Is there a seamstress in the house?

Helen Row Toews

I’d have made a crummy pioneer woman. Oh, I could’ve cooked and cleaned alright, and milking cows and caring for livestock wouldn’t have been a problem. Gardening and putting up preserves are chores I enjoy—I didn’t say I was good at them, just said I enjoyed them. I’m quite fond of wood stoves, and washing clothes by hand would have been hard work but doable, if I had enough time. Nope, it’s sewing and mending clothes for the family I would’ve failed miserably at. (Also, the slaughter of fluffy barnyard creatures and their later disembowelment—but that’s another story.)

In point of fact, my lack of ability in this womanly art was illustrated quite recently. One morning last week I crawled from my bed, squinted blearily at the luminous numbers on the bedside clock and groaned. I felt blah.

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When this happens I always find myself scanning the closet for a familiar, purple dress. Actually, calling it a dress might be a bit too grand—it’s more of an attractive sack; a vast swath of material that clings to my shoulders and falls in heavy, unflattering folds to my knees. Haute couture it’s not, but it’s my friend.

Dragging the outfit over my head, I surveyed the results in a full length mirror. As mentioned, it hung shapelessly, much like a barrel on straps you might see sported by rodeo clowns as they flounce about in front of a bull.

Yes! This was the look I was going for. Sadly, on closer inspection, I noticed a previous tear across the chest had gotten worse, making it unwearable.

“Crud,” I said, turning to scrabble through a nearby drawer. Unfortunately, this favored garment had seen a lot of use and was coming apart at the seams.

A woman, handy with needle and thread might have repaired these small flaws. A woman who slogged through three years of high school sewing class could have fixed it in a jiffy. A woman whose father gifted her one Christmas with a sewing machine—you get the picture. So did I? Heck no! I drew a scarf triumphantly from the bureau and arranged it strategically across the bodice.

Sewing is for chumps I thought, smiling at my reflection. 

In a related development, later that morning at work, I smoothed my hands over the beloved sack while straightening up from a desk. To my horror the entire bottom section of the garment soundlessly parted company from the top and floated gracefully towards the floor. My shins were now festooned in a garland of tatty purple cloth. Snatching the frayed material up I scooted hurriedly down the corridor for safety pins and spent the remainder of my day dressed in little more than shreds. The purple sack has given up the ghost and shall be seen no more.

Mrs. Brown could’ve told you this would happen. She was my home ec. teacher in high school. After the aforementioned three years of sewing classes, two wrap skirts and a pillowcase later, I remained utterly useless. She did her best to drum it into me but — it was hopeless. I saw her one day, some 20 years later, where unbelievably she addressed me by name. I was gobsmacked! How could she possibly have remembered?

“Oh, that’s easy,” she said, laughing in recollection. “You were the worst student I’ve ever had.”

So there you have it. If I’d been a pioneer my family would have skulked throughout the countryside wearing nothing but sackcloth and ashes. Bring on the 21st century!

Helen has lived on the family farm near Marshall much of her life. She works as a writer, EA and bus driver for her local school. This, along with her love of the Canadian prairies, travel and all things humorous, is what she draws from to write these tales. Her books are available on Amazon as Prairie Wool Books or through her website


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