The patch wasn’t to cover a hole. It had the name of my band on it: The Airport 77s. I’m a sucker for matching outfits and thought it would be cool to go onstage in matching flight suits. Real flight suits are expensive, so we opted for work overalls, bought online and accessorized with Airport 77s patches above our right breast pockets.
Oh, and at our throats, a touch of stylish color from homemade cravats.
“I don’t like cravats,” my lovely wife said as I was preparing to leave for the fabric store.
Ruth is an actual seamstress — she used to work in a theater costume shop — so I was really hoping to have her on board. She can make anything: shirts, dresses, pajamas. She once cobbled together a hoop skirt for one of our daughters out of wire hangers and a floral bedsheet.
“You don’t like cravats?” I sputtered. Standing there, car keys in hand, I suddenly wondered if our relationship was sewn from a tissue of lies. We’ve been married for 34 years. Has Ruth been anti-ascot that entire time?
I decided to put a pin in it and fled to one of my favorite places: G Street Fabrics in Rockville. I probably go there only every eight years or so, but a visit always lifts my spirits. All that possibility! All those bolts of fabric lining the walls like the world’s most colorful library. I ran my fingers along the material looking for something in red, white and/or blue.
When I was growing up, my mother made a lot of her own clothes. There was a room in our house with good light and a big table. Atop it was her sewing machine, jars of buttons, a wooden box that unfolded, cantilevering out to reveal spools of thread.
And thick Butterick and McCall’s envelopes. The dashed lines on the tissue paper within looked like cuts of beef, but from these hieroglyphs my mother could conjure fashion.
Mom resisted the urge to dress her two sons as Little Lord Fauntleroys — off the rack at the boys department was fine — but I still remember one thing she made for me. I was cast as a young George Washington in a school play. She found a pattern and made my costume: a blue swallowtail coat with cream-colored lapels and cuffs, trimmed in brocade and accented with gold buttons. I cannot tell a lie: When I put on that coat, I was the father of our country.
You can pay a lot for fine fabric. I bypassed the expensive stuff at G Street and headed to the remnant room. Off-cuts and bolt ends were piled on tables, spilling to the floor in some places like lava. Solids, stripes, checks, polka dots, patterns, every piece only $2.97 a yard.
I picked three different designs and took the spinnakers of material to the table, where a woman smoothed out each piece, measured a yard and cut it with scissors that hung from a cord on her waist.
I’ve always wondered why fabric store parking lots aren’t like the parking lots at Home Depot or Lowe’s, where workers congregate hoping to get a job spreading mulch or digging footings. Where are the seamstresses and tailors, eager to fit that newly purchased fabric to your frame? No, I’d have to figure out these cravats myself.
But when I got home and Ruth saw the fabric I’d chosen, she approved. And she explained the easiest way to proceed. These wouldn’t be proper ascots — which are cinched and pleated in the middle — but more like skinny scarves, the material cut, folded and sewn along its longest edge.
“I could do it on your sewing machine,” I said. “If you teach me how to work a sewing machine.”
That may come another day. For now, it was less of a hassle for Ruth to do it herself.
And so we spent a lovely, old-fashioned evening. With each press of Ruth’s foot on the pedal, staccato bursts came from her sewing machine. I just muttered under my breath, taking care not to sew my fingers along with my patch.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.