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Ripping Out Seams

Young adult fiction writer Liz deBeer reflects on her experiences learning sewing in the 1970s and draws parallels to her current journey as a writer, highlighting the persistence required to navigate errors and imperfections in both endeavors.

By Liz deBeer

February 08, 2024

In the 1970s, home economics was taught at most high schools, including mine. We made pie crust with Crisco and pizza dough with yeast in the segment focusing on food and cooking. During the sewing section, we learned to stitch clothing with a Singer sewing machine and a Simplicity pattern. After cutting fabric affixed with straight pins to a basic pattern, we’d step on a pedal and whirr the material into a shirt or a skirt. In the ‘70s, wrap-around skirts were trendy and easy to make: only one buttonhole for the tie, so I made lots of those.

Far too often, though, the final product would be flawed. It didn’t fit right, or pieces sewn mistakenly together. Seams needed to be ripped out.

As a high schooler, I balked at my errors. I’d rant. And scream. And slam doors. And say “F*ck” and “Sh*t” and “I’m an idiot!” over and over. Then, I’d wipe away my tears and get back to work.

These days, my dusty Singer is rarely used. Instead, I weave words, putting together bits until there’s a sense of completion. Then, as if I’m showing off a new outfit, I share my written work with my writing peers, who give me their reader feedback. Responding to their suggestions usually involves making changes, expanding sections they liked and cutting sections they didn’t connect with.

Yes, I’m grateful for the input. But anything less than “this is perfect”  can sometimes sting. I often flash back to my sewing days, when I felt like such a loser, mourning my missteps before meticulously ripping out seams, stitch by stitch.

I’m more likely to sulk than fume when I do my own evaluations of my works in progress, though. Silently, I wonder: How did I miss these obvious holes? Of course, I should use active verbs! Clearly, this section needs more details!

That feeling of ripping apart something I’ve spent hours on? It’s the same.

More similarities between sewers and writers: The value of taking writing classes or workshops to improve skills. Adjusting stitch length according to different sections reminds me of varying sentence, paragraph, and section length. Learning to master cutting skills, keeping only what is essential: This keeps writing crisp and reduces fabric costs. Matching thread and fabric (or tone and scene) unless seeking contrast for style. And ironing out wrinkles meticulously at the end, whether literally ironing fabric or reworking awkward sections.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the knowledge that even the most experienced must begin with a single stitch or a lone word, knowing that it may ultimately be removed and replaced as we hone our drafts and develop our skills.

Liz deBeer

Liz deBeer, a language arts teacher, has published in newspapers, teaching journals, and magazines, including The New Jersey English Journal, InsiderNJ, Editor & Publisher, and Lilith Magazine. She currently resides in New Jersey where she is writing young adult novels and flash fiction.

Liz deBeer, a language arts teacher, has published in newspapers, teaching journals, and magazines, including The New Jersey English Journal, InsiderNJ, Editor & Publisher, and Lilith Magazine. She currently resides in New Jersey where she is writing young adult novels and flash fiction.