Friday, December 16, 2011

My Sewing Teacher and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Me in seventh grade.
Recently, a dear friend and fellow blogger (ninehundredandseventytwelverecipes) while taking a philosophical yet typically can-do attitude toward her upcoming new year's resolutions, mentioned that she would like to learn dressmaking in 2012. 

Being one smart cookie, she will accomplish this with ease but her announcement awakened a submerged memory, forcing me to take to my bed and twiddle my hair until I could make myself forget about....

...Mrs. Allston and the sewing machine.

Once in the land of long ago, Mrs. Allston, a good-natured and apparently stable woman in her 60's, was a long-time sewing teacher in a word where needle arts was still a requirement for young ladies of a certain (extreme coughing) era.

I, descended from a long line of talented seamstresses (some professional, some of necessity, some strictly recreational), always inately knew that the talent of my predecessors had not swum through the gene pool into my own muddy backyard puddle. 

Not to mention, I had a psychological aversion to needle and thread.

This may have been because family members were constantly disappearing into the "cellar" of our brownstone (another post, entirely..) to hunch over the ancient Singer machine that had been installed down there only a day or two after God created the firmament and divided the waters.

Or since,when at leisure (a very different concept then than now), my grandma and mother always had a sewing basket at their side and thread between their teeth.

In any case, here comes seventh grade...

Our first project was to construct an apron for ourselves (oh, world, how thou hast changed!) adorned with cross stitch embroidery. I screwed that up in so many ways that there aren't enough twisted, ass-backward cross stitches in the world to count them.
Nightmares are made of cross stitches.

From cutting to piecing to sewing to the dreaded embroidery, I was a total moron--bringing my pitiful mess of an apron to Mrs. Allston's desk every 3 nanoseconds for help. She was patient and good-humored, and said things like "I hope you have other talents, "Susan Says..."

Then came learning to use the sewing machines.

For me, this was impossible...and  I do not use that word lightly. I couldn't even thread it much less make it sew.

I could see Mrs. Allston's good humor fading as I sputtered and repeatedly failed in the large sewing room located in the heart of the shop classes on the first floor of Edward B. Shallow Junior High School in Brooklyn, USA.

It went from bad to worse and, incrementally, Mrs. Allston started to emotionally decompose.

I noticed that she would no longer make eye contact with me. When I raised my hand for help, she was slow in coming over and her tone was growing nasty.

And, believe me, I was trying. I did not relish the reputation of imbecile and sincerely wanted to please her but then it happened...

One morning, on a sunny day toward the end of the year, I broke the machine. Snap.

Approaching Mrs. Allston's desk warily, I told her closed and hostile face what I had done and braced myself as she rose and, on legs that no longer appeared to bend at the knees, walked over to assess the damage. Discovering that I had, indeed, murdered the innocent machine, her poor face crumpled and she burst into tears.

I, and the rest of the class, froze in horror as she shouted something we couldn't make out and ran from the room. This was a first for all of us. I felt like Charles Manson if he'd had a conscience. The class soon ended but Mrs. Allston did not return.

I was fine until they made me take a sewing class.
Was Mrs. Allston a burn-out? Was she frayed to the point of madness, balancing on the edge after a long career of teaching domestic skills to disinterested girls? Did my idiocy shove her into the abyss? Or, was I just that annoying.

I suspect the latter. 

I don't remember how this event was resolved. I know she was back in her classroom the following day but did we have to pay for the repairs? Did she call my mother? Was Mrs. Allston eventually institutionalized and did she shriek my name as she was strapped down by the men in white?

I do not have the answers but I can assure you that I have not touched a sewing machine since.


  1. I loved this story since I could have written it if the teacher's name was Mrs. Brady and the school was in Long Island. I'd like to add that her cooking class was also a disaster which explains why the bushes outside the classroom died when we used the food we cooked as fertilizer.

  2. This made me laugh and rememeber my own misery in various "hands on" type classes!

  3. Thank you for the kind words my friend, however it is by no means certain I will succeed... having tried, tried and tried and failed as many times...sigh.
    My dear sewing teacher taught me cross-stitch in desperation (my mother having thrown a massive tantrum in frustration when I asked her for help).
    Sadly my sewing teacher went the same way as yours, but did not return to teaching.
    It was a very quiet class of 13year old girls left bewildered at her melt-down...
    I still worry about her.

  4. My mom taught sewing to the girl scouts, I was thankful every day I was a boy.


  5. Hey, Anonymous--that's really funny. Maybe this sort of thing is universal!

    I'm glad you enjoyed the post and appreciate your stopping by to comment!

  6. So, I wasn't alone, Carla! Thanks for reading!

  7. I have total faith in you.

    That's a very weird coincidence. It must be very stressful to teach the "womanly arts to kids."
    I was about 13, too and it was very shocking to have her burst into tears. Needless to say, no sewing for me!

  8. I hope your mom's students were less troublesome than I was, Scott! Thanks for the comment!

  9. bozodotcom from the islandDecember 16, 2011 at 11:31 PM

    i too had sewing in both elementary & HS. i loved it along w/cooking classes. oh i hated to cook but loved to eat the leftovers. as for sewing, i learned many things, some not especially related to sewing as in patience & cooperation, to name a few. while i wasn't 'made' for homemaking & things of same ilk i did like sewing class. having a great teach in both schools helped too. too bad the schools did away with it. bunch of grouches :>(

  10. Hi, Bozo from the island..I did love the cooking classes I took in school and, only a few years ago, my son enjoyed his in high school. But, I do agree with you that since the majority of those classes have, indeed, been abolished that the kids are the poorer for it.

    I really appreciate your stopping by!

  11. I enjoy your blog and have not comented until now becasue I really related to this. Only I did it in a shop class. I broke a jig saw and was very embarrassed. My teacher shook his head all the time when it came to me.

  12. I feel your pain, Barry.Thanks for reading the blog and taking a moment to comment!

  13. Our teacher in metal shop always seemed "on edge". Picture inattentive wise guys in the 70s operating a high speed band saw that can halve a cow. I know "boys will be boys" but some lost fingers. I genetically inherited my grandmother and granduncle's sewing skills in the form of being able to solder extremely fine parts with a soldering iron without overheating and blobbing lead over everything. Many teachers become frustrated with "genetics". You either can play a piano or painfully can NOT. Tell that to the parents who can make YOU feel like a failure. In printing shop, I was the teacher's pet who would help the teacher keep the hapless students from over-inking or destroying the presses. Keeping clear of the gigantic ream paper-cutters while in use and dissuading those amused by throwing the moveable lead type into the dropped ceiling tiles. I bet some are still there. I just sent that teacher, Mr Gruber, a Hanukkah card, as we still exchange. Now if you want to talk algebra class, that was an entirely different experience......

  14. Tony, I am so glad you stopped by for a visit. I so enjoyed reading your comment--thank you. Wasn't Mr. Gruber from FDR? I think I remember him.