Greetings my Dear Ones,
“Great calm, generous detachment, selfless love, disinterested effort: These are what make for success in life. If you can find peace in yourself and can spread comfort around you, you will be happier than an empress.” –Rabindranath Tagore
It’s been quite a week, here at my little sewing table. I am Not happier than an Empress at the moment... It seems like every second person through the door is asking me to ruin his or her clothes. A mystery customer has come through the cleaners and wants all the flounces cut off her brand new dresses. These are dresses whose main features are these gorgeous, flowing flounces. Once they are all cut off, these dresses look shorn, naked, embarrassed, like short haircuts that you hope will grow back quickly…What in Heaven’s name possessed this woman to buy four dresses, whose main selling point was a flounce, and then have all the flounces chopped off? I don’t get it.
Next in is a young mother who wants to wear a dress she just bought to a church event this weekend. It has a flounce. Guess what she wants chopped off? Yes. Clearly, people have not yet gotten the memo that flounces are “in” and are having them amputated with breathtaking speed, as if we can stamp out this trend quickly and go back to making everything too tight without skipping a beat and letting the fabric pendulum swing the other way. Without the flounce, this mother of four is planning to wear a dress now the size of a swimsuit. To a church function. Prudence has her knickers in a twist over this one! Why do people ask us to ruin their clothes? Shouldn’t seamstresses have some sort of Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm”? My co-workers shrug benignly and say “Give the people what they want!” Why is that so hard?
Don’t get me wrong—I am not in favor of flounces either—they don’t enhance femininity so much as they make one look vaguely matronly and old fashioned—rather like one has repurposed a Victorian table cloth into a garment. My problem is with people who want to change something fundamental to the whole integrity of the item. Why buy it in the first place? Certain things are not worth fighting in a piece of clothing. Some things just need to be passed up on with a polite “no thank you,” not taken home and hacked to death with a kitchen knife—or brought in to me so I can do your dirty work! Fashion designers are serving a buffet—most of which they seem to have cooked up on a dare, or under the influence of Methamphetamines, but that’s beside the point—we get to pick and choose what suits us best from the selection. We don’t have to take things we don’t like. (Ladies, FYI, I’m pretty sure the “mermaid gown” was just a practical joke to play on brides: you cannot walk properly or sit down in them. You need to strip completely to toilet yourself. And, you look NOTHING like a mermaid. Admit it!) Let’s just leave the skinny jeans, jeggings, and flounces where we found them and move on to the good stuff, like anything made of tartan or tweed.
The next woman in the door is wearing a beautiful coat I secretly covet. It is in shimmering shades of my favorite autumn colors. She had asked me last week to hem the sleeves, which were way too long for her. After she left, I looked more closely at the coat and realized that the sleeves had no lining near the cuffs and the fabric, a rich boiled wool, was bonded in such a way that we were actually meant to turn the cuffs up against the outside of the sleeve, as part of the design. The edges fell open in a sweet little angle that was very flattering and went with the rest of the coat. I turned them to her length and then tacked them in place (with stitches, not actual tacks—for those who don’t sew). She shuffles up to me holding both paws out and whining like a 5-year-old who has been persuaded to try “just one bite” of broccoli, “I don’t like it…I just don’t like it…” She wants me to turn all that loveliness UNDERNEATH, where it will make her wrists bulge oddly. As she is saying this, an actual five-year-old, who is waiting for his mother in the dressing room, spits out a brightly colored plastic head from a pin and says to me, “I crunched this up in my mouth but it’s not candy.” Real five-year-olds are apparently WAY more adventurous than this lady. “I just want it PLAIN,” she says, with emphasis. What I hear is “I need this to be ugly.” I sigh, take her name and number and agree, with what cheer I can muster, to ruin her coat by Thursday at the latest.
As I sit back down to work, thinking that that coat is like a nice kitten going to a bad home, I think about the work of my hands leading me to the work of my soul. I need to stop judging people’s choices. This is not for me to decide. They are entitled to the expression of their own free will and the consequences of their bad choices. It’s not like I don’t also make terrible choices. I would probably be just as crazy as some of these customers who come in here asking for nutty solutions to their fashion dilemmas. The only difference is that I can sew. I don’t have to reveal my insanity to anyone. Moi? Have an item in my closet made from three kinds of plaid that still has no arms, three years later? No one ever has to know how many of my own clothes I destroy or how many of my little “creations” have made their way to the Salvation Army dumping grounds in the hopes that some visually impaired person might be searching for the perfect thing to wear to a train wreck… So, you see, I have NO leg to stand on. Prudence Thimbleton and her smug judgments needs to have a moment in Prayer: God, grant me the Serenity to accept the customers who want me to ruin their clothes; the courage to remove flounces, reveal ankles, and to add another forty yards of tulle to a wedding gown that already resembles a Portuguese Man-O-war; and the wisdom to know that I am just as bad as the rest of them.
No matter who we are or what we do with our hands and hearts all day, we need to let ourselves off the hook for other people’s choices. (Well, most people, most choices…) We cannot make anyone, or their clothing, better than they choose to be. If they want to stroll the streets wearing jeans like tourniquets and flounce-less costumes of their own wretched designs, who am I to judge? If it were up to me and Prudence, we would all be in pinafores and petticoats; aprons and mob caps would be all the rage. But the Good News is that I DON’T get to decide. (You can all breathe a huge sigh of relief!) I remain just a humble “mistress of the cloth,” making commentary on the rips in the fabric of society, which I see from hanging by my own thread. The rips are not from what we wear, but from how we see ourselves. When I focus on myself… oh, crap…I look down and notice that I just stitched ten yards with no thread what-so-ever in my machine. I am so lucky to have this work that engenders so many wonderful opportunities to practice detached mindfulness!
Be well, my dearies, and do Good Work!