Modified by a sewing machine

SOMETIMES when I sew on my new sewing machine, it looks beautiful and I think, Oh my God, look at all those perfect straight stitches. I’m like a seamstress in a fairy tale who can make anything – clothes for the king, a coat that kills giants, maybe even a set of eight lunch-size napkins with mitered corners!

Other times, and for no apparent reason, my results look as crazy as one of those feverishly weird webs that spiders started weaving in the 1990s after NASA researchers hovered them on behalf of the science, on tiny, spider-sized doses of marijuana.

To this day, I don’t know which of the two results I’ll get every time I step on the pedal and call the needle for service, and it frustrates me. You have no idea how much.

It’s day 6 with my new sewing machine.

On day 1, my birthday, I opened the box (best gift ever!) and inventoried all my shiny new presser foot spools and accessories and the laminated chart that lists the decorative stitches (#63, which does a delicate leaf pattern across the hem of a kitchen towel, is my favorite so far). I imagined conquering the world.

First I made tea towels, placemats and pillowcases with ric rac, then I moved on to tablecloths, draperies and nipped-waist blouses. I would love to one day have a velvet dress with a fitted bodice and long, tight sleeves (who wouldn’t?).

The sewing machine was worth the initial investment, I told my husband, because I will be using it for the rest of my life, maybe getting into a little quilting on the side.

“Can you hem my jeans so they look like they were bought that way?” He asked.

“Absolutely,” I lied.

It was during this wacky time that I thought back, wistfully, to my mother’s sewing machine, a sturdy Singer in a practical beige color, the sewing machine equivalent of nude pantyhose. He lived in his own special Singer sewing table in our upstairs hallway. It was the 1960s. The singer’s needle moved back and forth, and if you wanted to do something fancier, get an embroidery hoop. My mother’s sewing machine, by the way, was indestructible.

I had gone, a few days before my birthday, to choose such a one. Instead, I ended up with a complicated, feature-rich thing that the manual describes as a “sewing computer.” It threads its own needles, has an LED display to remind you which custom stitch you’re trying to summon from its memory, and yawns in boredom at the thought of making another perfect buttonhole, automatically. It doesn’t matter, you can go to another room and read the newspaper while he sews.

I felt a bit self-conscious about wanting to own such a nice machine, the way I imagine people buying Porsches might get a last minute stomach pounding when signing the papers.

“Take it easy and you’ll be fine,” said the woman who sold it to me. “With sewing, it’s all about the process.”

I am not what you would call a process person. In fact, in my heart, I don’t believe in the process of doing anything. I believe in results.

Consider my work habits. I’m happiest every week the instant after my column is sent to my editor. The next seven days are a relentless descent into despair. As the pages of the calendar turn and I’m forced to slowly drag through the process of writing the next column, I worry, I worry. Mid-week, I start getting mad at the column for not writing to each other. On the day it’s due, I meet friends at the market and they ask, “How’s the chronicle going?” I am a wreck. “Not done,” I whisper, desperately.

All I wanted to do with my sewing computer was make a simple set of dishcloths.

In fact, all I wanted was to have made them, to step back and admire the decorative edging, in a contrasting yarn color, then shout to anyone who approaches them with a wet dish, “Stay away! Don’t get them dirty!”

Everything that stood between me and this happiness was a process. Resentfully, I washed and dried the fabric. I pinned the fabric. I cut it. I ironed the hem.

By then it was day 4 and I was starting to get mad at the tea towels because they weren’t tea towels yet. I sewed a seam. Then another. I changed the thread color. I pressed a little harder on the pedal to sting faster. I liked the clack-clack. I was going faster and faster and then…

The sewing computer ate my kitchen towel. Somehow he grabbed the fabric and sucked it in the dark, like in a Stephen King novel, through the needle plate into the bowels of the bobbin case. And then everything crashed.

I was very shaken. I had to leave the room.

On day 5 I had the strength to go back and cut the fabric with scissors to release it, then I had to clean up pieces of murdered fabric and thread under the needle plate, then when I was finally ready to start again, I discovered a terrible thing.

I had somehow managed to bend a small essential piece of metal over the automatic threader thingy. It hung there, writhing sadly.

Did I ruin my sewing computer?

I barely slept that night.

NOW, on day 6, I shake up my courage, and although I’m ashamed of having soiled the beautiful sewing computer so quickly, I phone the store where I bought it. I say I have to go for emergency repair work.

“Don’t worry, it’s an easy thing to fix,” the woman told the store. “How did it happen?”

I confess. “I’m not a patient person,” I say.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “Before you know it, you will be.”

Suddenly I am happy again. I hang up and look at the sewing computer. Was he sent from heaven, or wherever they make sewing computers, to change me from one type of person to a better one?

And then I start to wonder if it’s not too early to buy the velvet for my dress.

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