How Our Love Of Working With Fabric Gave Me Some Sweet Memories Of My Mother

In the early nineties, when my mother was a part of my father's large joint family, young women aspired to become either tailors, nurses, typists or teachers. That was what the men of the family approved of.

Now, my mother lives within me in fragments. The day she breathed her last, she left a large hole in my life. A hole that can’t be sewed and covered up. That’s one of the things we did together. Sewing. With little needles and threads. Black, white and colours.

I still remember her on a Sunday afternoon. Clad in a beetroot coloured saree. Squinting her eyes and threading a needle. I don’t remember how old I was then. But I remember being a little girl because it was Sunday, a holiday for both of us. She was a teacher.

I was a little girl then

She asked me to hold one end of my father’s lungi. She then held the other end and started sewing the torn chequered lungi. I always thought it was easy. Her hands were always quick and the stiches invisible. One Saturday afternoon, before she was back from school, I tried to sew my doll’s dress and realised how hard it was.

‘I’m not a trained tailor.’ she often said modestly, ‘but I’m great at patching things up.’ She hated giving my brother’s torn pants, father’s torn shirt collars, lungis and my torn inners to tailors outside. She feared that they would laugh at us, inspite of the large notes we gave them.

She always dreamt of buying a sewing machine. She managed to buy one, a used one at that, only when I reached college. It was not that she couldn’t afford to buy a new one. She just thought it was not worth spending much money over a new sewing machine. She always put our needs first, before hers. With the little money saved, she would buy us new clothes, or books. The sewing machine too was more for the family and not for her. She patched torn screens, pillow covers, raincoats and even our college bag with a thick needle.

After some time she started sewing falls for her sarees. When I got a job, she spent most of her evenings in sewing falls for my sarees. She made me drape those sarees soon after and the joy on her face watching me is unforgettable. Sometimes memories seem more beautiful than the moments themselves.

She wanted me to learn to use the sewing machine. ‘It’s a skill’ she told me, ‘every little skill we learn will someday be of help’. It was a traditional sewing machine. With hand wheel and footpad that makes a rattling noise. I tried once, twice and thrice. I decided to give up.

It was then that she told me the tale of how she had learnt to sew.

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It was probably the only choice she got

Those were early days of her marital life. In the early nineties, when my mother was a part of my father’s large joint family. Those were the days when young women aspired to become either tailors, nurses, typists or teachers. That was what the men of the family approved of. Those were times when women who chose some other vocations, were barred from stepping out of their homes.

My mother was then married and a homemaker. Her sister in law was unmarried. She had joined a tailoring class, having nothing better to do at home. Her brothers, six of them, had bought her a sewing machine. They thought she wanted to become a tailor fulltime and had gifted the machine to fulfill her dream. Nobody was allowed to touch the machine. It was new and shiny. Children were forbidden to even inch close to the machine.

The sister however did not fare very well in her sewing lessons and lost interest soon. My mother stealthily watched her practice sometimes and learnt to sew when she was away.

It is not at all difficult, she told me. And quickly, I learnt sewing. It was not difficult after all. We then sewed so many clothes, including fall and zigzag for my wedding sarees. Later on, she sewed sides of cotton clothes, nappies and shorts for my little son. She even stitched a pillow cover for my son’s head shaping pillow.

Before she passed away a few months ago, she had placed a white saree, a white blouse and a petticoat in my cupboard, all sewed and ready to wear for her funeral. She was diagnosed with bile duct cancer (Cholangiocarcinoma) in February 2022. She knew she was going to leave.

My mother. How I love her… and the moments we lived together…

Image source: Vardhan from Getty Images Signature Free for Canva Pro

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A mother and a writer intrested in writing things that matter read more...

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