Mommy is sitting at her sewing machine... I watch as she pins white lace to the collar of my yellow birthday
Reading “Stitches in Time” is like wrapping yourself in a soft, cozy sweater made by a loved one. It’s one of those personal stories that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside—and strongly consider starting up a sewing hobby (if you haven’t already).
You’ve probably heard the phrase “a stitch in time,” but Lori B. gives the common idiom an entirely new meaning in this autobiographical story. Instead of just counting the years, loops of thread (whether in clothes, decorations, quilts or face masks) mark her life’s progression.
We begin by going back to 1955, when, as a young girl, she first tries out her great-grandmother’s sewing machine, practicing on “two squares of pretty yellow cloth, leftover scraps from [her] birthday dress.” As we jump ahead to 1970, then ’72, then ’75...and eventually all the way to the present-day, that machine becomes quite magical. It’s like a vehicle that transports us through the years.
An artful weaving of several decades
Sixty-five years is an ambitious amount of ground to cover in a short story, but thanks to several different sections that correspond to specific years, Lori’s history unspools organically before us. Time defines the world of this piece. Interestingly, the pacing picks up; the second part is shorter than the first, and then for the next five parts we only get a brief sentence or two: “I’m getting married. I make my own wedding dress.” “I stay up late one night making two Halloween costumes.” Once we understand Lori’s relationship with sewing, her life is distilled into her creations.
Great-grandma Sweetie probably realized the legacy she was passing down to us when she gave my mother the Singer sewing machine.
Demonstrating how our lives are like quilts, swatches of different experiences stitched together, a variety of color and texture, Lori tells her life story through fabric. Each project commemorates a milestone. For her sixth birthday, there’s a special yellow dress. When she’s pregnant, there are bibs and maternity clothes. In December, there’s a red and green tree skirt.
But that steady narrative pacing comes to a grinding halt with the sudden admission “I haven’t sewn a thing in the last 15 years.” With that straight-to-the-point, honest statement, the momentum is lost, and our conflict is introduced. For the reader, it feels like a quick prick (like when she poked her finger with a pin as a child), an interruption of the rhythm. Will she find her way back to her craft? From this point, the sections begin to expand again, as we follow along in Lori’s rediscovery of her passion.
In addition to successfully conveying a large timespan, Lori takes on another challenge: she writes from first-person point of view. That means that the first part is told from the perspective of a six-year-old. Not an easy feat! However, her vocabulary, simple syntax and way of understanding things by relating them to prior knowledge—such as “Great-grandma Sweetie is old, and so is the sewing machine”—make it believable that the speaker is a child.
What’s your love language?
Whether you prefer a hug, a gift or words of affirmation, there’s a lot of talk about love languages these days. I’ll propose another form of expressing how much you care for others: sewing. With every project, it’s as if Lori stitches a piece of herself into the fabric. Each creation relates to a relationship, including her friend Abra, spouse, children and mother. This is a mode of communication she uses to show others how she feels about them, to treasure them and life’s special occasions.
It’s a tradition that can bring people together... sewing circles, community quilts, even potentially life-saving activities like making masks. - Lori B.
This theme of forging bonds via needles and thread extends far beyond her closest friends and family. As Lori says, It’s a tradition that can bring people together.. sewing circles, community quilts...even potentially life-saving activities like making masks. This craft ends up transcending her immediate circle, as she decides to teach sewing to middle-school children, to spread that tenderness throughout her community.
In the end, we come full circle in the most satisfying way. Once again we’re given the visual imagery of the yellow fabric with the white lace. The same material, transformed into a gift, but a different kind. Where there was previously a birthday dress, there is presently a dust cover. We return to her mother’s side, but the machine in question is a computer. While the resolution mirrors the beginning, these characters’ roles have reversed: it’s Lori’s turn now to gift her mother something she made from the heart.
Have you ever written about a hobby? Whether you like to play video games or tend to a budding succulent garden, consider writing a story of what your hobby means to you, and how it’s changed with you over the years.