Next, we moved on to the project for the night: a hot pad. Diann had cut the pieces out for us already, squares of fabric and insulating material sitting in neat piles with color-coordinated spools of thread.
We followed slow, step-by-step instructions, assembling the layers in an order that was critical to the outcome. One step included folding rectangles of fabric in a way that was like closing the flaps on the top of a cardboard box: under, over, under, over. After the assembly, we pinned everything together. I absently stuck three pins in my mouth while I worked, then spit them out, abashedly remembering the safety talk.
We took the pinned squares over to the machines, threading them per Diann’s calm instruction. Sitting behind the sewing machine, palms sweating, foot on the pedal, it felt like the first day of driver’s ed. But as soon as the machines started chugging along, seven students’ heads bowed in concentration, the scene was actually relaxing. Diann wandered between the rows smiling reassuringly, nodding encouragement, offering gentle reminders to slow down. For several peaceful minutes, I wasn’t worrying about war, global warming, my 2021 taxes, or single-use plastics. I was just focusing on guiding the fabric moving beneath my fingers while the needle bobbed up and down.
I sewed the hot pad inside out, as instructed, with the carefully stitched and pressed fabric loop secretly sewn somewhere in the middle. It looked rough. Diann said to be patient, that the magic comes when you turn everything right side out. She demonstrated by performing a few twists and turns of the fabric then with sleight of hand, shook the hot pad into its intended shape, the fabric loop emerging from one corner. Ta-da!
I watched on as, one by one, the other members of the class turned out hot pads worthy of gifting, or selling on Etsy. I turned my hot pad inside out, and it looked nothing like Diann’s or anyone else’s. Plus, the loop that was supposed to magically pop out did not. I could feel it bunched up in the corner.
The young woman at the table next to me got the same, unpleasant surprise. She turned to me with a panicked, incriminating look. I felt a pang of guilt, knowing she had observed and copied my erroneous steps. I’d never given her any indication I knew what I was doing, but I think because I was old enough to be her mother, she trusted me.
I wanted to just blow it off, pretend I didn’t care. “Who uses that loop anyhow?” I said dismissively, “My hot pads live in a drawer, not on a hook.”
But Diann wouldn’t have it. “You’ll never be happy knowing that loop is trapped inside,” she told me, winking.
Diann handed me a seam ripper, and gave one to my neighbor, as well.
She was right. I’d come too far to settle for another sewing failure. Diann was giving me the time and space to make it right.
I didn’t mind sitting there ripping out seams next to the young woman who seemed silently resigned to her role in the remedial group. There was a spirit of camaraderie, and it felt unrushed—peaceful, even. Diann assured us she would stay as long as we needed, because the important part was that we left feeling successful.
I didn’t even feel bad as everyone filed out of the class with their perfect hot pads, even the woman who’d had enough time to make two. I glanced at my neighbor who was smiling by now. “We are going to be successful,” I laughed.
While we worked, I asked Diann why she chose to teach community ed, mostly because I couldn’t imagine voluntarily teaching adults like me who, besides being a slow study, stick pins in their mouth right after the safety talk about why to not stick pins in one’s mouth.
Diann explained that the adults who were the most fun to teach were the ones unafraid to make mistakes. “That’s how kids learn,” she said, then added, “It will come to you.”
Diann described her relationship to sewing, something that, for her, transcended hobby status. “It’s an essential life skill,” she said with conviction. She felt compelled to teach sewing out of civic duty, to keep the skill alive. “People need to feel productive,” she said, “and useful.”