Stitches in Time

A mother’s miracles with needle and thread

By Kate Goodrich

When I was very small, my mother worked small miracles in cloth and wool. Tiny clothes, too small for me, she fashioned for my doll. The very sweetest, my favorite by far, was a pale yellow sweater, with each of its little pearly buttons in the shape of a bunny. These treasures just appeared: I never saw the knitting and purling, the cutting and stitching, the post-bedtime hours and all the love that went into creations such as that lump of yellow wool no bigger than her hand.

Much later, I tried my own hand at knitting under her guidance. But my “scarf” came to a desultory halt at 6 inches in length, the needles jammed into immobility by the intensity of my efforts. I never took up needles again but marveled as off the ends of hers spun such intricate patterns as the curved heel of an argyle sock.

No project was too small — or too large — for this seamstress extraordinaire. She did not hesitate to tackle reupholstering a couch or fashioning a set of lined floor-to-ceiling drapes for our dining room. To most every piece of clothing she made for us, she set her unique signature — a creative trim or appliqué or fringe plucked out by deft hands.

But there is one creation of hers, indelible in my memory, that also carries a great burden of guilt. On a Saturday expedition to an old fabric emporium in a run-down section of Philadelphia — where normally we would never have ventured without my father — my mother patiently endured my rejection of one bolt of cloth after another as she roamed the store’s dusty, claustrophobic aisles hoping that her next suggestion would prove to be The One. The ivory brocade we finally selected was so lovely that I almost wished I were getting married instead of merely singing in the high school chorale affair.

Having resurrected five yards of the stuff from its dusty sepulchre, my mother proceeded to construct a wonder that Cinderella’s fairy godmother would have envied: The shimmering ivory brocade was slowly transformed into a floor-length sleeveless gown with a wide, rose-colored moiré sash. My pleasure and anticipation grew each time I stood for another fitting and stroked the gown’s folds, feeling like that glass-shod princess. And like the fairytale heroine, I wore my lovely dress only once. It grieves me to say that a case of nerves during the evening’s big performance caused me to sweat profusely. The dress was stained beyond repair.

I didn’t know then that, over a lifetime, “favorite” clothes flow in and out of a woman’s closet like money in the bank: I figured this would be my favorite dress forever. I thought only with guilt and deep regret of the dozens of hours and zillions of stitches my mother had invested to make — what? Make a dress? Not really.

Like the new drapes and the transformed couch — and the yellow sweater with bunny buttons — the dress, as an object of beauty, was ephemeral. But as an act of love, it is permanent. For my mother’s only desire was to make her eldest daughter happy and, for one special evening at least, to feel very beautiful and grown up.

So, thanks Mom. I haven’t forgotten. Never will.  OH

After living and working in Boston for more than 40 years, Kate Goodrich retired to Wilmington in 2013 to be near the beach, where she can be found most seasons in a chair engrossed in a good book.

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