Saturday, June 14, 2014
Ode to Miss Myrna Welsh
When I was a lost and lonely 13 year old, I had the good fortune to have Miss Myrna Welsh as one of my teachers. Myrna taught home economics and sewing, served as our adviser for S Club, and also started the peer counseling program at our high school. Needing an elective, I signed up for her introductory sewing class. It turned out that I really liked sewing and had some aptitude for it. Over the next few years, I created quite a bit of my clothing, and began three lifelong passions: thrift store shopping, garment deconstruction, and fabric hoarding.
Somewhere in the process of learning to sew a seam and tuck a dart, I found myself. Myrna was infinitely patient. Her mantra to "make friends with the seam ripper" was one I learned the hard way. During those long hours in her stuffy, second-floor classroom, she became more than a teacher. She took what felt broken and lost in me, and helped me find value in myself through helping others. Through Myrna's tutelage, I slowly learned to be more honest, helpful and ultimately, proactive about my future. I became part of her inaugural group of peer counselors, and l learned about community service as part of S Club (a high-school version of the Soroptimist organization with which I'm active today).
Myrna has been on my mind this week as I've uncovered a stash of amazing fabric. Some years ago, a friend acquired a huge load of decorator fabric sample books and quite a bit of yardage. If I remember the story correctly, they'd been pulled out of a dumpster by someone else. They landed on my doorstep, and I remember putting them away in tubs in the garage, for "someday."
Someday arrived this past week when, sick from a virus and at home for a few days, I pulled them out and began to extricate them from their various bindings. These are seriously luxurious fabrics, ranging from intricately embroidered silks, to linen, velvet, flax and more. That they might have ended up in the landfill is appalling.
It's true that most of them are small pieces, ranging from about 6 inches to 2 feet square. But, I am a collage artist, which means I work with a lot of small pieces. As I've sorted and touched all this fabric, I've had visions of pillows, scarves, table runners, aprons, fabric-covered journals and more. My family is rather amused at just how excited I've been about the piles of fabric littering the family room.
There is something about fabric and the act of sewing that transcends generations and cultures. We need the homespun and the durable for work and play; if we're lucky, we may get to dabble with and enjoy more beautiful versions to enhance our lives. I think of all the women through history who have found joy in running fabric through their hands. I think of those who labor in sweatshops to make beautiful things they'll never enjoy. I think of ancestors who labored in the textile mills in New England. History, connections, memory--the fabric of our lives.
By luck and happenstance, a very dear friend gifted me with a beautiful new sewing machine at Christmas. So I've had beautiful fabric and the right tool fall into my lap. No wonder the gears are turning! I'm looking forward to spending time re-immersing myself in fabric play this summer.
I do realize what a treasure trove I have here. And I realize what a treasure we all had in Myrna. I have no idea if she is still alive, but I tip my hat to her. Thanks for the teaching, the skills, the compassion, and for sparking creativity in a girl who thought she had none.