When I became a mother, I had plans—so many plans!—for the countless projects my son and I would make together. It was easy at first. He was four years old and believed in my magic. We made cookie dough sitting on the kitchen floor, bound books and filled their pages with stories, foraged for toys of acorns, pinecones and giant leaves in the forest. My son requested rocks for his birthday and holiday presents. He preferred a simple bedroom with found objects displayed on shelves.
“Let’s make gifts!” was my subversive cry against Disney, American Girl and Fisher-Price and my son would smile wide, unaware that we could buy toys with their new plastic smell at the stores. For his friends, we made flags and capes out of scrap fabric and battle axes and wands out of river rocks and sticks. We also melted glycerin and pushed thrifted miniatures into molds and—ta-dah!—we had soap!
Hey, I’m good at this, I thought.
Not at motherhood—that was complicated. However, I enjoyed making things even if my son’s participation was minimal at best. Many times, he observed for 15 minutes and then lost interest because the actual making was a much longer process than the excitement of the idea.
As my son proceeded to dance through childhood and a never-ending string of birthday parties, we—mostly I—proceeded to manufacture gifts in our Toy Factory. What I yearned for was simplicity and a peaceful home—less bright saccharine colors, more subdued earth tones; less disposable blinking lights and sirens on wheels, more appreciation for Pachamama (Mother Earth). It didn’t always go as planned.
“What’s this?” one birthday boy asked and held up the small rectangle that accompanied the scrappy cape given to him by my son.
“Soap,” my son said.
He then continued to unwrap his pile of riches while the party kids “oohed” as each shiny box revealed its new contents: Legos, Nerf guns, Bakugan, Pokemon.
That was the end of soap.
Although I abhorred the manipulation tactics and waste created by the toy industry, I had a civil to lukewarm relationship with plastic. I thrifted plastic toys and later returned them as a donation, justifying my purchase as rent. Disney wedged itself into our home through the movie Cars, inspiring my son to collect those tiny metal vehicles with big cartoon faces. Bakugan balls looked pretty cool—and were also boring. Pokemon produced zero footprint because it was all over the thrift stores; children consumed Pokemon products faster than their parents could throw them out.
The Nerf phase was unavoidable and barreled through our neighborhood street like a thunderous freight train. Nerf bullets littered front doors, yards, sidewalks and bushes for years. I only cringed whenever I saw an unusable bullet with torn foam and wondered how I could repurpose such an environmental blight. However, I let that go. The kids ran outside for hours and lost track of time, and in-between were the breaks; kids swinging on the hammock underneath scrap fabric flags made by my son and scrappy festive bunting made by me.
By the time my son was 13, I figured he should try to sew his first garment as a diversion from lazy summer day video games. He and his friend wanted to make a long-sleeved raglan top, so we headed to the fabric store. His friend had never heard of such a place and my son didn’t have any memories of it because the fabric store was my sanctuary; no child tugging on my arm was allowed. The boys stumbled through the door wearing dirty baseball caps and rumpled clothes, their summertime odor trailing behind—an elixir of dirt, mushrooms, B.O. and fart. They looked around.
“It’s so quiet,” my son said.
“Like a library,” his friend said.
Since it was a weekday, the store was mostly filled with retirees. The lucky ones. They enjoyed a carefree life with their favorite hobbies.
“I feel like I’m getting older with every step I take inside this place,” his friend said.
The boys selected a large bolt of black something, carried it to the counter with gawky steps as one hoisted the front and the other held the sagging back, then forgot how many yards was needed and had to refer to the pattern while glancing at me with pleading, embarrassed faces. Back inside the comfort of home they laundered the fabric, cut the pieces with the rotary cutter which was “rad,” and began to sew on the “loud bouncy” sewing machine. Their excitement mounted once the shells of their tops were stitched together.
“Time to try them on,” I said.
They ran into bathrooms and emerged wearing droopy bags. Their tops didn’t look anything like the picture on the pattern. The fabric had relaxed and everything was too wide. It was an “epic fail,” and my son’s friend was crestfallen.
“Don’t worry!” I jumped in.
He shook his head and grimaced.
“This happens all the time!”
My son flapped his wings and laughed.
“This can be fixed!”
Fatigued by their efforts, they had other ideas and asked to play video games.
When I question my son, now 16, about the top debacle, he says he doesn’t remember disappointment.
“It was fun. I had a friend with me and we were so bad at it.”
Throughout our years together, we had some hits. Scrappy kitties with embroidered buttholes, tutus from destroyed wedding dresses and capes made out of anything. Book safes, sock zombies, and juggling and hacky sack balls. Strips of colorful fabric scraps for hours of Capture the Flag games and when left hanging in trees, a decorative celebration of long summer nights.
The “epic fail” tops have since been repurposed into garments for myself. And now my son sits at home like the rest of his friends, waiting out the quarantine. I watch him and my mind races because I have plans—so many plans!—for the countless projects he can choose to make during this moment. And if he’s willing, our next stop will be a second chance at the fabric store.
Denise Archer has joined the Sewcialist team as a Temporary Editor. Her personal garments and projects can be found @pin.prrrick
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