successful. Parts of it are quite beautiful. There’s a kind of fierceness about it — an aggressive attempt at mastery — an imperfect draft of a difficult poem with a few worthwhile words.

(Here’s another example.)


patchwork quiltIn the throes of the physical and emotional awkwardness of age 11, my most direct route to transformation seemed to be sewing. I could spend hours poring over the pages of the McCall’s pattern books — not picturing myself in the flowing dresses, but imagining that by wrapping myself in these clothes I would become one of the shapely, straight-haired girls in the illustration. Then there were the fabrics and buttons and trim, a sensory bonanza, even under the watchful eye of the owner of F & S Fabrics.

My parents gave me a sewing machine and through junior high and high school I made many of my blouses and skirts. I was good at following patterns, a good cutter. I sewed neat seams and always pressed them open as I went along.

When I was 13 or 14, I picked a fabric that looked like raw silk for a sleeveless sheath for some very special occasion. I stitched carefully, put in an “invisible zipper” and watched the dress take shape. It seemed very sophisticated, grown up, and I was excited, thinking that finally I’d look like the willowy model on the pattern. But when I finally tried it on, it didn’t fit. Not even close. Not even so that I could let out a seam. I had grown. I was no longer the girl-size I had been, had left forever the hope of willowy, and had become round of hip and breast, and taller — a different body all together.

My dress sat abandoned in a heap for a long time, as if I might grow back into it. Finally it ended up in the give-away pile, half-finished. All that was left was a small square of the fabric stitched into my patchwork quilt, a scrap of memory.