Sunday, August 23, 2009

Gramm's Vintage Fabric Tote

At the mother of all sewing-related yard sales, I found this vintage drapery fabric. And I have a lot of it. There have been pillows. There will be a wrap skirt. But here we have the tote version. I started out by freemotion quilting the fabric, a skill at which I consider myself a complete beginner. Following the curves of the design, I let the fabric offer its own suggestions for quilting. And then I asked it what it should become.

And then I wanted to keep it for myself, but it reminded me so strongly of my grandmother, Martha Fern. And her house in Port Orange, Florida, looking over the Halifax River. With ornate gilt shelves on white beadboard walls, and curtains with pom-pom trim, and red shag carpeting and a pink bedspread in the master bedroom.

She called from her now-home in Missouri, where she lives with my aunt and her husband. It is far from the ocean and, truth be told, far from anything else. I've been there. It's a beautiful, modest lake community with limestone outcroppings and golf carts and those little signs retired folks put in their front yards: "The Thomases." But no hibiscus. No palms. No Daytona Beach Baptist Church. No newspaper on the screened-in porch at the wrought-iron table with a vinyl cloth.

I don't know if this fabric recalled that other way of life to her, but she surely did seem to love it.

My grandmother was one of those accomplished seamstresses of the fifties and sixties. She had three daughters (and one son, my father). They all wore shirtwaists and poodle skirts and crinolines and swing coats and, later, sheaths of her making. She made our son the dearest crib quilt: pale yellow and gray and white with appliqued pussy willows and kittens.

So, the handles are leather. I want to say: sewing leather is no big deal. The hoopla over a sewing machine that can sew leather puzzles me. All of my sewing machines (four) can sew flexible, reasonable-thickness leather with no trouble. Now when we start having multiple layers of seams and interfacing, as in straps or edges of bags, that can get tough. But the same is true of fabric, especially home dec fabric.

The pegboard on which the bag is hanging is a recent addition to the sewing room. I have always had trouble finding my rotary cutter, scissors and rulers from one moment to the next. They would somehow burrow underneath a scrap or a pattern piece. The pegboard restrains them, and keeps them in sight.

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