Abiding in the Pieces

On Saturday afternoon, sitting at my kitchen table behind the whirring of a borrowed sewing machine, I smelled something that transported me back to my childhood.

To be honest, I don’t know much about sewing though I’ve survived a handful of projects. (By “a handful,” I mean enough to make me more confident than I should be, given the circumstances.) Because I don’t know how to use a pattern, I rely on my creative instincts and my editor’s eye for layout design work. Basically, I’m no Martha Stewart, even if I can make a basic panel curtain.

As the sewing machine sporadically stopped and started–I hadn’t perfected the steady pressure on the foot pedal either–I sat back in my chair, stunned.

There it was all around me, something slightly mechanical and smoky. It wasn’t burning fabric or an overheated engine, but a gentle warmth, like an old kitchen or maybe a pile of dried leaves.

The sewing machine smelled the same way my mom’s sewing machine used to smell.

Maybe I was imagining it, but I could suddenly see my mom sitting at her old machine. Hers wasn’t anything like this portable Singer my friend had let me borrow, but rather one of those that is hidden down inside a table. The kind you don’t see unless you’re a kid crawling underneath it, and you bang your head on the metal part.

But it smelled the same way.

My mom made me jumper dresses, a Pocahontas costume in elementary school, a clown costume in high school for a random ministry project. She’s made quilts and curtains and pillows. When we went to a quilt show together last Spring, I was surprised to discover how much I had to say about an arena full of quilts.

It’s in my blood, I suppose.

That same sewing-machine smell took me back to my grandma’s sewing room, piled high with quilt patterns and pieces and rolls of batting. Though she hand-stitched her quilts on a big heavy wooden frame in the basement, she pieced them on a sewing machine in this room. She had boxes full of quilt scraps that I was allowed to play in, learning slowly to quilt by hand, making misshapen, mismatched pillows.

I sewed one of my first projects directly to my favorite turquoise corduroy pants.

My grandmother passed away over two years ago, and I think about her a lot. I’ve got a bell from her bell collection, which I ring on Easter morning, and two of her hand-made quilts.

So there I was on Saturday, thinking about my momma, remembering my grandma, chuckling about those corduroy pants, and thinking to myself, Somehow I need to write this down.


9 comments on “Abiding in the Pieces

  1. Melinda says:

    I’m pretty sure you need to become a member of Prayers & Squares as well!

  2. gen says:

    i love it when smells do that! transport you to a time in the past. a good memory to be written down for sure. I wonder though what a sewing machine smells like. I’d like sewing to be part of my life but I am afraid i’d break any machine i touch!

  3. carolyn says:

    It is amazing how scents of any kind transport us! That is why I LOVE Scentsy….I can put a scents in daily and be in college in the dorm…or back at my mom’s kitchen….or by the sea….

    Love your posts! jag.scentsy.us

  4. Karen taylor says:

    I am pretty sure that was the smell of contentment and the Holy Spirit.

  5. stephen says:

    Smells are amazing triggers to memories…

    I also remember the smell of that old farmhouse we lived in, with the “quilting room” and the big room full of pieces of fabric that Grandma used to piece those quilts together in.

    That was the room you had to wear shoes in. No barefeet. Might get stuck with a needle.

    One of my most memorable smells for me is the smell of winter before sunrise.. that’s the smell of the first day of deer season to go hunting with Mom and Dad.

  6. elizabeth says:

    It looks like writing about smells really resonates with folks! I was planning to end by posing a question–what smells transport to you to a different time or place?–but decided not to. Looks like maybe I should have!

    Thanks for the comments, friends, and feel free to answer the unasked question. 🙂

  7. Bonnie (Mom) says:

    Oh, the memories!!!!! As I read the blog, I could relate to the ‘smell’ of my sewing machine, althouth I don’t recal a smell of the farmhouse or quilting room as Stephen mentioned. I may be dating my self but I bought that sewing machine in 1967 after selling my 4-H heifer. What I remember mostly is making all of my clothes when I was a sophmore in high school followed by my prom dress and even wedding dress. I still have the machine and with several ‘tune-ups’ it works great!!!!!(all metal parts, not plastic!!!!)

    • elizabeth says:

      It’s hard to resist a “they just don’t make things like they used to” sort of comment, isn’t it? I love this story about the 4-H heifer. You were the FFA sweetheart, after all! I didn’t know you made your prom dress. You better dig out some pictures!

  8. Yes, you’re right! I forgot about that warm machine-y smell from my mom’s sewing machine. The sound of it speeding up and slowing down and the clicking of the lever that raised and lowered the “foot?”
    Thanks for writing these words to remind me.

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