My mother taught me to sew during the summer of 1968 when I was about to turn 13, a time when our relationship was becoming fraught with mother-daughter discord. Together, after much deliberation, we chose a pattern — a simple A-line dress, sleeveless, with a back zipper — and an inexpensive cotton fabric — a tiny print of orange, white and green on a black ground. I insisted on saving the scraps, and soon, leftover bits from subsequent projects — a gauzy yellow peasant top, a pair of brown corduroy bell-bottoms, a blue linen dress trimmed with white daisies — joined them in our hall closet.
When I was 17, long after that first dress had been outworn and outgrown, my sister and I decided to “make Christmas” for our parents. We used a portion of the orange, white and green print to cover a Styrofoam ball that we embellished with gold braid and hung on our tree. It was the happiest holiday I remember from a childhood frequently marred by tension and disharmony.
The two-dozen or so other ornaments we made that year all have succumbed to the passage of time, falling victim to mold, mildew and simple carelessness. All except the little orange, white and green-covered ball, which has traveled with me through the years, surviving countless moves, divorce and near bankruptcy, the loss of loved ones including both of my parents, and bouts of estrangement from my sister.
For 50 weeks of the year, the now-fragile little ornament lives in my storage unit. Each December I unwrap it, but before placing it on my tree, I hold it in the palm of my hand for just a few minutes. I think about a mother’s love for a rebellious daughter, the bond between sisters, and the heartfelt desire of those sisters to make their parents happy.
Tonight, as I’m reflecting on this “first fabric,” I’m thinking of the literal and figurative threads that have woven themselves into the pattern of my life and wondering where they eventually will lead me.