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Do you know that this is? Have you used one?

If you have, and it’s a seam ripper, I’m sorry.

In fifth grade, I became closely acquainted with the tool during a long, hot summer trying to complete my first 4-H sewing project, the dreaded tote bag and scarf. Why was it the first? It required sewing long, straight seams. Straight, because your project went to the county fair, where its seams would be judged by 4-H kids much farther along than you and by a team of sharp-eyed judges.

This was at a time when “home economics” was an industry. Everyone knew that a well-run farm, economical household spending, and thrifty home projects would save you money, but also provide the pride of a job well-done. At least, that was the theory, although somewhere in the 1970s, with the Vietnam war, civil rights riots, and burned bras, it was harder for too-tall, raw-boned eleven year old girl to care about her scarf. Or her tote.

I was interested in rides at the fair, midway exhibits, food at the fair, and last (but not least) boys – possibly other 4-H boys with livestock showing for blue ribbons.

But until my scarf and tote bag were done, those tantalizing sights and sounds were far away. And my mother was the “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” a Simon and Garfunkle throwback, which was often on the radio of the laundry room, where I sat in agony, soap suds swishing about in a front-load washer (before they became trendy again).

My mom had gone as far as one could go in 4-H. I’m still not sure what that means, except to note that she blue-ribboned at the Ohio State Fair for a fully lined winter coat in 1954. This craft, its objects and aims, were going to be passed down to me, come hell or high washing machine water.

Sew a side of your scarf (which you really couldn’t see ever wearing, anyway – who came up with these projects, anyways). Have it deemed crooked. Grab seam ripper. Remove stitches.

Sew a drawstring pocket. See your own crooked stitches (by this time). Don’t even hand it over for preliminary judging. Remove stitches.

At some point, you become so adept at ripping seams and stitches that you no longer need the snappy Singer sewing tool, using a strong needle and your agile fingers.

Repeat. And get a blue ribbon at the fair. Run from the pavilion, delighted, ecstatic, and go to find guys with prize pigs.

To this day, I can cut straight like a boss and sew a straight seam.

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