Tearing Down to Build up

My Mom was a seamstress.

She loved making clothes. After working all day in a factory, she came home in the evenings and often sewed outfits for her kids. You’d think she’d be sick of it by then, but she wasn’t. I remember watching her sit in the corner of the room behind her machine, watching the television when she wasn’t busy with  working the sewing machine paddle and the needle.

I was impressed with how patient she was when handling the fabric. How she laid out patterns carefully, her fingers smoothing out the tissue thin paper and pinning it with care. I always said that I was too nervous, too impatient, to do this kind of work.

When she went back to school to get her certificate in tailoring, the work only got more complicated. By that time she was learning how to design the patterns as well—no more paper patterns from McCall’s or Simplicity to lay out.  For her classes, she used a thick paper that she had to measure and cut to perfection, based on her model’s measurements. She would cut and sew a garment from a thin, “cheesecloth” material as a test before she moved on to sewing an actual garment.

If the pattern wasn’t just so, she had to rip the stitches out and go to work on her test garment, make alterations to the pattern, and start the process again.

I asked her how she could tear her pieces up and start at the beginning, when she’d worked so hard on it. She smiled gently and told me that “sometimes, you have to tear things up to make them better.”

She explained that each calculation had an effect on the fabric – how it hung from the body, the way the stitches worked together (or didn’t) .

She could pick up a piece of clothing in a store and tell me just what was right or wrong with it. She taught me to look for designs that matched and pockets that were level. She said that I should look for gaps in seams and buttons that were loose or sewn haphazardly. These were all hallmarks of the workers that handled the garment.  Since I was too nervous to sew myself, she said, I should learn to use a close eye on the things that I spent my money on.

Years later, when she was retired, I remember her watching me work on some of my stories, which at that time, weren’t seeing the light of day. I was saving them away in notebooks and on computer drives, determined that I’d get them published. One day. I didn’t think that they were ready to be seen by a publisher yet.

My Mother smiled and told me that she had always been a daydreamer, but never really thought about putting her thoughts on paper. She said that she dreamed about clothes when she was a girl, so that was what she decided to make.

It occurred to me that in this way, we were alike. I dreamed about things that I could make with words.

Writing can be a lot like sewing. You start with an idea. But you work it, re-work it, sometimes scrap parts of it, or the whole thing, before you feel confident about it.  The pattern can be an outline, an idea, but its something that follows your design to create a plot and characters that carry your story along. Without the right combination of action, movement, pauses, and even silence, words don’t hold a story together. They must fit together to create the fabric of the universe that you want to bring to life. The characters give the landscape of the story their shape. Their experiences are the stitches that hold it all together.

I don’t have my Mother any longer, but I do remember how hard she worked, and how beautiful things can be created when love, effort, and patience are combined.


©2010 Lori Titus


6 thoughts on “Tearing Down to Build up

  1. Very true, Lori. Words only work when they mesh. I like to say that words are like colors–certain colors don’t go well together, don’t create harmony. However, others do and that is what, as a writer, I strive for: for my words to have harmony, to fit, or in this case, to be seamless.

    Very good post.

    • Thanks Chris! I rarely write non-fic, and don’t usually like writing about myself. This article sat in the back of my mind for a while before I put it down. It’s a humble bit of gratitude to my Mom, so I’m pleased it’s gotten such a positive response.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing that special and wonderful memory. God is so great in the lessons that he shows us.. Keep up the fabulous work. I read all the time and I see that your story draws the reader and I enjoy it sooo much.

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