You Rip What You Sew

Creating Disaster With a Needle and Thread

I was the only girl in my fourth grade Girl Scout troop who failed to earn her Sewing merit badge.  After hearing the facts, I hope you won’t judge me too harshly.

The requirements for this particular badge were listed in the Junior Girl Scout Handbook.  "Choose an item to make: tea towel, blouse (yeah, right), four napkins (now that’s more like it), or skirt.”  But before doing that, we were instructed to demonstrate our skill with various stitches.  That’s where I ran into trouble.

Our leader handed each of us two square pieces of cloth, one solid blue, and one gingham check.  She told us to thread the needle, knot the thread, and stitch the two squares together.  Immediately I was under pressure.  All around me, girls with nimble fingers poked the thread through as if their needle holes were as big as a garage door.  I don’t think my needle even had hole.  The more I worked at it, the more frayed and limp my thread became, until it was like I was trying to force a clump of wet seaweed down into a soda straw.  Finally, a girl beside me took pity and threaded my needle for me.  A minute later, after watching my futile attempts to tie a knot with two hands, she sweetly reached over, pinched both threads together between her thumb and finger, and deftly twisted them into a knot.  I was amazed.

Fortunately, sewing the squares together wasn’t as difficult as I’d feared.  In fact, it was easy.  All I had to do was punch the needle down, poke around until it came back up in the right spot, and then pull the thread through the top.  Punch down, poke around, pull through.  Soon I developed a smooth rhythm.  Punch, poke, pull.  Punch, poke, pull.  My stitches lay flat and even on the cloth.  Girls around me stopped their own sewing to watch me work.  Punch, poke, pull.  My confidence grew, and my fingers moved more and more rapidly.  "Perhaps”, I thought to myself as I tied off the final thread, "there’s a prize for the best seamstress!”  Verily, verily, I had stitched glory with my fingertips.  I had stitched perfection.  I had stitched a masterpiece.  Alas, I had also stitched the cloth to my skirt.  (No scoffing please.  For all we know, Betsy Ross might have done the very same thing.)

Due to this humiliating and painful failure, I never earned that merit badge.  In fact, I gave up sewing completely, at least for the next twenty years.  Unfortunately, when I picked up the craft again, I found that I was no better at it.  Robert Frost once said, "There is one thing more exasperating than a wife who can cook and won’t, and that’s a wife who can’t cook and will.”  Change cooking to sewing and it’s me all over.   I can’t sew, and will.  The results are unfailingly disastrous.

Because I am engineer-ingly challenged to start with, even the simplest pattern instructions baffle me. Every step is mistake-ridden and must be undone and redone several times (hence the title of this article, "You rip what you sew.”)  My buttonholes look like bullet holes.  When I put a zipper in a garment, it seldom comes out even.  One side invariably ends up higher than the other, which means I have to walk around shrugging one shoulder all day.  (This gets tiresome after a while.)  And if I occasionally seem hunchbacked, it’s probably because I’m wearing a shirt with the sleeves sewed in crooked.  I once made a double-breasted jacket, but every time I wore it my husband complained of a headache.  Turns out, my mismatched plaids were giving him a severe case of vertigo!

Why do I keep on sewing?   I tell myself it’s to save money on store-bought clothes.  But in reality that never happens.  By the time I purchase a pattern (have you priced those things lately?), discover that my choice requires at least seven yards of fabric, select the most expensive fabric in the store, buy buttons, seam tape, thread, elastic, and contrasting material for collars and cuffs, I could have bought any dress on the rack at Macy’s for less money.  And that doesn’t count return trips to replace the yardage I botched up in the sewing process!  To top it all off, once the garment is finished, it’s so ugly I WOULDN’T BE CAUGHT DEAD IN IT!

On a brighter note, I did, actually have success on one occasion.  I made my daughter a poodle skirt for a 50’s dance when she was in junior high.  Here’s how I managed it:  I cut an enormous circle out of felt, cut a hole in the middle the size of her waist and glued a poodle on the front.  

And making that skirt, if I’m not mistaken, meets the first requirement for the stupid sewing merit badge.  Come to think of it, I’m almost certain I could demonstrate those stitches, too.  After all, I can thread my own needle now.  And I’ve even figured out a way to keep from sewing the cloth to my skirt.  How?  That part’s easy, really.  These days I always sew in my underwear.  Don’t laugh.  I’ll bet Betsy Ross figured this one out too.

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