I know it may be hard to tell, but in this very photo, I am hunga dunga-ing.
See those black thingy-dos on the rolled up part of the fabric? You guessed it: Hunga dungas. I hope you’re saying this word out loud. It’s the best thing since “baggy wrinkle.”
OK, I’m sorry about the hype. A hunga dunga is just a piece of PVC pipe that keeps the fabric from coming unrolled. The roll makes it easier to feed the fabric through a sewing machine.
In other exciting news, I sewed a seam between two panels of Dacron in a relatively straight line. That’s good since I was worried I might not be capable of such a feat, at least not on my first go. The thrill lessened only slightly after I practiced for five hours.
As the day drew on, my stitching improved and then worsened when fatigue set in. The last time I exercised such extreme concentration for hours on end might have been when I took the GREs six years ago. Just imagine instead of filling in a circle to respond to a question, you have to fold the test into the shape of your answer.
Today, if my seams are straight, I will graduate to constructing a small sail for someone in town.
“But we won’t put our label on it,” my coworker explained. “Well, you know, unless it’s good.”
I’m sure everyone can see there’s something wrong in this picture. The above is the result of two things. The first is, my bobbin ran out. A bobbin is not a mythical creature from Middle Earth, even though it may sound like one. Still, it can be just as diabolical. A bobbin is the spool of thread that feeds from the underside of the material you’re sewing. There is a second spool of thread, that feeds from the top and runs through the sewing needle. It is easy to see that one. That spool is large and lasts a long time. The bobbin, however, is a small spool and runs out frequently.
The sewing needle performs a hypnotic dance, weaving back and forth like an adder in a snake charmer’s basket. Meanwhile, Bilbo Bobbins leaves on an unexpected journey and you suddenly realize you have a trail of half stitches that, in a sailmaker’s world, is the making of a story worth repeating: “Remember when Bonnie’s bobbin ran out and she didn’t notice?”
I soon discovered the reason that mistake was such a big deal. It’s the time-consuming nature of fixing it, which brings me to the second reason the seam in the photo looks like a teenaged boy’s first attempt at repairing a favorite T-shirt. You have to run the fabric through the machine a second time and make sure the needle goes through every hole you already punctured. More holes are unsightly and weaken the material. I could barely sew in a straight line the first time. Aligning the needle to the tiny holes stitch by stitch, well, it’s a word that rhymes with stitch and begins with a “B.”
As I keep practicing, I am training my eyes to glance behind the needle, akin to checking the rear-view mirror of a car. I am also training my ears to listen to the rattling parts of the machine, for subtle changes that indicate my bobbin is nearly empty. I left the loft Friday afternoon exhausted, hanging my clipboard on its nail. The clipboard has lists of skills I must learn. At the top is “seaming.” I can hardly check it off, but at least I know what seams are. After that, however, are a string of tasks written in a foreign tongue. I can’t wait to speak sailmaker. I think I’ll be cool then, and running out of bobbin won’t make people feel as though they’ve “pulled a Bonnie.”