My birthday is right after Christmas, and since there’s no space in between it’s never really that big of a deal, unlike friends of mine whose birthdays are in June or July. It’s also a shared birthday with my sister, Katie, so the celebrations are a little understated. We usually don’t get big presents aside from the hallmark years—sixteen, twenty-one—but I remember that when I turned fourteen my grandma gave Katie a typewriter and I got a sewing machine. We were both excited about these gifts, and the idea of putting them to use. Even though I hadn’t expressed that I wanted a sewing machine, my whole life my grandmother has always sewn. She must have seen me hanging around watching her, and knew that someday I would want to sew too.
I kept the sewing machine in my room, and I would look at it from time to time. But even though it appeared simple, there was something really intimidating about learning how to use it. There’s a lot of prep work, troubleshooting that you need to do, stuff that kept me from fully diving in.
Eventually the sewing machine found its way into a box that I kept in my parents’ basement. It didn’t resurface again until I was about twenty, when I moved from Birmingham to Chattanooga. I’d been away to college before, but this time I was really leaving home.
As I was packing I saw the machine, and thought to take it with me with the idea that maybe this was the time in my life when I would start sewing. But then I moved from Tennessee to New York to Philadelphia, always bringing the machine along with me, but never quite getting around to using it. Most of the time it stayed in an old yellow Seagram’s Gin box I used for packing.
Over the last few years I’ve moved around and toured a lot. I used every spare moment I had when I wasn’t touring with Waxahatchee to make my new album, and I started to feel like I needed another outlet to expend my creative energy. A good friend of mine was able to quickly show me the basics of sewing, and I was able to pick up the rest on my own. At twenty-seven I finally learned how to sew. I really enjoy it!
Sewing satisfies that part of my brain that wants a very clear-cut beginning and end. Of course things can go wrong, the thread can get caught up, and you can think, “Oh, shit, why does this keep happening to me!” But it’s often something easy, like you’ve missed one of the tension loops, or the needle size is wrong, or you just need to clean the lint from the machine. With experience, you learn what to check for and how to work things out—in that way it’s a lot like working with a new musical instrument.
As I’ve learned to sew, I’ve also recently started working more with synthesizers and interfaces. Some people might approach it by reading over every instruction manual… or you can do what I did, which is just sit down with the machine and experience it, what each symbol means, what moving each lever back and forth does.
Coming out of punk and DIY, making things myself is such a huge part of who I am, but there are differences for me between making music and sewing. When I’m working on a song or an album, I’m writing for myself, but I know that when I put it out into the world it will mean different things to different people. With clothing, the satisfaction of making something remains that I create it just for me, or for the particular person that I’m sewing for.
As I’ve gotten more into sewing, I’ve really gotten into clothing patterns made by this amazing person, Sonya Philip, who keeps a blog called 100 Acts of Sewing. She made a new piece of clothing every day for one hundred days! I use a lot of her patterns, and she’s also inspired me to make my own. Here’s a dress that I made using one of Sonya’s patterns:
My attachment to my sewing machine became intensified even more by an experience I had a couple of months ago when I was on tour. While we were in San Francisco my van got broken into and all of my clothes were stolen. It was two suitcases full, all of my favorite clothing, including this dress!
When I’m away touring, my clothes are my connection to home, my way of feeling myself. So the experience really affected me. Even now, I’ll be getting dressed, and I’ll be in a bummer mood, and thinking, “What’s going on for me?” And then I’ll realize that I’m missing something that I really wanted to wear. But then I’ll also realize it can be remade—by me. My grandmother’s gift turned out to be not only useful, but also deeply meaningful.
Wanted/Needed/Loved: Musicians and the Stuff They Can’t Live Without is an illustrated column where musicians share the stories behind meaningful objects. As told to Allyson McCabe and illustrated by Esme Blegvad.
Allison Crutchfield, a founding member of the bands P.S. Eliot and Bad Banana (both with her twin sister Katie of Waxahatchee), has just released her full-length solo album debut Tourist in This Town. Earning praise from NPR Music, Stereogum, and others, Crutchfield says, “It’s a record about change—change of scenery, of partner, of band, of home, of friends, of outlook—and how that change can cause a temporary panic but ultimate triumph in most of us.” She is currently on tour.