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Bonzer Words!: The Gentle Art Of Sewing

...Women were, and still are, I've noticed, expected to be able to sew by instinct. Ladies were always expected to be able to 'sew a fine seam'; and girls who had nothing whatever to do, and no other talents or accomplishments like singing or playing the harpsichord, were expected to sew 'samplers' at the very least..

Betty Collins muses on the art of sewing.

Betty writes for Bonzer! magazine. Please visit www.bonzer.org.au

A few days ago I roused my sewing machine from the corner where it had been slumbering for a while. I threaded it up and spoke nicely to it—not for nothing is it known as a girl's best friend. I needed a kaftan (caftan) or two. While I sewed, my thoughts rambled. (This is one of the pleasant side effects of sewing.)

Strangely enough, the art of sewing does not feature largely in literature and a search of the Web yielded comparatively few poems. Strange, really, because the art of sewing must be very closely linked with the growth of civilisations—not only as a matter related to survival in inhospitable climes, but also as useful emblems of rank and status and occupation—which it still is.

In fact, as a communicator of information, this art rivals the art of writing itself. Think about it.

One cannot help speculating that this lack of attention may be partly because the art of fine sewing has been largely the province of women, the silent heroines who were not permitted to have a voice in literature and appear mostly as objects about whom 'people' wrote). Women were prevented from saying or writing anything, and poetry, which 'bared' the soul, would have been the most taboo of all.

Women were, and still are, I've noticed, expected to be able to sew by instinct. Ladies were always expected to be able to 'sew a fine seam'; and girls who had nothing whatever to do, and no other talents or accomplishments like singing or playing the harpsichord, were expected to sew 'samplers' at the very least—can you think of any more pointless way of idling away the unhappy hours? Perhaps it served to keep them out of mischief with any passing coachman or gardener.

The wives of working men could and did mend, make and 'turn' garments from dawn to dusk, if need be, and even weave the cloth as well. And the clothing sweat shop 'manned' by women has been with us for centuries—heaven knows how long—and is still with us today.

On the other hand, male poets have proved themselves to be particularly obtuse in understanding the art—usually being more interested in removing the products. And who can fail to feel for the Lady of Shalott, doomed to weave her web and see reality only through a mirror:

'On both sides of the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye . . .'

http://charon.sfsu.edu/TENNYSON/TENNLADY.HTML

I prefer not to mention, let alone dwell on, the kind of pseudo-males who ponce around in the contemporary so-called 'fashion' world. And as for the totally unwearable 'clothes' they design! Lots of rude words occur to me.

A 'Kaftan' (caftan) is that wonderful, loose, all concealing garment which is traditionally worn throughout north Africa and the Middle East.

You can make it of any cloth you choose and add as much or as little of any kind of decoration that you fancy—tucks, beads, embroidery, applique, fringes . . .

To make one very easily indeed, buy two matching Indonesian sarongs.

Cut off about a foot from the length of each according to your height and whim.

Join the raw ends right across the width, leaving a slit to get your head through. You will need to cut away a bit at the front and/or make a slit to make room for your neck—shape of your choice. Oversew interior seams and face or hem the neck neatly.

The side seams are sewn on the right side of the fabric, about 4 inches in from the selvedge, leaving a flap, and starting about 10 or 12 inches from the shoulder seam to make a generous wide armhole, and stopping however far from the bottom you like—to leave a fetching, flowing, 'comfort' slit. No hem needed because the sarongs come with a fringe.

You can be as careless as you like because the patterns and flow of the cloth conceal all.

The kaftan (caftan) is unisex.

Sand rises and falls with gusts of wind,
Spring flowers bloom amid snow of white.
I tried sewing to kill the sleepless night,
Wondering all the time,
who would put these robes on.

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