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I am a mother, a grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge was published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon



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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Why I didn't sew this weekend

My youngest son has moved out and before I can say "empty nest" he has acquired a border collie puppy and signed me up as babysitter while he works evenings on the weekend since he is still a student. His new place of residence is as a boarder at a married  friend's house at the beach where he will be lifeguarding again this summer. A perfect arrangement for him and a good friendly home for a new puppy. The thing is the beach is more than a half an hour away from his job, and me, so grandmama is handling the weekend puppy sleepovers. His name is Birdie and he is completely adorable and semi-housetrained. Rascal and I had a pretty busy weekend puppy sitting (Mr. R is snoring loudly from the couch as I write this) but having to run into the room every six minutes to say "No Birdie, outside, outside" made me give up entirely on starting a new project.

Completely worth it and much more compatible with my new obsession which is decorating. It appears that if you wait 55 years to get into decorating it can get intense. All that backed up picture hanging and furniture arranging pouring out all over the house, quite unexpectedly.

There is a history here. All this of course was probably set off by the last bird leaving the nest (although I just realized that I have had a Birdie fly back - life is undoubtedly hitting me over the head with a two-by-four again so I can figure this out - there will always be someone who needs me, or at least the old someone's needing me in a different way) and by the trauma induced by an evening spent at my sister's in-laws' staggeringly perfect house.

That visit made me come home and think about my own environment. Truth is I have a cute little house but for some reason I have never done a lot of serious decorating. It occurred to me today to wonder why, since I suddenly remembered that in Grade Seven in one of those what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you-grow-up essays that I wrote that I was going to be an interior decorator. Haven't remembered that in about 40 years.

What happened?

Well for a start when I was 21 I met and shortly after married a guy who was older than I was, and was also an architect. The fact was my taste was not developed, his was certainly developed. To cut a long story short in a marriage that lasted a pretty long time I never bought one thing for my house. Nothing. Not a coffee cup, not a spoon. My architect husband knew exactly what he wanted and that was what we had. For all that time I slept in black or grey sheets, looked at white walls, sat on thin grey couches and tried to fit all our stuff into tall, narrow black cupboards.

I think you get the picture.

I see now that during those years sewing was even more essential to me. I understand now, and didn't then, that all the need I had for colour, design decisions, and individuality was diverted into my sewing, and it was in my sewing that I think the person I really was kept growing.

And when that person became a single mother, my energies went, not into decorating, but things like finding a good job to support us all, and bringing up my family. I did start to pick up a few pieces that I liked, all of it very bright, but there was no plan and along side it all the kid's stuff just kept piling up.

The kid's stuff still kept growing after I remarried and became a mother of three and stepmother of two great girls. We married at the end of the high school years beginning of college, and so a lot of what I did in this house was move somebody's stuff in and somebody's stuff out, shift boxes to make room for surf boards, move book collections from one room to the other, give up a sewing room to make another bedroom available, move single beds out and double beds in. To add to this my second, and I have to tell you very much my best husband, does not shall we say, have much of a design sense. 

An example. 

For some reason he has got interested in those electronic frames that rotate pictures (if it is a gadget he loves it) and actually, no word of a lie, was all set to put an old computer monitor on the mantle connected by an orange extension cord across the floor - with a multi-media slide show of family pictures - "I figured you'd love it - see pictures of the kids all day" and for the life of him couldn't see what I thought was wrong about this idea. Heart of gold, but really Rascal has more asthetic sense, a lot more. A lot.

So for the last number of years I have been doing  far more cleaning up than fixing up, and there was not much time to think about my space. I was still in the service industry phase of my life, still full-time, not part-time, not until very recently.

Well, all that has changed and looking around I realized all that my house says about my life and myself. To me a great and beautiful house was some place I visited, not some place I lived in, and I realized that I was still living around other people's decisions about my space, observing but not participating in my own immediate environment - just working with what I had to work with.

When I thought about decorating, I thought I didn't know where to start.

Well I was wrong about that. You see I figured out that all those years I was not participating in decorating a house I was actively, OK continually, thinking about clothes and fabric and style and things like core wardrobes.

A house, I realized this weekend during Birdie duty, is nothing more than another wardrobe, and pretty much the same rules apply.

Think about it. 

A home, like a wardrobe, has to work for your lifestyle, express who you are, and require exactly the amount of upkeep you are realistically able to give it. Like acquiring style in a wardrobe, style in a house requires knowing who you are, a lot of thought, coordination, accessorizing, and some sort of colour scheme. It has to be based only on the fashions that really suit you, not just trends. Things have to go together but not be too matchy.

It has to fit. It has to flatter. It has to make you feel good about yourself.

See, I know more about this than I thought.

So for the last couple of days I have been treating my house like some sort of SWAP project. I have been purging the things that no longer fit or are out of style (asked my DH to price a dumpster for the driveway), all the things that are not me and taking stock of what I have.

And like a wardrobe I have realized that I have more than I realized, and that so much can be done by moving things around and making new outfits for these rooms trying this with that for a change. Rather than leaving things where they were for example I have been putting things that were of the same colour schemes together, letting things go where they belonged not where they lay. The small pictures and beautiful fan wall quilt from my daughter's pink  girl bedroom out of a cupboard where they have been stored and into the bathroom with the grey tiles and soon to be pale pink walls. My son's terrific black and white photos in frames in the white bathroom upstairs, drawings from another child who did a couple of years at art college (before he switched to accounting) and pictures of my parents and family where I can see them when I lie in bed at night. Personal things in the space where I think most about my life, where I am going, and where I came from.

My DH has recently painted our big bedroom pale blue and yes I did make drapes but the walls have been looking large, bare and cold. I realized though that I am not the only sewer in my family and remembered that both my grandmothers where amazing needlewomen and so I have gone down to the basement and opened the boxes with their handwork. Gorgeous linens (spouse #1 didn't like anything like this - too decorative, so it got stored) and I have the small silk whole cloth quilt my dad came home from the hospital in (pale blue on one side, pale salmon on the other) to hang on one wall and an intricate mohair shawl, like a spider's web, made for me actually when I was christened to hang over the bed. There are so many other beautiful pieces - I am going to have to think of how to display them in other rooms.

And I will have to post some pictures.

So in some ways I think this has been a significant weekend for me. 

First of all never underestimate what sewing has taught you that can illuminate other areas of your life.

And secondly, and this is one I sometimes forget when I am having one of those "Oh-my-God-how-in-the-hell-did-I-ever-get-to-be-55" when I was just, so recently 35, it is never too late. 

Never too late to find out that there is more to you than you thought, that you can do the things you couldn't, that you can find a new interest, and a creative one at that.

And lastly, just when you think the party's over, you never know when a Birdie may show up in your life.