Sewing Class

1 November 2015

i.

Each week the headmaster’s wife
darns us into her web of chairs: a design
to mirror the range of her eyes.
She is austere, and caught in the snare
of her husband’s alarm-clock life,
she ticks us off
when our stitches don’t mend her morning.

The fabric is too big for childish hands,
and the needle too small to fit my desire
to quit this room with its young girl giggles
and smell of teacher’s perfume.
She has given me too hard a task:
the needling of a cloth
to make a pattern
for a life I can’t conceive.
But, we are her debutantes on our way
to womanhood, so she stoically treads her path
by fidgeting feet and sew-spastic fingers.

Cotton eyes the needle greedily
pushing through the vacancy
like a cat through its flap to a freeing sunrise.

Needle-threading is much like tying shoelaces;
poking an ant nest with a stick;
or riding a broom-proud steed
through a small gap in the fence to a wood ―
hanging there, the thread is secure as the tie
on the legs of a store-bought chook.

While other busier fingers
brook the challenge of Mrs N’s stare,
my mind wanders to methods of escape.

Bending slowly, head inching over genuflecting knees,
I undo a shoelace.
It’s the start of an idea.
Knots! Knots! and more knots!
So the dangling thread becomes a hangman’s noose;
a yachtsman’s ropey artistry; the tangle of fishing line
in the hands of a tyro on holiday.
Excuse me, please, I have a knot!

It’s one deserving of a prize.
I try not to smile.
I try not to look proud.
She sighs, releases me from the torture-tool of linen
and starts unpicking my knotted herd.
It takes a while.
Knots can be tricky
knots can be hard to tie, unseen,
and she is soon on my third.
I am nine
and the clock tells me it’s eleven.

ii.

Bridging the gap from youth to freedom
is High School and The Treadle.
In these mechanised rows knots are irrelevant.
Each machine wakes its latent industry
by the cradling of a bobbin.
We are given one to keep
so mine will live in a drawer
at home.
It will never meet the Singer, or seam its voice
to the room’s robotic choir.
I am proud I will never sew a stitch
on that maternalising denier of youth.

I am told that next term I will study nutrition;
learn how to cook and how to clean a kitchen.
They are unpicking my world
and sewing me into their fabricated fiction.

I am twelve
and being primed for motherhood.

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