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.
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.