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Weekend Life

DuBose: Becoming friends with the sewing machine – again

My daughter wanted to learn how to sew. On the sewing machine.

“I don’t really remember how to do it,” I said with a shrug, when Holly asked me to teach her, a couple of weeks ago, “but it’ll come back to me.”

“You don’t remember, but you’re going to teach me?” she asked, unconvinced.

“Yep!” I confidently replied. But the truth is, I was worried. What if I couldn’t remember how to use the machine? What if the thread got hopelessly knotted? What if I couldn’t conjure my way out of the knotty nightmare and my daughter left the room shaking her head in disgust?

Before I could blow it, though, I had to find the darned thing.

“Where is it?” she asked. I had no idea. We’d moved three times since I’d last used it, and I’d lost track of its whereabouts.

“It’s either in the back of your closet or in the basement,” I replied, noncommittally. I didn’t know and I wasn’t even sure it would still work if I found it.

The last time I’d touched it was when I had it cleaned and repaired, nine years ago, in anticipation of a sewing frenzy that never materialized. But nine years is a long time.

The second time she asked I searched her closet. It wasn’t there. Something distracted me and I never made it down to the basement to look there.

By the time I did, to do laundry, I forgot all about it.

• • •

I took a sewing class when my husband and I were first married, after he bought the machine one snowy evening after work, hauled it home on the train, and put it under our Christmas tree. My first project was a quilt I made for my sister and her new husband. It was an absurd thing to attempt right off the bat, but sometimes, ignorance is bliss. My instructor simply smiled at my naiveté as she passed me a pattern. But that quilt, and the next one, turned out just fine.

Sewing took a back seat to sleep, however, when my firstborn came on the scene. I was too tired. I was also way too busy, and sticky baby hands and sharp needles just seemed a lousy combination. I had good intentions, though, and even bought a bolt of fabric when I was pregnant with Holly: a pretty, pale green fabric with purple tulips that I’d planned to make into a quilt for her.

But the fabric’s still on the bolt.

Wisely, she gave up on my ever finding the sewing machine and talked her father into hauling it out of the basement. I should have bought a book about sewing while I had the chance, I realized, when I turned the corner and saw it sitting there on the dining room table like a challenge. Or Googled a YouTube video, for Pete’s sake, but I never got around to it. It was too late, though, and I couldn’t let her see me sweat. I had to go for it.

I decided to start slow. You know, really slow. So slowly, in fact, that I almost lost her when I tried to buy time by suggesting that we dust the machine. I figured that though it had been zipped up in its bag for nearly a decade, we’d find dust. And we did, thank God, in various crevices. I figured we’d start at the top and work our way down and prayed that by the time I became re-acquainted with the machine I would magically recall how to run it.

Oddly enough, it worked! Not all at once, of course, but things came back to me a little at a time. I started remembering what things were for and how they worked, and began to feel hopeful.

“You know it’s called a ‘foot’ but you don’t know how to sew,” Holly stated dryly, when I cleaned the old grease from the machine’s moving parts.

“Hey, I’m winging it,” I replied, and winked. “Work with me.”

It’s like what they say about riding a bike. You never really forget how to sew. It didn’t hurt that the sticker was still in place, the little one with the diagram about how to thread the needle, and that my hands retained a sort of “body memory,” about how you’re supposed to sweep the threads out of the way before you put the fabric in place. All that was left for me to do was turn it on. We’d been “cleaning” the machine for so long that by the time I plugged the machine in, Jake, our big red dog, was passed out at our feet. When I stepped on the pedal and it whirred to life, he practically jumped out of his skin.

But it worked! The sewing machine worked!

“Yay!” we cheered.

The needle got stuck after we made a few passes on a scrap of fabric, of course, but instinctively – instinctively! – I reached for the big knob on the side and manually raised it. Whoa, I thought, I’d forgotten what that was even for. Or so I thought.

Eventually, we discovered, together, how to adjust the thread’s tension. We flipped a switch and that did the trick. Voila, no more lumpy stitches! Holly noticed the dials and even figured out how to adjust the size of her stitches, and she was unstoppable. I had my laptop handy in case we needed to Google how to do something, but we never did.

Eventually, the spool under the “foot” ran out of thread. I guess it’s time to reload the bobbin. That’s what it’s called, right? I guess we’ll have to Google how to do that. After all, we have a quilt to sew.

• Jennifer DuBose is a contributor for the Kane County Chronicle. She lives in Batavia with her husband, Todd, and their two children, Noah and Holly. She can be reached at


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