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Lisa Allen-Agostini: A stitch in time; sew it begins…

When the Pandemic started and the world stopped, like everyone else, I was thrown into a whole new mental space. Unlike everyone else, I did not learn to bake banana bread or grow marijuana. 

But in mid-2020, I did feel called to learn to sew—buying a basic Brother sewing machine from Courts and signing up for a dressmaking class. I went into Fakoory’s and equipped myself with sewing gear: French curves and thread and extra needles, a serious pair of cloth scissors and yards of white polyester/cotton to practise on. 

Photo: Author, editor and stand-up comedian Lisa Allen-Agostini.
(Copyright Wayne Lee-Sing)

God had called me and I would answer ‘Yes’.

The class for which I had applied was a full-time, government-subsidised skills training programme for which I appeared qualified. People switch careers all the time and adult retraining is a thing. I am a writer with a whole career in print journalism, poetry and fiction and I thought learning sewing was good preparation for the obviously imminent end of days.

Nobody would need a press release during Armageddon but they might need a good pair of trousers. However, in response to my application, I received a bland, non-specific rejection letter. 

It was the first time I’d been rejected for an educational programme and I was outraged. Naturally, I took to Facebook to vent. Dozens of friends and strangers joined me in my confusion. 

Was I overqualified with a BA already? Did someone think I ought to be able to afford to pay for this kind of thing privately? Were there too many applicants and was my application disregarded because of space? Or was the class cancelled because of the Pandemic? 

Photo: Wired868 Write Start judge Lisa Allen-Agostini speaks to students and parents at the inaugural prize-giving function at the Queen’s Park Oval on 15 December 2021.
(Courtesy Karla Ramoo/ bmobile)

Who knows. All the anodyne email said was that I was free to reapply in the future. I filed the whole experience under ‘things God told me to do’ and left it there.

Fast-forward to February 2022 when one Wednesday my phone rang. I was at home making lunch—French toast with caramel sauce (don’t judge me). Distracted as I tried to rescue my burning, splitting caramel, I vaguely heard the gentleman on the line ask if I’d registered for a dressmaking course, and if I was still interested in attending. 

Was I? The Brother machine was long packed up in its box; the one project I had completed was an aggressively ugly shalwar kameez with messy stitching and I’d never worn it or returned to sewing since. But there was that calling. “Yes,” I said again. 

The programme had started that Monday. He emailed me the sign-in details for the virtual classes and the next morning, I was one of 100 students in a Teams meeting on life skills.

I excelled in some subjects at school but I’m a twitchy, easily distracted human and prone to outbursts. I don’t think those traits make for a good student. 

Photo: Ready for class…
(Courtesy Lisa Allen-Agostini)

I also had whittled my wardrobe down considerably and all my black pants were gone, along with all my shoes except a virtually indestructible pair of tan Timberland work boots inherited from my younger daughter’s emo phase. I was in the position of so many parents, suddenly having to find school uniform and lunch money when my income was straitened.

But it’s true that if God leads you to it, He will carry you through it. Black pants I’d long forgotten existed reared their dusty cuffs from the back of a cupboard. My brother gave me black shoes. I already had the requisite white shirts. I put on the uniform. 

I was about to go to a class I wasn’t sure I wanted to take, among students whom I imagined were all teenagers and under an instructor who might be younger than me. Talk about learning humility!

What I wasn’t prepared for was the utter and unadulterated joy I felt the first time I walked into the tailoring classroom. Something inside of me sang. Bolts of fabric! Dressmakers mannequins! Big, maco steel scissors! Industrial sewing machines and sergers! I might have become dizzy.

It’s been a month and I am still ecstatic. I had always loved fashion but somehow never imagined I’d actually make garments. Now here I am, sewing.

Photo: Let’s go…
(Courtesy Lisa Allen-Agostini)

My instructor is kind, patient and knowledgeable, and he’s about my age, thank God. There’s another 40-something woman in the class; the two other students are in their 20s. We’re already stuck like Pellon and I appreciate their patience with me. 

I’m the only novice sewist there. While I’m not yet ready for Project Runway, I am learning a lot—not least of all the patience and fastidiousness it takes to sew well. 

My favourite lesson so far was the first: if it’s not done right, you can always rip out your stitches and start over. As someone who is often crippled by perfectionism, that lesson is life-changing. 

I can make mistakes. I can try again. I can learn. And I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Even an edge stitch.

Editor’s Note: Facebook friends of writer Lisa Allen-Agostini had some punny things to say about her sewing course:

About Lisa Allen-Agostini

Lisa Allen-Agostini
Lisa Allen-Agostini is an editor, stand-up comedian and author from Trinidad and Tobago. Her latest novel The Bread the Devil Knead (Myriad Editions UK, 2021) is long listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2022.

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2 comments

  1. Lovely article. Congratulations on your new career. Wishing you all the very best.