Friday, June 19

Thrift Store Repair

Tiny stitches, up and down, side to side and then diagonally, trying to repair the binding on a beautiful, once-expensive flag that I found this week at my favorite thrift store.  The sky blue fabric along the top edge was faded and there were just a couple of little rips from where the flagpole had rubbed some areas a few too many times, but I knew I could mend it easily; sewing is in my blood.

Coats, dresses, pants, silky blouses, costumes, curtains, bedspreads, pillows, slipcovers--my house and my parents' house are filled with my mom's handiwork.  Growing up poor on a farm she received a new dress at Christmas, sewn by her mother, and that was it.  She must have had clothes for school but there are so many photos of her as a teen, wearing overalls and a man's shirt, working in the fields every spare minute.  In high school she made her first dress, horribly tight at the shoulders, and wore it until it wore out.  By the time I was old enough to sit and watch her at the sewing machine, she was mastering complicated Vogue patterns.

Patience was her best friend.  She read the pattern directions over and over before even washing her fabric in preparation for cutting.  Maybe she loved following along with the orderly steps and seeing it clearly in her mind before starting or maybe each project was a difficult challenge for her, I'll never know.  She sewed scrumptious designer dresses with tricky materials--chiffons, satins, silks.  Herringbone, stripes, plaids--everything had to match perfectly at the seams. Even today I shop for clothes like a detail freak--turning shirts inside out to see if the seams are well finished and ensuring that the fabric design on the front and back meets exactly at the side seams and continues across the arms.

She also loved to fix and patch her clothes when they had seen too much wear.  Ripped inseams would be reinforced and re-stitched.  Tears, even in noticeable spots, would be patched from her remnant stash.  Darning was a standby, with the aid of an upturned glass or her wooden darning egg.   My dad told me the story of how he had proudly shown off his darned socks to the guys at the office after he first got married.  Even though he had grown up poor as well, he had never before worn anything that someone had made new for him.

Although she tried and tried to teach me the intricacies of making bound buttonholes, setting in shoulder seams without creating that little ridge and the hemming stitch that magically curled up the edges of a scarf as you pulled the thread snug, I only observed sewing and didn't love it like she did.  My skills consist of stitching straight lines, following a few curves, and repairing great thrift store finds.  Because of what I learned at home I can usually spot stitching on a cushion or clothing that will last versus one that will fray before its time.  Whether it's a couch or a coat, I look for matching fabric designs at all the seams.  Some folks might call this being "picky," but my mom would approve of my critical eye.  She would consider it getting your money's worth.

The repair job on this otherwise-lovely flag isn't pretty but it's functional.  When this temporary fix eventually gives out the next step will be to just create a shorter flag by cutting off the faded, torn top binding and making a brand new one for the flagpole to slip through, or even replacing the binding with a contrasting piece of material from my stash.  I can see in my head how to do it, even if my fingers aren't as fine-tuned as they could be.  There's always a way.  Thanks, Mom. 

Emily in her mother-of-the-bride dress.  Nope, she didn't sew the tux.