And sew it is

March 6, 2023

I wish there was a word to describe the sound a person makes when pricking their finger with a needle. The initial noise would most likely be described as a gasp, a noise of shock from seeing what you have just done, but the follow up noise is almost always the same. There is a wince of pain as your finger pulses, but under the wince a sense of anger and shame sits. Something as minuscule as a pricked finger on a perfectly placed pin or a sewing needle is never a big deal, but it doesn’t go unnoticed or unheard. 

This noise is forever ingrained in my memory, and it replays in my head often if it’s not already happening in the room around me. “Gasp! Tisk!” with a certain finger shake directly after, it never changes. Some will pull their finger directly to their mouth, allowing their saliva to stop the bleeding. What a strange notion. Not only is it strange, but I don’t know if it would really be anyone’s honest reaction every time. It doesn’t matter the skill of the artist, there is always the same noise. The wound could draw blood or barely scrape the skin, but like a broken record “Gasp! Tisk!” as if it was rehearsed, never ceasing to fail. 

If I sit quietly, close my eyes and envision this reaction, I hear the voices and see the faces of different women. I get overwhelmed by the memories of all the different people I have seen do this. I can feel my legs crossed on the scratched oak wood floors of my grandmother’s house as a little boy, watching her multitask, pushing a needle in and out of whatever. I can see her finger slip and the needle prick. In that motion and reaction, I can see a parade of women in my mind who all do the same thing in that moment. 

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When I was around seven years old, my elder sister by 12 years, Anna Beth, taught me to sew. We never did any “practical” work; usually we were embroidering tea towels or small projects of the sort. I remember how big the hoop felt in my hands and how slippery the needle was. It is hard for me to see some things clearly, but I know that the feeling of joy and love was apparent. Sewing didn’t feel like a chore then, obviously, and I was just a little boy who was excited for an escape away from the sports I had to play and the cargo shorts I had to wear. 

Anna Beth learned how to sew and embroider from our grandmother around the same age that she taught me. When I need to remember something about embroidery or I am finding needle placement, I see my sister Anna in it. There are many things that I do in my everyday life that I see my sister in. Every time I move my face around or roll my eyes a little silly, I have a small chuckle in my head and say to myself, “That felt like Anna.” 

We recently had a wonderful phone conversation about needlework in many aspects and its ties to womanhood and femininity. Although I am not a woman, I was surrounded by women constantly and still am. As a femme-presenting person, I find deep connections among women. My sister and I spoke about sewing as an art form, and it’s no good classification as a craft. Stereotypically, these art forms such as weaving or embroidery are done by women and get looked down upon by many art snobs who are too numb in the skull to see the beauty of it. 

Gabbing away through the speakers of our phones, with my nephew Arthur snoozing away in the backseat, Anna and I spoke for a good amount of time. While she drove her way through Nashville traffic and I sat at home in my chair, I had one question that was important for me to get out; “What is sewing for you?” There was a slight pause as my sister spun the rolodex within her head. 

Before I could give a prompt, she said, “I would say that I am always seeking catharsis.” 

I scrambled for a pen to write that down. I was brainstorming what that feeling was for so long and here my sister just said it. 

Before then, I was using “grounding” as my term for it, which I think still holds true. There are days where I come home, riddled with anxiety and frustration. I sigh in anger as I come home to the laundry that seems like it never ends or the vacuuming that for some reason I cannot get myself to do. Instead of the overwhelming work that could be done, I get into my little routine. 

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Sitting down in the deep wing-back chair that once belonged to my great grandfather, I get all settled in with my footstool and I do what I have watched many do before. I flick the light to my lamp on, pull my wicker sewing basket close and thread the eye of my needle. I am filled with this feeling of serotonin rushing through my veins. It could be dead silent in the room or completely filled with the laughter of the television, catharsis will ensue. 

Within society, there are set masculine and feminine stereotypes. Pink is for girls; blue is for boys, just as sewing is for girls and woodworking is for boys. There is no way in the world that you don’t know what I am talking about, as these things are unavoidable in life. Many of these gendered expectations have faded to the sides a bit now, but they set the world up for what is today. 

Due to these expectations, most women knew they had to sew at the bare minimum, but many  also made it into some sort of art or hobby. Quilting for example uses colors, shapes and stitching to evoke feeling. Sometimes they are symbolic and sometimes even tell a story. Quilting can be done on small scales or big. They can be done symmetrical or asymmetrical. Some might think there are rules to quilting and embroidery, but to them, I would say you are dead wrong. 

Of course, there are some things about these mediums that have to be done, like you must knot the back before pulling a stitch, but why must my stitching be straight, or even? Does it really have to look pretty? What if there is prettiness in the messing up or perhaps what feels like a total mess up.

Sometimes the mess ups within themselves tell stories. The sloppy stitches might tell the story of a busy mother nodding off before sleep, or a loose button being the sign that someone’s strength isn’t the same it used to be. Sometimes it’s that one drop of blood from the prick of a pin, like so many other women before. 

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