A howl rose up behind me and I turned to see the scissors standing upright in my sister’s foot. Don’t know how it happened. I was nowhere near her, and I didn’t know it then, but that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
A catch of the sun gleamed across the scissors silver blades and blinded me for a moment, and I looked to the floor to ease their spark. Pooling around my sister’s foot was blood, dark red blood. I knew enough to know they were in deep. When my parents picked her up to take her to the hospital, the scissors fell out and I think I internally smiled with glee, though can’t be too sure about that, just glad my parents didn’t see.
While they were gone, I went to the hallway closet and pulled out my mother’s sewing machine. It was brand new, but she could never use it.
“Bloody thing,” I would here her complain from the dining room where I was either solving another wooden puzzle my father had given me, turning paper into birds, or using a piece of string, woven around my hands creating spider webs.
The sound of a slam as her hands hit the table made me cringe. I cringed because when I used the sewing machine, it always worked first time, every time.
“Karen…,” she yelled, and a shudder moved through my body.
“Come put this away,” she said, and the pitter patter of her flip-flopped feet moved from the kitchen to the laundry, to the outdoors.
After her initial, “I’m going to teach you to sew,” my mother only sat with me twice more to watch me do what she couldn’t.
“What’s wrong?” my dad would ask.
“Bloody thing doesn’t work,” my mother would say pointing to the sewing machine.
“But Karen was using it ear—”
Dad didn’t get to finish that sentence; the howling and tears came before that.
I stood quietly in the hallway with one hand on the sewing machine waiting for the car to start, for the tires to ground their way through the sand of the driveway, and the silence as dad pulled out on to the highway. Taking it by its handle I carried the heavy sewing machine to the table before turning back to those bloody scissors.
They’d fallen out of my sisters’ foot about six to eight inches from the pool of blood that’d congealed like raspberry jelly. I picked those scissors up and ran—Never run with scissors—to the bedroom I shared with my sister. From the top draw I pulled out an ugly dress my grandmother had given me—the material was nice, a shiny emerald green; the style was ugly—I ran back to the table and began cutting.
First, I cut it across the middle to turn it into a skirt and top. I then cut a foot off the bottom and pinned the hem, then the top of the skirt to be able to thread elastic through it. I cut the seams either side of the top, flipped it inside out and cut two inches off either side and pinned the seams. The neckline was an elastic peasant style, so I snipped a tiny hole into the fabric that housed the elastic, pinched the white band inside and pulled it through. Once I had enough between my thumb and index finger, I cut the elastic and checking it against my small frame for a fifteen-year-old, tied it off and thread the knot back into the band. Then I set the sewing machine up. Way back then in the 1970s, to have an electric sewing machine in my home was magic.
The fabric was thin and delicate, but after I filled the bobbin and threaded the needle, I got to work. Within fifteen-minutes I’d hemmed the skirt and top and sewn up the newly sized seams. I then had a problem. I needed more elastic for the skirt. What I’d cut from the neckline was too short, so I ran back to my bedroom, rifled through my draws and found an old pair of pyjama pants. They had holes in the knees and ass.
“Perfect,” I said testing the elastic, and ran back to the sewing machine.
I was running because I had no clue how long my parents would be, and my mother always got angry when she saw me with the sewing machine. I felt around the waistband of the pyjama pants for the knot. When I found it, I snipped a hole with the scissors, and pulled the elastic through, cutting it where the knot was. I’d just finished tying off and sewing up the hole in the waistband when I heard my dad’s car, and got the sewing machine packed up and put away before the engine stopped.
I’d gathered my emerald, green crime in my hands and raced to my room where I hid my new creation. I was performing a double check when I remembered the scissors. The clomp of footsteps neared the front door and with quick thinking, I grabbed the scissors and dropped them on the floor where I’d picked them up, then ran to my room and closed the door. I was lying on my bed reading when the front door to the house opened.
“It’s all right, Sass,” I heard my mother say, “we’ll just sit you… jeeze. You’d think Karen would’ve cleaned up the blood.”
“Leave it alone,” my dad said. “You look after Sass—”
“Look,” my mother said, “that’s her footprint in the blood.”
“You can’t know that—”
“It’s her footprint. I just know it is.”
“Okay, you’re upset,” my dad said. “You get Sass settled and I’ll clean this mess up.”
I was shaking, waiting for my door to open, and jumped to a seated position when it did. Thankfully it was dad.
“You alright?” he asked.
“Yes, dad,” I replied. “Is Sass alright?”
“Doctor said it looked worse than it was,” he said, then whispered, “Best stay in your room for a while, hey?”
“Okay,” I whispered as he closed the door again, but not before sending me a half smile.
After a while everything became quiet, with only the television breaking the silence, so I pulled my new fashion creation out from under my pillow and tried it on.
“Fantastic,” I thought, “even if I do say so myself.”
Over the years I altered a lot of secondhand clothing because generally the material was lovely, but the style was horrible. As a young adult I didn’t have much money. I didn’t live at home and liked to go clubbing, so I’d check out the fashion pages at doctors and dentist surgeries. When I saw something I really liked, I’d quickly draw it, and to say it was not to scale, or resembling the actual dress I wanted in any way, manner or form was an understatement, but my sketches were like short hand. I understood what they looked like and that was all that mattered.
I had purchased my own set of scissors that’s never, to my knowledge, tasted blood, and I had a secondhand electric sewing machine. when I went clubbing, I wore something new and original every time. I don’t have a photo of my emerald skirt and top, or of any of my other creations, but recall the last dress I made with perfect clarity.
It was 2001 and I’d seen a photo of a leather dress and I so wanted one. I’d been… lucky I suppose some people might call it, when it came to finding just the right thing at just the right time. I thank the universe for setting me on the right path to fulfill my desires. It was a Thursday and I worked. Friday was literally just around the corner, I could’ve bumped my nose against its edge, it was that close.
I went to a secondhand store with the leather dress in mind, but if all else failed there were other creations floating around in the old grey matter too. As I opened the door, standing upright in a tall box was a roll of black vinyl. My left heel was still crossing the threshold when I wrapped my hand around it.
“Four-dollars,” said the tag catching in the breeze as the door closed.
Couldn’t believe my luck. I should’ve by then, but the universe always amazes me.
“Thank you,” I said under my breath.
I looked the vinyl over carefully. It was cloth on the other side which meant no chafing, but as I looked it over, I realised the sewing machine would cut the vinyl. I don’t know what I looked like standing there with a tall roll of black vinyl in my hand, I didn’t care, then bam! I knew what to do to protect the material. I needed hemming tape and a zigzag stitch. The secondhand shop had the tape, I had the stitch.
When I got back to my apartment rolled the vinyl out on the carpet, pulled out my long sharp scissors from their draw and without a pattern, began to cut. Being that I was working with thick vinyl, I couldn’t hem the dress or arm pits in the usual way, so stitched up the seams with the tape to protect the vinyl, then I slipped the dress over my head to make sure it fit. It did.
I took it off and lay it on the carpet again and cut across the bottom in a straight line. I cleaned off the edges of the pits so there would be no snags and wrapped the tape around the hem and stitched it to the vinyl. I did the same with the pits and used hemming tape to create spaghetti straps that went over my shoulders. When I tried it on, it looked amazing, and I’d finished it in time for Friday night clubbing. Women were coming over and running their hands over the dress.
“Is this real leather,” they’d ask.
“I’ll never tell,” I said with a cheeky smile.
“You look like Courtney Love,” one man said as he approached my now partner and myself.
“Thank you,” I said reveling in the attention my new creation was attracting.
One night before I could afford my own sewing machine, I’d picked up a patch, it was quite small, of beautiful peach material I’d found that day at another secondhand store. I was bored watching TV, so grabbed my scissors and absently went to work. My intention was to make a strapless blouse with it, but when I measured it up against me, I found it was enough material to make a dress.
It took me two hours of hand sewing, and the dress was made to fit. No room for stretching. It too was appreciated my males and females alike. After my vinyl dress, I was disabled in a workplace accident and haven’t created anything since, but I still have those scissors. They remind me of what I am capable of, and of the moment I realized we would work together like two peas in a pod. Along with the howling cries of my sister and the pool of blood they, and I, were drawn to.
My mother never did get to use the sewing machine, and probably threw it away after I left home. But I remember my mother’s curses, my sisters cries and the scissors call, and I smile at the memories of the dresses those scissors and I created together.
(Drawing is not my thing, but I did my best with what I had, and… no blood was spilled.)