Originally published in the Miami News-Record on December 6, 2015
In 9th grade I FINALLY got to take Home Ec. I had been longing to take that class probably since birth. I couldn’t wait to learn all the things I’d seen my mom do my whole life. She sewed the vast majority of Sis’ and my clothes, took a Wilton cake decorating class and could create elaborate wedding cakes and some of the coolest Big Bird cookies with icing feathers you’d ever seen.
My Home Ec teacher was Mrs. Frankie Sue Johnson. She was also my mother’s Home Ec teacher – in fact Mom was in her first class all those years ago. My Senior year was Mrs. Johnson’s last year and she retired in 1991. She started out with my mom the superstar in the 60’s and ended in the 90’s because apparently I broke her.
In the fall of 1987 our entire class of exuberant 14 year olds was more than ready to start cooking and sewing, but we had to endure a few arduous weeks of safety lessons and learn how to balance a checkbook and how to dress like humans and not the slouchy, ripped sweatshirted selves we had become in junior high. When we got past safety and fashion it was our class’ turn to cook. I’ll have to tell you about my culinary misadventures in the WHS kitchens another time.
FINALLY the new semester started and it was time for sewing. We decided as a class that our first project was to make a pair of “jams.” Jams were the wildly patterned long shorts that were all the rage that year. My jams were camouflage. Even then I was prepping to be a redneck. They were simple, drawstring waist, no real challenging parts. And I think Mrs. Johnson sewed about 85% of them for me. I’d basically throw my hands up in frustration, whine “Mrs. Johhhhhhnsonnnnnnnn…” and she’d come to my rescue. Then I’d say it still didn’t make sense. Then she’d say, “Oh, just get up and let me do it.” By the time I got to my Senior year I had graduated to rompers and dresses with less help from her, but it never really came easy to me.
The summer between 9th and 10th grade Mom decided I needed to do something besides sleep half the day away and play my sister’s Nintendo or watch MTV. So she bought an “easy” pattern for a housecoat, picked a fabric she liked, and said, “Here. Be productive.” I sewed the entire thing wrong side out. She found me crying at the sewing machine after work one day. She had to rip the whole thing apart and just finished it herself.
I have sewn a little here and there over the years. Mainly it was based more on necessity rather than desire to create. I could mend minor rips, sew on buttons, and stitch together a costume. One winter I started making ugly stuffed animals. They were ugly on purpose, by the way. If I created them ugly, I found that people overlooked my lack of talent. Last year I learned how to make adorable stuffed owls and bunnies. But that burst of sewing creativity didn’t last long because my sewing machine hated my guts and fouled up at every opportunity. I was given a brand new machine a few months ago and have been sewing quite a bit, the last few weeks especially. Just this week I finished my second set of bathroom curtains.
I’ve also discovered that I’m getting better now that I don’t have Mrs. Johnson or Mom standing over me to rescue me when it gets hard. Now if I throw my hands up in frustration, say ugly words to my machine or the ill-behaving fabric, I just have to figure it out.
I’m going to have to branch out to different projects soon, though. I’m running out of windows that need curtains.