You can go only so long pretending your pants aren't too short. You can try to bend your knees slightly as you walk, you can stand with one hip lowered, and you can wear boots to try to disguise the truth of that hemline. But sooner or later you have to face it: These pants are too short.
This just happened to me. Naturally, I blamed the pants first. I thought, Well, no wonder these things were on sale. I could have stopped there. I could have simply given up on the pants, as I have on other failed garments now relegated to the dungeon that the back of my closet has become.
But then something hit me. It felt like a brainstorm, which was disturbing in its own way. "Good God!" I thought. "I could get out a needle and thread and let down the hem of these pants!"
So this is what I'm doing. I'm stitching. Everything about this stitching feels remarkably satisfying. The act of poking, pulling, tugging, poking. The familiar feel of a pin held between my lips. The knot dangling there, that knot I made on that single strand, the same old way I once made knots, lick, roll, pull. Sewing these pants brings a flood of memories of someone I used to be, back before clothes became disposable. Or maybe when I had time to live a life in which the answer to short pants wasn't simply: Throw in back of closet, go shopping for new ones, let's move!
My sister Kristin made every outfit I ever wore in first grade, including my winter coat. I don't think this was a remarkable fact, back then. Plenty of kids wore dresses their moms had made. Kristin, eight years older than I was, loved to sew, and apparently I was a steady enough mannequin on which she might pin works in progress. It did not seem strange to have a sister who sewed. My mother, a seamstress from a long line of seamstresses, naturally saw to it that her girls had sewing lessons up at the local sewing store. Claire, two years older than I was, would soon take them and so would I. When I think back on summer days in our house, I inevitably recall the wayward pin stuck in my foot, and Simplicity patterns unfurled on the floor, and the whir of my mother's pink-and-white Singer sewing machine.
But then something happened, with sewing. It was as abrupt as it was inexplicable. When it came time for me to take sewing lessons, in the early 1970s, sewing wasn't the same thing. The wind was changing. A woman wasn't what a woman used to be, or she shouldn't be, or, what, exactly, was the deal? To be a young girl during the height of the women's movement was to be a soldier in a revolution without much in the way of context. We went braless, but then again we didn't yet have breasts.
Sewing became a political act. Women, after all, had a lot more to offer than mending. And cooking and -- typing. I remember typing. I staged a protest in seventh grade and told my typing teacher, Mr. Fiorini, that learning to type was diminishing to the woman I imagined myself becoming, a woman with a brain she fully intended to use. (Mr. Fiorini also happened to be the basketball coach and said that if I didn't type I didn't get to start at right guard. So.)
There was turmoil in the air, and sewing got sucked into it. Kristin had six summers of sewing lessons; I had one. No one took sewing lessons anymore, at least not by choice. We had home-ec in school. We made applesauce and we waxed a floor and we sewed a skirt and we respected none of it. We refused to care about something so diminishing to our, um, personhoodness. We heard the words and tried to make them our own.
Years later, in graduate school, I rediscovered sewing. I was poor, and so I made clothes. There wasn't much more to it than that. I remember feeling an urge to apologize to the needle and the thread. And I remember the satisfaction of wearing one particular blue summer top, the satisfaction you get from creating anything.
Recently I asked a group of women in their early twenties if they had ever sewn anything. The most I got was: a Halloween costume. "Oh, I would never wear something someone made," said one. "It would be like wearing a label that said: Dork."
I'm thinking of these words as I poke, pull, tug, poke at the hem of my silk pants. Of course, clothes with labels are now the thing. Clothes with labels connecting you to an image connecting you to an advertiser connecting you to a corporation. But -- sewing. I think about wearing the clothes my sister made, how those clothes became tangible evidence of a big
sister's protective presence.
Sewing. Right now I am stitching over someone else's stitching. The thought catches my breath. Someone made this. I don't tend to think of garments as personal acts of someone's time and care. But -- someone made these silk pants, someone guided this material into some machine, somewhere, thinking of lunch or thinking of going home or thinking of a sick friend. The thing about sewing is that it turns you into someone connected to another someone.
Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is email@example.com.