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April 15, 2009

A stitch in time

I have a new friend who sews.

I knew we were friends when she told me she sews because that is not the kind of information you share with just anyone. Casual acquaintances might divulge the intimate details of their sex lives or confess to drug addictions, but it takes a real friend to bring up sewing.

My friend is also a mom who works full-time outside the home and keeps a garden and shops and cooks and bakes and jogs and keeps up with the social and political and cultural landscape, all while tweeting via her Crackberry, without even breaking a sweat. She is Woman 2.0.

This always leaves me awestruck. Most moms do more, facing greater obstacles by 8 a.m. than most men do all day, while somehow also managing to outlive us. And yet, it is her sewing that amazes me the most. It seems like something from a bygone era, like wearing a wristwatch or belonging to an organized religion. Considering the world we live in, where most Americans get their needlework done by 12-year-old slave girls in Cambodian sweatshops, my friend’s sewing seems heroic. It’s art, it’s craft, it’s economical, it’s utilitarian, it’s a way to bond with her daughter. It’s taking the bull by the horns. It’s Do-Re-Mi, survival-alidocious. It’s not letting the terrorists win while bailing out Main Street.

During a recent conversation about bobbins and stitch width (I said she was a hero; I didn’t say she wasn’t a little nerdy about it), my mind wandered to my own mom’s sewing machine and the magical dress patterns that used to line our living room floor like murder-victim outlines in an episode of “Law and Order, First Communion Gowns Unit.” Mom worked full-time and attended PTA meetings and cooked chicken cacciatore and played the piano and told filthy jokes and corrected our grammar and helped with algebra homework and painted watercolor indigo buntings and completed her crosswords in ink. Mom was 2.0 before 2.0 was cool.

So I called her to find out how she could have raised three kids, worked full-time and also, somehow, sewn. True to her humble character, she changed the subject. All she wanted to talk about was how I could wear a brand new pair of pants to school back then and come home a few hours later with holes in both knees.

Perhaps uncomfortable with the praise, Mom changed the subject to the economy, which she’s concerned about. I argued that everything’s going to be OK. Sure, our empire is crumbling and, yes, our national dalliance with McMansions and Lexi and breakfast sushi was untenable. But America is still going to be a pretty good place for bowling and picnics and watching sunsets for a good, long time. Things will start to improve soon.

I don’t say this based on a careful examination of the leading economic indicators or a painstaking study of the GDP. I say it because wealth-building is encoded in our DNA. There are three things Americans do well: eat cheese, watch TV and make money. From the greediest Rockefeller, Morgan and Gates to the humblest butcher, baker and systems administrator, Americans always find a way to coax pennies from heaven (and/or the backbones of the laborers of “developing” nations).

Evidence of a next-gen boom is all around: Amazon sells a gizmo you can use to download “The Grapes of Wrath” to your bathtub. GM is partnering with Segway to create the tiny PUMA, an urban anti-Hummer. High tech is even coming here to Silicon Holler, where the U.S. Energy Department’s Argonne National Laboratory will partner with UK and U of L to develop lithium-ion batteries for our future anti-Hummers. SuperObama is fixing the grid so it’ll all run on solar and wind. And, yes, there are now wireless, USB-enabled sewing machines.

If there’s one thing all white collars, blue collars, green collars, rednecks, hippies, Christians, atheists, sports fans and seamstresses can agree on, it’s that french fries are delicious. But also, we are a nation of bootstrappers. And we can overcome trillion-dollar deficits and economic recessions with the strength of our muscles and our innate American greed. We may never achieve peace, justice, equality or a truly comfortable pair of dress shoes, but the American economy always comes roaring back.

Also, it probably wouldn’t kill us to pick up a needle and thread once in awhile.