How do your memories influence your fiction writing?

“Any sorrow can be borne if it can be made into a story,” said Danish author Isak Dinesen (Out of Africa). 

8_Wells-LiteratureEmpathyMany of my friends are writers. Most of them I know very well. Well enough that when I read some of their work I occasionally recognize autobiographical events, people or places, but these “true” events and such have been fictionalized and told as if they have happened in the lives of the story’s characters. Every author writes from his or her personal experiences, and I believe the more you know about an author the better you can understand that author’s perspective and ideas and what they may be trying to get across to the reader.

In my experience, I’ve never written a story or novel from a preconceived outline or plot diagram. Things change too rapidly, and life may give me another idea that will work better, and the story writes itself like a runaway train. Cities and towns have souls and memories and stories just waiting to be mined.

I am guilty of stealing other’s life experiences as well, and giving them to my characters, changing them up a little.  A red-headed male friend once told me about being chased by a rooster every time he stepped foot in his grandparents’ yard. Seems the rooster was after his red hair, and his grandma shouted to that rooster, “Don’t you spur my baby you peckerwood”. That ended up being in the history of my protagonist in a manuscript – the red-headed boy was too easily remembered.

Humor is everywhere. My daughter’s boyfriend was learning to tie a necktie, and the stress he put himself through developed into a short story. He asked me if I knew how to tie a Windsor knot and I said to look up ties in the Encyclopedia (this was  in the olden days before Google) and he returned, downtrodden, and told me, “it said ‘see railroad'”.

My husband and I walked around Jackson Square in New Orleans late one evening. Fortune tellers and tarot card readers sat around at tables draped with fabric, candles burning, as they lured customers to their tables for readings. Suddenly a young man rounded the corner and had a python wrapped around his body. We walked a little faster around the Square, the man and python following us for a long while. This experience gave me a short story series.

Sadness and sorrow, as well as shock, are always singed in our memories. In my childhood I remember a little friend drowned in her father’s minnow trough. She was about 5 or 6 years old, as was I. My parents went to the wake and took me with them. I had no idea what had occurred until we arrived at the ramshackle house on the outskirts of Hattiesburg MS and saw people peering into a long wooden box on the dining room table. Children climbed on chairs to have a look. I did not want to miss out on whatever they saw in there so I mounted a chair and looked in and was stunned to see my friend, her little body perfectly still in a pretty pink dress, her lips blue, sleeping in that box. That scene will never leave me. I’ve included the scene in one of my novels.

There are so many scenes from my childhood that I’ve used in numerous places in fiction, hiding them in different places than they occured, most times, or they hide themselves, or take a turn you did not expect. When you are going in one direction and think you know where the characters are headed, they just may surprise you and hop on a freight train!

What are some of the events tattooed in your soul? (I promise I won’t steal it, although I may change it up a bit so you won’t recognize it!)

The Lane Cotton Mill

Cotton fabrics from my closed storefront shop are now stored in a former mill that manufactured cotton fabric in the 1800s on Tchoupitoulas Street. The mill first opened in 1852 and operated until 1950 – today it has been reconfigured (adaptive re-use) into storage units. The history of Lane Cotton Mill is fascinating to me. But what I really found most interesting is this photograph of Lane Mill workers taken in the late 1800s, early 1900s.

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Lewis Hines, “Group of workers in Lane Cotton Mill, New Orleans,” The Historic New Orleans Collection

What’s the first thing you notice? The boy speaking to his buddy behind him. “Stop poking me.” Or the one directly behind him with that lock of hair and impish grin? The one beside him, on the right, standing proud, hat in hand? Every person had/has a story.

What I also notice is the worn-out knees of those pants, the youth who were expected to help support the family at 10-12 years of age. Child labor was a necessary thing at that time. Perhaps those are sisters, brothers, in the background.

Our house on Laurel Street here in New Orleans is located about three blocks from this mill complex. Built originally as a “double shotgun” with two apartments, each side of the house had a living room, middle bedroom and a kitchen in the back, with no indoor plumbing (more history about shotgun houses here). I don’t know if our house was built originally by manufacturers for their workers or not – probably not – but it was converted years ago into a “single” with three small bedrooms and 2 baths.

The evidence of streetcar rails can be found in certain spots along Laurel St, so the location was convenient for workers to travel to and from their jobs. Or walk to Lane Cotton Mills.

In my imagination, people were packed into these little houses. Living rooms doubled as bedrooms. High ceilings (ours is 11-12′) and numerous windows allowed for air flow and the closeness of these houses allowed for little privacy. Noise travels. Young women probably worked until they married and had children, usually very young. Here’s a pic of some of those young women, with their tin lunch buckets.lane+cotton+mill

I now work out of that same cotton mill, only now I’m set up in the wide hall and I cut fabric for my online shop while imagining those voices and noises from the past as those loud machines processed cotton from upriver and made it into cloth. During the Civil War the mill was commandeered by Union forces to stop the manufacture of Confederate uniforms, to destroy morale. This photo shows those oil-stained floors (where I set up to cut fabric) and some of the machinery that wove cotton cloth, now replaced with metal storage units.

img_4538Are those boys and girls longing to have their stories told? I think they are.
***

The photographs here are from the archives of Store-All, the current owners of these fabulous brick buildings.

 

lanemill letterhead

Letterhead from Lane Cotton Mills. The large building at the left of this photo is currently occupied by Rouse’s supermarket. The remainder of the complex has been adapted for storage. Cotton fabrics and all that we materialistic people hold onto.

P.S.: Just listened to archived interview of Charles Neville prior to his death. He grew up on Valence St., with no electricity and an outdoor toilet – when they moved to the Calliope Projects he said that was a ‘step up’. He said his mom, Amelia Landry Neville, had worked at Lane Cotton Mills where my fabrics are currently at home – right at the end of Valence St! This is the only person whose name I’ve heard who has worked there – I wonder if she is in the photo above. Charles Neville passed away on Thursday, April 26, 2018 at 79 years old. Click here for an archived interview: https://www.wwno.org/post/music-inside-out-remembering-charles-neville

Moving: New Venues & Adventures!

After 4 delightful years at the little shotgun house on Magazine Street, Uptown Needle & CraftWorks is MOVING!

Our last day of business at 4610 Magazine will be October 6. We are moving in a couple ways — temporarily to an online shop, as well as to new venues for workshops. You will hear more about this exciting news in weeks to come as we transition to this new phase.

We will be offering workshops and our products in Covington and at the Backroom on Bourbon (part of Jezebel’s ). We will also continue to offer workshops at 4610 Magazine with the new tenant, Home Malone, where owner Kristen Malone represents over 80 artists and features fabulous products made in the Deep South. Kristen plans to open her 2nd location in January 2019.

Many of you know that my magical husband/partner Robert has been living with “metastatic carcinoma of unknown origin” for over a year and a half.  Even though he has cancer in his bones, he felt wonderful for over a year now – riding his bike 10 miles a few times each week, planting a garden, teaching and working in the shop.
Fast forward to July of this year and weeks of physical distress for R. Thanks to the wonderful doctors at Touro Infirmary, the origin of those cancer outliers was finally identified. Robert has a port (he calls it his USB) and will begin chemo this week with a mixture of chemicals that will attack those renegade cells with the fury of a bad storm.  He has documented his journey thus far on his blog here.
We are very excited about this transition, and I am pleased to have the freedom to focus on my husband and our life together. I will keep in touch through my blog and through email newsletters about workshops- and perhaps a “reunion” soon.
When we opened our shop in 2014 the #1 focus was never on selling fabric, yarn or handmades. It was on building community through community engagement. You have created a wonderful community that today totals over 3500 strong! We thank you for sharing your love, support and creativity with us. We will miss you all more than you know.
See you soon at a workshop near you, or through your orders online! If you have not checked out our online shop, please do!
Peace be to all, and please keep us in your prayers.
Emma & Robert

 

AND WHAT’S A MOVE WITHOUT A SALE?
Up to 50% OFF* 
ENTIRE STOCK!

  

* ALL Fabrics & Pre-cuts 40-50% off regular prices. PLEASE NOTE:
Our website cannot offer the 40% fabric discount through the regular purchase platform; however, you may certainly browse through our fabrics here, make note of what you would like, call 504-302-9434 to pay by credit card. We will be happy to mail your order for our flat rate of $9.99.
* Handmades, Bags, Clothing 30% off
* Notions, thread, patterns, trims & kits 40% off
* Scrap Paks 50% off

* Sale now through October 6 only!

 
We are selling some of our furniture/fixtures and class supplies as well, so if you’re in the neighborhood – stop in! You’ll find some funky stuff! We will be at this location through October 6, then packing for the move.

 

Why is Sewing with Antique Machines so Sweet?

Singer

Singer Treadle Machine 1912

This Singer treadle sewing machine was manufactured in 1912. I learned to sew on one just like this one when I was six years old. The first thing I sewed was my index finger!

In my early years I thought that Elias Howe invented the sewing machine; however, later I learned that this was not accurate. This is the history I soon learned about the sewing machine:

  • 1804: Thomas Stone and James Henderson receive French patents.
  • 1804: Scott John Duncan receives a British patent.
  • 1810: Balthasar Krems of Germany invents a cap-sewing machine.
  • 1814: Josef Madersperger, a tailor, awarded an Austrian patent.
  • 1818: John Doge and John Knowles invent the first American sewing machine.

Then, in 1830, a French tailor named Barthelemy Thimonnier invented a machine that used a hooked needle and only one thread. His machine made a chain stitch similar to that used in embroidery. The machine was powered by a treadle and it worked! He quickly moved forward and secured a manufacturing contract for army uniforms from the French government. His enterprise was short-lived, however, because tailors saw him as a threat to their livelihood and they joined together and destroyed Mr. Thimonnier’s uniform factory and his 80 sewing machines.

Elias Howe secured a patent in 1846 for an American-made sewing machine. His machine created a lock stitch that utilized thread from two different sources. Mr. Howe had difficulty marketing his invention and defending his patent. One of those who adopted his mechanism was a man who would make the treadle sewing machine a necessary household item – Isaac Singer. It was portable, after all, and could be carried out on the porch or in a truck. Sewing could be done anywhere. I have a faded photo of my grandmother mending long cotton-picking bags with her treadle machine in a cotton field when she was in her early 20’s.

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Singer “Featherweight” circa 1933

Cottage industries were birthed as women began sewing and mending for neighbors and friends.  Shortly thereafter, electric machines came about. Many treadle machines were converted with a small motor attached.

A youthful customer came in the shop the other day. She uses her treadle machine every day and even rebuilds these antique machines for others. I keep my tiny Singer Featherweight (see above – these machines have a very interesting history as well) set up in the shop. These Featherweights are still popular with quilters due to their portability – they fold up and fit into a compact case. I use it often when I just want quiet security, and I offer students the chance to learn to sew on this machine. The stitches are very pretty and dainty, yet strong.

There’s beauty in simplicity. There’s something sweetly endearing about sewing on these old machines, the quiet click, click and hum. If you use one of these, what draws you to them?

 

Old Things & Holding On

Going through things and sorting is a never-ending task at the shop. Today I pull out a box of my old sewing supplies and decide it is time to purge and throw or give away that which I cannot use. Tucked away in this box is a tiny crocheted hat, about three inches in diameter.

 

“In my crown your thimble hide; in my felt your needle ride,”  reads the carefully typed note pinned to the brim.  In the crown is indeed a little golden thimble, and in the felt are two very tiny hand quilting needles (my eyes cannot begin to see the eye in this little needle). This little treasure was given to my Mammau, my father’s mother (who taught me to sew when I was 6 years old), as a remembrance from one of her friends in her sewing circle, and Mammau passed it down to me. These sewing women I met on occasion, and they were very sweet and thoughtful to one another. They cared for one another. They always welcomed me when my Mammau brought me with her to those gatherings. They taught me embroidery and hand-quilting.

il_570xN.1170832447_tm2bThese women all looked like Aunt Bee from the Andy Griffith Show. Hats and gloves were worn, but removed when they began sewing. Coffee was served in little demitasse cups, and always a sweet of some kind had me drooling.

I look at this little crocheted hat and think about the person that made it – the work and care they put into it – and I wonder where it will go from here. Who will care for it, protect it? I do not have the heart to part with it, although I will never use it because it is much too fragile. The next generation will make that decision for me.

What do you keep (or treasure, hoard or stash away!) even though you know you will never use it? Why do you keep holding on to it?

 

Re-Blog from SewCanShe.com

I love seeing how others deal with fabric scraps!

What does the fashion industry do with their TONS of scraps?

Five things to know if you want to learn to sew …

UggjqRsn3MRl-1See this dress? Does it look easy to sew/make?

Every day in the shop a few people walk in and ask about sewing lessons. We get phone calls every day asking the same. I always like to get to know them, what their goals are, whether or not they have a sewing machine and we talk about their experience with mother, grandmother or aunts who may have sewn. Most students enjoy the conversation and can’t wait to dive into sewing. They realize that learning to sew is a process that takes time.

About once or twice a month someone walks in and asks to learn to sew because they have one thing they want to make. And they want to make it by next week. And all they have is a photo on their cell phone.  This ambitious project is usually (but not always) something made from lycra and lace and very stretchy. Definitely not something a beginner will tackle in their first lesson.

When I tell these ambitious potential students about the learning curve involved in sewing, that they must learn how a sewing machine operates, how to thread it, and how to sew a straight line before they make their first item – a simple project like a pillow or tote bag – some decide they do not have the patience for all that. Some become intrigued and decide to undertake a series of classes regardless of the time it takes to learn. Sewing is not for everyone.

Five Things You Need to Know if You Want to Learn to Sew:
1. Take sewing classes. Sewing may or may not be something you enjoy. Start simple, and if you enjoy the process think about buying a machine.
2. Do not rush to buy a machine. I know several people who decided they were going to learn to sew and bought a machine that just sits in their closet. They did not enjoy sewing as much as they had hoped. Before you purchase a sewing machine, ask your friends that sew what type machine they use. Test out different brands of machines when you take lessons. Choose a machine that you are comfortable using. Never order a machine online unless you are familiar with the brand name and model and have some experience with that type machine. You may luck out and find one for sale on Craigslist or an estate sale. The more you know about how a machine operates and how to use it the more qualified you are to purchase your machine.
3. Gather the proper and necessary tools and have a box or tote to store them all in. Basic supplies can be purchased at reasonable prices. What do you need? Good shears in two or three sizes; thread in various colors; seam ripper; measuring tape; seam gauge or small ruler; iron and ironing board; straight pins; disappearing or erasable fabric marking pen/pencils; safety pins; sewing clips; thimble; hand-sewing needles; pincushion. There are many other supplies to consider later on.
4. Learn to do basic hand-sewing. Sewing on buttons, hemming a skirt, mending a pair of pants – all this will build your hand-sewing skills. All machine sewing involves hand-sewing in the finish work. YouTube has wonderful tutorials in just about any area of sewing.
5. Go easy on yourself. Take your time in learning to read and understand a pattern. Choose patterns for beginners or purchase a beginner sewing book that includes patterns.

CLASS6Sewing is mostly a solitary process, but it doesn’t have to be. To really enjoy sewing, find a sewing community where you can learn tips and tricks of long-time sewists and quilters. Sewists love to gather and share projects and ideas. Sew social!

Call our shop if you’re ready!