Bee Bayou

Sitting on my back porch gives me a deep longing for my mother. I want to pour a tall glass of her sweet tea and have her right next to me. Thank goodness for technology. I love talking to my mom. Those who know me and think I am long winded…shoot! You ain’t never met my Mama. Toss my sister in and let me tell ya, we can chat up a storm. I have no shame.

Memories flood over me, wind in my hair as my hand surfs the wind wave out the window. The smell of crops and gravel roads transition to asphalt and marshy waters. Heat from the blazing sun is broken up by cypress trees lining swamps along the highway. It’s a long drive to town but it’s time for new clothes.

Arriving at the fabric store, there’s a feeling of excitement as we enter. Rows of beautiful colors on new fabric with the latest style of prints. We hit the pattern section first to pick out the style of clothing we want, then it’s time for fabric! We make our selections, but really, it’s driven by my mother so our clothes coordinate. My sisters colors were usually blue and mine yellow. Hmmm…maybe that’s why I don’t love yellow.

Once we’re home the real work begins. Sewing patterns are removed from their packaging. Crinkling tissue is delicate as we separate sections to prep for ironing. Each section has multiple patterns we must cut apart. It’s tedious and precise. You even have to cut around the triangle notch for aligning sections later. Once prepped, we lay out each pattern piece onto the fabric…yada yada yada…you get the idea.

This was every summer and winter. We had nothing but time living in rural Louisiana. Making new clothes for the next season was beyond exhilarating. Each step of sewing tethers me to my childhood. All the women in my life sewed. This was normalcy. As I became an adult I found I was drawn to the colors and prints of fabric and craved seeing new styles but was only willing to make curtains. I was no longer passionate about sewing like my mom and sister.

Once I began painting again, I felt a tug to incorporate sewing patterns into my art. The patterns have directional arrows, shapes with repetition, numbers and words on them. These important sewing instructions are their own language. I found the tissues add an important layer of interest to my paintings. They are delicate and crinkle while adhering to the canvas. Crinkling allows a unique texture for paint to seep into creases and glide over ridges. The tissue paper dries translucent, while instructional black details pop. In some of my paintings, tissue patterns are left bold and visual, while others show a small area of their detail. Depending on the painting, some will only reveal the texture lying beneath the paint.

Regardless, I love incorporating sewing patterns. It connects me to a long standing tradition in my family. I even keep my grandmothers antique drop head sewing machine in the entry of my home. To this day, my mother still uses her drop head machine, which I learned to sew on. There is a rich, vital history behind sewing machines but that’s for another day.

The phone rings and my mother shouts “I just wanted to be by you!” Immediately, I envision myself sitting alongside her in the car. Before me lay the red paved highway from my childhood as we make our way back from town. As I gaze at gray spanish moss hanging from cypress trees, wind is in my hair as my hand surfs the wind wave out the window. Yucca plants border the road side as we approach the bridge for Bee Bayou. For a moment…I am home.

This tradition started years ago as my mother drives past this specific piece of water. It still warms my heart, leaving me with a smile. Although we’re miles apart, immediately, I am overcome with calm knowing we are stitched together, in that exact moment, at that exact bridge. Although we left Louisiana and moved north, my parents eventually moved back. No matter where I am, I still have those deep southern roots. My heart will always belong to Montana but there is something about the sun, sweet tea and sitting with my mama on her porch. I savor simpler times, sitting on linoleum floors separating sewing patterns, preparing for a beautiful new outfit. I will continue searching antique stores and thrift stores for vintage sewing patterns. Not all of my paintings incorporate these patterns but most do. Look for hints of nostalgia within my paintings, knowing I just wanna Bee Bayou!

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