MANY people dream of a gourmet kitchen, a spa bathroom, a master suite to rival the fanciest hotel. For Mary and me, our dream space was a sewing room -- dedicated to our obsession for silk charmeuse, measuring tapes and 5/8 -inch seam allowances.
There would be space for a 6-foot fabric-cutting table, two sewing machines, a file cabinet to hold hundreds of patterns and dozens of shelves for the glass jars we filled with buttons and thread and every notion under the sun. It would be a cozy room with a comfy armchair that invited us to sit down and hem a skirt. Most important, the room would be flooded with natural light, perhaps a sun porch or a cupola with windows on every wall, on the top floor of a quaint Victorian. It was a dream we talked about over and over again.
Mary O'Donnell was my sewing buddy. We met on a Catholic church retreat in the mountains above Los Angeles and hit it off the moment we discovered a shared passion for sewing. Both of us had come that weekend to meet single men. We were a couple of thirtysomething girls on the loose, determined to find the man of our dreams that very weekend. Instead, we found a friendship for life.
Mary was an unlikely sewer. In her late teens, she'd developed rheumatoid arthritis and suffered through several operations that left her hands partially frozen and often in pain. So in typical Mary fashion, what did she choose as a hobby? Something that demanded excellent hand skills and precision dexterity. Mary gloried in showing off her finished projects. She even declared her passion in cyberspace: Her e-mail address started with "Marysew@."
We started spending all of our Friday nights together. They soon became sacred. Forget dates with mere boys. As soon as our workweek was over, Mary and I would gather up our pattern pieces, scissors, basting thread and acres of fabric. I'd head over to her one-bedroom bachelorette estate, or she'd come over to mine.
We'd turn the dining room table into a cutting board, set up a sewing machine on the sofa table and drape pattern pieces over every available surface. We'd watch British costume dramas. We'd sip tea. We'd solve the problems in Step 23 of a particular pattern. We'd sketch our dream wardrobes. We'd ponder our futures. And we'd imagine the perfect sewing room -- an altar dedicated to the gods of fabric.
Time and again, we swore never to buy another yard of silk charmeuse or pinstriped wool until we'd tackled the stacks in our closets. But then Mary would discover a fabulous fabric store online. Or I'd be traveling and stumble across a shop in Asheville, N.C., that specialized in vintage remnants from the 1960s. We'd both surrender to our addiction and buy just a few more yards of something irresistible.
Though Mary would never admit it, we both knew she was the better seamstress and tailor. Mary would always baste before using her machine. I was a graduate of the just-pin-it-and-go school. Mary could wear her jackets and sundresses inside out and be proud. I was embarrassed to let anyone see the inside of mine. Mary's work was couture. Mine was "good enough."
ON another one of those church retreats, I did finally meet the man of my dreams. There was only one condition: He had to find something else to do on Friday nights. Tad understood -- and encouraged -- my sewing date.
So Mary and I kept meeting, our attention focused on the dress -- the one I would wear marching down the aisle on my wedding day. For six months, Mary and I worked together on that one. It was a little bit of "Anne of Green Gables" with enormous puffed sleeves and a lot of Princess Diana with royal ruffles and bows. The skirt was off-white taffeta, trimmed at the bottom with acres of flounces. The bodice was covered with heavy embroidered lace. Mary fitted and refitted it until it became a second skin. We sewed our dreams into that dress. On the morning of the wedding, Mary was there with needle and thread to sew my veil to the garland of flowers at the back of my head.
Those Friday nights with Mary continued long after I became an old married lady. Tad actually looked forward to getting kicked out of the house when Mary and I would meet at my place. We tackled Halloween costumes for my niece, wool jackets for Mary's winter trip to New York and golden gowns to wear to my various journalism awards ceremonies. (If I wasn't going to win anything, I'd better have the best dress in the room.)
Then Mary found the man of her dreams -- John, a delightful Australian gentleman she met on the Internet. After a lengthy long-distance courtship, they married. It surprised me that Mary had no desire to sew her own wedding gown. But she made certain the dress she wore was perfect. She was a gorgeous bride.