I regularly lecture to my kids. Every mother does, I think. The lectures don’t last long most of the time — some are barely more than a second. They are meant to teach, but often annoy, these lectures of mine. And I have always suspected that my lectures, long and short, and roundly ignored. If you saw the rolled eyes and heard the huffs and puffs and sighs, you would understand why I think so.
And yet, every so often, a child will surprise me by quoting back to me the very substance of a lecture given eons ago.
Take the last few weeks of TAST work, for example.
My darling B has not been happy with the TAST challenge. She has been struggling with it every week, bemoaning crooked stitches and imperfect results. She is, in truth, her own harshest critic, holding herself to an exacting standard that would defeat even the most experienced of stitchers, nevermind one who is only 8 years old. I am delighted with her progress, with her learning, and her success, though she doesn’t see it that way.
“You’re my Mom, you have to like it,” she tells me.
(When did we acquire our own resident cynic?)
And so I remind her that Rome wasn’t built in a day, skills aren’t mastered the first time we try them, the end-product isn’t as important as the effort, and other such mini-lectures.
“But yours is perfect!” she often whines, at which point The Big Lecture comes out. You know the one. The one where I remind her that I am 40 and she is 8, and I have had a zillion years or so of stitching to her meager 3 or 4, and that I had just as much trouble when I first learned new stitches, and that I still do struggle with learning new skills, every single day. But with every attempt, you get a little bit better, so just keep trying.
It’s a lovely lecture.
To which she — naturally — rolls her eyes and sighs and stomps away.
For a while, I wondered if I should just stop lecturing. If I should give up on this idea of doing TASTwith her and just do it myself, and let her come along for the ride or not, as she pleased.
And so I stopped asking her to try it. What’s more, with the events of the last couple of weeks, I didn’t have the energy to stitch, and so I didn’t, either. Until she said to me, what’s this week’s stitch, Mama? and I realized that I had no idea.
I was busy with other things, and tired in both body and spirit, so I merely called up the website and left her to it, figuring she wouldn’t get far without me stitching beside her.
An hour later, she ran off to play with a friend and I tripped over a mess on the floor that, in my tired and cranky state, made me utter a bad word or three before I realized what I was looking at.
It was the running stitch.
My darling girl had taken it upon herself to learn the stitch from the small sample Sharon B provided on the Pin Tangle website. I felt rather proud of B, seeing what she had accomplished without me.
When she came back inside, I asked her to tell me all about her work, and so she did.
And it turns out, she wasn’t listening to my lectures at all. But she had been very carefully watching me.
She started out with a piece of white felt to be her backing fabric, to which she would attach all the colours of the landscape that she could see in her imagination. I learned to use a backing fabric when I started my crazy quilting journey last fall. I don’t remember specifically telling her about it, but I must have at some point, because the next words out of her mouth were these:
“Just like you do for your crazy quilt squares.”
She then explained that she had used a pencil to plan out her pieces and make notes as to what she wants where “just like you do with that funny purple marker that erases.”
And she used her fairy scissors that we bought together at the fabric store to cut the felt, but the leopard scissors to cut the threads, because you should always use fabric scissors for fabric and paper scissors for paper so that you don’t dull the fabric scissors, so she figured thread, which is neither fabric nor paper, deserved its own scissors, too.
Thus prepared, she used a running stitch to anchor down the various elements of her landscape, and then she made the word Mom, but when Mom didn’t contrast enough with the background, she added a square of blue behind it so it would draw the eye, because “if you want someone to notice something, you need to make it pop.”
And why, exactly, did Mom need to be noticed?
Well, because it was a gift. For me. Since I had been too busy to work on my own landscape block lately, she decided to work on one for me.
A few days later, B was looking for a bird. Not just any bird, but one she could put in a paper lunch sack and bring to school as part of a book report. They had to collect 4 items to represent characters or events in the book they read and then present them to the class, and she needed a bird.
There are some beautiful handsewn birds all over Pinterest and Etsy, and I’ve pinned quite a few of them as things I would like to make when I have a moment. When I looked at her sweet face, stressed by the need to find a bird she could bring to school, I knew what we had to do.
We had to sew. Together. And make a bird.
Together, we cut out two sides for our bird, and then a panel to make the bottom. We cut out little wings, and a decorative bit for the middle of the wing, and then we set to stitching. We started with buttonhole stitch, since she was comfortable with it, and then I taught her chain stitch, which was one of the TAST stitches that we skipped. We worked together, passing the felt pieces back and forth, me stitching a bit to show her how, her doing a few then getting frustrated, me taking it back to demonstrate once more, and finally, success, and she would finish it off.
We worked for about half an hour, and then C from next door came calling. To my surprise, B invited her to come embroider with us. C looked somewhat skeptical, but she figured she could come at watch, at least.
Of course, B wouldn’t let her.
“Here’s some fabric. Do you know how to thread a needle? I’ll do it for you. What colour do you want?” and so on, until a few moments later, C was sitting there, needle and thread in hand, unsure what to do.
“Teach her the running stitch, Mom!” I was told, and so I did. And then the lazy daisy, and then a straight stitch, and then — because C wanted to sew a rose — how to do a spider web stitch rose.
B was full of advice and suggestions and commiseration when the thread slipped out of the needle. She was full of encouragement, too. But what really caught my attention was the lectures.
“It takes a bit of practice before you get the hang of it, you know. Keep going, you’re doing great, and you’ll get better the more you do it.”
“It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t look perfect. It’s your first time trying, after all!”
And, most hilariously of all:
“Don’t forget, I’ve been doing this for years. You’ve only just started.”
It seems she hasn’t been ignoring my lectures after all.
A while later, I’m not sure how long since we were, after all, busy sewing and not paying attention to the clock, C’s brother came to fetch her. Off she went, leaving her work behind with a disgusted frown. No, she did not want to take it home. It was terrible, after all.
My daughter, who only days before had expressed exactly the same sentiment, carefully picked up the little flower garden C had been working on and handed it tenderly to C’s brother.
“She’s going to want it later,” she told him with a sage nod.
Afterwards, as we poked stuffing into the little felt bird and B carefully whip-stitched the final edges together, I asked her about that moment upstairs. About why, when faced with C’s absolute rejection and a refusal to take the sewing home, B had persisted enough to insist C’s brother take it home and show it to their mother.
“She’s going to be so proud of it. She just doesn’t know it yet.”