Sunday 25 Sep 2016

Paper Patterns
AJ Robinson

It’s interesting the sights and sounds that evoke a memory. For me, just recently, a certain sight brought back quite the strong memory. I saw pattern a seamstress might use. Almost at once, I heard the sounds of those simple slips of paper rustling in a forgotten corner of my mind.

My mother was a seamstress. She often used those patterns. I remember, as a kid, my fascination with the patterns.

Each pattern came folded up in a little envelope with a picture of the garment they made on the outside. My mom would slide them out, unfold the pattern and lay them out on her table.

The first time I saw one, I was mystified. What was it? I stood there, my chin barely above the edge of the table, watching, closely, as she lined up the pieces. My first thought was this is some sort of puzzle.

She unrolled some of her fabric; put the pieces on top of the pattern. She began cutting the fabric to match each piece. Then she folded the paper along the lines on each page, with the fabric underneath, and pinned the pieces to each other.

The whole thing looked hideous! Threads were dangling everywhere, edges were rough and the fabric pieces were bumpy. Was this supposed to be a fancy dress?

In some cases, she didn’t even use proper scissors to cut the fabric. She had weird scissors, which looked like big rough teeth. When I first saw them, I had to wonder: can those things actually cut something?

They could and did.

I also wondered why she would want the edge of the fabric to be so rough. Yet, as a little boy, I wasn’t about to question my mother’s methods, especially when it came to sewing, her area of expertise.

Over the course of several hours, I watched as the pieces were pinned together, little bits and pieces were trimmed, and she started to put portions of the garment into her sewing machine. I always loved to hear that machine hum, to see the needle zip up and down and watch as the fabric fed into it. She’d sew the two pieces together, draw them out of the machine and then snip off the excess thread. Repeatedly, she’d do that, and little by little, the garment would take shape.

This was a unique experience for me. At the time, the only puzzles I’d ever dealt with were the standard type: flat, two-dimensional, and your basic interlocking pieces. This was special. This was three-dimensional, and it was something that would last. I understood my mom just a little better that day.

She was a person who enjoyed, who loved, to create. If you think a coat or a dress is only a piece of clothing, you’ve never made one.

It always pleases me when something simple is able to bring back a great memory. Guess I’m lucky. My mom and dad did so many things filled with images and sounds. Those can be such great memory cues.

I wonder what I’ll recall the next time something bounces around in my old head.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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