Last week a friend of mine posted some advice on Facebook that came from a Singer Sewing Manual from 1949. Ladies! Take heed!
“Prepare yourself mentally for sewing. Think about what you are going to do… Never approach sewing with a sigh or lackadaisically. Good results are difficult when indifference predominates.
Never try to sew with a sink full of dirty dishes or beds unmade. When there are urgent housekeeping chores, do these first so your mind is free to enjoy your sewing. When you sew, make yourself as attractive as possible. Put on a clean dress. Keep a little bag full of French chalk near your sewing machine to dust your fingers at intervals. Have your hair in order, powder and lipstick put on. If you are constantly fearful that a visitor will drop in or your husband will come home, and you will not look neatly put together, you will not enjoy your sewing.”
We’ve changed a lot, even since the days when I was in school and the boys were required to take a six-week course on how to scramble eggs and put a button onto a shirt. They called it “Bachelor Survival”. I have no ideas what they were teaching the girls in the metal shop, but one of my classmates now has her own arc welder.
All that aside, living in an age of easily-obtained, mass-produced clothing, we don’t give a lot of thought to what production of clothing meant a century ago, let alone before the invention of the sewing machine. In A Christmas Carol, almost every time Dickens shows us Bob Cratchit’s wife, she (and sometimes her four daughters with her) is sewing. At one point we learn that her eyes are tired and she is beginning to lose her sight from looking at small stitches and working by dim light.
In the Bible, the book of Acts tells us how much one woman’s sewing meant to the community.
“Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, ‘Please come to us without delay.’ So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them.” [Acts 9:36-39]
As we think about spiritual gifts, it is important to remember that sometimes the grace of God is wrapped up in the provision of basic needs and expressed in acts of helping others that way. That really does make a difference. Let me share a couple of pieces of needlework with you. They are both clerical stoles, these pieces of cloth that I wear around my neck.
The first has personal meaning for me. It was a gift from a woman who went to my home church and who was also one of our high school librarians. She gave it to me as an ordination gift. It has a series of panels on it that she cross-stitched and sewed onto the cloth. Hours and hours of work must have gone into it. It is the product of more than skill with the needle, though, because when I see it or wear it I feel connected to and in some ways responsible to the people who first told me about Jesus, whose birth and death and resurrection are symbolized here.
The second has meaning for others. It’s a stole that comes from Guatemala and was produced by the Ruth and Naomi Project. I brought this back from a mission trip, but they also market through Ten Thousand Villages and this summary is from their web site.
“The weaving cooperative Ruth and Naomi is located in Chontola, near Chichicastenango. The project emerged out of the terror and desperation of Guatemala’s civil war. With the help of a local Methodist pastor and his wife, some widows banded together to support their families through sales of the community’s traditional woven crafts. Of the initial group of 18 women, all had lost husbands, fathers, or both to the government’s ‘scorched earth’ policy of the 1980s. The name was chosen because it spoke of two widows from the Bible who were without resources, but who worked and survived.
Scholarships make it possible for teens to complete high school in Chichicastenango while living in the project compound. Some have gone on to complete university degrees. The project has also started a health and nutrition center.”
Don’t belittle “women’s work”. Don’t think that the meetings the United Methodist Women hold are all about hoagie sales and fruit salad. Some of the most intense conversations and learning that goes on in the church happens there.
Here’s another piece of handiwork. It’s a prayer shawl from the rack that sits in the narthex. The women who crochet or knit these understand that their efforts are an act of outreach to the sick, to let them know they are wrapped in the prayers of God’s people. They are a ministry of welcome to a newly-baptized baby, signifying the promises we all make to surround the child with a community of love and grace as she or he grows.
Don’t miss out on the profound value that there is in the making of lunches for people doing house repairs through Good Works, or the spirituality that goes into swinging the hammers and turning the screwdrivers. Don’t ignore the giving of self that is part of changing the lightbulbs, refinishing cabinets, digging the garden plots, or making decorations for the holidays. Don’t overlook the gift embedded in the act of washing the coffeepots, opening doors, setting up chairs, or keeping the web site current.
“All service ranks the same with God,” wrote Robert Browning, and he was right. The gift of serving, when done with an eye to God, is honored by the Lord himself, as the restoration of Dorcas to the community of believers in Joppa demonstrated. May he raise up a whole crew of such people among us, and among his people wherever they are, from Jerusalem to Johnstown, Galilee to Guatemala, Joppa to Westmont, Kuala Lumpur to Collegeville, Philippi to Phoenixville, to the end of the age.