On the 9th Day of Christmas

by Alissa

It’s been pretty quiet online over here these days. In part, this is because we’ve been enjoying a leisurely Christmas/New Year/Holiday Season with plenty of food and festivities (first trip to Sydney!) and, yes, time at the beach.

Testing out the new kickboard at the ocean baths.

Testing out the new kickboard at the Merewether ocean baths.

It is also because we have just one plug adapter that serves both the Internet machine and the sewing machine, and I have been sewing. Having Ace around the house on break has been good for all kinds of domestic projects. Today he worked both a belt sander (rust removal/repair on the car) and our new rotary cutter (making a few little quilts). In theory, it is my rotary cutter, but until today I’ve been too afraid of slicing off my finger tips hesitant to industrialize the slow and gentle scissoring of textiles for unique quilt pieces. However, Ace is headed to America for a conference next week, and we really need to improve production times if he’s going to carry these baby blankets in his suitcase.

The belt sander, we borrowed. (How cool is it that we know people well enough to borrow tools already?) The rotary cutter was my concession at the craft store this morning after half of the quilt blocks I sewed last night turned out to be too sloppy to use. We’ve gradually been increasing our possession and use of technology. Leaving Waterloo, we gave up almost everything that plugs in–running everything through a converter seemed like too much of a hazard, plus, we didn’t really want to drag our Canadian space heater collection to Australia. For the first few weeks here we lived without clocks. Without mirrors. Three months after our shipment arrived, we are still functioning without a waffle iron, battery-powered toothbrushes, or lamps.

Since we plugged in the sewing machine a few weeks ago, we’ve all gotten a little excited by the possibilities of it. I feel a bit like Motel in Fiddler on the Roof, showing off his new sewing machine. “No more handmade clothes!” But now it’s “No more hand-mended holes! and I can make the occasional cute girl project!”

With borrowed patterns (How cool is it that we know someone well enough to borrow patterns!) I made my girl a sundress. Of the eight possible dresses, I chose to sew the one that would best show off the vintage Indonesian batik I wanted to use. Not coincidentally, it was also the pattern with the fewest pieces to cut and assemble–six, not counting elastic. Have you tried reading pattern instructions lately? It takes intense–maybe even bilingual–mental focus that I’ve been squandering on things like trying to learn my phone number, (finally done!) and to remember the names of the Australian artists whose paintings I enjoyed at the museum last week (Margaret Preston, and a bunch of guys…hmm…). In my lamp-free state, I managed to construct the dress with one sleeve and one piece of skirting inside out.

Then I made the matching hat. Don’t let the brevity of that sentence lull you into thinking it was a smooth or swift process. After a day of cutting and sewing and ripping and resewing and improvising what I imagined to be the equivalent of fusible interfacing, I just couldn’t give up. Something that should resemble a basic sunhat now resembles a wilted flower, but it will block the sun, if she ever consents to wear it. She has worn the dress most days since I made it, sometimes two or three times, which is highly gratifying. It looks pretty good! And she twirls so fast I can’t see which pieces are inside out any more.

Today she helped me lay out the usable quilt squares and climbed into my lap to watch me sew them together. I missed being small and sewing with my mother. How she would slowly explain what she was making. The crisp snipping of her scissors. The ping of the spring in her reverse switch. How she would floor the round red pedal and fly through miles of dress seams, nightgowns, applique. I wanted to call her tonight to ask about freehand machine quilting, but she’s somewhere between Budapest and Amman, getting ready to go back to work after the holidays, and it’s too dark to sew anything now until morning.

This is the only photo where I've managed to get the dress and the hat at the same time. Look closely. It's down there on the floor.

She moves fast these days. This is the only photo where I’ve managed to get at least part of the dress and the hat (lower right…) at the same time. Perhaps sometime before she outgrows the dress, she will briefly be excited to own one coordinated outfit.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, friends!