Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Things to do in the Middle of the Night

The moon is high and just on the waning side of full in the black square of window in front of my desk.  I have a bad habit of wanting to do more in one day than is possible, so rather than give up, I decide to use half the night, which I should have learned by now inevitably cuts into the following morning, and that exhaustion eventually gets revenge no matter how much you accomplish while not sleeping.  But I can't help but love the quiet peaceful hours when everyone else is sleeping, and even if they're not, they assume you are, so you're left deliciously alone to concentrate uninterrupted.

A few months ago, my grandmother's sister gave me my great-great grandmother Emma's sewing machine.  It is a portable Singer 221-1 'Rotary Hook, For Family Use.'  Emma bought it at a shop at 6111 Georgia Avenue N.W. in Washington D.C. in December of 1939 for $142.25.  She traded in something for $7 and made a down payment of $13, and then paid installments of $3.50 on the 18th of each month.  It makes me so happy that I can still use this machine.  The great-aunt that gave it to me even used it to sew her own wedding dress.  Since I'm not very good at all with straight lines, I hope the spirit of Emma will guide me through the rhythms of the machine and help me have a steady hand...and maybe even someday become a good seamstress.  Tonight I completed the hem of a tea towel I'm making out of my fabric.

I quit the sewing machine around midnight to try to tackle the task my mom gave me of filling out the insert cards for my sister's graduation announcements.  This requires me to pen my sister's full name and her double degree on two shockingly short lines in some kind of fancy lettering.  Last summer I ordered an instruction manual for Spencerian Penmanship, which was developed by Platt Rogers Spencer in the 1800s and was the leading method of script instruction in schools for almost a hundred years.  The Theory and Practice book I ordered was originally copyrighted in 1874 by Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor & Co. and has been reprinted by Mott Media with virtually no change from the original, save correction of the spelling of hight to height.  It's really fun to look through and attempt to practice, even though the instructions are rigid and precise, down to a specific position and posture the penman is supposed to assume at the desk while writing.  And the pen must be held a certain way, which feels completely restrictive and unnatural at first.  The instructions for a lowercase 'r' read as follows:

Begin on base line and ascend with a right curve on connective slant one and one-quarter spaces; make a light dot, and descend with a slight left curve nearly vertical (5 degrees to left of vertical), one-fourth of a space; turn short, and descend with a straight line on main slant to base; turn short again, and ascend with a right curve on connective slant, one space.

Despite the technicality, I like trying, especially on big lined paper. (Yes, you can get the same glorious paper you practiced cursive on in third grade at Family Dollar or Dollar General!  I recommend it... it's very satisfying to write on, even for grocery lists.)  It's too bad that people have mostly abandoned script writing for chicken-scratchy print, and letter writing for emails.  Imagine the simple pleasure that could be restored to life if we all sent and received a handwritten letter each week.

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