Doing It By Hand

Sewing tools

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Spent much of last evening torturing myself with needle and thread. Literally. I learned to stitch by hand when I was about Dee’s age, and I am no better at it forty years later than I was then. I would have died a dependent spinster had I been born even fifty years earlier because a woman who can’t even mend clothing is just short of useless – especially if she’s not an enthusiastic cook in the bargain.

Dee’s Brownie troop leader likes to save herself postage by ordering all the girls’ badges by bulk, so Monday Dee came home from her meeting with a baggie stuffed with the fruits of her gleefully diligent labor dating back to September.

Dozens of patches testifying to her ability to color, cut and paste, be cooperative and attentive and generally enjoy arts and crafts.

They all now need to be sewn to her sash, a thick material that dares needles to penetrate. The patches themselves range from moderately easy to poke through to industrially reinforced with stiff gluey backs layered with embroidery. For all my hours of work, I have sore fingers, thumbs and a sash with just three badges attached.

I remember learning to embroider. Santa brought me a pink sewing basket with thread, needle and all the fixings the Christmas I was nine. Gamely I approached the cross-stitch and created a few wobbly looking pieces, but it was dogged obstinacy that drove me. I couldn’t stand not being able to do something that looked like it should be easy.

A couple of years later I learned to sew through 4-H. They started us with the obligatory book bag but eventually, I made a dress and a few shirts.  As a result, I learned to measure the body, select and cut patterns and sew a mostly straight stitch.

I didn’t learn to love it however. As with cooking, I viewed it as just one of those gender default pieces of knowledge that the universe was content in its wisdom to insist that I know based on the XX thing. Why my father insisted that I add lawn care to the list, in clear violation of the “need to know” rules, I still don’t know. Regardless, when I left home, I could sew, cook, bake, clean, do laundry and shop with efficiency. I could also take care of a lawn and balance a budget. If I’d been born in India, Dad might have been paid for me instead of having to pay someone to take me off his hands – I was pretty useful.

“Why don’t you use a thimble?” Rob asked as I massaged my tender thumb pads.

But I could just as easily stitch a patch using my teeth and toes as I can perform a proper whip stitch using a thimble. They just get in the way of an already tedious picky task.

I don’t help myself much either. Whip stitches are easy. The lighter weight, smaller in diameter badges, are not as difficult as they are just boring. But I hamstring myself with the need to match the thread to the patch, and I have no orange thread, which means I have to go out of my way today to pick some up.

Do the colors have to match? Really?

Yes, they do. It’s important because Brownies is important to Dee. Some mothers staple the badges to the sashes or use hot-glue guns/fabric glue. The lack of respect for your daughter’s interests shows through and will be noticed as each badge tatters before finally falling off.

I didn’t get past Brownies. I found the whole thing to be merely an extension of my home-training, which was geared towards turning me into “just a another girl” for “some boy” to marry. 4-H was much the same.

Dee likes Brownies. She is attracted to the order and the task-oriented nature of it. She is good at it, and for a child who struggles mightily at times with a world that is too loud and rough around its edges and unfair in ways she will never fully resign herself to, sewing these patches and ensuring that her sash is presentable is probably one of the smallest mommy tasks on my list though I would not call it “the least that I can do”. Staples and glue would be the least.

She was her troop’s top cookie seller this year. She has earned badges for friendship, party planning and community – among others. She has a sleep-over badge and one indicating her concern for and willingness to help out those who go hungry more often than she ever will. These are accomplishments that deserve to be displayed with pride. Sore thumbs and pricked fingertips are nothing by comparison.

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