Unchained Melody




I thought I had gone back forty years when wash hung from the line in the back yard, each garment waving in the gentle breeze. I remembered ducking under the flags of wash as they lifted and dropped in the wind. It was a colorful sight, one that years later the dryer eliminated from my life. But no longer. Her sewing room hung with ribbons of wash, and as I ducked under the tiny flags, I wondered where I was in time.

"Careful," she said as I grazed the color-draped line. She had looked up as I came in, but now she was back at the sewing machine, the machine humming along, a string of wash unloading itself from the back of the sewing machine.

"Are you drying clothes?" I asked. She stopped the machine in the needle down position, probably to protect whatever new world she was sewing.

"Chain piecing," she said. "I learned it in class. Some people call it chaining or assembly line piecing." She's always giving me little sewing lectures.

"It looks like a clothes line," I said.

"They're all patches pieced together. It saves time and tons of thread."

"How much time?" I had to ask her that first. Then I would ask her the serious questions.

"Hours. Days. Maybe months. I don't know yet. I'm a beginner." She ran her hand under the long strip of fabric that had come out of her machine. "They're all sewn together without cutting each one separately as I sew," she explained. "That's the slow way."

"Oh," I said, as if I understood. I shook my head and turned to look across the lines of wash. Sure enough, they were all tiny squares stitched to each other. What at first appeared to be little dresses or pants or underwear or cotton robes were really several 2 1/2 inch square patches sewn together one group after another after another. "It doesn't look like a quilt," I said.

"Not yet," she said.

"But it will be?"

"It'll be squares. Lots and lots of squares."

"They look like tiny clothes," I said.

"They're not little clothes," said impatiently. "I have to snip them and sew them together yet."

"How many times?"

"About a thousand, I think. Maybe more."

"And then you'll have a quilt?"

"No, then I'll have 25 big squares, each made up of nine little squares."

"Then what?"

"Then I have lesson two. I haven't gotten there yet."

"But you will?"

"Next week."

"How do you know which direction to sew them together?" I asked.

"That's the hard part."

"Knowing east and west and south and north?"

"Knowing clockwise or counter-clockwise, front side and backside."

I didn't comment on that last part.

"Why did you pick these colors?"

"They go together," she said.

"They're very nice the way they go together," I said, "but it really looks like a long clothesline with tiny little clothes." I wasn't about to give up. I tested my senses as I looked at them. I touched them. Then I saw the small chain of stitching joining them together. They were colorful pieces of fabric. But they looked like my old backyard clothesline.

"You don't see any clothes pins, do you?"

"They're probably too tiny to see."

"How about you becoming too tiny to see?" she said. She pressed her foot down on the foot pedal. The needle lifted up and down again. Fast. She stoked the machine with fabric and made more squares.

"Humph," I said as I turned to leave. "You're chained to that machine."

"Chain piecing," she said. "And you belong on a chain gang."

"I think I'll go chain myself to dinner," I said, ducking my head as I left, wondering if the white meat of turkey went with the green of the peas and the brown of the gravy. And I wondered how the servings would look in squares. "I have a great idea for a quilt," I added, but she didn't seem to hear me. Not one last word.

Copyright A.B. Silver 1998

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