My life has a superb cast but I can't figure out the plot.
~ Ashleigh Brilliant

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Needle-Toothed Beast

I've got this pile of mending piling up, more than I care to do by hand (a tedious, loathsome task anyway, plus my hand-stitching leaves much to be desired - which will come as absolutely NO surprise to you once you've finished reading this post!) The alterations place I used to use closed a few years ago, and I hear the one that's left is very slow and expensive. So just before Christmas, I took the plunge and bought an inexpensive, relatively simple sewing machine, to which I retroactively applied my mother's Christmas and birthday gift money so it's now officially from her and she can be blamed for whatever debacles may result! ;-)

The problem (and it's a pretty major one) is that I have absolutely no idea how to sew, and confess that I'm intimidated by the prospect of learning. So the sewing machine sits in virginal condition on my dining room table, sneering at me, while I circle it warily from time to time. Don't let those happy little innocent pastel flowers fool you! It's got a long, sharp, needle-y tooth and a menacing stare.

See? Scary.

It's a bit inexplicable. My grandmother could not only sew, she was a manager at Singer Sewing Machine Company for several years. My mother sewed nearly all our own clothes, from everyday stuff to her ball gowns and my prom dress. And it was my father (a 6'2" Marine Corps colonel built like Mr. Clean) who taught my mother how to sew! What happened to the sewing gene when their DNA reached me? (Come to think of it, my mother is 6' tall. I'm only 5'8". What happened to their height gene when their DNA reached me? I'm starting to think I'm a changeling...)

Anyway, I was a real tomboy growing up. I played baseball, climbed trees, watched football, and played with Breyer horses instead of dolls. My mother, in desperation, bought me Barbies (and, naturally, sewed their snazzy little outfits too), which I counterbalanced with a GI Joe (a little gift from dear old Dad, actually. I wasn't much for dolls period, male or female, in or out of uniform!) Mom decorated my room in girlie fru-fru stuff, which shared space with my matchbox cars, glow-in-the-dark life-size human skull and Minnesota Vikings pennants. (At least we agreed on my stuffed animals!) She tried several times to teach me how to sew, which only frustrated us both.

So when 7th grade rolled around and I was informed I had to take Home Economics (while the boys took Industrial Arts, or "Shop" class), I turned utterly intransigent. Being unable to envision months of trying to sew smocks and making Jell-O salads, I declared I was taking Shop instead. My parents were okay with that (my mother's empathy for what was in store for the Home Ec. teacher no doubt played a part), and it turned out that while all girls had always taken Home Ec. while all boys had always taken Shop, there was no rule that said it had to be that way. It's just the way it had always been done and how everyone assumed it would always be done, till I showed up with my scabby knees, stubbornness and mutant DNA that wouldn't permit me to ever become a towering seamstress. :-) (And, as it turned out, I was totally righteous in my aversion to Jell-O!) ;-) So that's how I ended up being the first female in the Virginia school system to enroll in Shop class. (And lo, about two weeks later I was joined there by three 8th grade girls!) This turn of events greatly dismayed the Shop teacher, a creepy, sexist cretin who would often say things like, "Oh, hey guys, I have a great dirty joke to tell you! Oh, wait, I can't. We have a girrrrrrl in the class." (I can't figure out a better way to express the disdain with which he said "girl" than to write it like that). Well, neener-neener to you, Mr. Whitfill, you misogynistic bonehead... not only did I get out of Home Ec, but I made some awesome bookends, salt & pepper shakers, molded plastic dishes and and even a miniature pair of skis, and you had no choice but to give me an A in your class though I'm sure it gave you seizures, and I'll bet that now everybody gets to learn wood-working or sewing as they please!

But, sadly, neither the bookends nor the salt and pepper shakers do me any good when it comes to my pile of mending, since I have yet to figure out how to mend clothes with a table saw or power sander. Or even with a glue gun. (Yeah, I tried once. LOL) So, I have the sewing machine and no idea how to use it and lots of creative excuses for not yet watching the instructional DVD that came with it. But learning to sew is one of the goals I set for myself for 2010, so I intend to make the time, overcome my dread of my mocking, needle-toothed adversary, figure out how to thread the thing and do some practice stitching. And one future day, who knows? Maybe, just maybe, I'll be blogging about how my sewing is so incredibly awesome, I've graduated from my little flowery Brother to this beast!

And how I'm whipping up complicated little haute couture numbers like this...

Because it covers my scabby knees and I'd look dazzling when I go down to the barn to feed Mocha and take the dogs on hikes. (Well, where else am I going to wear it? It's not like I get invited to the local Jell-O salad parties, darn the luck! ;-)

Okay, before you think I'm completely helpless with a needle and thread, I do cross-stitch. And a long time ago I did manage some needlepoint and embroidery without almost putting someone's eye out. I can't make the same claim about my attempt at knitting, however. (Oh dear, maybe I am completely helpless... but hey, if you need a pair of bookends or salt and pepper shakers, then by-golly, I'm your woman!) ;-)


  1. You are too funny! I laughed through the entire post.

    Believe it or not I took both Home Ec and Shop. The Shop teacher wasn't too happy to see me either.

    I have been trying to teach myself how to sew too. I do okay now, but it has been a long and tedious process (heavy emphasis on okay). There is a long list of sewing I need to get too. Somehow I prefer kitchen time instead. ;)

    I am off to try to get caught up. A week with little computer time makes me a girl with many emails to respond to and blogs to comment on.

    talk to you soon,

  2. Alicia, my partner in sewing pain! How gratifying to know I'm not the only adult woman who is going (or, in your case, has gone) through this! You've inspired me, and it's good to know it's going to be as difficult a process as I'm imagining. I'd hate to think I was just being paranoid. :-)

    Good for you for taking Shop! AND Home Ec, you were covering all your bases well! :-) A regular Renaissance Woman, you can sew an apron to wear in the kitchen while you whip up healthy, vegan gourmet delights, seasoned with salt and pepper from your own handcrafted wooden salt and pepper shakers! I stand in awe. :-)

    And I'm glad you found my post amusing... it always tickles me greatly when I make you laugh! (I love making people laugh, it makes me feel my life has a purpose!) :-)

    Good luck catching up on everything, doing a bit of that myself today!

  3. My shop teacher didn't get the memo on salt and pepper shakers so I missed making those (bummer). They would have come in handy given how much time I spend in the kitchen wouldn't they?

    Sewing is still painful, but I keep trying. My husband keeps me on track since his mother taught him how to sew. It is a little frustrating that my hubby has to correct my sewing mistakes (when he isn't building furniture for fun in this wood working shop). He is the real Renaissance person on our family.

    You really are too funny. I think you could do stand up. Have you ever tried it? Something tells me both you and the audience would love it. ;)


  4. Bummer indeed! I'd take a photo of my s&p shakers, but I gave them to my grandparents that Christmas and so now my mother has them (at least I hope so, she goes through downsizing frenzies from time to time and many of my would-be heirlooms end up in her yard sales!). Maybe your DH could make you a set in his wood shop, between building armoires and dining sets! :-)

    I fully intend to press BW into service with my sewing endeavors. I already told him I'd like him to watch the DVD with me and accompany me on my test drive, and he is graciously willing. :-)

    No, I've never tried stand up comedy (you are TOO kind), unless you count some of my public speaking classes in college. :-) (And you're right, both I and my audience loved it, but my audience's mirth was undoubtedly due to their relief that they weren't the ones sweating it out at the podium just then!) ;-)

  5. You know my hubby well. He has made me a beautiful French style armoire that hides my refrigerator and freezer making them look like furniture. He is very clever as well as adorable. BW sounds a lot like my Dan. We are lucky women indeed.

    I still think you should try stand up. If they have any comedy clubs near you they may have amateur nights. Just a thought.

    Please check out my new blog when you get a chance. I posted a link on my original blog. I think it is going to be pretty good.

    talk to you again soon,

  6. Well, we sure have a lot in common! I, too, was a tomboy- horrifying my mother by climbing trees, playing in ponds and coming home in dirty, torn clothes. I did take shop and home ec, but I never learned how to sew other than mending small tears and sewing on buttons with a needle & thread. I always wanted to learn how to sew, though.

  7. Count me in as someone who doesn't know how to sew. I did tackle that beast of a sewing machine once, but it seems one of the criteria of sewing is that you have to do it straight! which I couldn't do for the life of me.

    And in middle school, I opted out of both home ec and taking orchestra instead! Tone deaf I was but holding a bow beats holding a needle or saw. :-)

    I'm sure you'll come around and make friends with the sewing machine soon. I can already envision Peanut with a scarf and hat of your own creation! :-)

  8. Yep, I'm another one who took Shop rather than Home Ec. And that second photo up there of the needle on the sewing machine _is_ Scary... just imagining it going up and down is good enough for a panic attack! *laughs*

    Now in grade school, I was living in England and we had a sewing class that everyone attended. I made a cat face pillow (awesome!) and a caterpillar out of circles of different fabrics, and some drain cleaner people with pom-pom heads!

    Do wish some of that sewing know-how stuck with me, but it's entirely gone and I only wish I could make cat face pillows!

  9. Alicia - Oh, I'd love to see a photo of Dan's fridge-hiding armoire! In fact, have you ever thought of posting some pics of your kitchen on your blog? That would be fun to see! (And yes, we're both lucky, but lest they be permitted for one second to forget it, our husbands are lucky too!) ;-)

    Nope, no comedy clubs anywhere near here, amateur or otherwise. I appreciate your utter confidence in my humor, but don't know that I'd have the extroversion (or guts) required to do stand-up. It took several beers and a hard shove from friends to get me to perform Karaoke once, and that was in Costa Rica where I was never going to see anyone in the audience ever again! (The song I sang? "Poncho and Lefty" of course! LOL!)

    I did take a quick peek at your new blog and will peruse it further when I have more time. Looks good! (That original cookbook cover is gruesome, though... glad you're veganizing it and making it healthy!) How do you do all the stuff that you do? You have a clone, don't you. Maybe two. That's gotta be it! ;-)

    Molly - Yay, Molly! Our mothers should count their blessings we didn't grow up next door to each other. ;-) I bet you'd master sewing easily... you're clearly multi-multi-talented! By the way, when I was asking the lady in the sewing dept at Walmart for remedial help buying thread, bobbins, practice fabric and extra needles, I explained my sewing ignorance by telling her I took shop in school instead of home ec, and she said, rather passionately, "I wish I'D taken shop instead of home ec!" LOL!

    VW - Funny you should mention, it's being able to sew a straight line that has me most concerned! Oh, dear. Funny how different the schools all are... we never had orchestra offered, but I started taking band (clarinet) in 6th grade, and it wasn't an alternative to home ec or shop! Are we to assume you played the violin? Did you keep up with it? The violin and the cello are my favorite instruments to listen to, followed by guitar. But I can't play a single one. (By the way, my tomboy nature, true to form, insisted I take up drums or trumpet in 6th grade, but my parents put their feet down - no way did they want to listen to THAT racket. I had to choose between clarinet and flute, and of course I considered the flute much too girly!) :-)

    rift - Thank you for sharing my view that the needly-tooth is fearsome! (It reminds me of the Monty Python Holy Grail skit with the fierce rabbit who guards the cave..."what's 'e gonna do, nibble me bum?" LOL) And that's a great segue to my next comment, which is.. "ENGLAND? YOU LIVED IN ENGLAND?" I never knew this! I want to hear more! (I loved my visits there!) And, like Alicia, I think you should share a photo... of your cat-faced pillow! Did you keep it? I hope so!

    Thanks for the fun comments, everyone... glad to see I have such great company in my tomboy-ness, inability to sew, and/or fear of needly teeth!

  10. I will take a pic of the armoire soon and email it to you. My kitchen is not too exciting I am afraid. It is a micro Manhattan sized kitchen. The frig and freezer combo is in the next room which we turned into a kitchen annex (although behind closed doors) because the actual kitchen is so tiny. The hubby was going to move the kitchen to another area of the house for me but things happened and he has been too busy. Maybe that will be back on the list after some of the more important things are taken care of.

    Sorry I missed the karaoke. That must have been fun. I don't know that there is enough alcohol to get me to do that (my signing voice is beyond bad). Good for you just going for it.

    The cover of the original book is a bit disturbing. My husband says it is like a chaulk outline you see on the police shows. I don't see it when the book is open or on the bookshelf so I try not to think about it. I imagine the author would be shocked to hear how vegetarians react to his cover art.


  11. Alicia - I pictured your kitchen like something from a magazine, big, gourmet, outfitted with a 6-burner Viking stove... all the more impressive that you do all that wonderful cooking in such a small space! I'm looking forward to seeing your armoire pic! Hope you're able to have the kitchen of your dreams someday soon. :-)

    I'm sure the perception of my singing voice was made more favorable by the quantities of cerveza my audience had enjoyed by the time I took the stage. LOL

    I had the same thought (among others) as your hubby when I saw that cover. *shiver* When I was a young lass in school, we used to buy or make fun covers for our textbooks (I made mine out of brown paper bags and then decorated them with drawings and stickers. Did you do that sort of thing?) Anyway, you could print this picture and cover that cookbook with it! ;-)

  12. You know me well. I have my eye on a Viking or Wolf stove, but I want the 8 burner. That will need to wait for our big kitchen reno. We plan to take the first floor quest bedroom and attached bath and turn that into my kitchen. Since it will require additional windows and an architect to do something with that pesky structural wall it won't be anytime soom. The house is over 100 years old so we decided not to even attempt this ourselves (as much as the hubby wanted to). Can you imagine him trying to do this when he wasn't working his day job? Men, they can be so silly. It took me a while to talk him out of doing it himself.

    Of course I did those brown paper bag book covers. I think that was something from our generation. Loved your piggy picture (so much better). When I clicked to look at it I lost my reply and had to start again, but it was worth it. :)

    BTW, there isn't enough alcohol in the world to make my signing voice palatable. I couldn't carry a tune if it had a handle. When I sing at home the felines get a very annoyed look on their little fuzzy faces.

    talk to you later,

  13. I wish I had taken violin because they get all the good parts but somehow I ended up with the viola. And though I took it through high school, I was usually last chair LOL. I wasn't kidding when I said I was tone deaf!

  14. Alicia - I think your future kitchen project sounds very exciting! But I also agree that it's a good thing you talked himself out of doing it. I think you would have ended up cooking on a camping stove and doing dishes in the bathtub for a loooong time! :-)

    I'm glad you liked the piggy picture! I thought I had a larger version, but guess not. I have that very picture on a button on my hemp purse. :-)

    So, wonder what your kitties would think of you singing while accompanied by Vegan Wheekers on the viola? ;-)
    Hey, VW, good for you for sticking with it all through high school! Tone deaf, last chair, who cares. Did you have fun? :-) I loved band class. I just wished I'd played the sax instead of the clarinet (which I still have, but my recollection of how to read music has deserted me. So I'll join you and Alicia and we'll form our own musical trio called, "The Tormented Kitties.") LOL

  15. This one was hilarious. You sound like my sister who claimed that our family sewing machine hated her and I think it did. Mom and I would be humming away happily on it and it worked wonderfully. Linda would come near it and it would snarl. Whenever she sewed on it, thread would knot up in horrid bunches under the fabric, thread would break, it would get jammed - you name it. But I'm happy to report that when she - like you - decided to finally get a machine later in life - she was able to tame it and created a several very acceptable projects on it. And I also have to say that although I appeared to get the majority of the sewing genes in our family - she got the Lion's share of the cooking ones - so we're even.

    Thannks for teaching me a new word - intransigent - and thanks for providing the easy to use link to its definition. I thought that was mighty considerate of you and I my add - very appropriately used!!

    And finally - I never took shop but I took printing and I was the only girl in there - my teacher was pretty unwelcoming too. My drafting teacher was far more enlightened.

    Can't wait to see the post of your first finished sewing project. I have great faith in you my friend - you can do it!!! Good Luck.

  16. Hey, AdventureJo!

    Thank you so much for sharing Linda's experience with the family sewing machine! SEE, PEOPLE?! I am NOT making it up, I know my new sewing machine is hatching evil plots against me! ;-D I'm deeply gratified to hear that Linda defeated the Sewing Forces of Wickedness and has managed to produce some acceptable creations.

    You're most welcome for the new word! You know my love of words... seems I learn a new one most every day, and find that online dictionary quite handy!

    Printing class? How interesting! I've never heard of printing being offered in public school. I would have enjoyed that, I think! I'm glad you had a more enlightened drafting teacher (especially given your chosen career field... a nasty drafting teacher at that early point in your instruction might have been detrimental!)

    I appreciate your faith in me, dear friend, but I'm afraid your wait to see my first finished sewing project may be a pretty long one! ;-)

  17. So, how's the sewing mission coming along in 2010?

    I cannot sew either, and like you, it should be in my DNA: My Dad worked for Singer Sewing Machine co. for 30 years...he was a salesman and I think eventually a manager...then he opened up his own Singer franchise of my brothers is still in the business.

    My grandmother was a seamstress by profession too.

    But, neither my mom nor myself have any patience for sewing. And the few occasions that I have done it, I have done it by hand...those machines are wickedly frustrating in my opinion.

    Now, moving on: That is so cool that you were the first girl to be in shop class and that you set a trend!

    As far as I remember, shop class was open to both boys and girls when I was in school. I didn't want to take home ec or shop (tools and machinery scare me a little), but had to take one, so I took home ec where we learned how to open cans of chili, and made a pillow shaped like a turtle.

  18. Rose ~ Wow, that's amazing what we have in common in our DNA!

    I was afraid someone would ask me how my sewing mission is coming along. :-) Haven't touched the thing. We had to move everything downstairs to get our new upstairs carpet installed this summer and somehow the sewing machine never made it back upstairs from the storage room! Funniest thing! ;-)

    Maybe this winter I'll feel up to it, but right now I've got enough to deal with without having to wrestle with the needle-toothed beast!

    Pillows in animal shapes seemed to be all the rage in home ec classes! Did you keep your turtle pillow? "Learned how to open cans of chili" - LOL! You've come a long way, baby! :-)


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  • THE HUMANE GARDENER ~ Nancy Lawson
  • THE WORLD WITHOUT US ~ Alan Weisman

There is still strong in our society the belief
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