When my mother died, my sister moved into our family home. She kept most of the furniture, because why throw out good furniture? There are some pieces, however, that she has no use for. With those, she usually asks me if I want it before she gets rid of it.
Usually, I say no. I have serious hoarder tendencies, so I have to be very strict with myself over getting too caught up in the memory of things rather than the purpose of things.
One day, however, she called and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. She is one of the few people whose phone calls I answer without letting it go to voicemail first.
“Hey, you wouldn’t want Mom’s old sewing table, would you?”
Would I? Uhhhhh, yeah.
Let me back up a bit. Over the last few years, I have been sporadically trying to rekindle my sewing ability. I had a good stretch back in the ‘90s where I made a lot of clothes for myself and my husband, and some gifts for friends. But as with many things, life gets complicated and other things take precedence and old habits die easier than the cliché would have you believe.
When I caught the sewing bug, I bought a serviceable Singer that has a shallow learning curve. It has travelled with me through four moves and has been forgotten in storage for many long stretches. A desire to do something to upcycle my increasingly bland wardrobe while not busting my budget was my most recent catalyst for breaking it out again. Like most home seamstresses, I have used it to make masks. Experimenting with mask patterns made me feel the desire to create with my machine.
So, I did what most people do. I looked around on the internet and social media sites to see how others do what I’m trying to do. This eventually led me to a very deep Pinterest dive of embroidery and quilting-capable machines. I was contemplating if I wanted to go through the motion of trying to save up for this fancy machine when my sister made the offer.
My mother’s sewing table is iconic to me. I have very distinct memories of watching my mother sew at her table. She made clothes for all of us and other members of our extended family. She made more costumes at the last minute than I care to admit to making her do. I thought I remembered exactly what this table and the corresponding chair looked like.
When my sister dropped it off at my house, it looked just like I remembered. Granted, this table has seen better days, but it was definitely the table I remembered. The chair even more so. The look and touch of the fabric was exactly as I remembered.
Once I got it in the house and flipped it open, it revealed the hidden sewing machine tucked away in its nook. Moving from muscle memory, I carefully lifted out the machine, propped it up in sewing position, and got my first look at it since I was a young girl in high school.
It was not as I remembered.
It was so simple. It had very few levers and settings. I sat in my mother’s chair, staring the small table with its extended-leaf top and looked at the sewing machine that looked both basic and complex at the same time. I was flooded with new respect for my mother — a well that, so far, knows no bottom.
How did she do it? How did she create professional-quality clothes and crafts and home decor on this machine?
It’s easy to say that she was a woman of her times and this was the machine she had to work with. It’s probably true that this machine was somewhere near the top of the line of what there was to offer when she bought it. Knowing how much she used it and depended on it, I’m sure this was a good, solid machine to own. Seeing the machine made me appreciate the lessons her life taught me, and continue to teach me even though she is gone.
What did I learn that day? Keep it simple. This simple machine fulfilled dreams and satisfied needs. Surely, I could make moves in my life toward my goals with all the technology available to me.
We have this moment. This life. It is hard right now, and we have had to adjust in ways we never expected or wanted. It is comforting to take refuge in memories of the past or to project into a future that we hope will be better.
Being in the moment, thinking about my mother sitting at this table making a way out of no way, it became clear to me that all we can do in this life is take the best skills, tools, knowledge that we have at the time and use it to make our lives better or to fill a need.
We just have to keep it simple and put in the work.
— Mariel Blake is a Daily News columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com.