Cloth Puzzles With Mom

Word Puzzles, Jigsaw Puzzles, Number Puzzles, Crossword Puzzles, Tangram Puzzles. All these puzzles involve solving a problem either with word clues, numerical plays on numbers or spatial proportions. Puzzles were part of our family upbringing. Both my parents liked tackling the New York Times crossword puzzle; often shuttling it between themselves during the weekday mornings. More leisurely they worked on the Sunday puzzle.

Mom sewed and she taught all her daughters to sew. I think of them now as cloth puzzles- a puzzle of the spatial domain. The first puzzle centers on layout—minimizing the cloth area used by the pattern pieces. The pattern recommends the yardage required for either 45 or 60-inch-wide fabric. Pattern pieces indicate the grain of fabric direction– with the grain or on the bias. If the cloth was a solid color, no worries. If the cloth had a print, well you paid attention to orientation. If the cloth had stripes or the ever so challenging plaid, you simply bought more fabric. This supported the painstaking layout so that the stripes lined up. Pay attention next time you go clothes shopping. If you see stripes lined up at the seams– a mark of a quality garment.

Sometimes you need to get creative. As a teenager I had made a yoked skirt out of a dusty rose colored fabric. A lovely flower printed rayon fabric became a blouse with the in fashion floppy tied bow. I had visions of making a reversible vest with both fabrics. Challenge—not enough continuous pieces of the dusty rose fabric. Frustrated, I went to Mom. She pointed out that if I overlapped the dusty rose fabric pieces that I could make the vest. I could use fancy stitches to create an embroidered looking stripes down the seam that joined the pieces. How did she know this? Puzzling solving for sure, though Mom shared she had seen this problem before. As a young lady, a girlfriend had been in the same bind and solved it in this manner.

The real cloth puzzles challenges occur when you don’t have all the directions. My parents owned a three-piece sectional couch. It worked well in the Northport house and fitted nicely in our rental houses in Cherryhill and Derwood. At least twice, my Mom created slipcovers for this particular set of furniture. By the time my parents bought the house on Redland Road only the couch remained

One summer Mom purchased upholstery cloth. She proceeded to take the couch down to its wood frame and the springs. The worn fabric became her pattern pieces. Yet Mom had no instruction manual; just her keen eye as she took it apart. As a carpenter’s daughter she had no trouble with the staple gun or hammer. She attached the cloth to wood and tapped on the upholstery tacks. For much of the hand sewing she used upholstery curved needles. The endeavor was one big cloth puzzle.

Growing up, we made things. By example, Mom showed me that solving a puzzle takes creativity, skill and persistence. I’m sure she made mistakes during the couch re-upholstery project. She learned along the way, mistakes teach us.

Have a Productive Day,

Anne Meixner

Dear Reader, please share your comments and stories that are sparked by this piece.  Did your family have a passion for puzzles? Did either of your parents share a handicraft with you? See Contribute for how you can share a story at The Engineers’ Daughter.

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