Technically, I learned to sew as a kid. Mom sent me to a neighbor to take lessons one year because she was not happy with the progress I was making under her tutelage. My memory of sewing lessons is that the woman had a machine you ran with your knee rather than a foot pedal. It kept sticking and the machine would take off crazily stitching across my fabric. I think the neighbor thought I was a reckless seamstress. She didn't seem to believe me that the knee-thing was sticking. I think, perhaps, she thought I was trying to get out of sewing lessons.
Middle Munchkin started sewing in 4-H, and for the first three or four years she worked with a woman here in town who is incredibly generous with her resources and time. She sewed at home, as well, and when my dad caught on to her interest he bought her a very nice sewing machine at an auction. I remember the first thing she made at home without her sewing mentor because I mustered all the patience I have in the world and I sat with her and helped her read the pattern.
Reading patterns can be hard. They aren't always well written and often skip steps. I'm pretty sure they are written, more often than not, by non-native English speakers... or maybe even translated by computer programs without any human editing.
Good instructions or not, sewing has always made me tense. I find it stressful. Even helping... just in the form of reading the pattern... made me occasionally want to bang my head against the table, but I managed to get through it (and really, I was just reading... she was doing all of the really nerve-wracking stuff). Middle Munchkin just kept sewing... and kept sewing... and I was so relieved when she no longer needed my help reading patterns.
She eventually started creating patterns of her own.
At 16, my daughter is an amazing, accomplished seamstress. I'm pretty sure her skill is equal to my mother's, and I have no way to explain it except that she is given the gift of being allowed to embrace her flow.
Flow is something I've learned a lot about as an adult (as a writer, and in many of the day-to-day activities that fill my time). I spent several years of my adult life, in fact, reclaiming the ability to simply slip into this state of being, most often of creating something, any time that I am so moved. I don't find flow in sewing, but my daughter does. When she is involved in a project, she sometimes spends most of the hours of the day working on it. There have been weeks where very little else was accomplished.
This week, I watched my daughter take her scissors to someone's wedding dress! The very thought absolutely tied me up in knots inside, but Miss Middle Munchkin was calm, cool, and confident. It was a "simple" adjustment (she assures me), turning a zippered back to a corset back. She worked quickly, and the result was beautiful.
I think one reason this sticks with me is that my mom, who was the most talented seamstress I knew before my daughter, was always nervous about taking on important occasion projects, like wedding dresses. In fact, she mostly refused, except when it came to her daughters and, eventually, daughters-in-law. Too much pressure, she once told me. What if she messed something up?
Sewing is something Middle Munchkin has always had the power to chose or leave behind. She chooses how much, how involved, how many drafts she is going to create before tackling the final project. She's had the benefit of a mentor whom she will occasionally still go to if she has a question, but she is just as likely to Google for help these days, or simply keep reworking a piece until she gets exactly what she wants from it.
I think about Mom often when I watch my daughter sew, and I imagine how much fun she would have had coming up with projects to work on with this grandchild. It feels to me like something they share, even though they never knew each other.