Saturday, November 22, 2008


No, that wasn't a typing error. I'm thinking of the sewing machines of yore which would occupy pride of place in many households, including ours. They would be symbols of thrift and creativity, and my grandmother and mother would spend hours with them, lovingly sowing hand-sewn labours which we would reap.

My dida (father's mother) had an antiquated black hand-turned sewing machine, which, I think, travelled across the border during the Partition of Bengal, but arriving none the worse for wear. It was a sturdy little thing, not too fancy but it did its job well. Since dida had the usual eyesight-handicaps of the elderly, I would be called upon to thread the needle. I also loved to turn the wheel-handle which would make the needle race in and out of the cloth, leaving behing a trail of thread. I was allowed to do this only because the most menial of stitching jobs would be done at dida's machine, like stitching together old saris to make the softest and most comfortable blankets, or hemming the borders of bedsheets or dhotis (a rectangular piece of cloth worn by men around their waists - the cloth is simple enough, though it is tied in intricate ways).

The more fancy sewing jobs were done at my ma's more advanced sewing machine. It was a Singer sewing machine, with a foot pedal as well as the hand-turned wheel, and I would watch my maa pedalling away furiously during the long afternoons, stopping now and then to turn the under-construction garment this way and that, or to change the colour of the thread. Then she would add finishing touches to her creations by hand, stitching on buttons and appliquing patches, or embroidering little patterns on the garments. She always loved creating things, and the house was filled both with pattern-books and garments made according to these patterns, embellished with original touches.

And of course, we were the happy receivers of her creations. Thr process began with us importantly posturing as she took measurements with a threadbare measuring tape (which we often used as a multipurpose toy - skipping rope/prisoner's chain, etc on the sly)and wrote them down (I remember only that my waist was 18" once upon a time - those were the days).

Then she would go about her work with pursed lips and furrowed brows, and we were shooed away if we bothered her too much. The agonies and ecstacies of CREATION were shared only with my cousin, Didia, who was the resident fashion designer and consultant.

And then, finally, on D-day, we would be called upon for the fitting ceremony. The garment would be pinned to our shoulders at the back, to check the variuos esoteric aspects. There would be a lot of tch-tch-ing, and mumbled conversations between ma and didia (because of assorted pins and needles and tapes in their mouths). A few nips and tucks later, the product would be declared finished.

And then the preening and twirling in front of the mirrors and the happy uplift and thrill of wearing a new dress.



ugich konitari said...

Had a wonderful laugh reading this. Particularly the stuff about the threadbare tape, used as a skipping rope, tying of prisoners in games etc. I wonder, why, of all the various things we could appropriate , the measuring tape was always preferred .

And for some reason, when the outfit was ready, they would try it on us, and I always remembered being upset that the hooks and buttons were not yet put by then. (Always after we tried on stuff)....

The Scatterbrain said...

Both my grandmothers had one of these each!!! I remember the summer holidays when I was about 8 years old. That's when my Mom taught me how to use her old sewing machine. She cut out the cloth and all I had to do was sew the pieces together to make my lovely pink polka dotted Bermuda shorts!!

My mother too had a fancier electric sewing machine, which made all my outfits until I went to college, but somehow, it didn't have the magic that the old machine with its huge metal wheel and pedal had!!

Sucharita Sarkar said...

Thanks for stitching your memories to the fabric of our past.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I have tagged you for a meme that gives you the delightful assignment of listing authors whose work you have read for the first time in 2008, then tagging fellow bloggers to do the same. Here’s my list.

Detectives Beyond Borders
“Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

Mampi said...

Yes yes yes,
My mami, and my mom used to stitch stuff for me and my sister.
I am so poor at it.