The then Samenera Karunadhammo, after the meal, kindly gave me a fifteen minute tutorial on how to use the sewing machine. He set me up with some cloth, a pattern, and taught me how to sew a “flat felled seam”. Four hours later when people returned for evening tea, I had completed a monastic jacket and was surprised when several people were surprised the jacket was complete. “I thought you had never used a sewing machine before? How did you sew that so quickly?”
It seemed an odd question as, at the time, it didn’t seem like it was quick or slow; it just was what it was. I had nothing to compare it to. Perhaps “Why was it so easy?” might have been a better question. So I gave that some thought, and the immediate answer came, “I was watching my mother.”
My mother had been a professional seamstress and she worked out of the house. I grew up subconsciously watching her create the most beautiful works of art. My mom never gave me a sewing lesson and I have no memory of ever using a sewing machine, other than the one week of sewing we were required to have in eighth grade. I can remember dozens of times, maybe hundreds of times, being around my mom as she was sewing and noticing her do things like thread a bobbin, change the needle on the machine, sharpen the scissors, make alterations to a pattern. I’d seen everyday how a well organized sewing room could look and saw how to keep it clean.
I remember learning tricks like wetting the end of the thread to make it easier to thread the needle, how to crease fabric with your fingernail so you wouldn’t have to waste time drawing with chalk, and how to get special effects by using the machine in non-conventional ways. I even learned a few curse words being near the sewing room. Thinking about what I learned from observing my mom, I now realize that I learned far more than how to sew. One of the more valuable lessons was that she would charge only a fraction of what she could have been charging for her wedding dresses. Thinking back, she probably felt this was one way she could help these young couples. My mom wasn’t in it for the money. She got satisfaction from learning new skills, creating beautiful clothing and then being able to basically give them way.
Thanks for the lessons mom!