Do you knit? Are you crafty? There was a brief hipster resurgence in the venerable pastime of knitting, and that is cool, but me, I am a sewer. Knitters and sewers are like mods and rockers. Opposing but similar. Together but divided. I think I would like to knit, but there’s something so noble about sewing, about being able to alter your own garments, tailor your life to fit you. Knitting is for those who want sweaters and socks and scarves and hats. I am cold, but I am cold inside. Wool isn’t going to help. And I want things that aren’t necessarily going to warm me. I’m not a homey individual. I don’t want to knit by the fire. I am more the sweatshop type.

The roar of my old Singer sounds dangerous and I get high from putting my lead foot down on the pedal and finishing seams as fast as I fucking can.  When I am sewing, endorphins course through me and if I run my needle over my hand I can’t even feel it. I only know that I did it from the blood on my fabric, which is painful enough. In general, I steered clear of white and stayed with reds and blacks which didn’t show the stains as clearly.

There’s sewing forums online, where people, almost all women, would talk about being unable to sleep and eat because they wanted to sew so badly. I know this feeling. I know that insanity of sitting down at the machine just for a minute and then looking up and suddenly its 12 hours later. I would sew all day and then finally collapse in exhaustion and then dream about sewing all night and wake up tired like I had never stopped.

There was something about it that I couldn’t explain and I couldn’t understand. I wanted to do it beyond reason and logic and physical limitation, and my passion for it was stronger than any desire I have ever had for a man. The crisp, almost imperceptible bite of my rotary cutter as it would slice through a pristine yard of raw silk felt like sweet resistance and relief, like popping a needle into my vein. It hurt but it was good. It hurt but I needed it. I love sewing. I love everything about it.

I love fabric and I love thread. I love patterns and I love buttons. I don’t love buttonholes, but that’s because I am not great at them. I’d be better if I had a serger and an embroidery machine, but that’s the hard stuff. I don’t want more than I can handle right now, and I want somewhere to go, something to grow into. I like knowing that there is more to know, and the eventuality of what I will be, what I can be – that is what I look forward to.

Sewing is so enjoyable that I have to give it up. I want it too badly. It takes up too much time. There’s nothing I would rather be doing and that is dangerous because there is a lot I need to be doing. The only thing that comes close to sewing is writing, and that, even though I love it, is just a shadow of what I feel for the fiber arts. Also, I am way too allergic to even consider being around all the dust that sewing creates. When I was in the throes of my obsession, I could barely breathe. All my bolts of midnight black silk charmeuse and eyes wide bright crimson paisley suffocated me. My cabinets were filled with batting and I was batty from the lack of oxygen and space.

My back ached and my eyes were bloodshot and I gave away my two suped up sewing machines with all their specialty feet and countless stitch options and I shook visibly as these treasures were boxed and removed from my home. my lavish and glittery embellishments, collected from places as far off as Tibet and new delhi and even the Pasadena flea market went with the machines. My heart broke as the fragile stretch fishnet, heavily studded with Swarovski crystals, three extremely expensive yards of which I had procured on a very special pilgrimage to Britex Fabrics in San Francisco, the legendary mecca of textiles, where my mother would take me as a little girl to gasp and swoon at the brocades and trims we could never afford – and which now I can, so I am buying them for my mom and for me – was torn from my hands.

I gave sewing up. I had to. I want to do it too much. Way too much. It scares me how much I want to do it.  So I am not sewing. It’s hard but I have to stop. It’s just for now. I will do it again. I can feel it in my hands.

10 thoughts on “Sewing

  1. You put into words what I have been trying to get people to understand for decades. Now I can just ay “fuck you-read this”. If you do get into embroidery try Great designs.

  2. As a woman who is bicraftular (I knit and I sew, but am probably a 4 on the Kinsey scale in favor of knitting, but I can’t be without my sewing either) I hear you. I know how painful that decision was, but you will have sewing again in your life. There will be more fabric and design and crazed days of creating things that bring you joy. This is just not that time. There are other things that will fill your days for now. The fabric will be there for you when it is time.

    By the way, as a woman who is not only bicraftular, but a biracial Asian woman of size, I cannot tell you how much joy you have brought me and how much love I feel for you. You totally rock. You have spoken to me deeply over the years and I thank you.

  3. There’s a huge online knitter/crocheter community called Ravelry- it’s got over a million members right now. They feel about fibre the way you feel about fabric. It ranges from newbie knitters to fibre artists who go one step further and spin their own yarn from scratch. We enable the shit out of eachother. There are pictures of yarn stashes that members have posted, and it looks like they could run their own store out of their spare room, lovingly sorted by weight, fibre and colour.

    I finally started learning to sew this year to support my own constructions and marvelled at why I waited so long to do so.

  4. My mother was a sewer. Some of my fondest memories are of her at her sewing machine (an old 1930’s model), which smelled of grease and oil. There was something magical about the whole process. It fascinated me, and her warnings to keep my hands away made it that much more enchanting. My mother’s ancestry dated back to the Isle of Man, the island of witchcraft. And sewing was her Wiccan craft. It seemed there wasn’t anything she couldn’t do with a needle and thread. Me? I’m needle and thread challenged, although I try.

  5. By activity I am a knitter but by emotion I am a sewer. I’ve not done much recently but I love that way that playing with fabric – the drape, the feel, the possibilities – makes me feel.

  6. Margret I know what you mean. I’m actually a seamster (I don’t say seamstress since i’m a male) by trade and when I first started sewing and was able to create something so magnificent from my own two small (I say small since everyone basically tells me I have girl hands -.-) hands and after my first pair of PJ’s I felt Freaking Fantastic! I would remember looking around my shop room though and it gave me a sense of accomplishment but I also made me feel also like A) Sweat shop (I’m Asian also) and B) Old lady like. None the less however I know exactly what you went through where what seemed like 2 or 3 hours was really 6 or 8 hours. And now I’m rambling. All I gotta say is totally know what you mean and if and or when you ever do pick up sewing again, you should try an industrial machine. Its like a nicotine rush (maybe to much exaggeration) to me since I worked with it in school and now my little domestic sewing machine feels like.. well… I guess a bit nostalgic of my industrial sewing machine.

  7. Oh Margaret, you expressed what I feel & many of my sewing friends, we even go away for a weeknd several times a year just to sew & be with sewing friends.
    But I don’t understand giving up the sewing machines, I have given sewing machines away but not the ones I use the most-they are my babies.
    BTW, you know my son, also into art.

  8. I just recently seen some of your stand up comedy last night. thanks to the all powerful and wonderful netflix. You are an incredibly hilarious out spoken woman. Me myself also suffer from what i like to call, “truth vomit”. I cant contain myself and when i see something or dont like something i always say how i feel about it before i even realize ive said it. Most ppl do not like me for which i now-ith understand its because they are ignorant and hate the truth. I have been having quite a terrible couple of weeks and i found your show to shed the light of laughter upon me. Strong and powerful are your words and you hold attention when you speak. You should be proud, you are quite amazing.

  9. I am a student in Manchester, England, in the final year of my degree in… Embroidery.

    People ask what I’m studying, sometimes I’m hesitant to say. People laugh, some people are just confused, some people genuinely don’t know what to say. The worst reaction I’ve had was from a late-40s Christian youth worker who laughed and said “Oh, the things they do degrees in these days!” – as if I was just some silly little girl playing with a needle and thread.

    Some people gneuinely think it’s awesome though.

    The truth is, it’s not just embroidery, it’s not just stitching. Some of us will do that, but some of us will end up in graphic design, illustration, film, fashion, furniture, metalwork.

    It’s hard to explain why it’s even called Embroidery anymore – probably one of the reasons they are discontinuing the course after we graduate, a course which has been extablished since the 60s. But sometimes, it’s easier to let people think I just do cross stitch all day than to explain what we’re really about.

    And why should I have to explain myself to anyone anyway? I shouldn’t feel embarrassed, even if people do think I’m doing a degree in cross stitch… But I do. I’m proud of what I do, proud of my work, and proud to have earned a place on a tiny course against so many other applicants. Yet it’s remarkable the number of times I’ll just give people some vague “I do Art,” response, because I can’t get that youth worker’s response out of my head, 2 years on.

    Sorry this is such a long comment – if you’ve read it, I hope you’ve found it interesting!


  10. I grew up sewing. Not in a sweatshoppy way, but my grandma introduced me to her love of making stuff from an early age. In her case, while she did like to make some random stuff just for the sake of making something, she mostly made things out of necessity. I didn’t really figure that out until later — I just thought it was cool that she made everything herself. Case in point: I grew up with this awesome stray boxer dog that the family took in around the time I was born, so he was basically the same age as me. I loved him to bits. Since I was very small and he was a boxer, he was fine with carrying me around on his back for a short time. As I got bigger, my grandma cautioned me to stop, because I’d soon hurt my poor dog. I was sad, but I listened. I’d have done anything to take care of him.

    Then my grandma made me a life-sized stuffed version of my boxer. She even reinforced his legs so I could sit on him. Unfortunately, the doll has long since rotted away, but I still have one of his beautiful felt eyes hidden away somewhere in remembrance.

    My grandfather took the radical step of electrifying this old-school hand-crank Singer that they had in the house. That’s what I learned on. Unfortunately, I never got much beyond the basic skills my grandma and the Girl Scouts taught me. When I moved out on my own, my first big(ish) purchase was a sewing machine. (That’s partially because I wanted to cosplay, but that’s another matter entirely.)

    My trouble with sewing is that, like you, I just want to SEW ALL THE THINGS. I have that problem with cross-stitch, too. If I start, I have to keep going full-tilt until I drop. And unfortunately, I get so caught up and go so fast that I make mistakes — and then swear and feel like my head’s going to explode when I have to slow down and clear jammed thread, or rip out a bunch of stitches and start over. It’s too frustrating. I get too angry, and it’s not fun anymore.

    So I knit, which I love. My grandma taught me to crochet, but I taught myself to knit. (She still gets credit, because I probably wouldn’t be nearly as DIY as I am without having grown up in her house.) I seem to have more of a natural talent for knitting, so my skill set grew quickly enough to accommodate my need to ALWAYS GO FAST. So it wasn’t as frustrating, and it’s been my primary crafting pursuit for at least 10 years now. I still have the sewing machine, but I rarely use it except to make stuff like simple pillows.

    FTR, I’ve also noticed that I go into knitting overdrive in the winter. That’s probably because I love riding my motorcycle and live in the Midwest, where winter weather isn’t really conducive to riding for a few months out of every year.

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