The needle pierces the fabric, drawing the thread behind. I pull the thread forward, and on the back side, reverse and bring the needle halfway back through the stitch. What? Wait? Go backward?
There is probably a huge pedagogical heresy involved in drinking red wine and watching Battlestar Galactica while sewing placemats for a Waldorf kindergarten, but at the end of a mentally taxing day yesterday, this seemed like the best way to occupy my hands and ‘turn off’ my mind. Of course, the problem and poorly kept secret, is that if my mind has an ‘off’ switch, I haven’t found it yet. This, by the way, is not any sort of claim to intelligence, just a testament to my brain’s perpetual chatter. When I’m tired it becomes even less regulated, as though thirty pre-schoolers have taken up residence inside my skull.
Sewing by hand calms the babbling hordes somewhat. I think it gives them something to watch. But as I sewed last night, I contemplated the backstitch. As my career shift gets underway, I’ve been focused on forward momentum and rather obsessed about making some progress toward every goal every day. If one piece gets left undone, I tend to believe that the day was a failure. Yet, last night, I caught myself pondering the value of regression.
When I was younger, I always sewed seams with a straight or running stitch. Always moving forward was faster, better, right? While the stitches seemed more efficient to me when I was young, the seams pulled, twisting and puckering the fabric, and gaps appeared if stitches were too long or uneven. As I’ve matured, I’ve taken up the back stitch – step forward, partial step back. At first this regression frustrated me, but ultimately the seams lie flat, straight, and strong.
Pulling the thread straight through life, in a decades-long running stitch is human instinct. We get frustrated by reversals in our fortunes, thought, feelings, and growth. But sometimes we need that partial step backward – the regression – to show us where we have been, to anchor us to important moments in development, to hold our seam straight and strong. We need the backward steps to teach us as we move forward.
Last stitch. Pull the thread through the loop, around again to bind the knot, snip the thread, and flatten the fabric. The placemat is an even rectangle, sage green print on one side, lavender on the reverse. No puckers or holes mar the edges. Done.