Sewing Machine

I offered to help. I wanted to help, to do something practical. To give my time. I like the notion of mending, of making do. Is it the puritan in me, my prudent self? I struggle with excess, I always have, and yet I do love beautiful things, elegant things, the best that life has to offer. A conundrum.

She’s too long for her age. Model-material. Too long for her 0-3 months baby grows, her toes reach to the end. So I offered to see what I could do. Add an insert to lengthen them perhaps or cut off the feet. I wanted to help. I wanted to do something for her. And then he brought home a packet of five. I was only expecting three at the most. Where would I find the time? It made me anxious. My breath coming quicker, as it is doing now thinking of it. And they were so tiny to manage, to manipulate. Had I bitten off more than I could chew? But I had promised, though I wasn’t sure, never am, whether she wanted to me to do it or not. Nevertheless, I set to it, stressed that it would be taking me away from my work. My real work. But isn’t this work? he asked. What is work? It’s important, he said. It’s for her, for both of them. I managed two and sent them off. She sent a message a couple of days later. She liked them, seemed to appreciate the gesture. Especially the blue, she wrote, she’s going to love them. And then I worrit over whether I should’ve bought some special ribbon. I just wanted to solve the problem, the colours were secondary. Is it good enough? Will it ever be good enough?

The other stress point is that I decided it would be quicker to use my sewing machine. I hadn’t used in years, not since making the paper work. I used to have an old 1950s Bernina, a great lumpen thing but perfect for tiny stitches. We knew each other well enough. But it went and repairing it was not worth it, I was told. So this is a new one. You know, white plastic and not so sturdy. But it does. And I had it serviced recently with the idea that I might start making my own clothes? When, exactly? And bake scones. Nice idea, he says, but when exactly? Back to the machine. So I got it out. Would I remember how to thread it, how to fill the spool? Panic. But I did it. I did it. It worked fine. I relaxed. He came in half way through. That’s nice, he said. It’s so nice to see you at your machine again. Like the old days. What is that about? Seeing me at work. It’s more than that. It’s the sewing thing, the fixed-thing (pronouncing the ed – that ever fix-ed mark) steady, calm, making. It is therapeutic. It is part of our life together, him watching me work. Hearing me work. And I’m glad.

I heard them before I saw them. A group of kids chanting at 3.15 am just down from North Road. The were ahead of me up the hill towards Consti. Four or was it five of them? Five, six, seven, eight, they were singing, then one, two, three, four. One of the lads was waving a plastic bag in the air while he chanted. The girls, of which there were two, wore shorts and sweat tops around their hips. They stopped halfway up the hill and I walked past. One of the girls had a t-shirt on with the words ‘get naked’ written on the back. ‘Scuse me, she called out to me, have you got a lighter? She had a slight burr of a Scottish accent. Sorry, I said. No worries, said one of the boys. There were more kids outside the Why Not? club, younger than usual. One girl, a large, big-hipped girl had on a short ra-ra skirt and a t-shirt with a picture of a gremlin on the front and the word ‘STITCH’ above it.

The light was strange as I walked out. It wasn’t the usual pitch. It was yellowy like smog. The air was damp, misty. I didn’t use my torch, I didn’t need to. From the sea line an oystercatcher called out, a piping, high call.

I woke from a dream in which I was showing a stranger round my mother’s house. There were lots of different levels, and the rooms were dark and all of them were filled with tables. Empty tables that took up all the space. This is where we eat our lunch, and this is where we eat our dinner, I heard myself saying. Then we went up to the top of the house and out into the garden. I had to crawl on my belly across sticky, man-made gooey stuff to get to the grass and out into the sunlight.

Shall I apply? I can not judge what is best these days. My instincts are awry. I took a remedy this morning. It promises gold and calm. I wait.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.