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  • Caroline's Studio Blog

La Travailleuse

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

One day, after you die, after an acceptable period of time has elapsed, someone will sell your sewing chest at a garage sale, known in France as a “vide-grenier”, including its content, save grand-mother's scissors and silver thimble. The chest might contain colorful spools of thread, a quaint candy box with a variety of spare buttons, a wooden darning egg pierced with tiny holes, a battery of pins and needles, a travel sewing kit, colorful ribbons salvaged from packages, yarn, fabric remnants, unwanted shoulder pads, stray buttons thrown about with the intent of sewing them back on the defective shirt or blouse. A multitude of sewing notions, cohabiting silently in the darkness for a lifetime, until brought back to life by slender ghostly hands looking for a needle, some thread and a thimble, which is all one ever needs from a sewing chest.

Her mother's sewing chest was an accordion-style, 3-tier, fold-out wooden chest. Her refined mother had loved the “Danish-Modern” period style long before it had been given a name and acquired the chest shortly after her marriage. The purchase would have likely been made in her husband's absence. In the 50s, women sewed and mended clothes. Youthful marriages, poor beginnings, hardship made sure of it. Her mother collected the family socks that needed darning and stored them in the deepest part of the chest. She kept a mental note of the dozens of toe holes in the socks, then one day, as if the number of holes had reached a point of no return in her mind, she would walk briskly to where the chest stood in the tight living room of the apartment, as if under a spell, her slippers smacking the linoleum floor, and grabbing the chest by the handle, wrestling it by the chair next to the curtained window flooded in sunlight, she would busy herself with her mending, focused and unreachable.

As a little girl, C. was mesmerized by the way her mother moved about the house in quick and sudden bursts. She was listening to her comings and goings in the morning as she busied herself with domestic tasks, opening and closing windows, dishes clinking and clanking in the miniature kitchen, brooms swung nervously back and forth on the floor. The sounds of the house were comforting to C. The smells that emanated from the kitchen would make her feel loved, cared for and safe. Somehow, as little as she was, she knew that these sounds and these odors mattered. She did not know yet that much later in life, unsummoned, they would resurface in her mind as if they had never left her.

After her mother’s death many years later, in another house, a bigger house, the sewing chest stood exactly where her mother had left it, never touching it again. Under the painting of the wild flowers her mother had painted following a trip to the Roussillon. By then, the contents had been altered by the women who had come and gone about the house. It was no longer her mother’s chest. Order had given way to chaos. Remembrance to oblivion.

All they needed was a needle, some thread and a thimble which is all one ever needs from a sewing chest.

March 2013

June 2020

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