Zen and the art of sewing machine maintenance

For weeks, one of Brad’s toiletry bags had been torn, sitting on the bathroom counter daring me to mend its slick, rayon-y material. Finally getting a couple of hours of free time last weekend, I pulled out the sewing machine — a.k.a. Mabel — to see what kind of havoc could be wreaked.

All it took was a quick, simple seam around the perimeter to hold the drawstring in place. But not long ago, the bag would have gone in the trash without any attempt to fix it.

That changed after I spent a day last November learning to sew with an old friend who’s a master seamstress. Her training taught me that overwhelming projects can be broken down into bite-sized chunks and, more importantly, that sometimes the simplest solutions are the best.

Pretty good life lessons for more than just the craft room.

Once the bag was done, it seemed logical to work on something else while Mabel was out and raring to go. The idea of cloth handkerchiefs had been floating around my mind as a means of reducing our paper consumption — sounds icky, I know, but that’s all my Dad has ever used, and he appears not to have been scarred by the habit — so I decided to give it a go.

To make the hankies, cut scrap fabric into squares, fold over and iron hem, then stitch around the edge. Voilà, instant kerchiefs. They’re not fancy but, as hubby pointed out, “They’re for blowing your nose. How fancy do they need to be?”

For such a tiny project, I felt a surprising amount of satisfaction, and I’ve been trying to figure out why. I guess that in a world where it’s normal to spend months in a cube, working on an assignment that produces no tangible deliverable — during which time there’s no autonomy, no ability to make decisions without consulting multiple managers — it’s pretty dang freeing to decide for yourself what needs to be done and then do it. And more than emergency preparedness, more than environmental preservation, that is what self-sufficiency is really all about.

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