Last week I gave away my jammed up sewing machine. It unceremoniously ground to a halt a few months ago and though I took it apart and put it back together again three times over, I wasn’t able to pinpoint the problem. I lugged the beast on one last journey to the kindly sewing machine repairman for diagnosis, but ultimately decided against investing any more cash into it, which is how I came to find myself, on the hottest day of the year, meeting a handier-than-I neighbor on a street corner and bidding my wobbly workhorse adieu.
In my machine’s absence, I’ve been sewing by hand, which is satisfying in its own slow motion kind of way and exactly what my latest apartment progress project calls for anyway. (For the past week or so I’ve been lengthening the two patchwork panels I made for our old place in hopes of replacing the very rough dropcloth curtains that have been hanging in our living room for the last year and half.)
Patchwork of whatever stripe, and hand-sewn patchwork in particular, is a slow burn kind of project. There’s the slow gathering of fabric, for one thing. And the slow poke stitching for another. I spent one mildly ill-advised work day earlier this week trying to churn out a record number of stitches, but I’ve spent better time picking up the work when I can: on the beach, in traffic on the BQE, on the slick benches of mass transit. Wherever the place, the process is the same: methodically stitching through sections of my grandpa’s old handkerchiefs and Faye’s old dresses and a gauzy linen that I can’t quite remember where it came from. Up and over, stitch after stitch, seam after seam, this piecemeal patchwork curtain progress isn’t particularly good for the internet algorithm or the expectant world of finished projects and online publishing. They’re not finely finished or even perfectly measured, but when they’re finished they’ll be all my own, which is all I really wanted.
When I was 11 and 12 and maybe even 13, I regularly shredded my fingertips revisiting the opening chords If I Had a Hammer on the guitar. G, D, C, E m; G, D, C, E m. I’d sit on the end of my bed, in all of my pre-pubescent earnestness, sliding my fingertips up the metal guitar strings until they were puffed up and blistered and eventually callused. Truth is, I never really made it past those opening chords. Each time I picked the guitar back up again after a few weeks of distraction, I’d have to reform those calluses. But each time they came back a little quicker and if someone handed me a guitar today, my fingers would know exactly where to go. Over the next few weeks of hand stitching these curtains, I’ll get my calluses back. When I’m finished, my fingertips will soften up again, and the next time I pick up a needle and thread they’ll likely smart and swell and make their small protestation known.
Slowly, slowly, piece by piece is how patchwork curtains grow and how apartment progress gets made. Like those four guitar chords, this isn’t work with a goal of perfection or even mastery in mind, but it’s awfully satisfying anyway. Here’s to the blisters, the fits and starts, the calluses that come and go, and the memories our muscles manage to keep.