Earlier this year DH had job issues. I found myself thinking “My Great Grandfather didn’t organize picket lines so employers could treat their employees this way” and “My Great Grandfather didn't agitate and organize on two continents so that the spouse of his descendent would be treated like this…” Well, you get the point. I mentioned this to a friend, and after explaining that my Great Grandfather had been a labor organizer and union founder in New York City at the beginning of the 2oth century, she suggested that as the year darkened, I might want to try contacting him.
Now, I do not believe that the dead hover, just out of sight, in long white nightgowns, waiting for their descendants to want to chat. However, I thought that if I could just be touched, just be inspired by the neshama that was his, maybe I could be inspired to help find a way out of the mess that DH had found himself in.
DH needed a ritual robe. He found directions. We took the measurements, and he went and bought the fabric (bought the thread, too. After all, I probably had black thread, but without checking, there is no guarantee-my robe is grey) and I left him to his project. While the language that resulted could in no way compete with, say, kitchen renovation language, or even computer repair language, it was still clear that he wasn’t having a good time with it. So I offered to make the robe for him. The only condition was; that I would do it my way, not using his directions. And, then, because of family occasions, I put the fabric aside.
At the beginning of last week-right around Halloween, I felt that I had to start the sewing project. It isn’t as if I have much spare time. I work and there is still a not-yet-driving-but-still-very-active teenager living at home. There is cooking and baking and when I finally can’t avoid it any longer, cleaning and laundry. There is reading and studying and my own ritual work.
But the robe called. And, I found that even if I only had ten minutes I would pin an edge for pressing, or blindstitch a seam. I found myself leaving the ironing board and iron out, so that I could properly press each seam as it was sewn.
Today, the Cross Quarter Day I worked on it between a breakfast meeting and a lunch meeting. I came back home and worked on it before dinner. And I started to realize that I was hearing a voice “remember, you are pressing, not ironing, remember the difference” “finish stitch the neckline in two pieces, before sewing the shoulders, that way, it shouldn’t itch” “the sewing machine can go fast, but it doesn’t have to, even slow it will be fast than by hand, especially if you don’t have to rip out the seam and do it again, correctly.” The voice was calm, patient and quite insistent on my doing, things I had not done before, things that would not be visible in the finished garment. Nor were those things expected to be done in a project as aggressively modest as this.
My Great Grandfather was a labor organizer and an activist. These were the (true) stories that I was raised on. But he also was a tailor, professionally a “suit and cloaker.” He took a great deal of pride in the clothing he made, and pieces of it far out lived him (there is a plaid kilt, that my mother wore on her first day of kindergarten, as did I, my sister, both of my daughters, and my sisters daughter-great, great granddaughters of the tailor). It was the skills of the tailor that he came to teach me, the skills that allowed him his union activities while still managing to raise a family. Take care of the advance work; make sure that the parts not meant to be seen are secured that way. Make the seams invisible, if possible. Press, don’t drag the iron. And always remember, the finished product should not irritate anyone involved. And lessons on the small magics and love, which is not a small magic at all. Thank you Pop, I love you.
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