I Got Nothin’

Pretty impressive title for an English major, no? It’s how my office mate and I answer each other when the question, What’s up? has no better response. Nothing interesting, nothing dramatic, nothing worth walking across the hall to tell you about. I got nothin.’

When I use that response with Floyd, he’ll always go to a few bars of “I Got Plenty Of Nothin.'” As a young man with a trumpet he travelled to Europe on a Porgy and Bess tour, and that’s what gets stirred up for him.

Right from the get-go I must tell you, it’s been a crazy week to have nothing to report. Full moon. That means every task multiplies even as you work on it; expect to have to deal with dropped calls, needing to e-mail, text, and answer the phone all at the same time, and things like iPads coming up seriously missing. Add the first day of Spring semester into the mix and you end up with full-tilt overload for my aging brain.

It’s been a crazy week. At some point in the not-too-distant past I wrote:

As a gardener I don’t have much to offer today. The most gardening-like thing I’ve done in weeks was to cut back the lovely purple lantana that drapes over the curb all along the sidewalk garden. Truly freezing night temperatures had reduced it to black leaves and brittle skinny twigs. The cutting took the better part of four hours, cleaning up as I went. I felt like I was making tumbleweeds, but the photo doesn’t look at all like a tumbleweed.

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It just looks like a mess that won’t go into the yard bag with even a modicum of cooperation. In fact the only tumbleweed I’ve ever seen was in Fullerton, California, putting the lie to all kinds of Texas stereotypes.

The best I can say is, all those squats and lunges left my legs pleasantly sore. And now the sidewalk garden is all cleaned up and ready for what comes next.

I did sneak half a dozen seed packets into the shopping cart when Floyd and I hit Central Market over the weekend. I know I’ve said I can’t grow anything from seed, but I have had lovely nasturtiums from seed in the past, so why not try them again? If you don’t get them in the ground by mid-February, it will be too hot by the time they make flowers. I think I could put them in almost any time now.

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I also picked up a few packets of sunflower seeds, even though rodents trigger my gardening ire by chomping them down to stubs just as the flowers are on the brink of opening. And a few packets of bachelor buttons. But that’s all.

Isn’t it interesting how I wrote “half a dozen packets” when this photo clearly tells a different story? No wonder eyewitness testimony is so easy to dispute.

(See? See how the sickness is? You swear you’re not going to have anything to do with any plant that needs care, attention, protection from the elements, or sequestration from potential marauders. Never again. Never, never. Nope. Not me. And then…)

But mostly what I’ve been up to for the past couple of weeks is sewing.

Growing up, we had a 1930’s Greybar electric sewing machine that my father had won in a contest back when he managed an A&P store. He installed it in a treadle machine table just like the antique Singer we now have, that once belonged to Floyd’s grandmother and was probably used to work up more clothes and quilts than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. The machine of my childhood was a bear to thread and a real monster to control the tension on. Not a good combination of traits for an unruly girl with the patience of a starving puppy.

When I was ten or eleven my best friend Sharon and I were bundled off to sewing lessons at the local Singer store. I remember a pattern for a shift that included such skills as making darts, putting in a zipper, and other admirable abilities. The material was printed with a tiny green floral print, if I recall correctly. I liked the whole enterprise, but not enough to keep it up.

Later, young and pregnant and poor, I made a couple of maternity tops that included pockets, cuffs, and buttons. I made a few outfits and a doll for my daughter, but she was of an age and temperament to prefer tiny blue jeans and t-shirts, so.

There was no more sewing in my world until I pieced together a t-shirt quilt commemorating various skate and bike events Floyd and I had done together. I still haven’t done the actual quilting on it because the fabric is too thick. The art of stitchery came to represent an array of unfinished projects.

Then out of nowhere this past Christmas I decided I wanted a sewing machine for my present. I’m going to blame my sister-in-law and her sister, the two of the evil jigsaw puzzle. For somewhere in my imagination I decided that if jigsaw puzzles are entertaining, and sewing things is exactly like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with instructions, why not indulge the impulse on something I could use or even possibly wear?

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I found a spiffy Brother machine on craigslist and scooped it up the day it was posted. A nice woman’s daughter had received it as a gift from the woman’s mother, and had hardly used it at all. Only one of the presser feet has ever been out of the box, and there are some quilting feet included. (A presser foot it the little thing that holds your fabric in place while the needle goes in and out as sewing needles do. Little teeth-like structures under the fabric pick up the momentum and propel the fabric along at a rate determined by the heaviness of your foot on the control pedal. It can be quite exciting.)

I tucked it into a triangular space behind the couch that gets all the light in the universe from the tall living room windows: it’s a perfect space for a sewing machine. I propped it atop the old Singer table, and stole Floyd’s desk chair from the garage. I was set to go.

Having been raised with colonial sewing machines, I find this computerized version  insanely agile and talented. It’s easy to thread, the thing threads its own needle (no small gift when working with eyes that are in their seventh decade), bobbins are a snap to fill, parts change out easily, and I’m approaching the entire enterprise as mere amusement. No need for perfection; we are here to have fun. Even an unruly gardener can slow down enough to cut nice straight seams and place pins with a modicum of care.

I made a beeline for one of the local fabric stores, picked up a pattern, material, and a bunch of notions (sewing supplies ranging from thread to elastic, and toys such as seam rippers and cutting wheels). It was one of my first encounters with a retail space that was pulsing with happiness and generosity. Sewing must increase dopamine or something: those women were all as sweet and helpful and patient as could be.

Then I went home and made a purse. Here it is, hanging on the hall tree where all good purses wait:

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Originally I’d been thinking of making a knitting bag that would be more convenient than my current plastic shopping bag. There would be pockets in which needles and other tools would be neatly stored and easily retrieved. It would hold one project at a time and be highly efficient.

But I ended up making this little number, with two outside pockets and four (four!) inside pockets. Bright yellow material makes it easier to find all the things like lip gloss and pens that love to hide in the depths of any purse. Which is great, because although my usual tendency is to get rid of whatever I make as soon as I can, I decided to actually use this little puppy as a purse. It’s a little short to manage knitting needles, and my Holy Grail is a purse that actually has enough pockets where I need them. Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, the bag is nevertheless very cute and friendly, and totally accommodating of my many keys and two cell phones.

Well, if you can make a purse and only attach the handles inside-out and backwards once, you must be able to make a simple shift for summer school!

Have I mentioned that ripping out sewing is ten thousand times easier than ripping out knitting? Because when you rip out knitting you have to get the last correct row back on the needles without twisting your stitches, a feat that has eluded me despite dozens of attempts. But with sewing, you just pick at the errant stitches with a seam ripper and re-sew whatever you’ve mis-sewn. Of course I’m still working with cotton, which will heal itself pretty well in the wash, so the mistaken stitches will never show.

Well, so then I made a shift.

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The material is plum-colored, with off-white flowers. It’s exactly the kind of thing I wear all through the hot summers when I have to rush to school and then to the office. It was fun to try out some of the embroidery stitches the machine makes. Imagine your dismay when you discover that “wild times” consist of experimenting with machine stitches at the neck and armholes of a dress you are making. Whatever happened to the ’70’s?

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So here comes the mad part: at some point in the embroidery process, due to pilot error, smoothly grinding gears began to protest noisily and one of the troubling symptoms of machine stitchery appeared: a wild tangle of thread on the underside. Something is wrong in bobbinville.

I diagnosed the problem as a broken bobbin shuttle. The mechanics are very interesting, but I won’t bore you with them. I’ll simply say that I managed to order a new one online.

And then I had to wait.

Here is another wonderful thing about my husband: when he found out what happened, his first question about the new part was, Did you overnight it?

No, I said. I just couldn’t spend $55 to overnight a $28 part.

You should have overnighted it.

See why I love him?

But maybe, just maybe, he saw sickness on the horizon. It didn’t matter that I’d taken up sewing on a whim, something to do on cold wet days when the garden has nothing to offer and no pressing needs to speak of. Because Floyd is a hobby-lover himself; because he also hates waiting for things to arrive; because even as we were talking I was scanning craigslist for a backup machine. There’s nothing like a person with a new hobby that’s been put, however temporarily, on hold. I probably wailed about the situation fifty times a day.

Fortunately, Amazon worked its magic: the needed part arrived in a couple of days and I managed to piece together another dress and a very whimsical skirt. It was a close call, and I may still pick up that vintage 1970’s Singer I saw on craigslist the other day because you never know when you might need a backup.

It’s hard to keep hobbies under control.

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