The Story of Sandra

When I was finished writing the book and sitting down to add the little extras, I thought long and hard to search my gut and create a dedication that was fitting of the word: a brief note that gave credit to the individual(s) most responsible for the book coming into the world, and who I wanted most to see the book as a gift to them–not just a copy, but the content.  I wanted to dedicate the book as a way of thanking someone for giving me the inspiration and the support and the incentive to go through the long nights and the deadlines and the ripping out seams and the totally trashing entire patterns and starting again from scratch.

My husband was the obvious choice.  He put up with night after night of me coming to bed long after he had dozed off.  He made sympathetic faces when I complained about the tension settings on my machine or hunted for the perfect needle or asked his opinion on fabric combinations for the thousandth time–very convincing sympathetic faces, so well-done that I nearly believed he knew what I was talking about, which made me love him even more deeply.

There was one other name, though, that I couldn’t shake, someone who I truly felt deserved some of the credit for putting me in a place where I was able to even be offered the opportunity to write a book (one of my childhood dreams): Sandra.

What, you heard it, too?  Angels, singing?  Harp music?  Yeah, I know.  Happens every time I say her name.  Sandra (harp music, angels sing).

I never actually met Sandra (Sandraaaaa).  I only know her through my sewing.  When I was pregnant with our second child, my husband and I were driving around together, as we liked to do before we were outnumbered by our children.  We would look at neighborhoods and houses and the sky and talk about random things, which would lead to talking about serious things, which would lead to making jokes, which would invariably make me feel closer to my husband than almost anything else I can imagine.  On this particular drive, I announced out of pretty much nowhere: “Um, honey, the thing is: I’m not going back to work.”

Pause.

My husband, bless him, was very supportive and understanding and accepting–this wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision, and we’d discussed it previously, so he kinda knew it was coming.  But this was the Decision, and I think he took it exceedingly well, considering.  He did say, though, “Ahem.  OK, well, y’know if you ever thought about, y’know, like, starting a business, or whatever, now would be a good time since there’s no, y’know, opportunity cost. Or whatever.”  He’s usually much more articulate than that, so I could tell that he was feeling some anxiety about the idea of a new baby and only one paycheck coming in each month.

My reply:  “Honey, if I were to work for myself, the only thing I can really be trusted to do, unsupervised, for eight hours a day, is sew.  Anything else and I’m likely to end up watching Oprah or something.”  My mother designed children’s clothing for fifteen years, so it was easy for me to picture myself sewing away in our basement and starting up a little cottage industry.  In order to do that, though, I knew I’d need new equipment.

My 1969 Singer sewing machine, which weighs about a gazillion pounds, makes two stitches: straight and zigzag.  No buttonhole function, no specialty stitches.  It is still the most reliable and consistent machine I’ve ever owned, but when left to my own devices, my buttonholes are decidedly mediocre.  Add to that the expectation of the shopping public that seams be serged on the inside, and I knew I needed both a new sewing machine and a serger.  I had a life insurance policy my mother had purchased when I was little, and which she’d given me to cash in as seed money for the business–not a ton of money, but enough to invest in good equipment.  So I did my research, found the machine I most wanted in all the world, and did what any frugal-minded girl on a budget does: I went to eBay.

I searched and compared and watched and finally found just what I wanted: a Viking sewing machine with embroidery attachment plus a Huskylock serger, all in one listing.  It was being sold by a man in South Carolina on behalf of his mother, and it was just what I was looking for.  I started to play the eBay game of bid-a-little, wait-a-little, but it was late at night and I knew I only had so much cash, so I set my top bid and went on to bed.  When I woke up in the morning, I was the winner, with only one other bidder.  Fools didn’t know what they missed out on, cause I picked a cherry of an auction.

Or so I thought, until I saw the shipping costs.  $188 to ship from the next state??  What?!?!  This was back when gas was cheap, so I did a little math: to drive over and pick it up would cost me roughly $14.50.  Ahem.

I contacted the seller, asked him if he’d be willing to let me drive over and collect my purchase, and he jumped at the chance–turns out he wasn’t all that enthusiastic about packing up electronic equipment and shipping it on to me, anyway.  He told me he’d “throw in some other stuff” as a thank-you.  I don’t think I’d hung up the phone before I’d thrown the kids in the car and burned rubber out of the driveway to go find out what “other stuff” might be coming my way.

I arrived in South Carolina in my station wagon and met the seller at his storage unit.  His mother, Sandra (Sandraaaaa), was either no longer with us or was in assisted living–I didn’t think it was polite to ask which.  He had moved all her belongings up from where she used to live in Central Florida and put them in storage, and was gradually going through them.  So he had not only the machines and their attachments, but a couple dozen embroidery programs, a dozen cardboard boxes filled–FILLED–with notions and books and patterns and thread and trims and whatnot, and a folding cutting table on casters that we strapped to the roof of my car with twine before I peeled out of the parking lot, hoping to high-tail it home before he changed his mind.  I’d struck the mother lode.

I got home and began gleefully going through my prizes.  It was like Christmas morning for a sewing nerd.  I got out the machines, plugged them in and verified they both worked (score!), and began to dig through the boxes.  I noticed something wrong pretty quickly, though.  Not only did I only have one foot pedal and two machines–and both of them certainly came with their own foot pedal–but I had 400 (seriously, FOUR HUNDRED) spools of thread in clear acrylic boxes organized by color family, and only one bobbin.  Since the one bobbin I did have had the color number written on the side in Sharpie, I was fairly sure that there were more–and I knew there was another foot pedal.  So I got back in touch with the seller.

“No problem!” he assured me.  “Must be another box in there that I missed.  Gimme a few days, I’ll find it and be in touch.”

I chewed my nails for over a week.

“Good news!  I found a couple more boxes. If you want to drive over and pick ‘em up, I got this electronic lift sewing table that I’ll throw in for $100.”

[Tires squeal as I race out of driveway, telephone dangling from that curly cord out my driver's side window.]

I get back home, with my wagon loaded down with more boxes–nearly another dozen, this time.  We were forced to disassemble the sewing table to fit it in the car (it was ONE centimeter too large to fit, I kid you not), so I dragged it out and put it all back together.  I opened the small storage drawers, and lo and behold there are the foot pedal AND the bobbins.  So WHAT was in all these boxes?

Sandra was.  [Sandraaaaa!]  Those boxes contained bits of her life and her passion and her personality, and I got to know her by going through them and “reading” the pieces, like an archaeologist.  I learned three things about her by doing that:

  1. Sandra did not have a day job.  No one who has this much sewing paraphernalia, and this many finished sewing projects (as evidenced by the patterns she’d made for herself, then tucked into 5×7 envelopes and labelled with the pattern type plus a swatch of the fabric she used to stitch it up) has time to work a full-time job.  She was clearly passionate–her son had told me she “really loved it,” and the evidence sure supported that.
  2. Sandra’s husband realllly loved her.  No one who doesn’t work outside the home has this much stuff unless they have a patron who adores them.  That electronic lift sewing table?  Original price tag was still on it.  When Sandra got it, she paid $1098.00.  Whoo-boy. She had every sewing tool under the sun–some of which I’d never seen before–and was a Swatch of the Month Lifetime Member.  Her husband clearly thought she was the bee’s knees.
  3. Sandra LOVED to sew.  Made her own patterns and stored them lovingly? Check.  Used commercial patterns and folded them neatly to store in manila envelopes with the original art taped to the front, complete with swatch?  Check.  Dipped her toes in every sewing technique currently known to man, from clothing to quilting to smocking to hand embroidery to machine embroidery to silk ribbon embroidery to cross stitch to applique?  Check.  Read voraciously about fabric properties and sewing techniques?  Check.  She was a powerhouse.

Now, Sandra’s taste level and mine are not the same.  She was an older woman from Central Florida with a rounded waistline–I know this because she had her own size labels printed up to sew inside her clothing, along with her name.  She was inordinately fond of puce and country blue.  She made sweatshirts with 3D flower vases of silk ribbons (anyone else remember those gems of the early 90s?).  She did a lot of embroidery that featured little girls in bonnets pushing wheelbarrows.  She used a lot of polyester and fleece.  So, she and I didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye when it came to design aesthetics.

But she inspired me then, and she inspires me now.  To be so passionate, to be so bold, to care so much really takes sewing out of the realm of the utilitarian and into the realm of the artistic.  She was crafty–no fewer than three hot glue guns in various sizes–but she was also an artist and a giver (she made frequent presents for the children in her life, who I certainly hope were grateful for her efforts).  Sandra and I talked a lot in those early days, along the lines of, “Now, Sandra.  What is THIS gadget?” or, “Um, Sandra, I don’t really know what to do here–what would YOU do?”  She never judged me, she never laughed at me, and she almost always had some book or resource or gadget or supply buried in those boxes to help me move my sewing from where it was to the next level.  She was terrifically instrumental in making me the stitcher I am today, and in opening my eyes to all the many, many ways needle and thread can be used to create beauty.

Thanks, Sandra, wherever you are.  This book’s for you.

54 Comments on “The Story of Sandra

  1. It’s really a beautiful story, Deborah. It touched my hearth. I wish I lived closer to Atlanta to see your shop and meet you. You are amazing.

  2. Awww, what a great story. I loved it and simply LOVE that you dedicated your book to her.

  3. I LOVE this story. My Sandra was my grandmother, Annie E. Young. When I cook, stitch or write anything I feel her with me cheering me on.

  4. I love that you dedicated the book to Sandra. I remember you telling that story in a class I attended at Beehive. Soooooooo sweet!

  5. have you been able to get back in touch with her son and tell him this ? I cannot imagine what it would mean to him

  6. Thanks so much for sharing that amazing story!! What a special woman she was and what a great way to spread her legacy. I too bought my Janome from an elderly lady who only used it once…she was so sweet and was really thrilled to see me so excited!! I can’t wait to see your book…I am sure it will be great!!

  7. Awesome story. Reading this gave me goosebumps – the highlight of my day! Thanks so much for sharing.

  8. That was a great story. How lucky you were to find Sandra. And how lovely that her passion for sewing has lived on.

  9. The world would have had an unfilled cavity somewhere if you had not followed your writing dream. You surely are prolific and I’m inspired and humbled by your post. (I do love your shop also and drive in often). Thank you for sharing your inspiration, it is so lovely.

  10. I loved that story. I have “met” a few ladies like that myself. Most of my sewing stuff came from others. Yard sales, thrift stores, and flea markets have allowed me to obtain some wonderful notions and a sewing machine that came with great stories. I LOVE your shop. My family took a vacation to Atlanta this summer and I made my husband put Whipstitch on the itinerary. My daughter (2 years) loved it as well. She tried to make a mess of your fat quarters! Whipstitch is my “dream” place to have someday in small town Kentucky!

  11. that was awesome! i didn’t know what i was about to read, i found your blog thru google analytics on my etsy store. i had tears in my eyes by the time you went to ebay because that is exactly what i did! just moved back to atlanta and i can’t wait to visit your shop!

  12. Deborah,

    Thanks for tracking me down today and sending me this link. I can’t tell you how pleased I am my mother’s sewing equipment ended up in the right hands. I put that whole package on ebay in hopes that selling the lot would help someone who really loved to sew. I see it worked! I thought about breaking it down and selling piece-meal but something told me to keep it together. The fact that you made that drive to get the tons of other stuff was even better.

    You were right, my mother lived to sew. I can remember growing up I could always find her in her sewing room which was really just a tiny closet under the stairwell. I never knew a time when she didn’t sew. It is also correct about her not working and having a loving husband. Dad met mom when I was just a year old and my brother was two. They married in 1964. Dad was willing to adopt two very difficult boys from her first marriage and make a home for us and that’s just what he did. They absolutely adored each other for more than 40 years. Mom never worked outside the home while we were there. She sewed for extra money for many years after the nest was empty. She did actually work for the state of South Carolina full-time for about ten years before retiring in 2000. That was her only full-time job that I ever knew about. My parents moved to Florida right after her retirement and that’s when mom really ramped up her sewing passion. Down there she had a much larger room to collect and organize the tools of her passion. My mother was always one to help others. Knowing mom, I would say you were quite correct about her giving guidance even though you never knew her. My mother always worked things out mysterious ways.

    Thanks Deborah for the dedication to my mother. She is no doubt smiling from the achievement you have done. What is truly remarkable timing of your email. I feel mom had something to do with that as well. She always did like a little flare. You see, TODAY is the 4th anniversary of her death. How’s that for goosebumps? You did it again mom!

    David A. Curtis Sr

    • This is the best and most incredible story I have ever read! Your mom’s legacy is astounding!

  13. What a GREAT story – tears are welling up!
    Makes me remember my own mother & her mother who introduced me to sewing many, many years ago. I often feel their presence and think of them when I’m sewing. They are with Sandra (Sandraaaa) somewhere in heaven!

  14. Wonderful post & David’s comment brought tears to my eyes. All of her things ending up in your hands is surely not a coincidence. Amazing story!

  15. I was crying so hard by the time I got to David’s post that I could hardly read it. How fitting that he was able to verify all the qualities you unearthed as you dug through those boxes. I love that Sandra did not simply provide the nuts and bolts to help you, but that her own passion and sense of adventure served to spur you into uncharted territory.

  16. Synchronicity is a wonder isn’t it? There are no accidents nor coincidences in matters such as this.

    What an amazing story and dedication Deb. Really. I am in awe of your steadfastness and determination to see your dream to fruition. You may think your husband is lucky, but he’s a lucky man to have you too. And what an amazing Mother David Curtis had; Sandraaaa indeed.

    Sandra and Deborah. You are both soul mates, whether you realize it or not.

  17. Serendipity is an amazing thing. Your story (and Sandra’s) is wonderful, thanks so much for sharing it.

  18. Wow, first that beautiful story and then the reply from Sandra’s son…I’m sitting here in tears. Thanks for sharing!

  19. Okay while reading the dedication the tears were streaming down my face, and then you did contact David. I am so happy that David knows his Mother’s beloved sewing treasures are being loved just like his Mother had loved them – and so happy that you and David shared with all of us. I have a feeling that he knew they would be well looked after when he first met you. I know you driving out to get them from him was all meant to be. Great story except my eyes feel really really puffy now!

  20. I am so totally crying while reading that! We have so many ebay-given “muses” in our home, and I had never read those feelings put into words so beautifully! Thank you!

  21. I stumbled across this post by googling “cry a whipstitch” because I came across it in a book and had never heard nor seen it referenced before. I had an idea of course but wanted to look it up anyway. I am so glad I did because I found this post.

    The words “The Story of Sandra” drew me in along with a couple lines showing in the search results mentioned someone crying so I figured it would be sentimental, and I am a sentimental sap. :) I clicked the link.

    What a story! I don’t know you, I’ve never seen your blog before. Your way with storytelling is enthralling. I was totally hooked and yes I was crying. David’s response did give me some chills at the end at the “coincidence” of the timing, and also made me cry a little more.

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful wonderful story and I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors and I hope you sell a million copies of your book! :)

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  24. I just read your blog about “Sandra” and was so touched. What a sweet and inspiring story. How wonderful that you included her in the dedication of your book. Thank you for sharing that story.

  25. What a fascinating story. Thanks for sharing.

  26. A sudden burst of crying just happened after I finished the last line of that story. Great way to start off the morning!
    Love it!

  27. WOW!!!! This story really touched my heart. I have a desire in my heart to open my own sewing business but I am clueless where to start and what to do. I am a wife, mother, and I work full-time. My dream is very similar to yours, Deborah. And my fabric issues are very similar as well…fabric stores are 15 miles or more away. I would love to open a store with fabric, classes, the works. I am so glad I stumbled across your blog. It has given me a push to try to figure out how I can retire from my job and get this business off the ground. Now to convince my husband…#scared2deathw/oaclue

  28. Wow! I’ve only just come across this story but it bought a tear to my eye. Thank you for sharing that beautiful story.

  29. Just found your blog and this story. I started sewing again after getting an old 1920s machine off craigslist that had been in the family 3 generations. Unwinding the bobbin felt like digging through layers of history. I wondered which color was from the prom dress, which from the baby outfits, etc….

  30. What an amazing story made even better by David’s response. I love this and obviously it was meant to be. I, too am crying now! So glad I came across your blog from Plum and June! Can’t wait to read more of your work!

    • That Sandra–she really knows how to make all of us think about the big picture! I think of her often, and am so glad someone suggested I reach out to David–his comment really brought the whole story full-circle.

  31. You are living my dream. I’m so happy for you and this story was precious.
    After two years of learning how to letter signs (many years ago) I inherited my teacher’s entire shop contents. I went own to paint signs for 18 years all while working full time in an office job.
    Now I dream of having my own little shop of sewn items.
    I hope I can come and visit your shop someday.
    I must google directions to see if I can find you.
    This sweet story is such an inspiration to me. Thanks so much for making me want to get the led out and get busy sewing.

    Thanks for taking the time to share.

    Debbie

  32. What a wonderful story. I’m glad I’m not the only one with tears in my eyes!! Sew on!!!

  33. Awesome story! I loved it so much that I signed up for your sewing class. My mom was a wonderful seamstress who taught herself how to sew. She made clothes not only for herself but my sister and I. I hate I did not take the time to learn from her during my childhood years. Imagine what I could have been by now. But I think she would be proud (from heaven) to know of my decision after all of these years (I am 50 years old). Thanks for sharing.

  34. Awesome story! Next time I hesitate to pile my four kids in the car in pursuit of my dream, I will think of you, and just do it!

  35. It’s 2.00am I can’t sleep and have found your blog, I love it and this story, life’s too short not to follow a dream.

    • Thank you so much for your sweet note! I hope that I can do honor to Sandra’s memory. Thanks for reading our story!

  36. Thank you so much for writing this, and I’m thrilled that I was able to read David’s comment. Sandra – and YOU – are inspirations!!!

    • He must by now–I emailed him the post, which was written after the book was published, so I believe he saw the inscription page. It’s his comment here that really blows me away, and how awesome it is when circumstances come together. Sandra really changed my life, and it means a great deal to me that the people who loved her most know that she continues to touch folks far beyond their family.

  37. Deborah – Aloha from Mel and I. Reading your intro on Mel’s blog led me to your website and I do believe I will be getting myself a cup of coffee and spending the next few hours with you. ;)

    This post is simply beautiful and David’s response brought a happy tear or two.

    Adrienne

    • Oh, thank you for saying that! I can honestly tell you, even all this time later, that I can’t read his comment without tearing up myself. What an amazing experience it has been “knowing” Sandra, and sharing her with others. I love knowing that her story spoke to you, too! Welcome, and glad to “meet” you! :)