Learning to be a Lady: Sewing

Sewing! It’s a skill that is supposed to magically supply you with clothes that fit, in the color of your choosing, with just a few hard-won skills. I know this because I took Miss McGee’s sewing class in 3rd grade as part of my school’s extended day program, which was an optional extra hour of school your parents could pay for so that they would have one more precious hour free of your snotty brat self.

Intro to Keyboard was the most popular extended day class. I got stuck with sewing. We did not have sewing machines; that kind of equipment was too expensive. We had fabric scraps that were donated by parents who, I presume, gave up sewing once they saw how fucking difficult it can be. We brought our own needles and thread and pins. Our first project was a pincushion which we’d use for the rest of the year to hold our many pins. Looking back, I wonder if they’d allow 3rd graders to play with needles and pins these days, because we certainly stuck ourselves quite a bit. There was a box of bandaids next to the fabric pile, if I remember.

Anyway, I was not a great sewer as a child. I lacked focus. I made my stitches either too big or too small. I had trouble keeping my seams straight. I was not altogether gifted at selecting fabrics. Embroidery was right out; that project, where I was supposed to outline a rooster on tufted fabric, lasted about four minutes before I gave up in a huff. However, I was able to produce, in addition to my pincushion, a heart-shaped, lace-edged pillow for Valentine’s Day, a stuffed rabbit with button eyes, and a slightly larger lace-edged pillow in the appropriately early-’90s swirly green and blue colors. (Lace, McGee felt, was a very important part of our education.) And besides sewing up rips or tears in my shirts, that was the end of my sewing career.

Then, last year, I got it into my head that I should learn to use a sewing machine. I bullied my aunt into giving me one of her reserves: a Singer Model 501A, circa 1950. It’s completely mechanical, which is something you can’t say about today’s computerized machines. It’s also about 85 pounds. I took a sewing class at Purl in Soho, where I learned to make a reversible tote bag and then promptly forgot all about sewing for a long time.

Good ol' Ironsides

Good ol' Ironsides

This project reminded me that most drag queens have at least some skill with sewing, since they often need strange, oddly sized costumes for their performances. Maybe some are lucky enough to have a friend to sew for them, and maybe more are successful enough to pay for tailored fits, but the rest of us must slog through. If you have never sewn, I will tell you now the process is frustrating, tedious, and really really breakdown-inducing. Last week I sewed these curtains, which are literally just big rectangles! Four straight seams! Nothing more! And yet I still suffered several tearful huffs and pinsticks.

You better be fucking impressed.

You better be fucking impressed.

But now I have beautiful curtains hanging in the sitting room! Just don’t look at them too closely or you’ll see their flaws. An ALLEGORY, perhaps???

I hope for their sanity that queens buy most of their drag off the rack. Sewing is for the birds, if birds can even thread a needle.

This entry was posted by TJ on Wednesday, April 24th, 2013 at 9:57 AM and is filed under The Project . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 Comments

  1. pipariperho says:

    Oh, sewing! I like it, when I don’t hate it.

    This reminds me of story about my aunt that occasionally is brought up whenever someone in our family gets frustrated because of sewing. When she was making a shirt of some sort, she was apparently skilled enough to sew the fabric not only backwards but also upside down so the thing that goes under armpit was sticking out of the shoulder. That was what ended her adventures in the land of making clothes.

    I, on the other hand, occasionally enjoy the sewing. I started to use the sewing machine young enough with sewing two pieces of cloth together so my parents could use them in the barn so there was no big mistakes to be done and the basics were learned fast enough. I was skilled and old enough that when we learned to use the sewing machine at school I didn’t have to practice how to use it on paper. Yes, in Finland we start it that way. There’s papers with random curls and a sewing machine with no thread and then all you have to do is follow the lines. It’s btw called the driver’s licence for sewing machine. And I don’t have it…

    [Reply]

    TJ Reply:

    Let me see if I have this right: In Finland. You need. A LICENSE to sew?

    You guys are the best, I hope you know that.

    [Reply]

  2. Hadzmat says:

    I miss my sewing machine!
    I do not miss my mom’s old sewing machine that weighed 85 pounds and had some piece missing so that the thread tension was never quite right.
    Have you ever tried putting beads on something? I bet some drag queens have. After an evening of beading you LONG for a wonky sewing machine.

    [Reply]

    TJ Reply:

    NO, I have never beaded. Is it as awful as it sounds? I imagine you have to do it all by hand.

    [Reply]

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