The Tales of a Virtuous Woman Wannabe: (Chapter 1) I Took Up Sewing and Learned to Cuss.
What can I say?
I was young. I was naive. I wanted to be like them.
And they sewed.
My first two years as a married woman, I worked during the day to put my husband through law school and then came home to face a list of housekeeping chores. Creative domesticity, during those years, meant crawling into my husband’s lap at the end of a work day and dramatizing the whine that begged him to take me out for supper. We were poor as the proverbial church mice. So, from the very beginning, my domestic attempts usually ended in my signature dish, Spaghetti a la Ragu.
However, when my husband graduated and took his first job, I threw mine to the wind and declared that I was ready to become The Virtuous Woman/Wife. At the time, we went to a church where most of the women had chosen to be full-time homemakers and stay-at-home mothers. To offset the lack of a second income, they had become masters of frugality and domestic arts.
On Sunday mornings, the pastor’s wife could thaw a chicken, cut it into pieces (no pre-packaged chicken parts for her) and fry it for lunch while she washed and hung clothes to dry on the outside line that she put up in her back yard and used regularly to save her family $100 a year in the cost of electricity . . . all before leaving for church to teach Sunday School.
I did well to find the time to shave my legs in the shower on Sunday morning.
I soooo wanted to be like her. I wanted to be like all of them. With those Wonder Women as my mentors, I was sure to become a Super-Virtuous-Woman with awesome, domestic powers.
I had been cooking for a couple of years by that time and my husband had neither died of food poisoning nor left me for his mother. So, I decided learning to sew would be my first step into the life of a Proverbs 31 Woman.
(If you are unfamiliar with that term, you can read Chapter 31 of Proverbs in your Bible or you can visit your local Christian bookstore where you will find two-thirds of the store dedicated to the subject. The other third will be split between Veggie Tale Videos, Duck Dynasty biographies and miscellaneous Christian paraphernalia.)
My friend, Laura, offered to teach me to sew. She said it would be easy. She said there was nothing to it. She said I would enjoy it.
She was wrong.
I was in over my head from the moment we walked into the fabric store.
We walked through the door that day and entered Laura’s place in the world. She stopped to take in the sights and sounds of the store, breathing deeply to inhale the scent of the various fabrics that filled the shelves and the perfume of the old ladies that infested the store.
I took a dumbfounded breath beside her. The endless bolts of cloth were overwhelming. I have never been good at making decisions. Day Lands! (An expression of dismay in the Northcutt family to be used in only the worst of situations.) We were going to be there all day!
It was then that I first heard Laura speak in tongues. At least, I assumed it was tongues. It just sounded like gibberish to me.
Eventually, I realized she was not using the kind of tongue language that Paul talks about in the Bible. Laura was speaking the unique language of the Proverbs 31 Virtuous Woman. With no one there to interpret, I was completely baffled.
“Something rayon . . . something, something chambray . . . something, something, something voile. What do you think? “
What did I think? Until that moment, I had thought chambray was a wine. I was pretty sure rayon would kill me. And voile? I still think Laura made up that word.
Evidently, my friend missed the signs of my confusion because she kept talking.
“Let’s just go with cotton . . . blah, blah . . . double cloth . . . blahdy-blah broadcloth. . . blah blah blah . . . chino or damask?”
Damask? Was that a question? Was that a question for me?! She was going to have to speak English or dam ask somebody else.
“Wah, wah, wah . . . something about a bias . . . yada, yada, yada . . . cut on a cross-grain . . . something, something . . . serge the selvage edges.”
At that moment, I prayed for the first time what was to become my theme prayer as a virtuous woman wannabe, “LORD, HELP ME!”
Laura continued, ” . . . and if you make a mistake you can darn the thing.”
That euphemistic foreshadowing should have caused me to run from the store and shuck the whole project. Instead, I loaded a shopping cart with the things Laura said I would need as I learned to sew. I bought fabric, patterns, threads, zippers, buttons and a small tool which was to become my best sewing friend . . . the seam ripper.
For the next few months, Laura patiently taught me to sew. It took six weeks to learn to thread the machine. It would have been easier to run electrical wiring through a nuclear power plant.
When I could thread the machine, I worked on sewing a straight line. Then I practiced sewing a straight line. Then I drilled myself on sewing a straight line. Then I Iied and said I could sew a straight line.
Laura didn’t like to waste time, so we did not begin by making potholders or hemming handkerchiefs. Having recently found out I was pregnant for the first time, Laura suggested I begin my sewing lessons with a simple maternity top. It had no button holes, no zippers, no sleeves and no shape. There were only a few steps. The pattern instructions could have been written on a Post-it note.
Laura said we should be able to finish it in a day.
Again, she was wrong.
It took significantly longer than a day. In fact, I think God may have had that shirt in mind when He made a woman’s gestation period last for nine months. I ripped out a seam every time I sewed one. There were so many holes in the fabric, it could have been used as mosquito netting.
After a few months of Laura’s coaching, I bought my own sewing machine and immediately went to war with it.
Having survived the battle of the maternity top, I moved on to skirmish with the machine over pillows and bedding for a crib. The machine drew first blood . . . literally. But I persevered and, in the end, the things held together and I put them in our baby bed.
(Since science had proven that newborns are basically blind, I hoped the bond between me and my child would be sealed and cemented before his vision developed and he could see that his mother was inept.)
By the time my son was two, I had become a competent seamstress, but I was far from becoming the Virtuous Woman I wanted to be. Without Laura by my side, I began to vocalize the hostility I felt toward the act of sewing.
It began with the occasional expletive that ran through my head while I fed the material through the machine. When I saw what came out on the other side, that one word became a four-letter mural in my mind. Eventually, my vexation became vocal. “Crap!”, which was perfectly acceptable in my home, stretched to “Crap, crap, crap, crap!” and then became the more questionable, “Crapfire!”
With the seeds of a potty mouth having been planted, a tentative “shhhhh . . . ” was soon slipping through my lips. In due time, the “t” found its way out of my mouth and I found myself “sht”ing more and more often as I sat at my sewing machine.
Then the day came when I totally lost control. I was tackling the most difficult and most impressive of my sewing projects. Having completed a shirt and jumpsuit for my son to wear to church, I was working on a dress I would wear. It was the cuffs on the sleeves that did me in.
As I put them on and took them off and put them on and took them off, I felt an “i” begin to roll around in my chest. When I put the first button hole in the wrong place, the vowel sound rose into my throat. I cut through the second button hole . . . and there it was! The fourth letter erupted from my mouth to join the other three and this Virtuous Woman Wannabe had learned to cuss.
At that point, I reassessed my first attempt at becoming a Proverbs 31 Woman. It seemed that learning to sew had been counterproductive.
So I gave it up. I quit sewing. Not because I hated every single second at the machine. Not because I loathed every stitch I had put in every garment. Not because my seam ripper had declared itself abused and overused and disappeared from my sewing box.
I stopped sewing, . . . burned my fabric, patterns, threads, zippers, and buttons, . . . and ran over my sewing machine with a dump truck . . . purely for my spiritual health. At least, that is what I told my husband.
I asked God if it was okay for a Virtuous Woman Wannabe to give up sewing. He said it was fine.
He had not been particularly shocked by my language.
But He also had not been impressed with the fruits of my sewing labors.