Sunday, November 29, 2020

The Perfect Fit and Tailor Made For You...

The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them. --George Bernard Shaw

My favorite tailor, from Karola, India, standing up, in Doha, Qatar. He owns a little shop with his brother called "The Union Ladies Tailor Shop."

First of all, I am not much of a seamstress (or as some are using the term "sewist"). I sewed when I was younger but usually wanted to create something more elaborate than my skill level. Perhaps I did not have the patience to always be plucking out stitches... My grandmother and mom would sometimes come to the rescue, and lovingly help put together the fabric pieces that sometimes were a complicated puzzle for me. 

I have learned that sewers and tailors are always observing, measuring. They inherently realize the possibility that something could have changed from the last time they calculated the measurements. Some lessons from people behind the sewing machine: They do not automatically surmise we are what we were when they saw us the last time. They adapt, reshape, modify, adjust, convert, and customize with the easy snip of their scissors and a run of stitches. Yet, they also have an understanding of the paramount responsibility to discuss new changes to be taken with the receiver. They do not only create beautiful apparel, but they repair, patch, and mend. They try to bring back to life our old treasures we do not want to discard. A tailor always has both precision and possibilities in his/her hands.

In my mind, they are design wizards of creating beauty out of boundlessness (all the fabric we give them) but also have the ability to remake the old. When you think about it, they are much more than the silent sewer behind a sewing machine. Stitch by stitch, they create the big vision. They are the mastermind of always seeing the scope of possibilities in the unshaped, the unformed, the misfit, and the unrepaired.

Living in the Middle East and China has rekindled a fascination with fabric for me. I have enjoyed creating some new clothes and restoring the old ones. I have a new appreciation for the world where people painstakingly sit for hours behind a sewing machine for their wages--often for too little money. Their craft means keeping the whims of others like me happy and content. And when they get it right and they know we approve, it makes them satisfied. Their toil was worth it.

When my son was getting married a year ago, I wanted to buy a dress for the auspicious day. I was living in Doha, Qatar at the time and spent many hours mall-walking to find the perfect dress. I try not to be too selective, but nothing appealed to my liking. I came home empty-handed each time. And then some friends invited me into a new world I had tread very seldom in my life. For them, the simple solution was to design a dress in your head you wanted. Bring a sketch or photo, and then visit the vast Doha fabric market. The material came from India, Korea, Britain, Italy, France, Africa, and of course the Middle East. The last step and hardest part of all: to find the right tailor that understands your idea and with magical precision, turns it into a reality. 

One night when my friend was driving to the fabric market, I felt like an excited child again--to walk down the fabric aisles and talk to the tailors. The tailors came from India, Pakistan, Egypt, Bangladesh, and Iraq. They spend long hours with a measuring tape around their necks, snipping with scissors that were about 18 inches long, and pumping their ancient metal sewing machines. As I began to show them pictures and ideas of dresses, we spoke in halted English together. My favorite term we both understood was "Same. Same"--meaning anything I found could be duplicated by them. With our abbreviated language, our hands flew out to talk, and the tape measure came out again and again. There was no pattern, just an eye for detail. Hopefully, with a picture, we both had our ideas on the "same-same" page. 😀

Driving home that night with my friend, we chatted happily about the fabrics, buttons, lace--the discovery of each find. Why was it so fun to design a dress instead of going to get a ready-made one in a store? To be sure, I went back several times to the tailor until they got it right. Sometimes their idea of "same" was not my idea of "same." But when the dress, suit, or shirt perfectly fit what I wanted, there was enough joy for both of us.

I then remembered a memory of my four-year-old self I had tucked into my memory long ago. My grandmother belonged to a ladies club where the winning raffle ticket was an appointment with a tailor. I have no recollection of why she generously gave me her opportunity to go choose some fabric and make a dress with a tailor. But she did. For a young child to walk down the aisles of striking, vibrant textures and colors was a new dream world. I still remember choosing a polka dot orange and white fabric with satin lining. The tailor not only made a dress but an elegant coat dress that matched. I was enchanted. Although I was only a child, I was intrigued by how a pile of material could transform into such exquisite beauty.

Forward many years when I entered this new world again: I was thrilled with the fabrics from all over the world. I could see how the tailors, (mostly men in the Middle East), meticulously labored to bring beauty into fruition. However, there are expert seamstresses are all over the world, in small corners and corridors, making the world better, more beautiful for someone else. Now I have more of a respect for the flow and cut of clothes, and the artists behind the scenes that try to get the perfect fit--that is "tailor-made" for their patron. I pay tribute to all those people behind the table, often sometimes way back in the shop behind the sewing machine. Thanks for teaching me how to alter and mend a little better--at least in my head.

           This is the picture of the final dress. It was cold so I had a jacket on in this one.

My friend, and a Bangladeshi tailor who made the "mother-in-law of the bride" dress.

              Rummaging through fabrics, sequined, feathered, pearl-laced. You can find it all in Doha.

                                    One of the dresses the Indian tailor made for me. Plain, but I like it.

                                                            Trying on some trimming....

                         Another friend who showed me the inner workings of the fabric world in Doha.

                                                   Beautiful embossed fabric from Italy 
                           Can't forget the bright red peacock feathers woven together...  I refrained. 😀

                                                                         Doha fabric market

                        Some fabric sellers who are trying to persuade me to busy some chiffon fabric

                                                           In the market in Marrakech, Morroco

                                                         Trims at the fabric market in Tianjin, China

                                           A store where wool for coats is sold in Tianjin, China

                                                      More bric-a-brac to choose from in Tianjin, China

                      This wholesale fabric seller only sells Cath Kidston material--in Tianjin, China.

Up close Cath Kidston fabric that I am going to piece together to make some aprons...

Sunday, November 1, 2020

On Human Touch and How to Make Words Shine....

Imagine my surprise when sent me a picture she had just painted for a local art contest in St. Louis with the theme of Human Touch. I met Sarah about 15 years ago when she was a new mother. She had put away her art brushes for a while but obviously has since brought them out again. Thanks, Sarah for continuing to speak your light with art.

We clasp the hands of those who go before us and the hands of those who come after us; we enter the little circle of each other's arms...  --Wendell Berry

In October 2014, after we had just moved to Doha, Qatar, there was an Eid holiday--a few days to holiday. We decided to head for Egypt. During that week, mostly in Cairo, we went to the famous Alabaster Mosque on the Citadel overlooking the city. During the time inside and then outside the mosque, there were some young girls that stayed with me for a while to practice their English. Joseph snapped a picture of us when I had to leave. The photo captures a marked moment for me--you might say a hinge point. Up until that point, I was nervous, a little scared, homesick. I had traveled a great deal before, but there had been much change at lightning speed in the previous month. I kept opening my eyes and remembered I was far away from home and all things familiar. That embrace in the picture changed my perspective for the new Middle East chapter that was beginning.

Although I am clearly the oldest person in the photo, there was this undeniable bonding that occurred in the hour we spent together. I have never forgotten the love I felt for those young Egyptian girls--so willing to befriend a stranger. Weeks before, I thought, I had just left everything: the old homestead house we had remodeled and painstakingly redone for 18 years was in the process of being sold, and family and loved ones were a world away. There were new smells, customs, traditions, and people I was trying to understand and decipher. It did not help that most people questioned our travel plans and kept saying, "You are going to Egypt?" Who would have thought a few Egyptian teenage girls could pour some courage in me?

The moment in time outside the Alabaster Mosque, high above the other minarets of Cairo, I can still remember because I was different when we unlocked arms. Those young girls gave me a precious gift in that hug where we are all snugly wrapped together in a long embrace. I felt pure love stream into my heart. Trepidation and uneasiness flew away. Light poured into the gaps or holes in my heart. Indeed human touch is healing. Pangs of sorrow can be swallowed up and grudges lifted. A feeling of connectedness with others comes with an embrace that can elude words. Holding someone's hand can bring needed solace that does not come in any other way.

This happened to me a month ago when I was about to get shoulder surgery. I had a few tears dripping down my face because I was thinking of my own father. One of the last times I saw him in this life, he was wearing a sling and waving goodbye to me from his porch. The head nurse saw my emerging tears and reached out her hand to me just before I received anesthesia. All she said was, "My name is Sarah" and then held my hand. Those were the last words I remember. But her words brought peace to a scared soul getting shoulder surgery in China. You see Sarah is a special name to me. It is my daughter's, daughter-in-law's, and mother-in-law's name. Plus, many other beloved Sarah's I have known. Holding her hand gave me courage when I needed it. 

In the hospital after the surgery, and Sarah who came to see me (in the headscarf). 

In these times of social distancing and isolation, I know many people are missing a warm embrace, or a "high five" to comfort them and give them strength. With that gap, we must all compensate more to fill the voids of those who are lonely, sad, and missing their "old world." Words, in the shape of our voice, whether it is spoken or written, can renew and transform a wobbly soul.

 I am trying to learn to use words to build bridges when I cannot give a hug to reassure, comfort, or make amends. I am trying to listen with devotion to who is in front of me and be more creative with my zoom calls. I am trying to connect with others, some of who are in long-ago previous chapters of my life. Currently, physical touch and connection can elude us, but we can use our voice to love in new and unprecedented ways. As Emily Dickinson says, "I know nothing in the world that has much power as a word. Sometimes I write one and look at it until it begins to shine." Also, I would add the words that spill from our mouths can shine too. They can give light to fill up crevices that have not seen the sun for a while. In these COVID times, we need all the rays we can get.