My grandmother was a dressmaker. I’m not.
She taught me how to sew, and I did sew because I liked having cool clothes. I still do like cool clothes, but I gave up sewing decades ago for the ease of thrift stores, and later, catalogue shopping.
Today, the husband and I stood in a line at Costco, waiting for our turn to enter. I wore a red calico mask and he a brown one with bronze squares. I had just made them, primarily to defy the president’s laissez faire attitude toward CDC experts, but also because I am a team player and want to show everyone else that I trust the CDC.
This is my mask-making accomplishment for today. I set out to make masks for hospital staff. Whole groups of sewers are making them. (I guess I should use the term “sewing people” Sewers, well, is something else.) I’ve looked at numerous YouTube videos, downloaded a pattern from a local dressmaker, and ventured into JoAnn’s Fabrics, where weary, overworked clerks cut yards of cotton calico for me as I stood six feet away.
Today’s masks were not hospital staff grade, and not because they weren’t make of N19 certified material. I was in a hurry, because we had to get to Costco to pick up the husband’s meds. (After the line to enter Costco, in the rain, the husband is feeling more sanguine about using mail order for his meds.) Therefore my seams, pleats and margins were crooked. My fabric cuts, using expensive Case scissors I bought decades ago, were uneven.
I blame my tools. Of course I blame my tools. They’re outdated. In the video I settled on, “Ann”, the sewing expert, used cute little clips to hold the fabric together, rather than awkward and dangerous pins. She also had a rolling cutter and a big plastic measuring template that one could lay the fabric on for measuring and cutting. She also had a way-newer sewing machine that probably was smart enough to sew all by itself.
I grew to hate sewing. Mainly because it took so long, and I have never been one to enjoy the process, only the outcome—as long as it happened quickly. Maybe that’s why I liked critical care nursing so much. What ever you did, the outcome was instant, whether good or bad. Things moved quickly, unpredictably.
In sewing, careful slow time is required. Thought given to each measurement, adjustments to the machine, clear stitching, straight lines. Here’s a secret. My grandmother made my clothes—she made them for my two sisters and all our dolls. Until my mother bought my first pair of pants in a department store, I never knew that my grandmother understood my measurements—my big butt, for instance. She adjusted each sizing and stitch to ensure my butt was covered adequately. I could bend, move, play, without the worry of the fit.
My first pair of store-bought pants revealed the genius of my grandmother’s work. When I squatted, or bent over, the pants would ride down my butt uncomfortably and in embarrassing ways. She knew, understood, women’s bodies, and measured clothing to flatter, to fit, like the perfect seams she gave our doll clothes, bodices, hems, lined coats.
I view sewing as a means to an end. I envision a perfect outfit, sleek, flattering and cutting edge. I never could get there, despite my grandmother’s instruction.
And now, I can’t reproduce her precision. It’s a personality thing.
In the making of masks, there is the need to look good and to last. If I, as an RN, was going to take one of these from a donation bin, I would be looking for straight seams and durability, cleanliness of appearance. I would wonder about repeated washings, how many layers, whether I could put a filter in it. With a home-made mask, I would not expect full protection against the virus micron. I might use it in a less fraught setting. A recent New Yorker Magazine piece described the possible relationship between volume of viral exposure and severity of resulting disease. If a home-made mask was all I could get, I would use it.
So, I suppose the result of all this discussion about sewing and tailoring results in this: attention to the minutiae brings forth perfection, or so it seems. Or seams. My grandmother understood this. I have moved forward without, moving quickly in split-second decisions. Until now when attention to detail is a matter of life, or death.
Thank you, Bessie, for the hope of a straight seam.