Stitch by Stitch
Niah Wilson, Division 2, 12th grade #ws17e-s2d2

On the right rear corner, flip the switch; the needle will launch into a hurried frenzy as it zips over the metal plate, once, twice, and again for good measure, a soldier reporting to his post. Gently ease onto the foot pedal, position your hands into two L-shapes to hold the material taut, and begin.

The gentle hum of thread whirring through loops and levers permeates the air, interspersed with the relieved sighs of the material as the needle punctures it, one even, tiny stitch after another. It’s a dance—or at least as close to one as technology can ever hope to be–in precise steps of 2.5 millimeters. Inevitably this lovely melody will be interrupted by a sharp cry of protest as the needle strikes a pin or misses its step. The solution is simple: foot off the pedal, hand on the wheel to the starboard side of the machine, and wind it backwards until the unruly stitch has been removed and the dance can resume.

Growing up in suburban Colorado, I was unable to find anyone close to my age who understood this image and the glee that the hum of a sewing machine produces in a seamstress. To my generation, it is an archaic activity, bordering on obsolete. To my generation, it’s a hobby for “old” people and should be left to automated factory machines across the globe. In a way, I understand their view; after all, I don’t sew my own clothes. This datum, however, does not render my sewing machine any less valuable to me.

Every seam of my machine is held together with the cement of nostalgia. When my fingertips trail its plastic curves, I’m reminded of twelve-year-old me, twig-like arms wrapped around its frame, toting it up two flights of stairs to sew in tandem with contestants on Project Runway. From this vantage point I adopted Tim Gunn's infamous wisdom of ""Make it work"" as my own.

When my fingers drift over the spool of thread perched on the top of the machine, I’m reminded of annual sewing expos I attended with my favorite aunt: watching her face light up as she admired the miles of delicate stitch work hidden on a beautiful quilt; listening to her explain the anatomy of a “long-arm” sewing machine, which has a wide frame and a handle not unlike the steering wheel of a car; perhaps the memory that most warms me is that of when she guided me to a machine which on that same day would become mine.

When my fingers brush the screws holding down the metal thread plate—which provides a direct pathway to the inner workings and gears that ensure smooth stitching of the machine—I’m reminded of when I first LEARNED how to sew: five-years-old, sitting on my grandmother’s lap as she pressed the foot pedal and had her hands ghosting over mine in case my fingers were too close to the needle. My grandmother showed me how to piece together projects ranging from a dress to a toy elephant, teaching me how to decode the language of pattern-makers: dashed lines indicating to stitch the fabric along that stretch, tiny triangles demonstrate where multiple pieces of fabric align, and arrows point to where folds should be made.

It’s been years since my aunt and I attended one of those expos or my grandmother and I spent an entire evening working through a pattern, yet their reassuring and wise words continue to buoy me through tricky projects even today.

My sewing machine’s nostalgic value is priceless to me, but perhaps its value is more easily understood when viewed from a business perspective. As a kid there are sparse options on how to supplement your income: lemonade stands (growing up in a remote neighborhood eradicated this option for me), the tooth fairy (I lost all my baby teeth when my parents were paying a few quarters, NOT a few dollars per tooth), and birthdays or other holidays (which are, obviously, only annual occurrences). My sewing machine wound up presenting me with a fourth option: open my own online shop.

The main things I sewed as a kid were clothes and accessories for my dolls. Through some internet surfing I stumbled across Etsy—a website allowing crafters around the world to sell their products—and found that people SOLD clothes not unlike the ones I made. I was delighted and, at eleven-years-old, opened up an Etsy store which I maintain to this day. I won’t lie and say that I was rolling in money, but I have had hundreds of sales and love sharing my machine-sewn goods with people across the country. Not only did it provide some money, my shop taught me about customer service, deadlines, and communication. Not many middle schoolers—or even high schoolers can boast this knowledge. It’s one thing to take a business course and learn what you “should” do, but it’s another to be presented with these real-life situations and work your way through.

Technology is becoming increasingly more complicated. Ancient wonders of the world were built with nothing but bare hands and simple tools, and this simplicity contributes to our appreciation of them. There is much to commend and condemn in mankind’s ability to digitalize and complicate technology, yet there is a grace in the simplicity of technology like that of a sewing machine, where you don’t have to log out, shut down, then turn off a screen (where each of these steps is followed by a multitude of requests asking you to confirm your command). To finish sewing all you have to do is take your foot off the pedal, give a one-eighty degree crank of the hand wheel to raise the needle, pull the fabric out, and snip the thread tethering it to the machine.
Shared publiclyView activity