Poems & Essays

21 Oct

Conquering the Jumpsuit

Taking Flight 3 Responses

You study the models in the photographs on pattern 6702 and picture your eldest daughter sashaying through Central Park in a slinky jumpsuit. It looks complicated, yet the small print promises otherwise, in four languages—leicht, facileeasy, fácil.

You pray she will like it, loveit, rave about it, intuit your heart is stitched into the seams. You do know this is absurd, on multiple levels. Your daughter is not the effusive type and, after all, it’s only an item of clothing, not a cure for cancer or a round-the-world cruise. You also suspect that, if she senses your presence when she wears it, that’s bound to creep her out. Who wants to feel their mother’s hands, her sweat, frustration, and pin-pricked fingertips, while strolling Central Park?

You stalk the fabric aisles, trailing fingers along bolts of fleece, flannel, satin and chiffon, in search of four-way stretch jersey. It must be black, the only color your daughter wears. That’s not entirely true. She also wears white and gray. But in a white jumpsuit, she’d look like an astronaut, and in all-over gray, well, a prisoner perhaps, or a member of some drab cult.

You rule out the transparent, t-shirt weight jerseys. Yours will have heft. Though synthetics aren’t your thing, you decide the one you eventually choose has a decided gravitas. That’s when you begin to suspect you are placing far too much importance on this sewing project.

But didn’t your daughter once say she’d been searching for a black jumpsuit? And didn’t you say it would make the ideal birthday gift? You realize she’s likely bought one for herself by now or that it’s fallen off her wish list. Nonetheless, the girls often accuse you of not listening to them, of forgetting your little promises, so you’d made a very specific mental note not to forget about the black jumpsuit. 

The pattern is designed for use in multiple nations. You picture a legion of confident, fashionable women—from Toulouse to Berlin, Fresno to Madrid—stepping out in their jumpsuits, monos and combinaisons. In Spanish, mono also means monkey. A tuxedo is sometimes called a monkey suit. Stiff, formal attire, for stiff, formal occasions. From tuxedo to utilitarian mechanics’ coverall. The universal, multi-purpose garment.

Standing in line, waiting your turn at the fabric-cutting counter, you picture an entire wardrobe of jumpsuits and rompers—for sleeping, lounging, cocktail parties, work and play. You see yourself at Fashion Week in New York City, as anorectic models clad in your latest collection float down the runway, and a thousand cameras record your triumph. Your daughters are in the front row beside you. Proud of what you’ve achieved. And to think, it all started with a mother’s promise and one black jumpsuit.

When your number is called, you stumble to the counter, bolt in hand, and experience sticker shock when four yards of stretch jersey comes to over fifty dollars. Even without factoring in the hours of labor and frustration that lie ahead, you know it would have made more sense to buy a jumpsuit.

At home, you lay the fabric out on the dining table and struggle as it slips, slides, and puddles off the side and onto the floor like a cartoon shadow. You pin eleven wrinkled bits of tissue paper to the fabric, then cut them out. You believe you are hewing a straight line, only to discover that the cut-outs—arms, legs, pockets and the rest—have ragged edges, as if cut by a first grader with round-tipped safety scissors.

The two sheets—front and back—of fine-print instructions and diagrams intimidate and terrify you, as does the belated realization that you have never sewn with stretch fabric before. You wish you could summon a flock of twittering Disney bluebirds to finish the job, while you sip a mojito and supervise.

In the end, you muddle through, taking it one step at a time. You resist the urge to look ahead. Eyes on the task at hand. This goes on for hours, days, into the night. You are determined to get it there on time. 

You rip out seams, break needles, poke holes in the fabric that must be camouflaged, compensated for. You are grateful your daughter prefers black—black thread on black fabric proves more forgiving than some bright, patterned bit of goods would have been. 

You wrap the completed jumpsuit in golden tissue paper, slip it into a padded envelope, with a card wishing her Happy Birthday. As you hand it to the woman at the postal counter, you make a tri-part wish, that the precious jumpsuit arrives on time, that it fits and is precisely what your daughter pictured all those months ago. The woman tosses your parcel into a rolling cart. The deed is done. 

An irksome thought intrudes. It wasyour older daughter who once fancied a black jumpsuit, wasn’t it? 

Dorothy Rice is the author of two memoirs, Gray Is the New Black (Otis Books, June 2019) and The Reluctant Artist (Shanti Arts, 2015). She has also published essays and stories about motherhood in Brain Child and Brain Teen Magazines, Literary Mama, Mom Egg Review and others. After raising five children and retiring from a career in environmental protection, Rice earned an MFA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside, Palm Desert, at 60. Find her at dorothyriceauthor.com and @dorothyrowena.

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  1. Karen DeBonis

    October 21, 2019 at 4:39 pm

    Dorothy, this brings back so many memories of my mom sewing my clothes. I was heavy as a teen, and she tried so hard to make me flattering clothes that stores didn’t sell. I was one tough customer. And what a great ending to your essay. I have to ask – did you have the right daughter?

  2. Laurel Stevens

    November 8, 2019 at 3:07 pm

    After a brief foray into sewing this week, I have to say this was a delight to read. So relatable and evoking all the right emotions.

  3. Peggy Bowes

    November 16, 2019 at 6:16 pm

    So beautifully written! It reminds me so fondly of my own mother, who taught me to sew. Sadly so few of us will “get” this post. I recently bought a black jumpsuit that sounds just like you described. My sewing machine is gathering dust in a closet. The last time I got an urge to sew, the few fabric stores left were stocked with fabric only a quilter or someone making a Halloween costume would buy.


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