The faded cotton robe is old and frayed, so threadbare it can scarcely hold a patch. I carefully pin the fabric, hoping it won’t tear when I sew the pieces together. It holds. The old man smiles gratefully; I let out a sigh of relief. Around me the metallic rumble of 4 sewing machines provides the sound track as I take a sip of water and pick up the next item.
Thirty years of cerebral toil in the academic trenches leaves me thought-weary and craving the use of my hands for craft, not for pecking out words. I am volunteering at a repair event. The skills I bring are modest at best. And yet I find enormous satisfaction in doing this simple thing of mending clothes. I feel competent, in command, even hip.
Never mind that my old Singer portable rattles like an old jalopy; it works fine for hemming, stitching, patching. Elsewhere in the spacious room a volunteer takes apart a toaster while another sharpens scissors on a small sanding belt; a new clasp makes a necklace whole again while a broken bike is hoisted onto a stand. Let no object enter a landfill that can be saved.
I smile earnestly at a new customer, a young woman in a hurry. “My parking meter runs out soon so please be quick,” she says. Of course she would hand me a zipper to fix, one of the most complicated tasks that many workers refuse to accept. I take my time to do it right, and the client becomes agitated. I don’t react. I have entered the sweet, serene sewing zone. The woman makes it out the door just in time, repaired dress in bag. I sigh even louder this time, and gulp down more water.
By the end of my three-hour shift, I have repaired six garments. I am tired and weary, but feel incredibly accomplished. After-visions of seams coming together, threading needles, hand stitching, edges trimmed, all blur together in a soothing balm. The background din recedes. I can relax because I have done enough.
Reprinted from Oregon Humanities, Spring 2015, p. 40.