Welcome Guest Blogger Ricë Freeman-Zachery, writer and fabric artist and from the Blog “Notes from the Voodoo Café”.
I have the best job in the world: I get to sit around in my pajamas all day and call up artists and ask them nosy questions and then write about them. And then, in my spare time, I get to make fabric art. Every now and then–about once a year or so–I get to write a book–my newest one is “Living the Creative Life: Ideas and Inspiration from Working Artists”, and you can read more about it here. Art, writing–all without having to leave the house! What more could anyone want?
The Joys of Hand Stitching
I don’t know about y’all, but I have a ton of stuff I don’t use. Like, just for instance, four sewing machines, including the olive green Elna my mother used to make all my clothes when I was a kid. I have my trusty all-metal Kenmore from 1977. I have a heavy-duty Singer. And I have my shiny new Janome. Oh, I’m not saying I never use them: I use the Kenmore for doing all those things I would never dream of doing by hand, like mending seams. But that’s not what I think of when I think of “sewing.”
When I think of sewing, I remember learning to sew under the ironing board in my mother’s sewing room, playing with the scraps she handed down to me from her sewing table. My efforts weren’t pretty, but I learned to love the act of joining two pieces of fabric with a needle and thread.
I have never had any discernible domestic talents. None. Ask my husband. Although I took Home Ec in 7th grade and made an apron and, at the end of the semester, a little dress, that was as far as garment construction went for me. I didn’t make any of my clothes in high school-my mother did that. What I did do, though, was to stitch on the clothes I had-lines of embroidery, stitched names, butterflies. Although I was too young to get the full benefit of growing up in the 60’s, I discovered Native Funk and Flash when it first came out in 1974, and, for me, that changed everything. The idea of altering your clothes to make them into personal talismanic garments seemed to be about the coolest thing anyone could do. I started then, with a bunch of work shirts and jeans, and I’ve never stopped.
What is it about hand stitching, about pulling thread through fabric? It’s not about fancy stitches-I know only three embroidery stitches: I know the running stitch, which is like saying I know how to breathe; the split stitch, which is so sturdy it will still be holding on when the fabric around it has worn to threads; and the French knot, which I learned just to show off. For me, it’s not about doing rows of fancy little stitches. For me, it’s about altering something, making something new, with nothing but my hands and a rainbow of floss.
And here I’ll admit: it doesn’t even have to be embroidery floss. When I did make clothes from scratch, my favorite part was always the hem, and it was always a blind hem, done by hand. There’s something about creating a perfect, invisible hem that just made me happy. Yeah, I know that sounds pathetic, but what can I say? I love to stitch. I love to sew, and I love to mend, and I love to decorate-if I can do it by hand, I’m happy. One of my favorite things in all the world is to sit on the front porch and stitch. The only thing that keeps me from being my great-great grandmother is that I’m stitching words and appliquéing skulls rather than creating little daisies on the edge of a pinafore. It could be scary, but there’s something comforting about imagining myself flowing into old age with my needles and a bag of bright thread.
It’s calming. It’s meditative. It’s downright Zen.
And it’s the height of being hip: taking scraps of fabric, or clothes faded by years of wear, and keeping them alive by working on them with your hands-that’s about as green as you’re going to get. Zen and hip? What more could you want?
Click here, for more posts from Ricë.