A Stitch In Time Saves Nine

“A stitch in time saves nine” is an old idiom that really has little to do sewing, but has more to do with mending what is wrong now instead of waiting until you have a larger problem.  If there’s a tear in your shirt, a few small stitches now, mean less toil and thread later.  It’s a good saying that applies to a lot of the conversation we’ve had here lately about strategic planning, and how we change and create while mending what’s not right about what we’re doing currently.  And there’s a lot of change around here lately, and the need for more stitching.

Two years ago, I asked for a sewing machine for Christmas, something that I could learn on, create with.  On Christmas morning, I unwrapped a box to find a white sewing machine with all the basic bells and whistles.  That weekend, I opened it up, read the manual and attempted to thread the bobbin and thread the needle.  I plugged in the foot pedal, turned on the light that illuminated the needle, and turned on the machine.  Instantly, the thread snapped, the bobbing pulled tightly and there was a tangled knot of yellow thread on an old piece of cloth.  I cursed, tried again, only to have the same results.  I reconsulted the manual and the numbers and small lines pointing to different areas on the machine, labeling pieces with words I’ve never heard of.  What the hell was a “bobbin winder?”  A “stop latch?”  A “tension regulating thumb nut?”  The manual picture, similar to the one below was useless. 

Frustrated, and annoyed, I packed up the machine, it’s colorful set of threads and boxed it back up.  In my linen closet it sat for two years.

About a month ago, I stumbled upon a gorgeous craft idea—jute twine with burlap pennants sewn together to create a festive banner.  It was the perfect complement to the wedding I’d spent the year planning.  Jordan and I had chosen not to get married in a church, but on a farm instead.  Having no central alter as a church would, or focal point that another venue might have, we decide we would exchange our vows under two trees.   It seemed to be a wonderful idea –I would make the handmade pennant banner to string between the two October trees creating canopy of sorts above us.  The only problem being that—two years ago I had completely failed, and therefore loathed the machine.

The idea itself was important to me.  This was the place where we would stand in front of our family and friends and each other, and say yes to each other.  Having cared very little about the entire planning process (just pick a dress, just pick some food, just wear any black dress you want for the bridesmaids, any black suit you already own for the groomsmen) the small details of making the actual day beautiful were important.  It was  enough, that I figured it out. 

Reading the manual again (which still proved to be little help), I began to just do it.  I tried threading the bobbin, the needle and just sewing.  The thread would break, so I’d reexamine where the tension was and correct the thread.  Eventually, it worked as a machine ought to. 

I stitched together an idea, and made it happen with my own frustration and work.  It is beautiful and imperfect.  The stitches are loose in some places, but they’re attached enough.   I had to rip out a few seams and throw away a bit of burlap that was too far gone to use, and had to tie knots on some of the twine to connect when it got tangled in a needle and I had to cut it apart.  It was difficult.  Some pennants are uneven, smaller than others.  Some have loose threads on the back where no one will see.  I ran out of white thread mid-way through and had to switch to yellow.  Still, it’s lovely, and looks pretty damn close to the original inspiration.

It’s symbolic, really, of a lot of the work we do here.  A lot of this is trial and error, and a lot of error, a lot of loose threads and unsightly knots.  Our work is stitching and threading together beautiful, imperfect people to create something new.  Our work is changing, and it’s difficult, sometimes resulting in cursing ourselves, as my first attempt at sewing caused.  I’m sure there are many of us how go home thinking, why can’t we just figure this out?  It can’t be that difficult!  What’s the point of even trying if it’s going to be so laborious?  But, we don’t have to reupholster the entire system, and we’re not making alterations on the people themselves.  Really, it’s starting with a few small and meaningful projects, and working on them until they are connected, quilted in the fabric of others’ lives.  Sure, the seams still show on a few things we do, and the stiches aren’t tight enough on some other things we’ve created.  Maybe we’re trying to stop making things we used to be known for, and we’ll need to rethread our needle and learn how to sew differently.  And we’ll need a lot of help since it will never be finished.  There’s definitely no manual for any of this, and if there were, it would probably be as helpful as the manual I had for my machine– a chart, some labels that are meaningless, some jargon that others don’t understand and some numbers.  (In fact, we’ve probably seen “manuals” exactly like this about people!)

The good thing about all of this is I’m not an expert sewer, and I’m not expert at connecting either.  I’m likely to get my finger under the needle and feel as much pain and frustration as the next person.  I’m likely to get tangled and stuck, and will need to rip it all out and try again.  It’s helpful however, that others are sewing with me, helping to stitch and embroider together a city that’s better, more meaningful, more personal and understands that there’s no one whose gifts and voice, and hands and heart, and thread and fabric, we do not need.

Candice Jones Peelman