Sunday, February 5, 2017


One of life's little pleasures is to have a bag of scraps for stitch:  scraps from dressmaking, from domestic stitch for the home, from quilting-- even a bag of old clothes from the back of the closet (my own or others') or pieces sourced from thrift shops.  These are not precious fabrics in the sense of my having spent a small fortune shopping in fine fabric shops for them.  They are fabrics with a history, some still holding the memory of others' hands in the making or their having been worn for years and finally given up because they've shrunk.  Yes, shrunk.  That's what clothes do in the dark at the back of the closet, they hang there, neglected for a season or two, and this neglect sets off a naughty shrinking behavior.  Not that I change sizes, of course.  It's all the attitude of the clothes.

Most of my clothes are linen, cotton, or a few silks, which are exactly the fabrics I love to sew with.  I avoid synthetics because they do not breathe and can be hot and cloying, even in the cold months.  Early in the autumn, in a closet-clearing excursion, I came across a blouse of a creamy silk broadcloth I'd made when my son was still in college.  It was very simple, straight-cut, elbow-length sleeves, with shell buttons.  The thing that made it special was that one of the sleeves had been painted with silk paints using gutta to draw a butterfly. In soft pastels, the narrow channels of cream were the perfect venue for straight stitches, and it was drawn so close-up that the shapes look more abstract than realistic.

I took the blouse to the studio and laid it on the worktable preparatory to cutting it up.  But I simply could not do it.  I could not chop into that silk.  I can still remember my Mother's surprised pleasure at the odd symmetry the one decorated sleeve made, her handling the hems and smiling over the buttons.  I put the scissors down, and carefully folded it over.  Back to the closet it went.

Then I went to a bag of old linen clothes I'd been keeping to take apart on a rainy day when nothing was stirring in the creative right side of my brain.  Some of these were from friends (the FreeStylers do amazing cloth and thread and bead swaps), some from my closet.  I love this part of preparing fabrics for stitch:  unpicking the seams.  I remember a pale green linen suit I wore until I no longer looked presentable in it.  Going behind the linings and into the facings was an education in dressmaking.  Those lined jackets do not normally have serged seams the way unlined clothes do, and they come apart easily.

It would be much easier to simply rip into the clothes, but picking out the stitches is very meditative.  Piece by piece the green linen began to pile up, and when I was done, I took everything to the ironing board and began to iron the curling edges.  Some of the pieces will be overdyed when I set up the dye kitchen in the basement in the next few months.  Others will be used as they are, the spring green forming part of the edges or backgrounds for new pieces.

A friend gave me some "closet goodies" to organize for the group, so I am in "unpicking" heaven for the next week or so.  There is even a tangle of thread to be sorted-- my granddaughter and I love this process.  Seeing the strands emerge as they are teased from a bundle of knots and loops is so rewarding-- and meditative.  We each try to see how long the thread can be before it has to be clipped.  Bethy is remarkable for her patience and very long strands of thread.

And in this way, the winter is passing.  Snow and ice the first of the year, and today balmy temperatures and spring storms.  The strawberry plants have put out blossoms, the bulbs are coming up--   I hardly know what clothes will fit this flurry of changing weather, if it is a false spring or a truncated winter.

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