June 23, 2010

i teach free for my sister.

after eating my ice cream, and seeing my fabric laden craft room,
sweet josie, my adopted Philippine grandma, offered to teach me to make a pattern.
i kindly said, no thank you.
i just quilt.  and decorate. i don't sew.
she insisted.
after 2 weeks, and many chance meetings where she reminded me, "i'm waiting for your call"
we hooked up.
honestly, i had many things i would have rather been doing.
like CLEANING my craft room.
or finishing one of the hundreds of unfinished projects i already started.
NOT learning to make a pattern.
for a dress.
that i can't sew well.
[i know you think i can sew.  and i can.  but not really.  i got a sewing machine for my wedding, and i taught myself to sew straight.  quilts not clothes.  skirts with elastic waist bands.  halloween costumes yes.  prom dresses no.]
josie measured and drafted and taught me like the school teacher she is in her country.
her friend asked her how much she was charging me.
she said, "i teach free for my sister."

sweet, sweet teacher.
ungrateful student.
we spent 3 hours.
and made two pattern pieces.
a bodice for me and a bodice for leah.
she said, "i come back tomorrow at 2."

we spent hours talking and tracing and eventually cutting fabric.
josie made dresses without a pattern when she was 15.
she got married to a man who was always drunk, and never worked.
"if i didn't know how to sew, my babies would have starved." she explained.
first she sewed dresses and sold them at little neighborhood shops.
she eventually worked at or owned a tailor shop.
when people would come asking for a job she would use their scissors.
if they were sharp, she would consider them.
if they had no scissors, or their scissors were dull, she would send them away.
josie admired my gingher sewing scissors.
she had never used a pair so nice.
but, mine were dull.
i'm going to buy her a pair to take home.
josie has an electric sewing machine.
it only goes straight.
she teaches technology.
the people in her class learn on a peddle sewing machine.
i showed her my machine.
how i can make button holes.
and blind hems.
and ruffles.
i would give her my machine.
i would trade machines with her... if it were possible.
she is a tailor.
i make crafts.

during the 10 hours we have "sewed" together so far, josie has realized that i really don't know how to sew.
she is surprised.
i laugh and i'm a little embarrassed.
for me, and for america. 
i said, "You didn't believe me when i told you i didn't know how to sew clothes."
she said, "you have so much fabric, i thought you were a tailor."
i wish i could give her my fabric.
i went to the store and bought 7 yards of fabric for the dress she is helping me to make.
she said 3 yards would have been plenty.
i have a room full of fabric and i bought more.
that is what i do.
and i am ashamed.
most days i think i am poor.
josie says, "you are so lucky that you can stay home with your family.  you have a good husband."
yes.  i do.  i am.
i apologize for my messy sewing room and josie says not to worry.
but i can see she is confused.
once, as she fingers a quilt top that i have on my wall, she asks "why do you not finish this?"
i laugh.  actually, i have two of those quilt tops- one for me and one for my mom.
my mother didn't like it. so i stopped.  i want to finish it and give it to josie as a gift.
oh josie, i have hundreds of projects that i haven't finished.
i begin showing her all the quilts i have in process.
i am embarrassed.
i have too much.
and, still i cry because i can't buy my girls matching Gymboree dresses.
actually, i CAN buy them matching Gymboree dresses and i STILL cry.
i am so ungrateful.
i have a whole room full of unfinished matching dresses that i could make, for free, if i had the skills.

"this is good for you to learn," she explained. "you have 4 girls."
her girls were 18 before they had their first store bought dress.
i can't keep my house clean because i have too much stuff.  ??!!
oh america.

yesterday, josie left me with a little dress all cut out and ready to sew, for leah.
she assured me that it would only take me an hour to sew it.
i went to bed at 1am.
i really wanted to make her proud.
i am a kindergarten tailor.
the sleeves took me an hour.
i tried to do her homemade piping... and, it's ok, if you don't look close.
my machine got all messed up on my blind hem stitch, and i'm embarrassed for when she looks underneath
and wonders why i went around and around 100 times with my machine instead of just hemming it by hand.
and the buttonholes.
oh those stupid buttonholes.
i can make 500 perfect buttonholes on scrap fabric.
but EVERY TIME i try to make a buttonhole on the back of the dress that i have already spent 4 hours sewing...
the front looks fine, the back. like Cousin It.
i hate Cousin It.
i unpicked buttonholes twice.
i was embarrassed for me and america.
josie does all her buttonholes by hand.
her daughter remembers stitching buttonholes by hand when she was a little girl.
helping in her mother's dress shop.
laura engles worked in "town" for a summer stitching button holes.
i tried a buttonhole by hand.

i am a PRESCHOOL tailor.
my hand-sewn buttonhole is laughable.
but, more functional than my Cousin It machine buttonholes.
after hand-sewn number one.  i zigzag stitched number 2 and 3.  and they are better.
number 3 was perfect.  but too small, i had to rip it out and start again.
i had visions of josie coming to my house today and showing her 4 matching little girl dresses that i had made last night.
i tried on my own, to draft a pattern for anna.
my arm holes look like withered bananas.
i couldn't cut the fabric, because i'm not sure it would really function as a dress.
you know, i really want to make josie proud.
i want her to feel how grateful i am.
i want to learn this, so i have a skill that i could use to feed my family. 

i am humbled.
not in my sewing, in my excess.
in my selfish ingratitude, when i have so much.
so, so much.
when sweet josie offered to teach me to make patterns- she was offering to give me her greatest gift.
and.  i said "no thank you."
josie's daughter, edely, she works nights as a nurse.  she sends money home to her family.
so they can eat.
i complain.
because my cabinets are brown.

josie is an answer to prayer.
an answer i didn't even realize i needed.
my heart is changed.

i am humbled.
and grateful.
and determined to live simply and stay focused on what is REAL.
my life is real.
but not really.


Rachel Ure said...

wow. this is truly great stuff. i felt your embarrasement with all of the stuff that we all have that goes unused or unappreciated. i would say that i need josie to come ot my house to humble me a bit- but who would ASK for such anexperience- right? excited to see your dresses- watch out gymboree here comes jen

Tiffany said...

Could you BE any more insightful?!? I LOVE THIS POST!!! You are one wise, insightful woman... and I love that you not only find meaning in living your day-to-day moments, but have the talent to write about them so eloquently that I can then find meaning in my own life moments. YOU ROCK!!!

Rebekah said...

Love this.

Jenni Taysom said...

because you shared, in such a beautiful real way, Josie has touched my heart too. Thank you for sharing.

Rebekah Lindenmayer said...

Thank you! I really needed this right now! I am sitting here complaining that my house is not clean enough,cool enough and just not enough. I am now going to sit here, shut up and be thankful for what I do have. Your family is beautiful, can't wait to check back to see your little girls in those dresses.

Katie @ On the Banks of Squaw Creek said...

This gives me goosebumps. You are so right. We are so lucky.

I cam over from Tabitha's and I'm going to follow you now. :)

Margo said...

Touching story.
Thank you for sharing.
I am spoiled.
I hope that I don't quickly forget what I have learned from your story.

Catherine Peart said...

This is such poignant stuff. So true. All of it. I will try and keep this at the front of my heart every time I feel 'deprived'.

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