I come from a family of sewers. Crazy quilters. My great grandmother, my grandmother, my mother, my sister, my cousin, my aunt--we are all drawn to fabrics and patterns and colors and textures. For weddings and babies, we quilt. We have to touch and create and cover and warm.
I grew up playing under the quilts my mom and GrandNomi quilted in her basement next door--I loved playing with the thumbtacks and scraps (I still remember the box with the yellow rose on the top where she kept thumbtacks) and looking at the underbelly of the quilt, helping them roll the boards over as they moved in and fetching thimbles and thread and whatever. I have a quilt made by my great grandmother hanging on my bedroom wall--with its wild, bright colors and cotton peeking out. I was told that she picked the cotton on her farm in southeastern Arizona. I remember walking down the long rows of cotton plants as we trekked from her house to the Gila River to play in the mud, and I wonder if she did the same thing to escape the summer heat.
My mom bought me a sewing machine for a birthday and graduation present five or six years ago, and it surprisingly has become one of my most prized possessions. It's not even fancy--something on sale from Sears--but I love it dearly. I felt separated when I had to leave it in Utah--no space in my Harlem apartment. I brought it home to Virginia with me on the airplane after Thanksgiving. I called Delta to find out if I could carry it on the plane--and after a long pause and wait on hold, I discovered I could as long as I removed the needle. It fit snugly in the overhead bin, and then some nice guy carried it for me along the concourse to baggage claim. I now feel like I'm fully moved in--at home--with my sewing machine.
I don't know what it is. It's not like I'm a stay-at-home mom, and I'm not super domestic. I don't have tons of time to sew. I don't make clothes or costumes. I had my love affair with my sewing machine before the whole new sewing trend with Project Runway. Over Christmas I helped my brother make a quilt for his girlfriend, and I loved watching him participate in this ritual, crossing the traditional gender divide with his own brand of breezy acceptance. I loved watching his rock-climber, river-running, skier hands pick through fabrics, cut, run them through Mom's old machine. I loved hearing how excited his girlfriend was to get her new quilt. I can picture her and him rolled up in it, keeping warm in their freezing cold house in the Colorado mountains.
Recently I decided to make a quilt for my bed that matches my great grandmother's quilt--and I picked out fabrics of the same patterns and colors. I never would have put them together on my own, but I feel her inspiration and guidance. And I realize how much I need her to play an active role in my life. So now, even as the semester starts and I scramble to stay on top of my readings and papers, I have fabric spread across my floor and I puzzle over their patterns. I come home from a late class with my brain so full of questions and critical theory and notes that I need sewing-therapy before I can unwind and go to bed. There's something soothing about cutting things apart and sewing them back together.
Something soothing, and something healing. I love that I can mend something or fix something at the flip of a switch. I love the feel of the fabrics, the comfort that this quilt will cover me and warm me, and that it is of my own making--with the silent and sure hand of my great grandmother--and in turn, my grandmother, my mother, my sister, my cousin, and my aunt. I feel their love. And it all stems from a Sears sewing machine.