Sunday, May 08, 2016

To Sew is to Pray...

“To sew is to pray. Men don't understand this.
They see the whole but they don't see the stitches.
They don't see the speech of the creator in the work of the needle.

We mend. We women turn things inside out and set things right.
We salvage what we can of human garments and piece the rest into blankets.
Sometimes our stitches stutter and slow.

Only a woman's eyes can tell.
Other times, the tension in the stitches might be too tight because of tears, but only we know what emotion went into the making.

Only women can hear the prayer.”

Louise Erdrich
"Four Souls"

                                                           Happy Mother's Day!

I learned to sew by watching others. I learned from two grandmother' French one in Louisiana and my Finnish one in Alaska.

My Alaskan grandmother was constantly mending, repairing so many utilitarian garments for work, fishing, hunting, school. She was always darning socks and I was fascinated by the process and the little wooden egg underneath. When she sewed her own house-dresses and aprons, it was on a treadle sewing machine and that is how I learned to sew. We moved into her home after she passed away and I took her 'sewing room' downstairs ..a tiny bedroom..rather than one of the bigger bedrooms. I was pulled to it as if by magnetism. Little did I know at age 8 how much sewing would become a part of every fiber of my life. I have that treadle today. It survived my childhood home burned to the ground in 1970. It is scarred by that fire but is one of my few great treasures from my youth.

My French grandmother in Louisiana couldn't afford a sewing machine, so she sewed and quilted by hand for many decades. I have one of her quilts today and it is a true treasure. Luckily it was still in her little house and and not brought up to Alaska on one of our many trips and so did not go through the house fire in Alaska.  We visited when we could but it was 5,000 miles away and we always drove down the Alcan Highway all of us  crowded into a car and sleeping as my father drove.

I learned by watching my mother. Mother of 5 children all born about a year and a half apart.She still found time to sew us beautiful clothing for special occasions. Little dresses and pinafores for me, shirts for my four younger brothers and my father.  And always costumes...for the Fourth of July Parade through the streets of Douglas, Alaska. For Halloween as we walked the "Ghostwalk" at Mt. Jumbo School in October. For Christmas or Birthdays..something new.

I learned from watching my father teach himself to sew because my mother told him that making a canvas rainshield roof for our we could always have up as it was the rainforest part of southeast Alaska and stand up under as we zipped over the ocean waves. One with a zippered door and lots of see through plastic windows. My mother said it  was too much on top of all of us and too much for new Singer sewing machine. So, my dad got an old rough and tough machine, bought canvas and industrial zippers and plastic and made one himself. It was beautiful and perfect.I grew up believing that my father could do anything. That belief has served and blessed me all my life.

Men sew, men quilt, men design and men pray. But only if they feel the yearning for the magic of creativity with the sublime and not all can or do. Women were always able to but not all choose to. My grandmothers did. My mother and father did. My father understood the prayer in the garden, the prayer in the drawing and the painting, and the building but also the prayer in the sewing. They passed it all on to me. So I sew.

I can and I do.

So, if you can't find me, or you don't hear from me, or you wondered what happened to me....I am sewing.

Michele Bilyeu Creates With Heart and Hands as she shares her imaginative, magical, and healing journey from Alaska to Oregon. Creating, designing, sewing, quilting, and wildcrafting... from my heart and with my hands.