I watched the video that Jan had sent me about Linda J Mendelson, an artist who has been making wearable art since the 1970s. At the end of the video, Mendelson is working on a new piece using a free-motion sewing machine.
“I learned this on YouTube” she said. I loved her openness and willingness to learn something new.
When I saw her sewing machine and how sturdy it and the platform she was working on were, I thought that I should have sometime similar.
This was unusual thinking for me and I noticed it right away. I was equating myself to this successful artist. In the past, I wouldn’t have done this. In the past, I would not have thought myself worthy of having what Linda Mendleson had.
I got my Brother sewing machine in 2010, two years after I started my blog and business. I don’t remember how much it cost.
At the time it was a remarkable upgrade from the 20-year-old Singer that I had been using. It was the first time I heard about free-motion sewing. When I realized that I could draw with the sewing machine, I knew my sewing life was about to change for the better.
Four years later, I launched a Kickstarter to raise money to buy another sewing machine. This time a Viking. It cost around $2000. I loved sewing free motion on my Brother, but it wasn’t as good for straight sewing.
The Viking had some really nice features, like the automatic tension control, auto threader, cutter and bobbin feed. It also had a lot of features, like hundreds of stitches, that I’d never use.
Lately, my Viking has had its problems.
The self-threader no longer works I’ve stopped using the automatic cutter because when I do the mechanism often randomly engages, and will cut the thread when I’m still sewing.
And there are some things I never liked about the machine, including that it stops sewing when the bobbin thread gets low leaving a bunch of tread on the bobbin that can’t be used without a lot of trouble.
And when I saw the setup that Mendelson has, I realized how rickety my Brother sewing machine had become over the years.
The extension is so wobbly it no longer fits correctly onto the machine. The switch to allow it t be used for straight sewing broke long ago. And other parts of the machine are loose and ill-fitting.
I can still use both sewing machines. It’s not as if they no longer work. They just don’t work as well as they used to.
And honestly, since I went to Gee’s Bend, Alabama, and saw the sewing machine that Mary Ann Pettway had, (if I remember correctly it was a mechanical Juki) I’ve wanted something similar.
So a month ago I ordered an extension for my Viking Sewing machine so I could use it for free-motion sewing. The extensions are custom-made. They’re big and sturdy. Mine cost $125. At the same time, I started thinking about getting a mechanical sewing machine as opposed to a computerized one for straight sewing.
I wanted something simple and straightforward. I knew I’d miss the automatic tension,I’ve never been good at adjusting the tension when sewing and often work with different types of fabric at one time, but I was willing to give it up.
I feel like after years of sewing, I’ll be able to figure it out. It’s actually not that complicated.
It took a month for the extension for my Viking to be made, and I got a call this week that it was in. So on Saturday, Jon and I took a drive to Glens Falls to pick it up.
Over a year ago I went into the shop to buy some needles and the husband and wife who own the shop were very helpful. Our conversation about needles led to sewing machines and when I began thinking about getting a new machine they came to mind.
I remembered that Patti and her husband sold Janome machines so I did some research online.
But I didn’t want to buy a sewing machine online. I wanted to see, touch, and sew on it before buying it. And I wanted to talk to someone who I trusted to make sure I was getting the right machine.
When I bought both my Brother and Viking sewing machines, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I didn’t know what I needed and didn’t need in a machine.
This time I knew exactly what I wanted.
Once again Patti and her husband were extremely helpful. Jon sat patiently and quietly as we talked machines. He only spoke up when he saw that I was interested in the Janome and offered to buy it for me.
I decided on the Janome Sewist 725S. It was $400 and they had one in stock.
The shop where I ordered the extension for my Viking was closed for the Easter Holiday, so I didn’t get to pick that up. I’ll get it next week and am eager to try out free-motion sewing on my Viking. I have a really good feeling about it.
I can do free-motion sewing on my new Janome, but I’d have to buy an extension. And I like having two separate machines for the two types of sewing. I sew so much it will cut down on the wear and tear on my machines.
Usually, when I get something new, like a sewing machine I’m nervous about opening it up and using it.
Right now, my Janome Sewist is in my studio, still in its box. But not because I’m nervous about it. I was busy this weekend and I don’t want to rush it. I want to savor opening it up and getting to know it.
Getting this sewing machine is different for me. It’s not that I need it because my sewing machine doesn’t work anymore. Or because I feel like I’ve worked hard and deserve it.
I got it because I wanted it. Because I believe it will help me do my work better. And because I could.
I had my afternoon all planned out. I finished sewing my Robin On The Hay Bale Pothodlers this morning. I’d spend the afternoon upstairs in the guest room packing up my Potholders to be mailed out tomorrow, then answering my emails and if I still had time doing my books.
I was closing up my studio when I heard the dogs bark and looked out my window to see two people walking past the farm.
I’ve been watching the Amish wagons drive past the house for a few months now, so I’m almost used to them. But it was the first time I’ve seen our new neighbors walking down Route 22.
Like the horse-drawn carriages, seeing the man and woman was like looking back in time. The woman’s black bonnet and cape, and the man’s straw hat and blue homemade clothes were iconic.
The next time I looked Jon was with our neighbors, Barbara and Mosie in the backyard. It’s Good Friday, a holiday for them, so they came for a visit.
My mind is still reeling from the time we spent together. I’m going to need some time to process it all. I think mostly I’m astounded by how different we are from each other, how we come from such completely different cultures and yet how comfortable and easy we were with each other.
We have more in common than I ever would have imagined.
I think it has something to do with how direct and open both Barbara and Moise are. There is no pretense, no judgment.
They wanted to see my studio first then we moved on to the barns and the land. Moise appreciated the construction of the buildings, the horse stalls in the barn and was curious about our sheep.
We talked about the point well, water that was as close as ten feet under the ground. And Barbara explained how the pump in their kitchen would be gravity-driven.
I was eager to show them the old cold storage room in our basement and the dry straight and sturdy stone foundation. They appreciated how the woodshed was attached to the house.
Jon gave them our phone number so their friends and family could call us, anytime day or night if someone they knew died. Moise told us we would need to let them know of a death in the community as soon as we heard about it so they could get the next train or bus to the funeral.
“Even if it’s three in the morning, beep your horn or bang on the door,” he said. “And get all the information on the person written down on a piece of paper that you can give to me.” So many people have the same name in their community unless they know all the details, they couldn’t be sure who had died and be able to get to the funeral in time.
And there is no one to call back if the information is wrong or incomplete.
They spoke about death, not unemotionally, but with the same ease and acceptance as the rest of our conversation.
Towards the end of our visit, Barbara asked me how old I was and if I had any children. She said she was 50 and had 13 children and a number (I don’t remember exactly) of grandchildren. When I told her that I was 57 and didn’t have any children she called me a “Spring Chicken.”
It was past 6pm when Jon drove them home. All my work plans were pushed aside by a visit from our new neighbors and just maybe new friends.
The differences between us are vast and yet the similarities are on a level that makes me want to know them better.
As we left my studio earlier in the visit, Jon and Moise walked ahead of us toward the barn but Barbara stopped and turned to me. “What a nice place to have all to yourself,” she said. I said I guessed she didn’t have a lot of time alone. She smiled. An age-old understanding between us.
Yesterday when I went to feed the sheep, Robin was sleeping in a little nest of hay. Perfectly round, the raised sides creating a dip in the center, it looked just like the nests I sometimes find eggs in when the hens lay in the barn.
Last night, I saw that Bud makes his own kind of nest every night.
He prefers to sleep on the clothes or a blanket that either Jon or I have recently used just and tossed aside.
Bud’s nest last night was made of a nightshirt, a scarf, a pillow, and a quilt I made for Jon years ago.
I was spreading the hay out in the feeders, surrounded by the sheep when I saw the lamb.
It was standing just outside the pole barn shivering. His black wool was shiny and wet, his long wobbly legs barely holding him up.
I got a flash of the dead lamb that we found frozen in almost the exact spot when we first got Kim. We didn’t know she was pregnant. Her lamb was born during the night and didn’t survive the cold.
But this lamb was very much alive and I wanted him to stay that way.
I was stunned and really didn’t know what to do. I knew Lori was his mother. She had to be. My sheep hadn’t been near a ram in years.
She was eating at the feeder as if she hadn’t just given birth. But if I had any doubts, the afterbirth, which was still hanging from her, assured me.
My first instinct was to keep the lamb warm. So I picked him up and held him close to me. I didn’t have my phone, so I brought him with me to the house.
I called for Jon as I walked into the house. “We have a lamb,” I said, “what do we do?”
I know he was as surprised as I was, but while I stood there in shock, he got right to it.
We brought the lamb into the barn and threw down some hay for bedding. Then I got Lori who was still eating at the feeder and pushing and pulling her got her into the barn too.
But Lori was rejecting her lamb, she wasn’t showing any interest at all.
So Jon got on the phone, making calls to find the quickest way to get some formula and colostrum (which is important for a newborn lamb to have) in case Lori wasn’t going to nurse him.
I started piling up haybale to block off one of the stalls and make a warm enclosed space for the two of them. I put hay on the floor for bedding and plugged in a couple of heat lamps.
I gave Lori grain, hay, and water. Using a towel, dried off the lamb as best as I could. The lamb, whose eyes were still closed was looking for his mother, but she kept walking away from him.
Jon left for Tractor Supply to get the supplies we’d need if we had to bottle feed the lamb and I tried to get him to nurse.
I’d never done anything like this before, but Jon said it was important for the lamb to get some of his mother’s milk. So I sat holding the lamb and guided him to his mother’s teat. At first, Lori was having none of it. She kept walking away, even walking right over the lamb knocking him down.
Jon called from the road and told me to try putting vanilla extract on the lamb’s butt and on Lori’s nose. This way she would smell him and make the connection that he was hers.
Finally, Lori settled down. As I held the lamb I put Lori’s teat in his mouth and squeezed it, hoping he would taste the milk and start suckling.
We did this for some time, and eventually, it worked.
By the time Jon got back from Tractor Supply, an hour later, the lamb was nursing and Lori was beginning to clean him off.
I was very relieved and after a while, we left the two alone to bond.
An hour later Jon and I checked on Lori and the lamb and she was standing calmly as he found her teat. We could hear him suckling.
I’m a bit exhausted from it all. I can still hardly believe it all happened.
I sewed the backing on my quilt and got ready to tack it. But first I was going to drive Jon to a doctor’s appointment. We expected to be back by 4:30. My plan was to work on my quilt when we did.
But it turned out that Jon had a wound on his toe that was ulcerated. By the time the necessary procedure was done Jon had a special shoe to wear for at least a week, antibiotics, and a bandage that needs to be replaced every day.
I don’t usually go to Jon’s appointment with him, but I was glad that I went to this one. Not only for emotional support, but I think it would have been uncomfortable for him to have to drive home.
The nice part is that Jon is really good-natured when unexpected things like this happen to him. He’s doesn’t complain but he’s not being stoic, just accepting. And he has a high pain tolerance so he bears all his surgeries, and there have been many in the past months, well.
Although as he read me the post-op instructions he did try to slip in that I was supposed to wait on him hand and foot for several days.
I lay in bed and the fear rose up in me. For the first time in my adult life I did not send my brother a birthday card. I haven’t spoken to him for years, but still the cards at Christmas and on birthdays were sent and arrived, a white flag in the silence. A nod to the unspoken rules of the family.
I’ve been breaking the family rules for some time now and each time I do, it continues to frighten me.
I didn’t think much about this one, I just didn’t do it.
And then the fear came in the night.
My instinct was to run from it. Divert my attention, distract the menacing hum gathering in my body. Instead, I let myself feel the fear. I allowed the voices to have their say.
As the nun from my dream the night before instructed, I looked inside myself.
And when I did, I saw the fear of abandonment, of not belonging, of getting in the kind of trouble that can hurt a child, dependent on her family. But now it was as if I was observing the feelings instead of feeling them. That what my body was experiencing had nothing to do with the person I was at that moment.
There was a flash of color and light, an indecipherable image and a sense of before and after. I felt the freedom before my mind made it all into the words: The other side of this is freedom.
Not only did I know it was true, but I could feel it. I knew myself as the person who lived in that freedom.
This was a panic attack averted.
My panic attacks turn me into a frightened child. They make me irritable and short-tempered. When I’m having a panic attack, I feel so out of control, I go to extremes to feel in control. Small things that have no great importance become big in my mind. An object out of place or in my way can become the target of my fear-driven frustration. As can a person or animal who doesn’t behave exactly what I want them to.
Panic attacks are also physically and emotionally exhausting and distract me from doing my work.
Just the thought of visiting my mother throws me into a panic attack. Days before the visit, I start to sink into a fearful and depressive state. After the visit, which is always cordial, I am relieved and wonder why I had the reaction I did before the visit.
I’ve been consciously repeating this pattern for years.
I’ve been to therapists, healers and have read many books on the subject. I understand that contact with my family is a trigger. I have learned techniques to deal with it to a point.
I’ve also learned that it will probably never completely go away.
So today, when I was trying to walk off the physical effects of a panic attack, I found myself yelling at Fate, loud enough to hurt my throat, who was eating the remains of a deer.
After we had moved on, away from the deer, I stopped and gathered myself. This is not who I am, I said out loud. I am not a fearful controlling person, not anymore.
It was at that moment I decided I would not put myself into a situation that caused me to panic if I could help it. I knew what I was going through wasn’t healthy for me or the people and animals around me.
And I knew I could avoid it.
The panic came when I thought about making plans to visit my mother. But it began to subside when I told myself I wouldn’t do it today. I would take it a day at a time, gauging how I felt and not doing anything that caused me to have a panic attack.
I don’t want to hurt my mother by not visiting her when I said I would. But I also don’t want to put myself through this anymore.
Right now I’m not feeling the guilt and obligation that made me consider making plans for a visit in the first place. I’m not sure why, maybe they were pushed aside when my sense of self-preservation took over.
I’m not thinking about tomorrow. I’m only trying to hold on to the feeling of what is best for me and my life right now.
And I’m also trying to hold on to that feeling of freedom that lives on the other side of fear and panic.