There’s a sewing machine we’ve been moving house with ever since I first saw it creep up into our living room in late 1990. It has simply refused to go away. Even OLX can’t catalogue it. Weeks before its arrival, I imagine there was flurry in the household with my Mum too excited to sleep at night – she was finally getting a machine. A machine! A Singer machine!
I mean, such are the things that must have excited her back then. Her own sewing machine! Christmas had come early. I would get as giddy if someone came up to me and said, “Bett, you’ve been a mighty sport this year. For all your troubles I am getting you a Kindle Paperwhite.”
Her machine, it had a brown formica body which opened up like a carton box: you lift up one flap to the left, lift another to go over the right side. Then you pull out the sewing centre (I just made that up) from the perimeter of the formica frame – it hang upside down the inside of the carton box, sorry, the sewing machine. One couldn’t be berated for believing it looked like a mechanical bat.
A few inches from the floor was this wide-ass black metallic pedal that run the ‘motor’ of the sewing centre. Hers was a manual machine so you had to pump hard on the pedal to run your stitches along the fabric. That pedal, man – it turned a dainty seamstress into sweaty workhorse.
On the inner side of the bottom flap was a rack for holding your pincushions and your needles and your threads and thimbles. (Thimble – I absolutely love that word, thimble. We don’t use it enough already. Thimble. If I had a kid I would consider naming it thimble. But where did all the thimbles go, anyway?). So that rack. It was a tiny rack with rounded edges, and it was ill-placed and impractically shallow. I don’t know why, for the love of me, I pitied the poor thing each time I saw it. Who pities a rack anyway?
Now would be a good time to make some things clear about my Mum and her sewing machine. My Mum couldn’t draw designs to save her life. Or the life of that sewing machine; her bodices (that’s what seamstresses call ‘tops’) all looked like t-shirts, her skirts were like rectangles, her dresses were a boxy A-line that couldn’t flatter anybody’s figure, her pants had pleats for her generation and mine, even MC Hammer couldn’t touch that, hehee. Her models (because she insisted on drawing models even though that wasn’t the point of focus) looked like the characters she drew for her Class One kids, to show them the parts of the body – they had wide nostrils, lacked proportion and wore y-front briefs. You couldn’t tell if the model were a boy or a girl.
My Mum developed an interest in dressmaking because it seemed cool. I don’t know from whom or where she picked it from, but she had the basic skills to call herself a tailor.
(I hate that word, by the way. I hate it ‘cause it reminds me of a fundi. Jesus. Point me to one fundi in this town, just one, who ever bloody delivers your order on time? I bet you a dime for every fundi who told you to collect your stuff “saa nane Friday”, but you get there and he feigns this dumb look of Oh-I-forgot-forgive-me and goes on to tell you how busy he’s been all week with some gowns he’s working on for a wedding next Sato, and you wonder how anyone would trust him with wardrobe for their Big Day, then he tells you your stuff won’t take more than ten minutes and that if you have some time you can wait as he quickly gets them done, and before you can argue he’s already pulling you a stool and threading the machine as he rummages through a smelly pile of fabrics and garments and retrieves your stuff from the black paper bag they’ve been in ever since you brought them three weeks ago. I swear. Just show me one fundi? Just one.)
I suppose my Mum’s interest stemmed from the finesse of her sewing and knitting and crocheting. But dressmaking, especially from her own designs? No way. That wasn’t your forte, Mum. You, uhm, sucked at it. And I say that from a place of deep love.
She must have realized this early ‘cause she stuck to mending hems and seams instead of playing the creative director. Are you looking to fix your hem? she’d ask, I got it. Bed sheets and towels, curtains? You came to the right person. My kid bros’ shorts, our dresses, my Ol’Man’s pants? Nothing is out of my reach. Headscarves and shawls? Bring ‘em over. As long as it had a hem, she’d rework it. When she ran out of hems, there were days she’d just open the machine and sit with it, studying her needle case or something. Bathing in all its relic glory.
That sewing machine defined a perfect afternoon for my Mum for many years before she hang its boots.
Even now, as I write this, I can still hear the sound of her working that pedal: ku-guu, ku-guu, ku-guu, ku-guu.