How my mother made me love the discipline of sewing.
My mother Anna and her sister Mariù, my aunt, were seamstresses.
It was prohibitive for them to continue studying. Money was scarce and the privilege of study belonged to men.
For women it was useless. They had to get married and have children.
Society was drastically divided between men and women and women worked harder than men but had very few privileges.
Fortunately, both sisters enjoyed sewing and from their talents they began to earn enough to purchase goods for their homes that they would live in once they were married.
The two sisters had learned to sew from an early age and created not only elegant dresses for women, but also wedding dresses.
My mother specialized in embroidery and decorative details. She was very detailed and knew how to finish dresses by hand much more than her sister, who, however, knew how to cut dresses with great skill.
With the precious fabrics of the wedding dresses that remained, my mother created princely lingerie.
She knew how to coordinate shapes and embroidery and was well known for her innovative ideas.
My cousins and I (we were three girls at the court of the two seamstresses) always saw fabrics, threads, needles, chalks, paper patterns, scissors of all shapes, special papers for cutting the clothes.
It was a magical world, full of colors and objects that we couldn’t touch. Everything was forbidden, we could only look.
And everything that is forbidden, is always desirable.
Threads, scissors, fabrics, a wonderful world.
I have always seen thread, fabric, scissors, paper patterns. Both at my aunt’s house where we all met, and at my house.
My mom would sew my dolls’ clothes and sometimes she would sew the dolls from the fabric left in the drawers.
Our clothes were almost never purchased. My mom and aunt sewed them, but the beauty was in the fact that they were custom made, so we had dresses, pants, skirts, shirts, that we wore flawlessly.
They would also sew our school play clothes. We were amazing roses, juicy strawberries, singing daisies, pirates, dragons, butterflies.
I learned that depending on the shape of the clothes, you could hide physical flaws and imperfections.
Tailored dresses are wonderful, nothing like store-bought.
I learned so many things from watching my mom and aunt for years, but for years it was only theory, almost never practice.
I could look, never touch, never take personal initiative.
Before I could hem pants, put on buttons and sew a skirt, my mom taught me the theory for years, making me love and hate needles and threads.
In the meantime I started embroidering, knitting and crocheting. That was my creative space where I could unleash my imagination without anyone stopping me.
Sew lots of meters of fabric.
My mom made me sew so many yards of fabric stitch by stitch. For years.
I had to learn to be precise, to follow an imaginary line that was always straight, to stretch the thread in the right way, to hold the needle in my hand at the right angle, with the right pressure. To make perfect knots, to cut the thread to the right size otherwise it gets knotted.
And when I thought I’d done it right, she’d make me unpick everything and start over.
In elementary school I also had embroidery classes and so I was surrounded by people who taught me precision and patience.
It was so boring.
They would make me do the same work for months and months.
And before I would move on to a new thing to learn, I would have to practice so many hours on one job.
My mom could sew and chat with my aunt.
I was very shy and listened while I sewed. My cousins never liked to sew or knit and went out with their friends, while I stayed with these two women, in a magical place full of fabrics bought in the markets, among old and new buttons, among colors and shapes.
A little girl and two grown women, who together created a magical world.
Point by point, I listened, reflected, waited. That almost ritual silence calmed my childish torments and my doubts as I grew up.
I was very bored and didn’t understand why I always did the same things.
Before putting on a button or creating and decorating a buttonhole, I spent years practicing my hands. Like with drawing, you have to start from scratch and loosen up your hands that don’t know the material. You have to study, apply yourself and exercise endless patience.
You have to love and have an infinite passion for what you do. And I’ve always loved that world, I’ve always loved moving my hands.
The enchanted world of fabrics.
I now understand.
If I can sew with regular, straight stitches, as if a machine did it, it’s only because of the exercises my mother and my aunt made me do.
I owe so much to them, to those winter afternoons, with a cup of tea and cookies, to the endless hours in which they would try on clothes on me that I had to remain still and simulate a mannequin.
Standing almost breathless while they discussed how to finish a sleeve, very often pricked by their pins.
For a jacket they would do endless trials until it was perfect. A pant had to “fall” perfectly on the ankle, the hem had to be strong and invisible.
I thank my mother for the hours of embroidery, cutting out the fabric, and cutting threads.
I talked with her for hours about colors to use, about choosing a shape.
Now I make scarfs remembering all that past world. And I try to put that history into every piece of work.
Sewing the hems of scarfs is like a meditation and it doesn’t bore me.
I don’t get bored anymore spending hours doing one job. In fact, I feel like I’m rediscovering my childhood.
My aunt is no longer with us, she died a few years ago and the fabrics flew away with her.
My mom is there and she supervises my work as if I were ten years old.
She is always attentive to my work and hardly ever compliments me but pushes me to do better. I’ll never grow up for her, I’m still always ten and still learning.
But I can still smell the chalk, the new fabrics, the chatting and laughing with my aunt and my mother. And the endless evenings sewing all together, with a lightness that belongs to childhood and that returns every so often unexpectedly when I create something.
I become a child again when I sew scarfs.