All the boxes had been unloaded into our new house and garage, and the helpful neighbors had gone waving away. I looked around at the cardboard-box Badlands, took a deep breath, and slipped out into the dripping darkness for one last thing. I opened the passenger door of the car and felt for the handles of my sewing machine carrying case. The sewing machine had ridden shotgun for the 2,200 miles between there and here, too precious to relegate to the uncertain depths of the trailers.
I slung its weight out of the car, wrapped my arms around it, and took it into our new home. I stood with it in the foyer, and looked both ways. Should I take it deep into the private area of the house, to be tucked into a bedroom corner somewhere? Or should I put it in the living/school/computer/guest/common area?
As I hesitated, I remembered my mother's sewing area in the house where I grew up. She had a tiny table crammed in a corner of the formal dining room, a spot that filled me with pity whenever I saw it. I knew that other sewers had whole rooms devoted to their hobby, and wished that she had a space worthy of her dedication. With nine children in the house, there was hardly room for all of us to sleep, and finding a whole room for sewing would have been an impossibility. I watched her sew over there, I learned to sew there, I watched as she taught my sisters to sew, all in that little corner carved out of a room meant for something else. My little brothers pestered her as she worked, dangling from her neck, compounding my sorrow on her behalf. Why couldn't they just leave her alone?
As a college student, then a young wife, I lived in a series of apartments. Sewing "space" in apartments is the space between breakfast and lunch, lunch and dinner, when the dining room table, (if you're fortunate enough to have one) isn't being used. When my first son was born, I'd put him to bed and sew in the next bedroom while he slept, my machine carefully placed against the wall farthest from his. So that when we moved into the first house we'd ever had that had extra rooms, I knew exactly what to do with one of them. I chose the room farthest in the back of the finished basement. I set up a cutting table, a sewing table, and an ironing board. I filled the closet with patterns and garments in various stages of construction. I even brought down a little radio and tuned it to NPR. I was set.
But I had a toddler. And although I'd put exciting toys in the sewing room for him and settle in to sew, the most exciting toy in the world can only entrance a toddler for a few minutes. He'd grow bored, and I, absorbed in the thrill of creation, would only half-hear him leave the room. Fifteen minutes later, I'd invariably leap up to go find him, and discover him happily playing in a pile of mixed spices on the kitchen counter, or painting his fingers (and hands, feet, etc.) with my nail polish. And so it would go. I'd settle him, get started, he'd wander, I'd jump up, and then I'd have to scrub him up and clean up the damage before we could start the whole cycle again.
The next time we moved I was relieved to see there wasn't room for a sewing room.
Our house in Georgia had lovely extra rooms that beckoned for someone to come set up ironing boards and cutting tables, but, wiser now, I put myself and my hobby down right off the kitchen in the schoolroom. Now my pins and buttons were dumped and mixed instead of the spices, but now I could see everything that was going on. And I found I liked being where everyone was. My older children would get exasperated with me when I'd get to sewing really fast, because the sound of my machine would drown out their computer game. A whole house around us, and there we sat, all in the same room, getting on each other's nerves, none of us willing to leave and go somewhere else. We enjoyed, beyond the supervisory advantage, whiling away the afternoon doing different things together.
As I stood in my new foyer with my sewing machine, wondering which way to go, I thought again about my mother. With all her children grown now, she has a lovely quiet sewing room, many sewing machines, and even a sewing room cat. If anyone deserves such a dreadful fate, it is she. But I wondered about all those years crammed in the corner of the dining room. Could she really have found a quieter place to sew? Could she have isolated herself away from the endless noise and neediness of her children? If she'd taken over part of the dining room she could've taken over any corner of any room. Is it possible that she chose to sew in the exact spot at which all my pity was aimed all those years? Did she...can she have enjoyed being around us?
So I turned to the right, found myself a little table, and began to set up my new sewing area in the corner of the living room. I'll be right in the middle of everything as I sew in this house. My needles and bobbins will be dumped and lost, my thread and ribbons unrolled and ruined. I could have turned left. There are several quieter places I could go. Someday maybe I'll have a sewing room again. Someday maybe I'll get a cat. Today I have little children who need to hang from my neck while I sew, children whose little hands (don't tell them) I love to feel clasped there.
Today, my sewing machine and I are going to be in the middle of it all.