kids / reflections

the first lesson and the second


The kids, they’ve been wanting to learn how to sew. It was first on their list of things they wanted to learn this summer, just like it was the first on their list last summer. Sometimes I am slow about things.

And they know exactly what they want to sew. My youngest brought an embroidered cotton shirt from her closet last night and proclaimed, “I want to make this!” Items also discussed: baby blankets, quilts, dresses, toys.

Not being any kind of seamstress myself, I didn’t know exactly where to start except that you don’t start with embroidered cotton shirts and quilts for babies. I only know how to start like I started: with a needle and thread and a handful of fabric scraps. So I cut up old shirts, fabric ends, a bed sheet and a curtain. I gathered four needles and near-empty thread spools and a bag of extra buttons.

I sat them all at the table and began:

The first thing you need to know about sewing, is that it’s harder than it looks. And you will mess up.

Truth feels more important than inspiration some days. Then I demonstrated how to thread a needle, do a basic stitch and tie it off. They picked up their own fabric scraps and needle and thread and showed me they could do the same. And then I left the room.

It only took about one minutes for the “do this for me”, “I can’t get it”, “what do I do now?” to begin. So we worked through that and they started on bags and pencil pouches and wizard hats which were met first with shouts of triumph and, ten minutes later, torrential tears of defeat. The thread had become tangled, the handle fell off, the gaps are too big, the entire thing had to be re-sewn.

Which is exactly my experience with every single sewing project I’ve ever started, always.

Sewing is harder than it looks and you always screw up.

And so I showed them what it is to undo what seemed like a perfect row of stitches and pick up the needle and a new piece of thread and begin again. Because that’s the second lesson of sewing:

Pretty much everything can be fixed. And what little cannot, can be forgiven.

More often than not, the fabric and concept is still usable, though maybe with some modifications, and all you have to do it try again. But sometimes you have to let the fabric and the idea go, ball it up into the sorrowful mess it is and begin anew. Even when the work is not salvageable, a new start is available. It is always, always, always available.



I woke up late this morning, which means I missed my hour of tea and silence. I need that time more than I need sleep or even breakfast, I get all gaspy when I don’t get it, like a person who is beginning to drown and can’t tell which way help is coming from and desperately claws at everything around her.

But there it was, gone, and there was nothing I could do about it.

It was a rough day, like I wasn’t full alive. Nothing was bad, it’s just that everything was wrong and I didn’t know how to fix it.

Summer is a challenge for me anyway, because it doesn’t translate into books and boredom and beaches like it did when I was younger. I’m working on it, but I still feel off, not quite yet settled into the fun of things and not quite sure what it is I most want, because there really is only time for the best things. ‘Good’ and ‘best’ dress like twins sometimes and it’s hard to tell them apart.

And in the middle of the sewing lesson, hiding in my room from the tears — I’m not sure if it was theirs or mine — I heard it:

This is harder than it looks. You’re going to mess up.


Living is hard. And I’m not even talking about the fancy stuff, just the basic stitches and not tangling your thread. Everyone makes it look easy, the playing and loving and dreaming and even the hard, intricate and beautiful directions we are taken sometimes. They make it look easy and here I am just trying to figure out where I placed my needle.

It’s not easy. It’s not easy for anybody. We learn some skills, we build practice and we hit lucky stretches, but sooner or later, we’re going to sit and look at what’s in our lap and cry because we have to go back and redo the whole row of stitches, the ones that seemed so perfect, the ones that were sure to finish up the whole amazing project.

Some days we wake up late and some days we make bad excuses and trick ourselves into going after the things that we think we want, but are really just lies. Some days we yell at the people we love, or at least let their ridiculous humanness get to us. We work too long on one thing and not enough on another. We forget to play and to listen and to be present. And sometimes this is our fault and sometimes its not. Usually it’s just that we are negligent, not as careful as we could’ve been.

And that’s when we have to remember the next lesson:

Pretty much everything can be fixed and what cannot, can be forgiven.

It will be work and we have to undo some things and it might not look exactly like we had hoped, but the work — the beauty we’re creating with our living bodies and our bright souls — the work is not all a complete waste. There is still something to be made of this mess, there is still potential in it.


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