For almost two years now, I’ve been making a dress. I bought the pattern and a roll of fabric on holiday in Wales, but I didn’t have a sewing machine (or tailor’s chalk, or pins, or enough time, or enough patience) and I didn’t know how to sew, so what I was really buying was the possibility of becoming the sort of person who could make a dress.
For a long time the paper bag full of potential gathered dust in my wardrobe, until finally, one cold winter weekend, I brought it over to my boyfriend’s mother’s house, she set up her sewing machine, and we began to make the dress together.
To see or to help a garment come into being, to witness the transformation, is affecting. I don’t want to put too much importance on this – it’s just an item of clothing – but still: out of fabric springs form. This particular fabric, though, purchased because it felt warm and heavy on a cold Welsh afternoon, has a very loose weave, and unravels easily – forgiving if you need to unpick stitches, but dangerous, likely to fray: at any moment things might fall apart.
To describe something that’s not quite right, or that’s becoming not quite right, we use this language of un-making. It’s unraveling, we might say. She’s come undone. When I was 16 my mother taught me how to knit and I made half of a fog-purple scarf over winter break before I got restless and gave the hobby up. Around the same time I was listening to a lot of Weezer and the line “If you want to destroy my sweater/Hold this thread as I walk away” got lodged in my head, even after I’d abandoned the project. Sometimes it’s easier to destroy something with a thread than to create something with a thread; sometimes, though, a thread is what the whole world is made of: it’s a lifeline.
Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby is a book about threads, and a book made up of threads: “in the old way of saying it, tales were spun; they were threads that tied things together and from them the fabric of the world was woven.” Solnit spins familiar tales. Her mother gets old, and sick. She herself gets sick, and then well. A child falls down a well and is rescued, but ultimately her rescuer can’t rescue himself. An artist paints an escape route and sets himself free. Scheherazade tells her stories to save her own life and the lives of countless others. People die, or are born, or reborn.
“All stories are really fragments of one story, the metamorphoses,” Solnit tells us, and there’s an undertone of resignation or acceptance of this, of the slow march of time, the inevitability and invisibility of change: the soldier survives his war but is not the same man he was, and the cannons are melted down and reconstituted and eventually become a weapon for another war.
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