Thursday, March 24, 2016


Quincey is a delightful old soul currently residing in a three year old body.  She’s chock full of love, and wit, and tenacity (which is the up side of being stubborn). We enjoyed a Sunday dinner at her new house in Salt Lake City the other day.  She opened the door and welcomed us to her castle, twirling around in the entry way.  Her pink polka dotted dress swirled around like a frothy umbrella, floating forward and then reverse around her legs when she stopped. 
“Sure is a pretty dress you have there, Miss Q!”  We clapped for her dance as she giggled. Her Momma, Katie, walked us into the kitchen, commenting that this was Quincey’s latest dress du-jour.  “I have to wash it every night.  Serious obsession here,” Katie sighed. “I wonder if Gummy might take a look at the dress and see how hard it might be to make another one so she can rotate and Mommy doesn’t have to stay up every night waiting for the laundry to finish?” She looked at me with tired, hopeful eyes.
My family has a somewhat unrealistic opinion of my sewing skills. I get the same thing from people about my ability to sing, or play guitar. I don’t read music, and if the chords of a song aren’t simple open chords that can be capoed up, I’m out of the picture. But hey, it’s nice to be considered capable, even if it’s not my truth. My sewing classes, every Wednesday morning, are really not your typical “class” situation.  
My teacher, Margaret Farmer, is what one might consider a PhD of Stitchery.  She’s taught people to sew for over 50 years.  Her classroom is the sewing room under her garage in Centerville, UT. When my friend Suzanne invited me to join her in Margaret’s class, I agreed, partly because I was intrigued about a woman who taught Suzanne to sew when she was twelve years old, and who was still teaching her forty years later.
Margaret is ninety years old.  Did I mention that?  She teaches class from 8 am till one, takes an hour lunch break, then teaches again until 5 or 6.  Four days a week. The fifth day she goes to the temple. I did mention that Margaret is ninety years old, didn’t I? I think Margaret might be described, at this point, as a young soul in an old body.  She is as in-tune with her human existence as anyone I’ve ever met.  But she’s not obsessed with it.  Balance.

I asked her the other day how she stays so healthy and sharp.  “Well, as long as I start my day on my Chi machine I do pretty well.”  Apparently she lays down on the floor and puts her feet in this machine that rotates her feet in a figure 8, aligning her spine and chakras. She uses that time to memorize. Last summer she recited the whole Declaration of Independence for me.  And the Gettysburg address.  She has a poem for any subject that ever comes up in class.  And her storytelling skills are the quality that would receive accolades at a storytelling festival.  
Margaret was an earth child before it was hip. She and her husband Jay, who by all accounts was a character among characters, wanted their boys to learn the value of steady hard work when they were young. So they bought goats and had the boys raise them.  The whole family drank goat's milk. She ground her own wheat, and ate from their large organic garden. She housed unwed mothers for years, when it was the way of society to move away and deliver the child anonymously. And she worked. Never afraid of work.
Margaret was schooled in the art and craft of dressmaking and design in New York City. She was there when WWII ended, in fact, and indeed, a sailor grabbed her in the street and kissed her, just like in the famous photograph.
The best part of sewing is not the sewing…it’s Margaret!  Oh the stories she can tell! 
Today would be our sewing day, Wednesday; except that Margaret’s grandson was getting married, so she cancelled class to attend the wedding in Logan. I have made a last minute trip to Spokane to be with my Annie after some emergency surgery, so it worked out fine that there was no class.  Monday morning I texted Margaret to see if she was teaching, and if there might be room for me to come sew.  “Class” is simply a place to sew, many machines available and much, much thread, fabric and notions.  We work on our own projects, with Margaret there to lead us.  Last week she taught me how to install an invisible zipper.  I did it twice to try to embed it in my memory, but I am afraid I will never be able to sew anything without Margaret, so she is just going to have to live to be 130 years old. Heck, I don’t even have a sewing machine at home. Well, at least not one that is set up and working.  Cindy Gardner, who took her sewing skills up to heaven with her, gave me a sewing machine for my birthday a few years before she died.  She had cancer at the time, and wrote on the top of the box: “To Cori, for when you’re feeling domestic and I’m not here. Love, Cindy”  I cry when I see the box, and I haven’t been able to bring myself to open the box and set it up yet.  I feel…I don’t know… unworthy.  I will get there…I’m just not there yet.
Margaret texted back that there was room in the Monday morning class, so I grabbed the pink polka dot dress that Quincey begrudgingly loaned me and drove to Centerville. When I got there Margaret was alone in the sewing room.  Lucky me, no one else had come to class that morning!  I got Margaret all to myself!
I handed her Miss Q’s dress and asked if she would make a pattern.  Of course, she is always accommodating that way.  She unrolled a piece of pattern paper, grabbed a pencil, and cleared the wedding dress she had been working on from the cutting table. I stood beside her, watching…learning.  There is a comforting lilt in Margaret’s voice, a calmness, warm but matter-of-fact. Her hands remind me of my mother’s.  Perhaps that is one of the magnetic things that keeps me yearning to be in Margaret’s space.  She represents a time and place that is rare and ageless, like all of us in that space are caught in a time-warp.  We are all there in the 1960’s, the colors and sounds and energy are vintage.  When the door squeaks open there is a warm waft of ironing starch, mixed with a hint of engine oil like the scent that rose from my mother’s old Singer sewing machine, or my brother’s Lionel train set. The steady rhythm of Bernina’s answering the call: “Forward, March!” Like an army of dedicated soldiers. There is conversation floating around the hum of the machines, the whoosh of the steam iron in the hallway, and faithfully weaving through all of it is Margaret’s beautiful voice.
“So, you’ll need to cut the skirt almost in a circle,” she said as she laid that pink dress out on the table.  She used her arsenal of tools as she taught me, measuring the pink dress, then gently sketching the curve onto the thin brown pattern paper. She used four different measuring devices for different aspects of the pattern she was creating.  I commented that there was an awful lot of math involved in sewing and designing.  She nodded as she measured, the yellow measuring tape pulled from around her neck, her lovely fingers working the tape around the pencil marks on the paper.  I watched in awe, grateful it was her doing it, and grateful I was there to watch.
“Measure twice - Cut once”. She repeated the rule of thumb my own mother had taught me… the rule she tried to teach me.  I am impatient, and think I can eye things pretty close to the mark.  But I am almost always wrong.  “You think you know where the center is”, Margaret will say, “But you’d be surprised how wrong you usually are.”

So I try to follow her advice, though it is surely a test of my patience. When Annie was on the Viewmont High Basketball team, she brought her gold warm up pants home to have me hem them.  This was before Margaret, and after my mom had given away that old Singer sewing machine.  I made the mistake of measuring the pants from the snap near the ankle on the trousers.  I have no idea what my thinking was.  Of course the pants ended up 6 inches shorter on one leg.  Poor Annie was teased that whole season because of the hilarious warm up pants she wore before each game.  Mother shame!
Margaret is slowly teaching me, in her calm loving voice, how to work my way through the process of sewing.  I’m not the best, but I actually know how to thread the machine, and how to surge competently, and how to sew a straight line and a zig zag on actual true blue fabric. 
I’m going to make that dress for Miss Q when I get home from Spokane, at some point. Margaret and I already have the pieces cut out.  I’ve already hemmed the sleeves with a double needle. And surged the two pieces of that swirly skirt together.  We are on our way.
One day, when Margaret is done teaching, I will have to do this on my own.  Or not.  But if I decide to give it a go, I will hear her whispering in my ear “Think.  Measure. Think again. Measure again.  Then cut.  Good.  Good job, you did it!” 

Thanks, Margaret.

During the season of Lent I make the personal commitment to write every day.  I’ve done this for the past eight years, as a token of devotion and thanks to the Lord for giving me a brain that works (usually). I publish these writings here on my blog, unedited and splattered like wet paint, as a way to share them and to keep them for myself and for my posterity.  This year I have decided to ruminate on thoughts, ideas, habits and miscellaneous personal practices I would like to put in a figurative HOPE CHEST to take with me into the rest of my life and the life beyond. Besides that, there are bits of advice I would like to tuck into the HOPE CHESTS of my kids and grandkids.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't read one of your posts in a long time (a few lents now) because they always make cry and the last 2.5 years have been far too volatile for me.
    I am so glad I read this one. We have never met but I know Margaret, she is a fixture in the family now and clearly I rely on your skills, under her tutelage, to do all the domestic projects I wish my mom could be here doing for me.
    Thank you for taking us in! And, thank you Margaret for being the Nephite of Stitchery