The Music of Making
Six children sleep as I slip into my own realm of dreams, more awake than ever. My right foot, naked for more control, gently grips the pedal of my Singer, humming along behind Yo-Yo Ma, who’s brilliantly performing Bach’s Cello Suite Number One just for me.
For these few hours, I’ve paused the overwhelming demands that can make my life feel futile. Most days I watch my efforts float downstream and I’m tempted to wonder, “What is all of this actually accomplishing?”
As a single, working mother rushing from one responsibility to the next, I lack the reassurance of permanence. Present efforts become forgotten history—almost instantly. The results gained with each routine in my life slip through my fingers, like the sand in the turtle-shaped sandbox.
Money in the bank, no matter how hard-earned, refuses to stay put.
Anything cleaned yields again to the gravitational force of dirt.
Even the work to comfort babies is fleeting: infants become toddlers who become kiddos… every opportunity to shape a child’s character is a moving target.
I’m investing my entire lifeforce in these human beings. It can be exhausting. But I also know that my family could not thrive if all their mom ever experiences are pressing responsibilities and difficult sacrifices.
I am determined to fit in moments for myself, moments to create things that will last. And I’ve found the formula in sewing, a hobby that brings me as much personal satisfaction today as it did when I was a teenager.
I was 11 when Pat Crawley showed me how to use a sewing machine. I leaned in close as she turned the wheel slowly to demonstrate the miracle of the needle dipping its thread toward the bobbin, which spun its sister to catch it in the union of a stitch. Breathless, I took my turn, this time with fabric under my fingertips. I rotated the wheel and observed the tip of the needle disappear and reappear, one stitch ahead, rows of teeth gently moving my fabric along.
Since then, I’ve found mental and emotional refuge in that now familiar flow: the zone I fold into when creating. The steps I need to design and create are intuitive now. I don’t wonder if there’s a shortcut because I gratefully immerse myself in each patient, intentional step.
Now, the emotional impact of daily losses is offset by lasting gains; the inevitable impermanence of a job and chores, by the joy of creating projects that could potentially endure for generations. Since this is a personal pleasure, my mission is to have fun. I am as free as a teenager once again, experimenting creatively for the pure joy of it. I don’t follow patterns. I sketch ideas, pull out my grandmother’s cloth measuring tape and determine the pieces I’ll need to cut. The steps required line up like notes and chords on a musical score. Played in order, they produce my finished design.
Every day offers rest notes that allow me to imagine the project ahead. I play with ideas while putting away the dishes or staring out the window of my commuter train. Concepts come easily. I’ve always had a sketchpad to record inspiration. Whether or not creativity is a gift, it’s not enough. It takes experience to avoid mishaps, practice to turn a sketch into a plan, then into a piece that fulfills its promise.
Like performing a symphony in four movements, I begin with Allegro Tranquillo, introducing my creation with the sweet process of design. High on the possibility I’ve envisioned, I embrace the Adagio, measuring, sketching, concentrating on the logistics of my plan. The third movement is Scherzo, an Allegro Molto of intense trial and error, finalizing my design as my Fiskars cut and my Singer bastes. Patience thins. Now I know what needs to change.
The exhilarating fourth movement sends me leaning into the final work. Pieces trimmed, pins adjusted, my Singer performs as confidently as a concertmaster. I am the First Violin, stitching, folding, and finishing a dozen nearly perfect seams, top stitching, racing toward the crescendo. But wait. I pause and choose to sew my hem by hand. I don’t want my immersion in this music to end.
None of the notes in these movements are wasted because I’m here, now, sewing dreams in the small moments I’ve been gifted. With care, I iron my fabric before I cut, letting the sensitive pads of my fingertips graze the hot, smooth fabric. My wrist notes the weight and balance, and fingers the ease of sharpness, as my scissors devour the path I’ve marked with rhythmic, reassuring chomps. I’ve marked my precious fabric Fiskars “No Paper” as a reminder to my kids, that these are Mom’s. I wear straight pins on my wrist so they can quickly jump into place where I’ll sew, and my long, slow basting stitches, easily removed, are resewn to find exactly the shape I want.
Growing up I understood this instinctively, but motherhood made the metaphor real. There’s no hack, no cheat, for creativity. It takes actual labor to birth dreams into reality: a creation that will be enjoyed, not just once, but for years to come.
Infant overalls with snaps in the crotch. A little striped shirt with an embroidered bluebird. A fleece jacket for my son, a satin dress for my daughter’s eighth grade dance.
These projects bring joy and a purpose beyond chores, making money or preparing meals.
Don’t get me wrong. A meal certainly has an important purpose, but it’s a fleeting thing. Investing more work—and love—only guarantees that it will disappear more quickly.
That’s why I need to wear an apron I’ve designed while swirling around my kitchen chopping, stirring, testing flavors, and feeding my family.
How did I get so lucky? I have kids that benefit because I work hard to keep their lives organized and bills paid. But they thrive because I can also pause the chaos to find a creative sanctuary to combat life’s hundred tiny losses a day. This is how I’ve become an example of self-love for them, by creating happiness for myself.
Tonight, I’ve eagerly cut out this moment for my Fiskars to snip along the chalky marks of a new design, repurposing fabric from a favorite curtain and a dress I no longer wear. Just for fun, I’ve crocheted a pocket for my phone from matching ribbon and embroidery thread. Because I don’t really care what anyone thinks. This night, this project, is just for me.
I listen to Yo-Yo Ma and move from the private vision of my design to the live performance. I’m alone with my concert of textures and colors. My Fiskars glide, like the cello’s bow, through repurposed cotton and hydrangea-pink thread. I adjust my pins before I sew, and a wearable concerto fills my little room with the music I create, that just might last for generations.