“♬ Julia’s Sweat Shop! Julia’s Sweat Shop! ♬” Julia sang her little ditty as I huffed the goose down out of my nose. It clung to the dry skin on my fingers as I threaded the needle.
A week earlier she showed me her new down jacket. “It’s nice but too short. You’ll be cold. Exchange it for one that covers your hiney,” I told her. The child who never takes my advice returned the following week with another down jacket, this one almost to her knees. “I need you to make it shorter, to mid-thigh,” Julia announced. Me and my big mouth. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
I have a love/hate relationship with sewing. I have clear memories of admiring my Granny’s expert handiwork and growing confident under her patient tutelage. I know it’s in my genes, not just because my sister is a sewing prodigy, but also because I’ve made tailored men’s shirts, pants and sports jackets, along with dresses, baby clothes and too many curtains to count.
But the last few times I attempted to sew the process was painful. I literally burst into tears trying to sew piping, which I’d made, into the seams of pillows I was making out the world’s slipperiest crushed velour fabric on which Julia had hand-painted beautiful designs.
I didn’t get a photo of the jacket before she left for NYC but here are the pillows that made me cry.
Since then, I am averse to the needle. The words “Just cut it and sew it under,” “Make it thinner on this part,” “If I cut this off you can just sew some elastic on, right?” all make me cringe.
But Julia is quite a bully persistent and, realizing this was a battle I was likely to lose, I found myself contemplating exactly where one would cut the coat so that the bottom would line up with the zipper and the pockets wouldn’t hang out the bottom. I thought about how one might finish the inside hem and how to integrate the lining. What I didn’t think about was exactly how unruly goose down might be.
Upon the discovery that we had no black thread my heart did a little dance, thinking I was off the hook. But Julia called her Grandma who had plenty of black thread. Damn. Since there was no saying no at this point, while she was fetching the thread I made the cut. I slowly, steadily fed the discarded few inches into a ziplock bag, yet I still had small bits of down floating around me the following day at work. A week later Laila revealed that the secret is to wet the down. Well in hindsight it’s obvious that if you need advice on how to wrangle goose down you should consult with a Norwegian! Da!
By the time Julia returned I’d found some iron-on seam binding and sealed off the edge, ready to sew up the hem. Julia sat nearby to keep me on task, as she wanted to wear the jacket back to NYC within the hour. The pressure was on. My sewing machine groaned, threatening to seize up as it sometimes does, somehow sensing my rushed anxiety. I was getting irritated. That’s when the Sweat Shop song started, and she started filming me with goose down stuck to my arms. Next she held up her phone, blasting the song Wind Beneath My Wings: “♬ Did you ever know that you’re my hero? ♬” Between Julia’s Sweat Shop ditty and this spirited finale I couldn’t even be mad at her for making me sew! The jacket doesn’t look half bad, and at least I know she’ll be warm this winter.