Stitches and hitches

I can­not cro­chet, nor can I sew. This didn’t mat­ter un­til last week, when Ge­orge’s teacher asked me to run up skirts for a school show.

Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - LEAH MC­FALL -

There was a girl at my school who was amaz­ing at cro­chet. She could cro­chet any­thing and ap­peared to cro­chet all the time. If she wasn’t cro­chet­ing, she was tat­ting and if she wasn’t tat­ting, she was prob­a­bly asleep, as there wasn’t much else to do in New Ply­mouth in the 80s.

Later, I dis­cov­ered she be­longed to a con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian sect, so this ex­plained why she was ter­rific at hand­i­crafts. I’m not sug­gest­ing all re­li­gious peo­ple are crafters, or that tat­ting brings you closer to the Lord. But, be­ing gov­erned by strict re­li­gious cus­tom at home, I imag­ine she prob­a­bly didn’t waste any time watch­ing tele­vi­sion.

As I watched tele­vi­sion es­sen­tially non-stop from the sum­mer of 1980 un­til Fe­bru­ary 1991, when I left home for univer­sity, I can­not tat. I can­not cro­chet, and nor can I sew. This didn’t mat­ter un­til last week, when Ge­orge’s teacher asked me to run up some gath­ered skirts for an up­com­ing school show. Don’t say yes,

I heard my­self think­ing. Who do you think you are, Ex­clu­sive Brethren?

It wasn’t Ge­orge’s teacher’s fault. I’d of­fered to help be­cause I’ve done pre­cisely noth­ing use­ful all year in the ser­vice of Ge­orge’s ed­u­ca­tion. In a strange burst of en­thu­si­asm in Term 2, I signed up to help at the weekly Per­cep­tual Mo­tor Pro­gramme.

This sounds com­pli­cated, but it just means putting out hoops and wob­ble-boards in the school hall and giv­ing a bunch of 5-year-olds ac­tiv­i­ties to do. I was in co-charge of a bal­anc­ing game, where the chil­dren would walk heel-to-toe along a chalked line on the floor. If they were suc­cess­ful, they’d earn the right to do some­thing more in­ter­est­ing, like hurl­ing bean-bags at a net, which bounced them into a bas­ket, or throw­ing them­selves off a plinth and land­ing on a mat.

I was in co-charge with a girl from a se­nior class; she was aged about 10. It was ob­vi­ous she had more mag­netism and charisma than I did, so ba­si­cally all I did was re-draw the chalk-line, ev­ery fourth kid, and won­der what I might make for din­ner. Be­cause of my point­less­ness, I never vol­un­teered for PMP again. I’d flunked as a par­ent helper and it was only April.

That’s why I of­fered to help with the cos­tumes. I’ve never sewn one in my life, but the tasks seemed sim­ple enough. Fab­ric shark’s teeth needed tacking onto a bunch of T-shirts. In-and-out sew­ing can’t be hard,

I thought. I mean, sur­geons do it all the time.

Also, there’s some­thing de­li­ciously mag­nan­i­mous about say­ing, Oh, let me help. It im­plies that I might stop my life for you even though, as a work­ing par­ent, I’m More Ex­hausted Than I Ever Dreamed Pos­si­ble. This puts you in my debt, morally speak­ing. I’d never stoop to say this out loud but, on a spir­i­tual level, I now have one up on you. Hon­estly, the peo­ple who give their time freely to oth­ers are prob­a­bly the most self­in­ter­ested peo­ple you know.

Any­way, I was bask­ing in my own gen­eros­ity when Ge­orge’s cheer­ful teacher gave me a hes­sian bag stuffed with what looked like starchy pet­ti­coats. There were also sev­eral cir­cles cut out of a shiny green fab­ric, which re­sem­bled glit­ter­ing scales.

All I had to do was at­tach the over­skirts to the tu­tus, and lo! The the girls would tran­sub­stan­ti­ate into danc­ing fish. ALL I HAD TO DO.

In­stead of doing the hon­est thing (yelp, and ask to be ex­cused), I ac­cepted the task as if it were no big thing.

“My mum has a sew­ing ma­chine,” I said gaily. What I meant was: “My mum will sew these on her ma­chine.”

For a va­ri­ety of rea­sons, this did not tran­spire. A week went by and the scaly fab­ric re­mained in cir­cles. The fishy smell of panic be­gan to fol­low me around.

In des­per­a­tion, I fi­nally drove to town. There’s a tailor in my hus­band’s of­fice foyer, and I dinged his lit­tle bell. When he stepped through the cur­tain, he was ex­actly what I hoped (tape mea­sure around his

“In­stead of doing the hon­est thing (yelp, and ask to be ex­cused), I ac­cepted the task as if it were no big thing.”

neck; nim­ble, pi­anist’s fingers and a re­fusal to be shocked by any­thing).

He could do the job but needed suit­able bias bind­ing. He sent me to a craft­ing shop where they stocked it in rolls, along with em­broi­dery tools, zips and cot­tons. Peo­ple were sew­ing on site. I could have rented a ma­chine and done the skirts my­self, I was told, had I been an­other per­son en­tirely.

“Peo­ple rent ma­chines?” I asked, in won­der. A serene woman turned around and waved from what looked like an over­locker.

The next morn­ing, my hus­band rang. The fish-scales had ap­par­ently been a night­mare to stitch.

“It cost $110,” he said, with ex­is­ten­tial strain in his voice. I low­ered the phone and, fleet­ingly, saw God.

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