A casual remark by a friend sent my memory cascading through all the sewing of my life, and knitting too, as the memory riff expanded.
My sewing career began with samplers in primary school: pinwheel and needle case showcased my skill at running stitch, whipped running stitch, french knots and lazy daisies. Then there was a pair of white bombay bloomers turning a delicate shade of grime as I learnt about run and fell seams and inserting elastic. When I was introduced to the joys of huckaback, I embarked on my first episode of obsessional behaviour (which later manifested itself in photographing bark and rock faces.) Evidence of my huckaback frenzy surfaced when I cleaned out houses after the deaths of my mother and aunts who had treasured arcane huckaback gifts. Long after primary school I huckabacked a knitting bag for myself in red, yellow and black, before I knew the Aboriginal significance of these colours.
Over the last few years I've been adding hand-knitted jumpers to the wardrobes of different members of my family. The pattern of the current one looked deceptively simple, but I stalled at the idea of repeating a collection of stitches 0 times. Usually I can do a pattern without thinking: this one crawls along at the rate of four rows a sitting as I count each stitch, and tick off each row. I shudder to think how many times at the beginning I had to rip rows undone, figure out where I was up to and start again.
All through my childhood, my mother made my annual new dress for the Sunday School anniversary in November. When I was 15, I bought the blue and green (should never be seen) material myself. I misread the pattern and got half a yard too little. Mum rotated paper pieces and improvised and completed the pintucked, waisted frock, but her patience and skill were sorely tried. She said “That's the last time I sew for you” and thrust me into the world of dressmaking. I made my short white crimplene graduation dress, and a red one, also short, when I was witness at my aunt's registry office wedding. After my own wedding, I manufactured a duffle coat for my new husband, a collection of maxi-dresses out of very cheap material for myself, a particularly hideous pinafore to cover my first pregnant bulge, and then clothes for my first little girl, including one with red ribbons tied at the side. Much later I tackled formal gear for my two daughters in high school: black, short and tight for my eldest daughter who was hobbled as she minced up the hillside and lowered herself into her Corolla; black, strapless and whaleboned for my younger daughter, driven to the venue by me in a shameful battered Corona. (For her year 12 formal, she bought her dress and waited for a limo to collect her.) The apotheosis of my dressmaking career was my sister's simple wedding dress. It ended up with a very classy rolled hem, because somehow I managed to make it too short. My niece had it altered for her wedding shortly after my sister's death.
When my children were small I was a toymaker. I made the whole Ingalls-Wilder family, Pa, Ma, Laura and Mary: hand puppet kings and princesses and the knave of hearts: pencil puppet penguins, parrots and owls. I made them for my own tribe and sold them through a Moruya craft shop.
My blood pressure misbehaved when I was expecting my fourth child. I didn't need medication. Patchwork hexagons did the job. I littered the world with small paper templates and snipped off ends of cotton. I still have the larger hexagonals, bright representatives of my capacity for the unfinished.
Lately, my sewing has mainly been patches on ripped clothes, multiple attempts to save a threadbare favourite skirt, and topping and tailing sheets. Until now. The imminent summer visit of my Polish twin grandchildren has me sewing again. Once again I face the challenge of threading the machine, turning corners, avoiding loopy stitches and a hard-to-manage reverse. Janek's shorts and top in two shades of blue aren't cut out yet as I debate size, but I am already enjoying the reversible sunfrock and flower petal hat draped on display over the back of the lounge chair, bright red and white spots for mała Maja.