Speckled with nicks and scratches from decades of trusty family service, the old Singer sewing machine was coming to live with me.
I can't remember a time when I didn't want the Singer. I grew up with it. Many were the nights I listened to its whir as Mama's hands guided exquisite fabrics across it. And seldom did a day go by that its hum didn't fill the house.
For hours Mama could be found hunched over the Singer, busying herself with cotton prints and small buttons; with satin ribbons and yards of lace. She whipped out dresses fit for a princess to wear. Nothing proved too difficult when it came to her three little girls.
Mama was not one for homemade-looking clothes or a mere, this-will-do outfit, either. She had imagination and energy—lots of energy. There were sailor dresses, ruffles, petticoats, jewel necklines, peter-pan collars, and wide, velvet sashes. She also possessed a flare for the unusual, for embroidered pockets, for appliquéd collars, for exotic bordered prints.
It was not unusual for Mama to carry pen and paper to the expensive department stores. Contemplatively, she studied the complex outfits hanging in the window, tilting her head this way and that, drinking in the full view.
By the time we arrived home, she had a sketchy drawing, remarkably like the costly dress in the window. With grim determination splashed across her face, Mama carefully set out to fashion a dress of equal beauty and resplendence, often making her own pattern from an old newspaper.
Excellence was Mama's goal. She spent a lot of time measuring and marking, gathering and stitching, slowly bringing her creation to perfection.
Before long, her voice would call to me. Time for a fitting. I can still remember standing under her serious stare, inhaling the virgin cloth, her skillful hands tucking and pinning.
Mama's sewing ability appeared endless. Not only were we kids dressed flawlessly, so were our dolls. One Christmas, my sister and I received identical wardrobes for our ten-inch fashion dolls.
Created by my mother's clever hands, each tiny piece appeared magnificently stitched, a mirror of their creator's vivid imagination. There was a royal blue formal gown, high-waisted, complete with silver sequins and a white netting overskirt; a flannel housecoat, buttoning down the front; a bright red shift dress, with a ruffle along the tail.
My mouth gaped as I stared in wonder at the dainty garments nestled inside the white tissue. I was convinced Mama and the Singer could work miracles.
When I got the call that the Singer was not being used (she had finally bought a new one), I eagerly offered to take it. Not that I could sew a stitch, but if the Singer could work miracles for Mama, maybe there was hope for me.
When the machine arrived, a few days later, I felt downright weepy as I steadied it in front of the spare bedroom window, resisting the urge to hug it. I longed to hear its steady hum fill my home.
It wasn’t long before the Singer’s magic called to me. Without even meaning to, I found myself snatching up pieces of fabric whenever I saw a sale sign. I drug out old patterns and bought new ones. I was like a woman possessed. Not that it did me any good. My sewing abilities were unimpressive, at best.
I remember the first time I stood in front of my little daughter, a batch of straight pins hanging from my lips. Time for a fitting.
Hesitantly, I wrapped my humble creation around her small body, the fabric's pure scent rising to meet me. As I critically studied the simple cotton dress, I felt discouraged. "Well, it sure can't compare to anything of Nana's," I said.
Anna Marie patted my arm, carefully dodging the pins I wielded. "But Mama," she said, sweetly. "Even Nana had to start somewhere."
And so she did, as do we all.
Adapted from the book, Silver Linings (Pacific Press), by Dayle Allen Shockley. All rights reserved.
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