At one point, when I was living in a one-room cabin (or possibly a shed) in Alaska, I asked my mother for a sewing machine. Specifically, I wanted a 1970s Elna Supermatic in a blue case. It was the machine I learned to sew on and, in my opinion, the best machine in the world. My mom can have a magic touch when it comes to garage sales, so I had no doubts that she would be able to find me one.
The hunt started out slow. I’d call her periodically, asking for progress. One day she responded, “I haven’t found a sewing machine yet—” by which of course she meant she hadn’t found THE sewing machine— “but you will never guess what I did find: a knitting machine!”
Although my mother was ecstatic, I was, to say the least, disappointed. This was the beginning of a knitting machine rabbit hole that was to last over 20 years, involving more knitting machines than she is willing to disclose. However, I wanted her to go down a sewing machine rabbit hole. I continued to push her in that direction. I did not fail in pushing: she did not fail in procuring of sewing machines.
My mother is an amazing person who can go down innumerable rabbit holes simultaneously. Whether her knowledge and volume of knitting machines is greater than her knowledge and volume of sewing machines shall never be known. However, I do feel at least partly responsible for the only collection of curious objects that has ever taken up more space in her house than her collection of fabulous vintage chairs: machines, both beautiful and purposeful, and their accessories and notions.
In case you were wondering: of course she found the perfect Elna. I took it back to Alaska carry-on after a trip home.
I made: myself some pants, my friends and myself some hats and sweaters, myself some shoe-covers, a portfolio cover, a ski bag, some bike panniers, a pair of overalls with an embroidered kangaroo pocket for a pregnant friend, a larger-than-life hobby horse for an equestrian friend, some mittens, a doll, and maybe some other things. They’re mostly gone now, so there’s a good chance I forgot some of them.
The doll I made in that tiny one-room cabin (or possibly a shed) walked out of my life soon after I made her, but she remains close to my heart. She had skin of woven cotton, dyed with coffee. Her face was embroidered with a wide smile, her teeth sparkling white. Her eyes were small from smiling so happily. I cannot say she had a visible nose. Her hair was of torn fabric, knotted then stitched to her head. Her shirt fashioned from scrap of fabric that I found somewhere. The jeans that clothed her long legs were machine embroidered with large red swirls and the word “love.” She wore leather sandals on her over-large feet. Her elbows and knees were jointed. Her hands, like her feet, like my hands, like my feet, were large. Although I never made make a pattern for her, she was, in some ways, the most perfect doll I’ve ever made.
Soon after I made her, a friend came over to chat. He was in his late 40s, single, alcoholic, and on the verge of bankruptcy. He sat on the chair. I sat on the floor. After some time he caught sight of the doll. “I like that doll,” he said. “Did Fletch make it?” Fletch was a mutual friend who liked to sew. I had not seen her in years.
“I made it,” I said, moderately annoyed.
“You made it?” he said, as if he wondered at the fact that I could even sew, let alone make something like that doll. He looked at her again. “I really like her,” he said. He looked at the doll in silence.
“Would you like her?” I offered. I knew he wasn’t asking. He wouldn’t ask for anything. He was merely admiring.
He eventually left with the doll. His glee made me giddy. He took her home to his three-room cabin where he lived alone with many dogs, fifty miles outside of town. The next time I saw him, some time later, he told me about her. He had named her. She had a friend: a little stuffed dog. They were inseparable.
Some people’s lives are troublesome. Some people’s lives are hard. People come and go. I never did see him again.
to be continued