Monday, May 18, 2009

Mother's Day Magic

I have always loved to sew. Since my first class in 6th grade where we learn to sew a straight line on a piece white ruled paper.

Our first true project was a pin cushion with real cedar smelling sawdust stuffed into it. If you didn't have your pin cushion with you every sewing class you didn't sew. I guess that sewing teacher had picked up way too many straight pins off the floor.

My mother was a sewer, as was my grandmother. My daughters sew, and both own sewing machines. I think I inherited a gene for sewing. I love the look of those vintage Singer sewing machines. You know, the glossy black ones, with gold leaf lettering, and if you are lucky, some fancy metal decoration on the side plate. I have a treadle sewing machine (non electric) that works like a dream. I bought it when I was 21 & living in New Mexico. I dragged it home to NYC after a brief stint as a hippie in Albuquerque. I also own a 1927 portable singer that became mine when the woman I was renting my East 10th Street apartment from in the late '60's left for Esalen in California and bequeathed all her belongings in that apartment to us lucky sub-letters. It has travelled with me over the past 30 years. I have used it now and then, and even though it never sewed in reverse, it has sewed well. Until last Thanksgiving. I was sewing up a kitchy holiday apron when the motor started to run sluggish. I looked at it--a compact small black motor visible at the back of the machine, likely bakelite, and noticed a crack in the black housing, and a missing screw. I tried to jury rig the motor with cardboard shims so that I could finish the sewing project. I figured I could find a repalcement screw at Liberty Tool in Liberty, Maine (they seem to have all things in the vintage hardware category). And there is usually some hardware seeker there willing to tell you just what you need and how to use it. I knew I would have to make a repair sooner or later.

Well later came this Mother's Day. I felt I was needing a mission to save me from feeling pathetic with my daughters being 100's of miles away in NYC. I called a neighbor who had told me she knew of a sewing machine repair place nearby. But she and her husband have 10 children and numerous grandchildren between them, and I wasn't surprised when she didn't answer. I left a message, but didn't expect to hear back from here anytime soon. I headed for the internet and google-ed "vintage sewing machine repair Maine". Why not. A long list popped up. I checked out the first listing and it looked great but was in Alabama. This didn't look hopeful. I decided to try one more listing and bingo! Klaus Heimann, Midcoast Energy Systems, Route 1, Damariscotta Me, (next to Reunion Station Restaurant)(207) (only 15 miles from us) came up.

"Hey honey," I cooed to my husband. "Want to take a ride to Damariscotta? We could drive down the peninsula for lobster." I told him about the sewing machine repair guy on the way and he was amenable. He had to be. It was Mother's Day and I was the mother who made him a father. I packed the somewhat weighty Singer portable into the back seat of the car, and we set out to the repair shop.

As we got closer, I decided we better call to make sure Klaus was going to be home. It was Sunday, and Mother's Day, and maybe he had a mother too. As a matter of fact we were minutes away when I reached him on the phone. "Hello. Is this Klaus?" I asked. Klaus, with the accent to go along with that name, answered, "yes, I repair sewing machines. Where are you?" I think he meant, where in the world are you, but I was able to astound him with "I think I'm in your driveway." "Oh", he answered evenly, "do you have the machine with you?"

My husband carried the machine up to Klaus's compact workshop/apartment. There were numerous sewing machines around. One looked very much like mine. Without wasting a lot of time on chit-chat Klaus identified the problem. The motor was cracked and the plate covering for the bobbin was missing. He said he could do the repair. And since he didn't have much room, he would have it done in 24 hours. Now it was my turn to be astounded. This is unheard of where I come from (NJ). I expected to hear mutterings about ordering parts... not going to be easy.... maybe a couple of weeks.... hours of labor, etc. I left, delightfully hopeful, with my husband. Reassured the machine was in good hands, we went for our lobsters.

When we got home at about 5 pm that afternoon there was a message on my phone answer machine. It was Klaus. Uh, oh, I thought to myself. I new this was too good to be true. I returned the call and it was good news. Klaus said the machine was finished, he was able to use parts from a machine he had on hand. He said he made a new key to replace the missing one that opened the bentwood case, he replaced the bobbin cover plate, he replaced the malfunctioning bobbin winder, and the motor. It was when he described the repaired machine as a "working vintage masterpiece" that I could imagine dollar signs rolling in my eye sockets like in a Looney Toons cartoon. This was going to be expensive. "When can you pick it up?"

He said he was an early riser and wanted to know when we could pick up the machine the next day. I suggested 10:30 am wanting to give him some time, and he said "No. I want to work on my boat, how about 9 am." So, 9 am next day my husband and I arrived at his door. I'm was a little worried that he might have slapped a new motor on my black beauty. I've seen that done on vintage machines offered at tag sales. It looks awful. But not to worry. The motor was exactly like the original broken one. The repairs were flawless. The machine was in fact a working vintage master piece. And best of all, it cost $116 parts and labor included.

We walked out of Klaus's shop, my husband carrying the machine, looking like the cat that swallowed the canary. "Can you believe it," he said. "That would have cost $500 anyplace else!". In his mind, this was too good to be true! He loves a good deal. In my mind, I couldn't wait to get home and see how it worked. I wasn't disappointed. It sounds great when it runs. It purrs but like a sewing machine. It's inspired me to pick up the pieces of a quilt I had struggled to finish for years and finish it. I've named the quilt "Out of the Blue". Acknowledging not only the colors used, but as an homage to the fortuitous encounter with Klaus Heimann.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Spring has sprung

May 1st here in Washington and I can't figure out what has been going on weatherwise. The snow is gone, the lake has thawed and we've had what, summer weather for a couple of days? Daytime temperatures near 80 degrees. Windows open, sweaters shed, and lawn furniture dusted off. Not that I'm complaining.......

(photo) Manure deal goin' down on nearby Black Locust Farm

Listened to "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver on tape. Truly inspiring. And what a treat listening to the author read her work in that drawly southern voice of hers. The website dedicated to this book is full of great info

My neighbor and very knowledgeable sustainable gardening guru, Sharon, has led 4 of us local wanna-bes clammering for more and more ways to enrich the soil, boost the harvest, protect the environment to attend weekly sessions at her house. Best lessons learned:
Throw away your rototiller! New think has it that leaving what's there is best, ammending on top of the soil rules and, what's in the ground is good and needs to be nourished--bugs, micro-organisms, bacteria and all.
Manure is something to be sought after. High on my priority list: cultivating friendships with neighbors who can supply the stuff. Don't share this info with too many people or there will be none left for you!
Dried up autumn leaves are a good thing. Gold in fact. Remember those landscapers who used large portable annoyingly loud blowing tools strapped to their backs to blow perfectly good shredded leaves from the lawn to the the street? Fools! That's the stuff mulch dreams are made of. Remember the real estate mantra location, location, location? Compost, compost, compost. There's just never enough of the stuff. And think of the dollars that can be saved by creating your own. Almost everything is fair game for the compost pile. What was commonly called garbage when I was a child can now be called compost. We're just about fighting over old newspapers up here to use in the garden. The wiley white beared attendant at Washington Recycling Center has got to be scratching his head and wondering why these women are asking for permission to dive into the recylced newspaper dumpster to take newspapers away! Why? Compost! Layered gardening!
Seed catalogues take priority over any NY Times best seller. Seductive color images of the best vegetables and flowers you could possible cultivate. And detailed information about how to plant, when to plant, how to heal.
It's never too early to start a garden in Maine. Indoors that is. My Wal-Mart spade didn't dent the top of the soil in my garden because the ground was still frozen rock hard. But fellow classmates dazzled me with descriptions of heating lamps, night vigils over new green shoots, the perfect organic potting soil for starting seedlings (must have sea kelp in it) best recycled containers for sprouts, and planting schedules. Oh my. So little time with so much to do especially with such a short growing season in Maine. Yikes.

Looking to Thoreau to justify a modest start, I plan to simplify. Keeping my goals small and hopefully achieveable. Two 4x4 feet spaces will contain my household garden. I can expand next spring if I want/need to based on lessons learned this year. I will layer newspaper, compost, soil and mulch right over (yes, Lenny) the grass, and plant there. I will continue to amend the soil over the growing season and pray for worms. I may even buy worns, the red kind, that eat faster than the fat guy at a pie eating contest to work on my very own compost. I will buy already sturdy early plants to sink into this newly prepared gardern. And I will work toward becoming a locovore, buying and eating what is produced locally, if not from my garden, lovingly by real people, not corporate farmers, within a 100 mile radius. Thank god for the amazing Farmers Markets here in Maine.

Not to take away from all the enthusiasm out there about home gardens done naturally, I have to confess that I am truly a flower gardener at heart. I will plant as much space as I can in annuals that I can cut and bring inside. I look forward to the black eyed susans that will line the path to the lake, and the hollyhocks growing against our red shed. I plan to grown sunflowers, the big ones. for the first time. I even bought a packet of seeds that are called Flowers to Attract Beneficials to the Garden. Good bugs and bees that is. Who will help to feed the birds and bats and keep bad bugs at bay. Its all in the balance, you see. Then no need for serious assualt on any bugs--well maybe Japanese beetles or black flies. But even they have their role in the big scheme of things. We'll see. I just learned from an email that my David Austen roses have been sent by Fed Ex and are due any day now. Can't wait for those!