Saturday, March 7, 2015

As Ye Sew, So Shall Ye Rip

My younger sister and I showing off our spring
4-H ribbons for sewing and ceramics, 1987.
I started in 4-H when I was eight-years-old. My mom became co-leader with the mother of one of my elementary school friends. Together they showed a group of 8-10 year old girls how to measure, cut, follow a pattern, and sew simple skirts and dresses.

However, as I crept along into my eighth, then ninth, and finally tenth year in 4-H as a high school student, I dreaded sewing. I'd ask my mom to show me how to make the tiny pin tucks required by the pattern, secretly hoping she would just sew it for me, and she would reply, "Oh, you know how to do it." I would huff an exasperated sigh and threaten to quit. She would simply reply, "I'm not fighting with you." So I would put my head down, bending close to the bobbing needle, and slowly feed the fabric underneath the sewing machine's foot. Dress after dress got finished. I sewed my prom dresses, my suit for student teaching, a quilt for my sister to take to college. Eventually, I helped my mom sew my wedding dress. Okay, I cut it out and got a few stitches in before handing it over to my mom.

I am so grateful to my mom for teaching me how to sew. It is still something that I find to be one of my favorite creative outlets. And now decades later, I'm also appreciative of how she taught me to sew. Namely, I have come to appreciate her way of  making me figure it out on my own. She would help with those difficult corners and invisible zippers, but once I had sewn them once or twice, she was hands off. I had to persevere, become friends with my seam ripper. I have come to appreciate the tongue-in-cheek play on the Bible verse - "As ye sew, so shall ye rip."

Talking to my younger sister today on the phone, I told her that I wanted a couple of new infinity scarves. Rather than heading out the store, I jogged upstairs to the closet in my study where I have a couple bins of fabric and scraps of skirts that may be ruined by a small stain, but which I am incapable of throwing in the trash. There's still so much usable fabric there! I haven't bought a pattern in years. I am comfortable figuring out how to sew these simple projects on my own, as long as my seam ripper is handy. Infinity scarves, handbags and headbands, shorts for my boys, bibs for a niece's new baby - my mom's greatest gift was giving me confidence in my ability to figure it out. I'm going to mess up. But with my trusty seam ripper, I can take out those missed stitches and try again until it works.

This is what I hope to instill in my learners: a realization that first attempts can be corrected. As one of my favorite playwrights, George Bernard Shaw said, "A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing." My classroom should be a safe space for students to try and try again, to practice and perfect. Nothing worth doing can be done well the first time. We all need that seam ripper sometimes. Goodness knows (as do my mom and sister), I've used that seam ripper more times than I can possible count.     

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