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Phil Hugo: A stitch in time saves what?

April 15, 2013

My mother-in-law, Miriam Jantzi, and British musician Sting do not know each other. Of that I am certain.



But they should. To the point, I believe Sting should seek out Miriam.



If you knew Miriam as I do, you might be asking why an octogenarian great-grandmother living in Lima would want to know Sting, who could be living in any one of his several houses worldwide as I write this. After all, he is several years her junior, is a world-famous musician and activist and no doubt has the money to buy all the new clothes he could ever need.



Rip your pants while working on one of those houses: Go buy a new pair.



On St. Patrick’s Day, I reached into my music collection and slipped the Chieftains’ “The Long Black Veil” CD into the music machine. As I am wont to do, I took the liner notes out to refresh my memory on the music and the musicians. Among several photos was one of Sting and the Chieftains. The thing that caught my eye was what appeared to be a tear in the right leg of his pants. Granted, it could have been a fashion design aspect, but I’m going to go with accidentally torn fabric.



Then it hit me: Sting could use Miriam’s help.



OK. So the chances she will be plying her skills with needle and thread on any of Sting’s duds is … let’s just say it ain’t gonna happen.



But I can tell you what does happen. My dear mother-in-law has worked her magic on several items in my work wear wardrobe, including the worn and stained gray hooded sweatshirt I’m wearing as I pen these words. Other than the stains and some ground-in dirt, there is overall a sense of wholeness: It has held together pretty well considering it is somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 years old.



Like many things fabric, the shirt is looking a tad — no, make that a lot — tired on the cuffs, waistbands and inseams of the arms. Well-used is an apt description of the old Carhartt.



Close inspection reveals thread that was not in the mix of the original fabric. Rather it is thread that reeled off the spool and was fed through the hungry needle of Miriam’s sewing machine. A needle that stabbed at the sweatshirt as Miriam carefully fed cloth that had lost its integrity under the guide, whence it appeared whole again.



Through it all, there is the characteristic sound that many of us are accustomed to when we hear a sewing machine.



Time has a way of unraveling things, including Miriam’s handiwork, so as soon as I can shed the shirt for warm weather togs I’ll confer with her to see what she thinks. My guess is she will suggest that I treat myself to a new hoodie.



Thread isn’t the only way to repair fabric. I was reminded of one alternative when I bumped into Ron and Cindy Freed in the supermarket recently. I told them of this literary effort, and Ron mentioned those patches you iron on the torn fabric.



His assessment:“They don’t work.” I didn’t ask him why. Maybe he misread the instructions.



My research revealed one of those sold-on-TV products for fabric repair that claims “it is so durable that it is virtually like sewing.” I have not used it, but I’m not getting an image of a needle stabbing fabric or a finger.



I mentioned literary effort above. Curious to see what others had to say about the subject, I perused “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations” to see what was stowed in the literary sewing box, so to speak.



It seems to me one cannot discuss the subject without referencing the old proverb, “A stitch in time saves nine.” Have you ever scratched your noggin on that one and wondered “Nine what?” Minutes? Cents?



Well now, if you said mending a small hole in the fabric before it gets larger will save more stitches, you would win the prize: Let’s make it a tube of super fabric mender adhesive.



According to the Phrase Finder Discussion Forum, the English astronomer Francis Baily wrote that well-worn proverb in his journal in 1797.



Shakespeare wrote “to laugh yourselves into stitches” in “Twelfth Night,” but I’m not sure Miriam laughs herself into stitches as she mends my work pants. Then again, maybe she does.



I do know she does not fit the description of the woman Thomas Hood wrote about in the “Song of the Shirt”: “With fingers weary and worn, with eyelids heavy and red, a woman sat in unwomanly rags, plying her needle and thread — Stitch! Stitch! Stitch! In poverty, hunger and dirt.”



And lastly, from Ecclesiastes, “A time to rend, and a time to sew.”



Some familiar and not so familiar thoughts on the fabric of life, be it rended or mended.



I saw an item on the Internet referencing what your shoes say about your personality. That caught my attention, particularly as it relates to me and the patched clothing I wear. What did it say to Steve Deifendeifer as he pointed out the patch on my pants to his wife, Monica?



“It’s the work of my mother-in-law.”



He should see the pair with five patches. I like to call them “times are hard patch pants”.



Perhaps I’ll put my best fabric forward by wearing my pants backward so the less-worn backside shows. Wow! What would that say about my personality?



For now, Miriam gets the nod as my go-to seamstress for all things torn. However, she might have been better paid had she signed on with Sting. With me, she gladly settles for a bag or two of Dove milk chocolates and a hug.



Thanks, Miriam.