Marcia Heller
The author, with her trusty Bernina sewing machine, is ready to stitch up a generational oversight — just as soon as the coronavirus crisis is over. (P.J. Heller photo)
Marcia Heller

Now six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, I realize I have become a quarantine cliché.

I have regular coffee chats, take dance and ceramics classes, and play Trivial Pursuit with university friends I haven’t seen in years — all via Zoom; I’ve sewn up and given away a ton of facemasks; cleaned out drawers and closets; and I have a big bowl of sourdough starter gurgling contentedly in my refrigerator.

Last week, after “feeding” my starter dough and making yet another carb-filled loaf of sourdough something, I decided that sewing might be the healthier pandemic pastime, so I started making dolls and doll clothes for my two granddaughters, who live in Colorado.

I had come across a well-worn but intact pattern for a Holly Hobbie doll (anyone remember those?) and got to work on it.

As I sat there at my old Bernina sewing machine (I don’t recall what year I bought it, but it is in a metal — not plastic — casing, so that gives you some idea of its vintage), I thought that these little things I am making for Kaia and Morgan are not only from me but also from my mother, their great-grandmother, Lillian, who taught me how to sew.

My mom was not the greatest seamstress; she didn’t make all my clothes like some of my friends’ mothers did, or quietly mend socks while watching soap operas on TV, but she did know the basics of sewing, and she passed along some essentials to me.

Mom taught me how to hand sew a hem; follow a dress pattern; thread and operate her clunky black Singer Featherweight; and how not to curse (at least not out loud) when the thread gets hopelessly tangled, the needle breaks and the machine starts eating your precious fabric midseam.

The first sewing project I remember was for a Brownie Scout badge when I was probably in second or third grade. We each had to hand-stitch a decoration on a white terrycloth hand towel; mine had a little airplane pattern outlined on the front.

Mom was not one of Troop 24’s official leaders, but she came to the meeting that day in the basement of the local Presbyterian church, and sat by my side helping me thread the needle and form the stitches without drawing too much blood. These days, that would be referred to as a bonding experience — and I guess, since it has stayed with me all these many years, it was.

I believe one of my fails as a mom is not having taught my two daughters how to sew. Even my son-in-law can sew on a button; his wife’s initial thought would probably be to go online to Target or Nordstrom Rack and spring for a new shirt.

I’m actually not sure who taught my mom to sew. Her biological mother — ironically — died in the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic when she was a young woman and Lillian was just an infant.

Mom was adopted by close relatives who were well off enough to have staff to do the household chores. I suspect it was one of those housekeepers — a tall, slender woman named Ellen, who spoke with a thick Swedish accent, and whose warm heart belied her reserved countenance — who showed Mom the way around a kitchen, laundry room. And a sewing machine.

Since it is on me that Sewing 101 has skipped a generation in my family, I plan to start making amends as soon as it is safe to see my grandchildren again.

Be ready, girls. Nana is coming, and she is bringing her sewing machine. Maybe I’ll even throw in a recipe for sourdough starter.

— Marcia Heller is a Noozhawk copy editor and occasional columnist. Like millions of other people, she looks forward to again being able to visit her kids and grandkids. The opinions expressed are her own.