Monday, September 4, 2017

Reflections from a small island...(apologies to Andrea Levy)

In order to quiet my brain, which is still working overtime to process the morass that which is Trinidad, I spent most of this morning sorting fabric ends. People who sew will tell you how easy it is to become overrun by ends, swatches and those itty bits you keep, "just in case". They are everywhere and they don't go away! It took me way back, as a very small child, I was left in the company of my great grandparents, my mother's paternal grandparents, when my mother went back out to work after having me. Between them, my granny and various uncles I was "baby sat' right up until nursery school and through every other time in-between.

My great granny, granny and mother all sewed. But it is from my great granny that I first learned to hold fabric at the sewing machine and sew a seam. I must have been around 4 at the time and I'm guessing it was a pretty wonky seam. It was one of the old Singer foot treadle machines, someone in the family still has it. I was fascinated by the ornate gold detailing on the black, cast iron frame, elegant lines and the fact that pumping your feet made the needle go up and down. Mesmerising to a child looking for something to do. And I think it must be from her that I get my ability to put pieces of fabric together to make them pleasing to the eye, yet make something durable. She wasted not a scrap, the big pieces went into making patchwork sheets for the bed, she made rag rugs and every so often, I got a dress for my doll. I never thought about it as learning how to sew, it was like cooking, you just did it.

My generation was pushed to go to school, to learn, to get a "good job" so that we wouldn't have to work as long and as hard as my forbearers. But the thing is, in my long work life, I've worked longer hours than my agriculture worker great grandparents, and sometimes I wonder, for what. Why work with your hands when you could push a pen and collect a regular paycheque was their thinking. For them that represented security, and it's not necessarily a bad thing. But I've tried that and don't much like it. My gypsy soul seems to need not to wear shoes, lipstick and "good clothes" all the time. Or to deal with people, to stroke egos or constantly be on call. So here I am, at the sewing machine, playing with fabric, and much to my surprise, turning out things people like. That they like enough to purchase! It's a great feeling when you make something and people look at it and go, hmmm. And I think back to those first early tries at holding fabric while my great granny pedalled slowly enough for a child to be able to guide the fabric but not get little fingers caught in the needle. I was just one of of her innumerable great grandchildren, but I lived in the same house and as a result, occupied her time. Having had fourteen kids of her own she must have wanted a break but I guess for whatever reason, she tolerated me.

And here I am, staring back in time as I methodically sort, label and cut, marvelling at the colours, patterns and textures under my fingers. Seeing all kinds of possibilities in each piece, ruthlessly pruning the pieces that just did not work, no matter how pretty. Sometimes you just have to say, not for me thanks. This process, where creating your life is still better than regretting old choices or bewailing the failed state of a country. Being free to accept that you tried it one way but perhaps you need to go your own way. And tomorrow there will be another finished thing that you send out into the world, as you hope it gives someone as much pleasure as you got from making it. And for those moments, you are free.