momming & sewing

okay, there is one weird element to this sewing thing that i have not yet mustered up the emotional energy to explore. & that is: when i was little, my mom was really into sewing.

my mom was 19 & my dad was 20 when they got married, in 1974. my dad was an elementary education student at bowling green state university & my mom worked random jobs–at a frame shop, taking orders at a pizza place, etc. but she had been accepted to a fashion design school in florida & was planning to move down there shortly, which would herald the end of her relationship with my dad.

i’ve heard two versions of the story. in the more “romantic” version, my dad said, “mary, don’t go. i’m in love with you. stay here & marry me.” in the more craven version, they realized that newly married couples tend to be showered in helpful gifts, including cash, & they got hitched in order to get the stuff, with the plan that they’d split the loot & go their separate ways after six months. but after six months had passed, my dad gave the “don’t go, i love you” speech.

in any case, my mom never went to fashion design school. she stayed in ohio & by 1982, she had three little children & was a stay-at-home mom married to my dad, who gave up his dream of teaching elementary school in order to take a better-paying job at an oil refinery.

in 1983 or 1984, the local newspaper did a story on my mom. apparently is was a slow news day because they were making quite a to-do about the married mother of three who had been accepted to bowling green state university’s textile design program. she was planning to start in the fall. for whatever reason, this never happened. i don’t know if she decided it just wasn’t practical with three little kids at home (i was born in 1979, my sister in 1981, & my brother in 1982), if my dad put a stop to it (he often attempted to stop her from working & once even smashed up the shop where she worked, which resulted in her being fired), or if it was just another example of my mom’s ideas & ambitions being much bigger than her desire or ability to act on them.

she did sew a lot though. she made clothes for us. i remember wearing circle dresses with matching bloomers. i was probably two or three. she made dolls for my sister & i, & stuffed animals for my brother. she made quilts & even branched out into making jewelry. she got really into traditional indigenous art for a while & made herself what she called a “power wand,” which was a copper bar wrapped in leather with a quartz crystal affixed to the end. i’m not sure what it was supposed to be used for, but she did break someone’s windshield with it in a bizarre incident of road rage in the burger king drive-thru one day in 1987.

she had a sewing room in our house–a former sun porch with no insulation. i remember these wooden boards on the walls, with pegs where she could hang all her different thread. i remember when she got one of the earliest computerized pfaff embroidery/sewing machines. god only knows how much it cost…at least a couple thousand dollars. that’s when my parents were pretty heavily involved in selling drugs & making money hand over fist. we were not permitted to even breathe near the pfaff. she offered to teach us how to sew on her old singer, but in an early embodiment of one of my least attractive qualities, i declined, not wanting to attempt a skill at which i might not inherently shine without making any effort whatsoever. imagine what i would be able to do on a sewing machine now if i had learned while i was still in elementary school!

she often talked about starting a sewing/quilting shop. she even had a name: the ol’ sew & sew. that’s a pretty crappy name in retrospect, but when i was like seven years old, i found it really witty. she looked into getting funding from the small business association & renting a storefront at the woodville mall in toledo, which at the time, was thriving. but this was another big idea that never actually came to anything.

i don’t know when she stopped sewing. i know she hurt her back in 1993 or so, & she stopped doing a lot of stuff she’d previously enjoyed around then. she stopped taking walks, she stopped cooking…maybe this is also when she stopped sewing. i was a teenager by then & much more involved in my own ridiculous little world of trying to figure out how ripped my jeans could be without being sent to the principal & how long i could go without putting book covers on my textbooks before they would be confiscated (isn’t that a weird rule? why did our books have to be covered? & a weird punishment too–taking the book away? & what an utterly strange rule to flagrantly break–i don’t know who the hell i was trying to impress with that one). i wasn’t paying much attention to what my parents were or weren’t doing, hobby-wise.

so now i have a baby. & i’m really into sewing. i haven’t seen my mom is four years, & obviously our last bout of communication was beyond horrible. for anyone who missed it, my mom got in touch with me via facebook message shortly after ramona was born. my brother had told her that i’d had a baby. things devolved quickly, with her complaining about how much it hurts her feelings when i tell people we are estranged–like it’s normal for a mother & daughter to just not communicate with each other in any way for years on end. when she warned that i should watch my attitude lest i someday alienate ramona like i have alienated her, i was all set in the “talking to mom again” department. ramona was like ten days old at that point, still on supplemental oxygen & a feeding tube in the NICU. soothing my mom’s ruffled feelings over how i don’t leap for joy every time she asks me for money or announces her internet engagement to another random stranger living in a war-torn kurdish village was pretty low on my to-do list that day.

but i feel like it means something that my mom’s sewing was one of the few “normal” memories i have of her momming, & as soon as i became a mom, i also got really into sewing. i doubt i will be making myself a power wand & taking out someone’s windshield with it anytime soon, but…the day is young. never say never.

Published by Ciara

Ciara Xyerra wrote zines for the better part of two decades. She has a brilliant & adorable preschooler named Ramona & sews as much as she possibly can. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas with her boyfriend. She enjoys catching up on "The New Yorker", meatball subs, keeping it cranky, intersectional post-third wave feminism, dinosaurs, & monsters. If you have nothing nice to say, she recommends that you come sit here by her, so you can say not-nice things together.

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