Thursday, January 10, 2013

Sewing with Duct Tape and Other Skills I Taught My Daughter

My gorgeous college daughter Abby and I recently shared moving mother-daughter moments, bonding over something I have no skill at.  She’d approached me over the weekend with her concept to hand-sew a costume for an upcoming Anime Convention.

These conventions have come a long way in scope and popularity. Back in the 1980s, they were only attended by deranged, unemployed folks called, ‘Trekkies,’ dressed like Captain Kirk or Spock, who gathered in clandestine hordes to speak Romulan to each other and perform Vulcan Mind Melds – or hold up a victory-sign saying, ‘Live Long And Prosper.’

Today, Anime Conventions are a global phenomenon, attended by savvy folk who dress like any number of pop culture icons, like Flo, with the bouffant 60s hair bump from those car insurance ads. By Progressive.

Well, Abby had hatched a genius caper to build a female Captain America costume, by fusing the arms from a white shirt into shoulder-holes of a blue shirt. Using Needle And Thread.

I reflected on this novel approach for fully two-minutes before contracting Thought-Vertigo and I had to lie down.

Twenty minutes later, she rattled an old sewing kit by my ear and I was stunned into action. 

This sewing kit brought back vivid memories – none of which were fond.  It wasn’t even my sewing kit. That one had been discarded years ago by my mother, back in the 90s, when she discovered it in our basement, rotting next to an old cat box. 

It was the very same one she’d bought me in 1965 when The Girl Scouts of America initiated new members by making them sew their own Badge Sashes. This would earn us our first Sewing Badge.  Pretty Catch-22 if you ask me.  Today this practice is called ‘hazing’ and is no longer legal. But back then, I dutifully hand-sewed a badge sash earning my first sewing badge, which I affixed, proudly – beautifully -- onto that sash by hiring a professional seamstress.

When my mother discovered this ancient relic in my basement, it wasn’t even the broken hinge that disgusted her (we are a family of duct tape enthusiasts.)  It was the faded neon-pink plastic, degraded by Ultra Violet radiation to a melancholy beige, now flaking off of itself into a pile of sewing-kit dust.

Mom swept the whole thing into a dust pan and replaced it that day with a sturdy wooden box.  It was decorated in patriotic red, white and blue.  She gave it to my son Zachary for his tenth birthday. When he opened it, my mother glowered at ME, saying, “Well, someone’s got to teach these kids to sew, Carolyn, and we know it won’t be you.” 

She did teach Zach to sew with that kit, although by this point in Scouting history, badge sashes all came as standard-issue with uniforms, plus the new badges had iron-on backings.

To this day Zachary can blind-stitch trouser hems, although he is so tall, he never needs to.

Anyway, Abby was rattling Zach’s sewing box at me, while in her other hand she rattled a Captain America Shirt-Pattern she’d fashioned from Crayola Markers and a Shaw’s Grocery Flier.

It looked like a chalk drawing CSI investigators make on floors to outline a dead body. But we went with it.

I explained she should probably pin the pattern to her fabric, rather than hold it aloft, lined up with her thumb, with one eye closed. So we opened the lid of that sewing kit, and out popped  – like a macabre jack-in-the-box – three decomposing Band-Aids and a tube of Neosporin.

“MOM!” lambasted Abigail, “You turned Zach’s sewing box into a First AID KIT??”

“Gawd, no, Abby. But we WILL put those things to good use soon – wait and see.”

We began cutting out the pattern (with safety scissors) when Abby discovered a pin cushion with her father’s monogram. It was from his 1968 junior high life skills class.  This was a progressive era, where boys learned to sew in classes called Be A Man, Make A Pin Cushion and cook in Build Omelettes Like a Chef!  (Girls, meanwhile, were banned from both woodshop and small engine repair.  This is what caused Feminism.)

Abby was very generous with me as we sewed together, so as to encourage me onward.  “Mom – you can thread the needle AND tie knots in its end!?!  Wow.” 

When I showed her how to ‘blind stitch’ so there was no evidence it had ever been sewn, she thought I was a witch.

 “Teach me!” she panted.  So I carefully explained that “it’s the same way I take out splinters.  You never poke the needle straight downward.  You just sort of 'lift' the fabric-threads, so you don’t draw blood.”

“I love you, Mom,” she smiled.

At one point Abby got very embarrassed when she called the pins “little nails.” She even made me promise not to blog about this.  Which I’d never do.

But when I looked carefully at those orange-tipped pins fused by rust to the cushion, I realized she was right.  They looked just LIKE the Big Nails her father keeps inside a rusty coffee tin on his workbench.

 We tossed that cushion aside in search of newer pins, which is how we found a box I purchased when she was in second grade and I’d had to pretend I was a Sewing Mom and hem a ballet costume seconds before her recital.

I failed and had to duct tape that hem, which is why the pins inside the box were as pristine as the day I’d purchased them.  “And LOOK, Mom,” said Abby. “Each one is covered with a colorful plastic BEAD.” 

As I pressed several beaded pins through a sleeve hem, with several others in my mouth, Abby was awestruck. “So THAT’s why the pins are covered by colorful plastic balls!  So you don’t SWALLOW them!”

“Yes,” I said. “But also so you can SEE them.  Back in the day of the Little Nail, people would sew right over them because they blended in with the hem.  Between wearing nails in our skirt-hems alongside spiky-toothed metal sanitary-napkin holders with garter-style elastic bands we wore in the 60s – before they invented Adhesive Pads (which came AFTER Post-it notes and peel-back strips on envelopes) the sewing industry added colored balls to the nails – to improve women’s quality of life.”


“It wasn’t until 1971 that women finally mobilized and marched in parades -- as suffragists --wearing bloomers to hide those pads, to publicly protest metallic spiky teeth that got impaled in women’s butt-cracks—“

“Mom, please stop, that’s not even true.”

“Besides blood-poisoning, women got gangrene from garter elastic that twisted up in their femoral arteries, cutting off circulation.  Then, after we won the right to vote  -- which women got 34 years and four amendments after men of all races -- Feminists demanded that Envelope and Christmas Tag Technology be applied to feminine hygiene products, with the peel-back adhesive strip—“

“STOP, it Mother! I can’t CONCENTRATE!”

“The kind with wings didn’t come out until the invention of the airplane.”

“I am sewing in my ROOM!”

As she stomped off, I called after her explaining how hard-won my sewing acumen was.

 “I wasn’t always this proficient, Abby. Back when you guys were little, I bought athletic shorts for all of you, each summer. But for myself, I cut the legs off winter woolens, hemmed them with duct tape and tried to look brave.”

Her door slammed.

The last part was true.

In fact, one June, I was at the Little League Concession Stand peeling several epidermal layers from my hem, when Sheila, A Sewing Person, looked at my shorts and screamed. 

Sheila was determined – even more than my mother – to teach me “a fun and easy hemming stitch ANYONE can learn.”

“Sheila,” I’d explained, “baiting a fish hook with scorpions or a piece of my own liver is safer for me than sewing.”

“Well,” she said reaching into her sewing bag, “I have here two needle-free products called Stitch Witchery and Hem Glue.  They work JUST LIKE duct tape only you buy them in NOTIONS instead of HARDWARE.  They’re for people who care about their skin – that it may forever keep the inner workings of their thighs a mystery.  Take them.”

But I got to thinking.  Why would I want to use duct tape imposters when I had the real thing in my truck? 

“You know, Sheila, I am proud to wear duct tape.  It simply says ‘I Care.’”

“Damn straight!” shouted a woman in a Reynold’s Foil tank top.  “Why, I rubber band my pant cuffs, clamp my sleeves and staple hems.  And for weight gains and losses, I never use tailors. I ‘power-drape’ loose fabric, and stretch tight crotches with a VICE.”

Her name was Doris and I nominated her that day for Woman Of The Year.

“A vice!?  That’s great,” gushed a woman in an onion bag bandana.  “Once I used a lathe to shave the balls off winter knits.”

“Try an Epilady,” winked Doris. “It’s easier on the fabric.”

We joined hands at the Weinie Wagon. “We are the Edward Scissorhands of Fabric!  The McGyver of Clothing Repair!”

Sheila was incredulous. “The three of you look like hell.  And you’re no McGyver.  You’re just inept.  Maybe lazy.  Sewing is a basic skill – like cooking or pumping gas.”

“C-o-o-k-i-n-g?” Bandana puzzled.

“PUMP the gas…” Doris soundlessly mouthed.

“My God,” said Sheila. “How do you eat?  How do you drive!?”

“Full service and Ellios Pizza,” I chirped.

“I pity the men you married.”

“Divorced,” quipped Doris.

“Separated,” said Bandana.

“I married a government worker!” I smiled.

Sheila turned away and ordered a double cotton candy.  That’s why they call them ‘concessions.’

By now Doris was angry.  “Listen, Sheila.  Sewing is not a basic skill. CPR is a basic skill. Eating watermelon is a basic skill. But sewing?  If McGyver lost a button during a crucial explosion scene, I guarantee you he’d close his fly with his teeth or a clip from a grenade.”

“If he were nice he’d leave it open,” grinned Bandana.

“At least McGyver had reason to improvise,” snapped Sheila. “He had to live by his wits or his ratings would bottom out.”

I was stunned. “Are you saying WE are Lazy, but McGyver lives by his WITS?”

“What wits?” sniffed Bandana. “McGyver is a man.”

“Not any man,” sighed Doris. “A 40-something single man…”

“McGyver,” I stated, “is an identity-confused homeless pryromaniac with commitment angst and a latent death wish.”

“LADIES!” shouted Sheila. “He’s not even REAL!”

“Precisely!  But we Moms are very real – and not lazy.  My duct taped thighs, her foiled breasts and that bagged hair testify to our cavalry. We navigate them each summer to dozens of godless 10-inning  No-Hitters – suffering slings and arrows on bleachers – spending outrageous fortunes – on Weiners for kids who don’t WEAR new shorts cuz they live in free Little League costumes!”

“You’re right, ladies.  You’re not lazy.  You’re insane.”

“We don’t have to take this.  Bandana, get Doris and me some whipped topping propellant and let’s suck ourselves out of this blog.”

Abby's Mother-Daughter Mad Skills-Sewing Project
In the time it took me to reminisce about Sheila, Doris and Bandana, Abby completed her costume.  She is a wonderful seamstress!

In fact, once she discovered I had inadvertently hemmed a white panel to the shirt’s lower-half by sewing it inside-out, so the seam was on the OUTSIDE, she simply covered my horror with duct tape in Captain America-Red that she found in my lingerie drawer.

She is a Sewing Marvel (or maybe DC)  and I was never so proud of her.

Our family feminist duct tape legacy lives on. 

Girl, Right On!   Power To the People!

'Live Long And Prosper!'