I don’t sew well. I have not had the patience to force myself to learn how to fit a pattern to my body.
But I was driven to start sewing again specifically because my body was changing so much. I grew tired of going to a boutique here in Austin only to find that their largest size did not accommodate my waist. Tired of new fashion seasons rolling in filled with silhouettes and colors I hated. I wanted control over my wardrobe.
It’s a lot like falling in love with art – you love what you see in your mind, but you have to train your hands to mirror what you imagine. I’m not there yet. But I’m trying. That’s why this post doesn’t have any pictures.
My foot is healing (I broke it in July), and I have been given the all clear to do what I had been doing, which is to walk around in my air cast. Thank goodness! Work is ramping up again, which makes me terribly anxious and leaves me no time to develop my sewing skills or my new (so far only imagined) business.
I watched “Project Runway” the other night. It had a lingerie challenge, which made me remember the night John Larry died. Stay with me — this all has to do with sewing, I promise.
It was a terrible night, all last throes of a long term love affair combined with a phone call with my mother; guilt-filled family conversation about my brother’s latest health scare. I went to bed feeling miserable and ugly.
The phone rang around 4 or 5 AM. It was John Larry’s number, but nobody was there when I answered.
I got up and stumbled in to the bathroom, kind of glad to be awake so early. I love super early mornings, love the dark quiet of them, the bank of time when nobody expects anything of you and everyone else is asleep.
At any rate, I caught my reflection in the mirror and I was stunned.
My reflection was so surprising and delightful to me, was such a relief, that I returned to look at myself again.
I was wearing a cotton, floral, baby doll nightgown. My skin glowed. My complexion was sort of flushed. I was vibrant and … and, simply, ready. Capable. Prepared. Able.
A short time later, Dad called to tell me John had died. But there was this time in between the ugliness of the night before and the grief of what was to come when it was just me and my reflection and that little nightgown — the first I ever remember having purchased.
(“Pay money for something I just sleep in when I can’t even afford a new pair of jeans? Are you crazy?” I remember thinking for a super long time. My reluctance to invest anything at all in sleepwear explained my tendency to sleep in the buff for the first decade + I lived on my own. But then I ran across some discount rack and the babydoll nightgown. “Maybe he’ll fall in love with it,” I thought, reflecting on my romantic entanglement. “Maybe he’ll see it instead of me and think he’s really in love after all.”)
Then there was that night/morning, and a moment when I believed not so much that I was beautiful, but that I was strong; a moment when my anxieties became dreams, my dreams became something for later, and my reflection was me, and I was as happy to see myself as I would have been happy to see someone I loved.
That moment was incredibly important to me. I reflected on it often in the months to come. So much so that in the absence of Dad confirming it was he who called and hung up without speaking I have always believed it was actually John Larry himself who woke me up just to give me that reflection — to help me. To steady me.
This all makes me well up. I loved my brother. I still (and will always, I think) feel him with me. And this paragraph may have nothing to do with sewing but I leave it in for the benefit of others who may have lost a sibling who struggled, and failed to live: I feel his belief in me, and also sense his warnings and recriminations. At the time he died I was suddenly unsure if he loved me. The truth is he may not have felt much love for me right then. I was a brutal sister when we were adults. Heck, I wasn’t so sure I loved him, when he died. Brutal because I thought brutal was strong, and I thought strong would rub off on him. Brutal like a bandage dress, too, because I thought it might protect me from what was happening in my brother’s life.
But I did, as I quickly discovered, love him. I did, and in the long run that was all that mattered.
I think of the reflection I saw that morning, with daylight and waking worries pulled away, and I remember that… I think that everything was correct. I loved and was loved in return, and it didn’t matter that any of us were imperfect. I was healthy and strong and alive. Everything I needed to shoulder what was coming — well, it was all there, inside of me. It was enough.
So this is how I think of my sewing of clothes: I think this is a practice to clothe my strength. I think I will make things to clothe my reflection, as though it is always 4 o’clock in the morning, and I am always alone and beholden to nobody’s opinion save me and the ones who love me.
Because when it boils down to it, you want to recognize yourself when you look in the mirror. You want to see your own beauty and strength. As I sew — as I think about sewing — I keep this in mind. The night. The mirror.
The certainty of everything.
And, by the way, nobody but me ever saw me in that nightgown.