In Which I Relearn a Lesson From Home Ec

My sister is four years older than me. I spent most of my childhood struggling to keep up and getting reminded that I was too young to try. But there was that one time that I felt real empathy towards her - the time she burned a big iron print into the dress she had just completed as her home ec project (or was it a pantsuit? I remember it was a pumpkin colored polyester double knit print). Oh, Lord. The weeping and gnashing of teeth.

That garment had been a struggle to complete. My sister was a whizz at almost every part of school, from the social to the athletic to the scholastic, but that home economics class was her nemesis. She was already planning a life in which she would never be required to cook or sew, but to get there, she had to go through home economics, a class through which we girls were all funneled in order to give us some REAL LIFE skills that we would no doubt use in our career as wives and mothers AND NOTHING ELSE. That’s a small town in the 70s for you.

Oh, the wasted precious teenage hours she spent struggling at that little portable Singer sewing machine and its pal, the seam ripper, as she put that dress (or pantsuit?) and matching jacket together. Thank goodness for polyester double knit, you guys, right? It’s so easy to work with and clean! And THEN IT HAPPENED. It turns out that polyester double knit takes only seconds under a hot iron to go from worry-free living to petroleum goo.

I don’t remember what that iron print did to her grade, but if I know my sister, she was able to finagle her way to a grade high enough not to make too much of a dent in her excellent GPA. And she did manage to banish all sewing from her adult life and keep her cooking hassles to the barest of minimums while raising four kids who also excelled in the social, athletic and scholastic arts.

One thing I did have on my sister, once I was funneled through that same home ec class, was that I loved it, ate it up, became the worst kind of teacher’s pest (and I mean pest in that I once gave a book report that lasted a full class session instead of the allotted five minutes), and got so into sewing that I began to design and make my own clothes, including a red disco jumpsuit that I wish I still had.

Once in college I found more and better interests and never designed another garment. Once out of school, I sewed curtains and pillows and made an occasional repair, but there was never time for making clothes.

Thirty years later, now that I can afford a fancy sewing machine, I can totally pick up where I left off, right? It turns out that no, I can’t. Not only has my eye for detail atrophied, but the fabrics are different, techniques have evolved, and my actual eyes seem to have suffered from the passage of time. But with every project I am getting my skills back and learning new techniques.

For my fourth back-in-the-saddle project I chose a lined vest – a simple garment made a bit complicated by a full lining. I found some beautiful dark red crushed satin that would give me a nice bit of color over one of the many all-black goth-kid outfits I tend to favor. I cut out the pieces and put it aside for a lazy Sunday.

Cut to Lazy Sunday. I spent all day Sunday plugging away at the vest. From the sewing machine to the iron back to the sewing machine as you do. I had the iron set to the lowest setting that was still warm enough for steam, and that seemed to be doing the job slowly without any of that telltale sticking feeling you get right before a hot mess. I have been careful with the iron through the last project, which was working with fleece, so I had my feelers up for the right temperature to use. Also, I am proud to report that the seam ripper stayed in the drawer for the first time since I picked this hobby back up.

Things were really coming together. The vest was complete save for a couple of side seams and a back buckle. THEN IT HAPPENED. I was pressing the lining seams and everything was going hunky-dunky until I felt that stickiness, pulled the iron away and saw the hole. The formerly beautiful crushed satin looked like the gooey remains of a film stuck in a hot projector. I checked my iron and found that it had been bumped up to the highest setting by my own clumsiness. My face flushed with angry, angry blood and my brain flooded with memories of that pumpkin-colored dress. My sister and I, we’re not so different. She’s just way ahead of me.