Never too old to learn a few little things


Amy Palser

Sewing is an exercise in small things.

Fine strands of thread, tiny round bobbins, presser feet like miniature snowshoes and the miniscule needle’s eye. They are itsy-bitsy items that require steady hands and sharp vision (or at least a good pair of bifocals).

And it wasn’t until last week that I had the pleasure of being introduced to this Lilliputian world — which is surprising for someone like myself who’s a bit obsessed with small things.

I grew up in a family that treasured the “cute” things in life. The miniature version was always better than the real thing. My mom is a collector of tiny tea sets and baby-sized spoons. We grew up on burger sliders and Vienna sausages, mini muffins and bite-sized cheesecakes. We wrote to-do lists in little notebooks. We drove small, compact cars. And a miniature pony standing among a group of statuesque horses always incited a heartfelt “Awww!” 

A fondness for tiny things is one of the little-known side effects of being short.

Last week, my mother-in-law came for a visit and brought her sewing machine, as well as a small, quilted case containing all sorts of minute sewing necessities. She has sewn for me before, both at her house and mine, but I have always been off doing this or that, working or taking care of an infant.

This trip, however, I was fully at her service having turned in my Tribune key several months ago for a more “leisurely” life of taking care of three children. I expected to assist my mother-in-law as she made new pillows for my couch and drapes for her daughter’s home. But instead, she told me she was going to teach me to sew.

And that’s just what she did. After a trip to the fabric store, she pulled out the scissors and told me where to cut. Then she had me look over her shoulder as she tacked two sides of a pillow cover together with an arrow-straight seam.

“Now you do the rest,” she said.

I was a bit apprehensive, but she appeared to have full faith in me. Sitting down in the dining room chair, my foot found the pedal and slowly but surely I began to follow as straight an imaginary line as I could.

“Just pull out the straight pins as you go,” she instructed, and after a few startling finger pokes, I got the technique down. 

My seams were not perfect — not like the quick and flawless seams of a woman who sewed clothes for four children who are now grown and have children of their own.

Speaking of those young offspring, my 5-year-old Ruby was waiting in the wings for her turn to sew with Grandma.

“When do I get to sew?” she would ask every few minutes.

“In a little bit,” I would reply automatically, largely ignoring her. I was using all my concentration to keep the fabric whirring through the machine as unswervingly as possible, and feeling concerned I wasn’t doing it right.

Ruby asked once more about her turn.

I looked up from the machine. “Grandma has to teach me first, and then she’ll teach you.”

“Mo-om,” she replied in a sing-songy voice. “Adults can’t learn anything — only kids!”

We laughed. In a young child’s mind, adulthood means knowing everything there is to know. (In a teenager’s mind, it’s just the opposite.)

But I also laughed because learning new things never stops. It keeps life fresh and interesting, no matter how old you are. And some of the recent things I’ve learned — like jogging, playing the ukulele, or just being a better friend to my elderly neighbor — are every bit as wonderful and important as things I learned earlier in life.

Eventually, Ruby got her turn at sewing, sitting on her teacher’s lap and wincing as her hands (resting safely on top of Grandma’s) guided the fabric close to the bobbing needle. She beamed as she held up the small treasure bag she made from scraps of fabric. I beamed as I looked at my four new brightly colored pillows on the sofa.

I mentally added sewing to my list of recently learned and beloved skills. And I added bobbins, needles and presser feet to my list of favorite tiny things. Oh, and Ruby? She’s been on that list for a long time.



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