Among the relics of my sewing days, I found just one blue spool of thread. Otherwise, I have the basics for mending: black, white, and beige. Once an avid sewer, never a full-fledged seamstress, I made dresses, little boy suits, pinch-pleated drapes – even my wedding gown.
When we moved, I culled my patterns from Simplicity and Vogue, saving just a few sentimental ones; for several years my portable sewing machine has stayed stashed under the laundry room table. You can see some other patterns by clicking here.
Recently, I read Anne Tyler’s latest novel, A Spool of Blue Thread, which inspired this post. Then I reviewed the book, not that Tyler, a Pulitzer Prize winning author of twenty books needs a boost with my review. Typically, the reviews are for me and other readers. I review a book to preserve my thoughts, or record quotations I like, so I can retrieve them if/whenever I feel the urge.
My review begins . . .
Anne Tyler’s latest novel (2016) is not about sewing unless you count the spool of thread on the cover.
A Spool of Blue Thread, the novelist’s twentieth, stitches together four generations of the Whitshank family within the sprawling, lovingly constructed Baltimore house, their anchor through the passage of time from the Depression era into the early 21st century.
You can read my entire review, if so inclined:
“Keep holding the thread, observing how it meanders,” says this instructive verse by William Stafford, a poem that appeared serendipitously just as I began reading Tyler’s book.
My Takeaway: Whether you or others understand what’s going on in your life circumstances, just never let go.There may be mystery and perplexity; just don’t let go of the thread.
What is the thread in this poem, I wonder.
Your purpose? A God-ordained plan? Something else?
Do you have a spool of thread, maybe blue or black or ________?
Next week: Blogger friend Kathy Pooler hosts me on her website with “How Blogging About my Family Led to a Book.”
I still have a box of patterns and they are fun to look at. I too made my own wedding dress (skirt and blouse actually), and an embroidered vest for my husband for the occasion. Looking back, we leaned just a wee bit “hippy” in the era.
Two of our daughters have done a lot of sewing–but rarely to make clothes for themselves. Michelle excels in creating ideas her boys have of what they’d like to be for Halloween, into full fledged costumes: like a barn and silo last year!! She also has a large stuffed “Rabid Pear” sitting in her basement family room. Doreen has made many home decorating items like tablecloths, coasters, napkins, placemats. And I now possess the sewing machine that we once gave Tanya for a present. (Gave all 3 girls sewing machines at various points.) She never went very far with her sewing, and I rarely use mine anymore. Sorry if this “thread” went a different direction down memory lane for me!
Good morning, Melodie. You know I like when threads twist and turn; that’s the beauty of blog commenting.
Your daughters are all gifted; at least one, I think, has followed your footsteps with a writing/editing career. I wonder if you ever mentioned (or shown) that vest for the groom in a blog post. If not, I’d surely love to see it. Sewing for my husband began and ended with the blue, terry cloth robe though I have mended and sewn on buttons quite a few times.
I notice you are the first commenter today, and you’re retired! Thanks for all this, including the image of a barn and silo Hallowe’en costume!
Clinging to that piece of thread is what gets me out of bed each morning. Great review of Anne’s book, Marian. I’m looking forward to reading it, too.
I appreciate your commenting again today, knowing you have a lot of threads to hang onto these days. You’ll relish Anne Tyler’s book. We writers must fuel our writing with reading, a nice balance. Enjoy your Wedneday, Jill!
Good morning, Marian! I don’t sew at all, so what you’ve made in the past sounds like seamstress level to me.
The Anne Tyler book sounds like one I might like. As for threads–well, you know I’m all about weaving metaphorical strands together. 🙂
I look forward to reading your interview on Kathy’s blog.
Yes, your metaphorical strands often weave in sky–sun, moon, and stars, a “thread” in your work I find fascinating, Merril. About the “seamstress” level observation: One of my friends makes shirts for her husband that look like they come from Brooks Brothers. Outfits for her granddaughters could make a high-end catalog. I guess the definition depends on whom you compare yourself to – ha!
What a lovely, creative review, Marian! I have sewing thread but not a large variety of it. Just purple, cream, and pink. But I have a ton of yarn in all colors. As for my God-ordained purpose, I’m pursuing that!
Your yarn creations are a “thread” of creation all their own. Yes, indeed, you are pursuing your God-ordained purpose, and your readers definitely benefit from that! Thanks, L. Marie.
I will add to this thread of thoughts. When still in college as a grad student (after Marian and I had met over Christmas vacation) the fuel oil ran out in the apartment/house I was renting with three other students.
That particular January in South Carolina the temperatures were way below freezing, including the inside of our rental. Marian’s desire to make me a blue robe for a surprise birthday present came in–more than handy–an extra garment to keep me from freezing.
Today I am still thankful for her blue thread in the Terry Cloth bathrobe. She had no idea it would help sew our future lives together! (See second pattern to the left in the spread of various clothing patterns above)
I thought about stitching in that robe story, but decided against it. Thanks for adding it here, my dear! I may put a haiku I wrote with the robe on Facebook soon. 🙂
I love the Stafford poem and have shared it with others. I also love the cover of the Anne Tyler book. I like to imagine how they did the photo shoot. I can hear the conversation. “How do we find a real wooden spool, not the plastic kind they sell now? How about sending a messenger down to the garment district to one of those fabrics and notions stores.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEvGa-kSO5Q
Shirley, when I clicked on the link, the narrator began talking about thousands of rolls of Spandex fabrics, which reminded me how much I enjoy your expanding the topic, extending the conversation here. (I left a comment with a link to this post. You just never know!)
The last time I visited Harlem, NYC, I was handing out gospel tracts with a friend from Bossler Mennonite!
Thanks for noticing, paying attention, one of your great gifts. The Anne Tyler cover caught my eye browsing the library. Yes, how the cover developed is worth pondering. The layout people could have scouted for a “real” spool, or some clever designer may have morphed white plastic into wooden. As I said, you just never know.
Oh my. I have very similar patterns and just saved the special ones. I had a bathrobe pattern like yours and used it so many many times it was falling apart and taped together. I sewed a lot over the years but stopped when I started to write seriously. I didn’t even bring a sewing machine to Spain but gave mine to my daughter. I love Anne Tyler’s books. Your review was excellent.
We could be a writers’ version of the Bobbsey Twins: Former sewers who stitch together words instead of fabric. Thank you for commenting here, and for “Liking” the book review, Darlene!
Your post brought to mind many fond memories of my mom sewing for me and my 3 sisters long ago. She was dedicated, fast and creative!
As far as the metaphorical thread, I think it’s God’s never ending love, imbuing and supporting us as we greet and close each of our days.
Thanks for your review as well; I’m going to add Tyler’s book to my list.
How interesting that your mother was dedicated, creative, and fast. I noticed that last word because fast sewing has never been my forte. You’ll enjoy the current Tyler book; her descriptions always bowl me over. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Kas!
In my unpacking in order to pack I found a single cotton reel of a golden thread. I put the unpacked things including that cotton into a box for my housekeeper who sews. Now I’m thinking of that cotton reel in another metaphorical way Marian – thank you. Jane now has it with my unspoken blessing and I will tell her of it when I see her tomorrow. I have to ‘explain (to her) about the thread’ and I know she will love this story.
Jane apparently is more than a housekeep if you share threads and stories with her. You really need a housekeeper these days with you moving and then re-arranging. More power to you, Susan. And, don’t forget to take breaks!
Readers, here’s a link to Susan’s post this week that synchronizes with this theme: https://www.gardenofedenblog.com/packing-up-is-hard-to-do/
Thanks Marian – yes Jane is special, she’s been with our family for 36 years. Breaking up is hard to do – her employment with us is officially over, but she’s staying on and will work for the new tenants. Packing up and re-packing to take personal stuff with us on our journey is also hard to do!
Thanks for the follow-up here, Susan. You must be bone-tired, rather like creating a book, both physical and emotional.
Thirty-six years with Jane is a long time, longer than most marriages – ha! Your friendship can continue in other forms; I’m sure you’ll find a way.
I’m sure we’ll visit Johannesburg and stay in an Airbnb – we were saying the other day that she must come with us to our new destination- she finds EVERYTHING we always misplace – you know, the usual – car keys wallets glasses briefcases 😀 I’ll let my new tenants know who’ve met her once and already like her.
Don’t let go of the thread is a great message. I like your photo of you sewing supplies. Not letting go can mean many things, literal and figurative.
Cyber setbacks might faze you (a little, anyway) but you never let go of the thread. You do such a great job of make the abstract literal, I wouldn’t mind a bit to hear your version sometime. Blog idea?
Marian — After reading your post and your review on Goodreads, I’ve added A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD to my must-read list. Thank you for the recommendation.
For sure, reading fuels your writing life, as I observe often on Goodreads. I’d like to know what you think of the book, at some point.
Loved your poem, it reminded me of my mother and caused some reminiscing. As a young person in Ukraine under the communist rule, my mother took a sewing course so she wouldn’t have to do the physical labor in the fields. That was how she got introduced to my dad and that was her thread which she never let go.
Later in life, she worked hard to keep eight children not just dressed, but looking nicely dressed. After the children left, and the grandchildren weren’t there yet, she worked as a seamstress for Sears. When the grandchildren came, she sewed for them, and made many wonderful stuffed toys.
Of course, she’d choose sewing over labor in the fields, smart woman, and she sustained interest through several generations. What a tangible legacy. By the way, I doubt that Sears employs many seamstresses any more, as most of the dressmaking is probably outsourced. Thanks you for this heart-warming story, Elfrieda!
iinteresting how so many chose the same patterns but with their own interpretations when they(we) chose the fabrics and trims.
That’s the beauty of sewing–custom-made results, always! Nice to see you here, Brenda. Thanks for the comment.
I used to love to sew and miss it every now and then. I gave my sewing machine to my granddaughter and know she will make good use of it one day. I planning on reading what sounds like a great book.
How lucky your granddaughter wants to sew, and you can pass your machine on to her. In our family, I think the sewing stops with me.
Enjoy the rest of your Virginia summer with a good book, Joan! 🙂
Marian, I enjoyed this post so much! I too made my wedding dress and lots of my college and work clothes, but turned to quilting later in life. I haven’t sewn a stitch in quite a while but still have my machine and thread galore. Must downsize! Also, a collection of patterns resides in boxes on the shelf of my sewing room closet. Another downsizing area.
I love Tyler’s beautiful book and review does it justice in each word. And you’ve quoted my favorite William Stafford poem. Stafford was poet laureate in OR (don’t remember years), and know his son, Kim, carries on his father’s legacy by sharing about his poems and writing life in short documentaries on our public TV station. So much of your post joined our lives together in a variety of ways!
What I like about blogging is learning from other readers like you, filling in the gaps. I did not know Stafford, poet laureate, was from Oregon. And most of all, I value the camaraderie writers feel as we read and record our thoughts, often feeling synchronicity.
Although I’ve never quilted, writing has replaced sewing as a creative outlet. It’s so good to hear from you, Sherrey. Thank you!
I remember your beautiful wedding dress and the pattern for it you shared on an earlier post and how impressed I was by it. I love your little sewing basket and it looks like you even have a crochet square there.
I have also read your review on A Spool of Blue Thread and I’ve decided to get it on my Kindle for my next read. I think it is a great idea to write reviews to keep a record of your thoughts on a novel. Thank you for sharing it here.
We have been friends for quite a while if you remember that post! My Grandma Longenecker gave me the sewing basket, so its eons old, but I cherish it and it stays!
It’s always good to hear from you, Fatima!
It is terrifying to see how fast time flies by! I have now bought book! 👍
You too! I thought maybe I was the only one who feels this sensation. If time flies by, I guess we must make the most of it, as you and “Adonis” are doing.
Happy reading, Fatima, and thanks for the follow-up comment!
Marian, It’s funny you read the Tyler novel. I read it last month. Although I am a big fan and loved “Breathing Lessons,” I could not get through the final pages…I felt it dragged and dragged. The parents were so annoying… the girl following him to Baltimore until he was forced to deal with her. Yikes, I felt Tyler was somewhere in an old woman’s frame of mind when she wrote that novel. From a technical standpoint, I enjoyed how she effortlessly switched POV and also used the omniscient narrator POV.
I, too, remember the Simplicity patterns. A nightmare returns of Home Economics class in 8th grade and trying to sew that straight line for that A-Line skirt. The teacher said it wasn’t straight enough and made me rip it all out and start over. Thus, ended this girl’s interest in ever sewing again.
Thanks for your analysis of Tyler’s book, Susan. Actually, I agree with you; I felt the book was too long. About 3/4 the way through I skipped pages probably because I intuitively felt the “drag” too. I’ve noticed I tend to glamorize the book I’m reading at the moment. Thank you for pointing out my glossing over this.
About Home Ec class: It sounds like your teacher had the my-way-or-the-highway point of view, not good for beginning sewers. The negative probably etches a more indelible imprint on our young lives than the positive. Anyway, you found your creative niche in writing. That’s what counts!
Blue! Hang on to that thread. I haven’t read that Anne Tyler novel, so thanks for the tip. It’s my summer for enjoyable and entertaining books. With threads, my mind goes to the stories of the Greek Fates and Atropos who cuts the thread of life. I was a seamstress years ago. I learned to sew because my mom would let me buy fabric but when she paid for my clothes it had to be practical and usually brown. I wanted red and blue. I wanted saturated colors. Not practical from my mom’s perspective, so I learned to sew. It was great when my kids were little, but now my small Singer portable is rarely used even for patching. The thread to my land, sons, and Vic remains strong. So much else feels tenuous in this life as I learn to navigate a new world of healing. “Just keep going / No feeling is final.”
Maybe your recent blog post reminded me of the Three Fates, and now you mention it again. I’m guessing, but I think Clotho spins the thread, Lachesis measures it, and then Atropos goes “Snip!”
I don’t associate you with the color brown, Elaine. Cardinal red or bluebird blue seems more natural choices for you. My portable Singer is stored away too, now in the laundry room. You and I would rather stitch words together. Yes?
I just read Susan’s comments about The Blue Thread. It sounds like I should try ‘Breathing Lessons’ instead.
Breathing Lessons is a great choice. It’s a classic, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1989. I had the hardback, which I gave away when we moved. Like many of her other books, Breathing Lessons is set in Baltimore. What’s left on my shelf, Saint Maybe and Back When We were Young.
Happy reading, Elaine! I’m glad you are taking the summer off for self-care. 🙂
My spool of thread is “red” of course, as it’s the blood of Jesus, His redemption thread; first through His word the Bible and then when I accept Him as my Lord and Savior and throughout my life….good way to put it and He never lets go of me or I Him through the power of His grace! It reminds me that I have another post to wrote and that will make 32? I think so…..thanks for sharing and I’m going to read your review too right now….
Thank you for this testimony of redemption, Cactus Flower! I too can relate to the cleansing power of His grace. Red thread is a good metaphor for the touch of Grace.
Full speed ahead for you blogging!
This post is deep and intense and hit me (gently) to the core. I love Stafford’s poem, probably because it’s realistic, yet poetic and life-affirming, in a way. I’m not a sewer (or knitter, sad to say) but when I close my eyes, my thread seems golden. And yes, I’m hangin’ on for dear life.
Every writer’s dream: “This post is deep and intense and hit me (gently) to the core.” Wow, Pam, and thanks!
You pursue the art and craft of writing to the hilt. I see your thread as golden too. Sometimes I visualize you on a sun-drenched island, but I think you actually live in the Northeast. Yes, we are hangin’ on for life we hold dear! 🙂
My Spirit lives on the sun-drenched island (and my body is there in February). The rest of the time, I’m in the Boston area (unless I close my eyes and visit that island). 🙂 🙂 Hoping your book is coming along – can’t wait to read it!
Glad you are free-spirited, the best way to be!
On Tuesday, I’m expecting a UPS truck to deliver my soft cover “proof.” I plan to deliver more details in a memoir update soon. Thanks for asking!
WOW!!! YAY!!! Getting that proof in the mail is an amazing moment, Marian. Breathe it all in and enjoy every second.
I will, I shall. Probably Cliff will take a picture. I appreciate your sharing my excitement, so generous of you, my friend! 😀
Sounds like a good book.. .and good advice too from you. (I once sewed myself onto my bed cover at boarding school – that’s how bad I am at sewing!!)
Ha Ha! I can’t imagine how you managed that sewing snafu – wow! Thanks, Fiona, for adding some spice here.
I like the word “thread” in its symbolical fashion, as it reminds me of a “red herring” in a book or that thread to hold onto, the one that guides you through life, whether you know it or not. I have to wonder why the author chose the color blue for her story.
No physical threads for me, as I can barely sew a button back on my clothes! Luckily, I’ve always had a loved one around to help out (my oma in Belgium before she passed away, and my mother-in-law in the US). Not that I need help often, as my clothes seem to last for ages.
I guess we are not slaves to fashion, Liesbet. Like you, my clothes seem to last for ages.
As to Tyler’s choice of the color blue. In this culture, at least, blue has often been associated with truth, as in the expression “true blue,” — my best guess.
I really enjoyed A Spool of Blue Thread – I’ve been an Anne Tyler fan for many years. Great review and tie-in, Marian!
Tyler’s books were the ones I could relax to after a long day teaching and grading papers. Like you, I’m a Tyler fan and have probably read more than half of her novels. Thanks for joining the conversation here, Barbara. 🙂
I loved going to the fabric store and looking at the pattern books. My sewing box is filled with coloured thread. I tried sewing, but after a few dresses, I gave up. I wasn’t very good at it. 🙂
The brain loves colour. So, even if you don’t make dresses, you can enjoy the spools of thread, maybe as artifacts. At the very least, you are good at visualization in the fabric store. Thanks for sharing your point of view here, Jenn!
I have often wondered if my love of the fabric store contributed to my love of papercrafts…colour, texture, print, etc. Lol
But, of course . . . maybe even to the napkins and tablecloths on your tea table – ha!