Vo l . 6 N o . 2
Swallowing the Needle Technically, my first employer, Laurel, didn’t swallow a needle. It was a pin. One of those white-plasticball-tipped pins you always put in your mouth without thinking because the pincushion is never handy. You probably have 3 or 4 pins bobbing in your mouth while you sew, and maybe you have those 3 or 4 dangling there as you fit a wedding gown while the bride stands coolly on a little foot stool with arms held out, and she seems nervous so you’re making silly small talk and pinning, so maybe now you only have 3 in your mouth, then 2, then 1. And then you suddenly laugh. And then there are none. And you come stumbling into the back room with eyes watering because you can feel it dangling at the back of your throat, and because you’re clawing at your neck and can’t speak your young assistant looks up from her machine and thinks you are choking. She is barely 19, but she’s been taught the Heimlich Maneuver at school (fist inside cupped hand, then position behind the victim, bend knees, this might crack a rib but be firm, then, no, wait ... there was that important part ... oh yes, always ask first: “Can you breathe?”). Good Lord, you don’t need the Heimlich Maneuver, so you push her away, steady yourself against the shelves filled with jars of pearls and thread cones and boxes of lace. And then there must be something like a swallow or a gag, or maybe a cough. But the greater sudden mystery now is where that pin has gone.
and sizes that fit our hands perfectly, allow fingers to fly with precision. The animist tradition believes such simple objects as tools are infused with their own spirituality or soul. For 400 years, kimono makers and needle workers have gathered at Shinto and Buddhist shrines to bury their broken needles into a tender bed of tofu or jelly cake during the winter festival of Hari Kuyo. By honoring these tools, women ask for better sewing skills in the coming year. It is a thank you to the hard working needle and a final resting ground for the many losses women throughout history have swallowed, quietly burying their pain into cloth, one needle stab after another. Wordless. Rhythmic. My own myths and superstitions around the inanimate object vary, but feel real and rooted in a form of practicality often verging on this animism. Eddie, a tailor from Hong Kong who I worked with for years, used to call out, “Oh, some tailor now die!” whenever a pair of scissors dropped on the floor (not only this, but crap if it doesn’t ruin your good Weiss scissors, too). I was never clear on whether the spirit of the dead tailor entered the scissors once they’d fallen, or if it was this reckless spirit in the first place who’d spun the scissors off the cutting table and onto the concrete floor, nearly missing my opentoed sandal/good tights/the other cutter working next to me, or would, years later, fumble the embroidery scissors from my hands to stab into the fiberglass hull of our boat
As needle workers, we are disappointed when pins bend or needles snap, when nickel-plated safety pins specifically labeled “professional” or “for quilting” have tips so poorly machined they snag and ruin fabric. We remain loyal to favorite brands from Europe or certain lengths Woman Embracing the Sky
A Journal for the North Pacific Rim