Friday, September 2, 2011

The Amazon Trail - The Butch Sewing Kit

The Amazon Trail

The Butch Sewing Kit

I don’t know about butch guys, but butch women are a mass of incongruities. I used to know a butch who drove cement trucks for a living and was a minister in her free time. You don’t just drive a cement truck, you’re out there with the boys using your rake and shovel. You don’t just preach from a pulpit, you have the delicate task of counseling the human spirit. I don’t know if she sewed, but if she did, her sewing kit might have been a lot like mine.

One of the first things my wife told me was that she doesn’t sew. She’s a good cook, she organizes our home, she’ll iron on occasion, but she never sews. That is what dry cleaners are for, is her philosophy. I, on the other hand, have always had a sewing kit. When I moved out west a friend gave me a going away gift that came in a small wicker case something like a lunch box. To this day, I use that thing as my sewing basket.

I don’t mean to give the impression that I make overalls from scratch or sewed my sweetheart’s wedding outfit. Mostly, I repair. I carry so many objects in my pockets, and manufacturers make such flimsy pockets, that I mostly patch up holes in my pant pockets. I have no patience or interest in anything beyond the basic rudiments of needle and thread.

Someone like me should probably master the sewing machine. I do own one, the simplest model I could find. Unfortunately, I was required to take a sewing class and make a skirt in junior high and was so traumatized I have never been able overcome my fear of the contraption. I use it only once a year, to make catnip mice at the winter holidays. That project always transforms me into a grouch, what with thread breaking and bobbins running out and never remembering the order in which one threads a machine. This year should go a bit better, though, as my sweetheart suggested that we purchase pre-wound bobbins. “You think there IS such a thing?” I asked. We raced right out to JoAnn Fabrics and got me a bunch.

Meanwhile, the primary purpose of my little sewing kit is to entangle threads of differing colors from various spools into rainbow jumbles. The pin cushion gets into it too, snagging errant dangles and wrapping them around the heads of pins until the whole collision of stuff is unusable.

My sewing technique is not subtle. My stitching tends to look like an elongated version of the scar on Harry Potter’s forehead. The basting stitch is my specialty. That’s the long loping suture whose purpose is to hold the fabric in place until a more attractive finish can be applied. Except that basting, in my case, is the finished product.

Thimbles are my enemies; I just cannot maneuver with one on, and needles poke through them with ease, so my fingers at times become the pincushions.

Sewing stores make me nauseous, so I use whatever threads and materials I find at garage sales, which leaves me with a basket full of ribbons and binding tape (good for catnip mouse tails), old-fashioned snaps, hooks and eyes, zippers and strips of elastic I have never known how to use; so many buttons I keep them in glass canisters and my wife decorates the house with them, having discovered they’re heavy enough to make great bookends; metal hem holder-uppers or whatever the technical term is (I don’t know to use them); safety pins (thank you, whoever invented safety pins); some kind of marker which could probably be very useful; a needle threader that I’ll probably have to start using now that cataract surgery has eliminated my very useful myopia; and dozens of tiny spools of thread, the kind you take along in your travel bag except for the trip when you tear something and really need one of the colors.

I did buy a bright shiny new-looking hem ripper, which I believe is one of the greatest inventions of all time. It’s unfortunate, but if I’m going to rip out a hem, I’m likely to do it with the heel of a sneaker while jumping from rock to rock across a creek.

I remember learning as a kid that needles were expensive and I was taught never to lose such a precious item. One didn’t waste thread for the same reason. Possibly, that’s why the most useful tool in my sewing kit, the one I have in spades, the one I turn to for 99% of my repair needs, is not needle or thread, but is the equivalent of the handy dyke’s duct tape: sticky-backed industrial strength Velcro.

Copyright Lee Lynch 2011

September 2011

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