The Seamstress

Wednesday, October 7, 2009 | |

When I ran away, I was wearing a simple summer dress and flat white sandals with gold clasps. I sold the clasps to pay for the dress that you see me in today - the woman at the thrift store was feeling sorry for me, and felt that she could on-sell my fasteners for more than the yellow shirt dress. The dress was so faded it was almost white, but I loved it. With its crisp collar and deep pockets that reached from the hips to the thighs, I said, this is the only passport I need.

I started work at a factory - repairing and recycling sails for a boating company. The work was tedious but precise - I enjoyed the feeling of finishing each one. As I'd test the strength of my stitching with my hands, I would stop to admire how strong my fabric suturing made each piece. These sails could win races, I thought. I made friends, each with a face hardened by their history; I felt at home amongst the stories of broken homes, broken relationships and severed friendships. If only we could stitch them back to life as we did with these sails, I thought. Then we'd all win races.

A new, delicate job required a new, delicate look. Pocketing some leftover material as I left the sail factory meant that I was able to give my white dress what it needed - pink piping around the collar, cuffs and hem. I hid my rough hands behind white gloves, also fashioned from sail-factory off-cuts; they were perfect for working with the softer fabrics at the lingerie factory. Like the women at my previous job, their faces did not match their disposition - soft and well-presented on the outside, these supple faces hid cold, hard contempt. They would scoff at my gloves and snigger behind my back. They'd say the piping on my dress looked like entrails; I'd think up garments I could make with theirs. After months of back-stabbing and whispers, work became a burden I could no longer bear. Each stitch - each rise and fall of the needle, each puncture of the material - was a slow reminder of how far I was from the end of my shift. The only thing that kept me sane was the precision with which I worked - each garment was a work of art; each pin prick a stroke of my brush.

The day I carelessly struck my hand was a blessing in disguise. On the way to the hospital I tugged at the piping - my dress' entrails - and removed my worst memory of that place. When I arrived in emergency, I was so woozy from stress and confusion that when the orderly called me forward I assumed I was to be fixed up; it was only when I was handed the needle that I realised what I was required to do. I straightened my skirt, adjusted my gloves and did what I do best; stitched. And mended. Repaired, wrapped and sent the finished product on its way; the doctor said it was the finest work he'd ever seen. I created seven works of art that day, and have made hundreds more since.

Hospital work is hard, but working with any new material requires a bit of adaptation. I take pride in my precise, efficient work, and know that every face I see - hard or supple - is grateful for the work of art they leave with. Sometimes I wonder if they'll find out, and if I'll have to run again. But I rely on the few meagre things this drifter requires. A firm hand, a crisp collar and deep pockets that reach from the hips to the thighs. They're the only passports I'll need.


Anonymous said...

This is awesome the way I thought The people of paper was going to be. That book never worked out. This did.