There are things about this aging process that are so interesting that I wonder why so much of the writing about aging centers around all the things we lose as we get older. Certainly those things are noticeable, things like strength, memory, youthful looks. But what I find much more interesting are the subtle changes going on constantly in the subterranean regions of our minds and emotions. They indicate how fluid and ever-changing we humans can be, no matter how old. I’m often reminded of this in unexpected ways, and recently one of those ways was my curtain sewing project.

I’ve always disliked curtains. They block out part of the views that windows provide, and let less light into every room. Many of them look silly, especially if there are ruffles, but we’ve become so used to them we don’t notice anymore. They’re magnets for dust and scorpions. Yes, they’re good for privacy at night, but even better are window shades. Shades have evolved over the years, from those flimsy always-curling-on-the-edges things we had in the ‘40s and ‘50s to elegant performance pieces that now can even be activated by a mere touch of a button. They disappear at the top of the window during the daytime, and subtly transform a room in the evenings.

I don’t have curtains, and for years I didn’t have shades either. My house looks down on my neighbors’ roofs, so I felt plenty private, until a friend stayed in my house once when I was off on a trip. He was freaked out by how exposed he felt in the evenings. When I got back I tried to imagine what that felt like for him, and my imagination was so vivid that soon, after ten years of living happily with bare windows, I was sure eyes were looking in at me every night. I immediately ordered shades.

It’s in my Scamp that I’ve had to revisit the whole subject of curtains. It wasn’t until after I got home from my first summer trip with the Scamp, back in 2014, that I discovered that the curtains that came with it were see-through. I had spent four months exploring mountains: the Sierras, the Tetons, the Rockies, a crescendo of mountains leading up to Glacier Nat’l Park at the Canadian border. Almost every night on that trip I would close the curtains, turn on a light, heat a pot of water, take off all my clothes and voila! a delightful sponge bath. I still do that, and I’m still ecstatic with the luxury of it all, after all my years of tent camping.  But that first trip, at night, with the light on and the curtains drawn, anyone could see clearly everything I was doing inside. What can I do but laugh ruefully, thinking of the entertainment I provided in each campground during those mountain months? How is it nobody told me?

For the next two summers I just folded an extra layer of material over the curtains every night. It’s surprising how annoying such a small task can become, but I tried to think of it as just part of my bedtime routine. This spring I decided to find someone in Oracle who could sew opaque curtains for me, but after many phone calls I was unable to find a seamstress to do the job. I researched blinds for trailers, but they are too expensive, and many comments online told of frustrations with them. One morning I heard myself say “Then I’ll do it myself said the Little Red Hen, and she did.”

So I did. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the whole process of making those curtains. It began with looking for just the right material. I hadn’t been in a fabric store for years, and as soon as I walked into the first one I was pulled back into memories of the 1950s when I did most of my sewing.  I remembered poring over the pattern books – Simplicity, Butterick, McCall’s, Vogue. I again let my hands brush over the edges of the bolts of cotton fabrics lined up on the shelves, the material pulled tight and smooth, always looking so full of potential. I was riveted by the huge rainbow of colors that the spools of thread made. As I made my way through these fabric stores I saw them as colorful hotbeds of possibility. Everything in them is in a dormant state, waiting for someone to bring them to life.

When I didn’t find anything that met my Scamp needs in any of the fabric stores, I started in on thrift shops to look for an opaque bed sheet. I would go directly to the linens department of the thrift shop, find all the sheets that were a neutral beige, hold them up to the fluorescent lights on the ceiling and see if they were completely opaque. It was weeks of tenacious looking before I found exactly what I wanted.

In the meantime I had become overwhelmed by my online research into sewing machines. The last one I had used was in the 1950s, when I was a teenager. It had been left in the old barn of a redwood house that we rented in Santa Barbara from 1949 until 1955. The sewing machine, a Singer, was probably made in the 1930s. How I loved working that treadle, the feel of it under my foot, the whirring sound it made, the trembling of the old house’s redwood boards when I got going really fast. I sewed clothes for myself and shirts for my boyfriend. I could make buttonholes and put in zippers. Luckily, curtains don’t require any advanced sewing technique, only straight seams.

I was able to give up trying to choose one machine from the zillions that showed up online, when I discovered a store in Tucson that sells only sewing machines and vacuum cleaners. This store should be the model for all small businesses. They helped me choose the most basic machine, and then spent an hour with me, showing me everything about it. Later that week they had their monthly sewing class, so I went to that too. I was the only person who showed up, so I had a private tutorial. A week later, when I couldn’t figure out how to unscramble the bobbin, I took the machine back to them, and again they spent time with me, explaining and fixing.  What a difference it makes to have a store stand behind a product like that. The people who work there are mostly middle-aged women who all seem to have a lively sense of humor and a true desire to help everyone learn to sew. I keep hoping I’ll have another problem so I can go back again.

It wasn’t until after I had bought my lovely new sewing machine that one of the thrift shops had exactly what I was looking for. And it was a king size sheet, so there would be plenty of material for mistakes and do-overs, if needed. It’s a neutral beige, it’s a thin material that I can pull back from all the windows during the daytime and they won’t be noticed, and best of all, it’s completely opaque, even with all five lights turned on inside the Scamp.

I got all set up on my dining room table, cut out the curtains, and with great excitement started to sew. I made every mistake that can possibly be made with such a straightforward, simple job, and all the hems look as though I suffer from palsy or was sewing during an earthquake. But finally they are all sewn and hung up in the Scamp. They look just fine, and I know that in a while I won’t even notice them. They’re just curtains, and they’re good enough.

I was surprised by the sense of potency this small project gave me. At this stage of life, retired from my work and no longer playing the cello, I don’t often get that sense, the feeling that I still have agency in the world. I wanted more of that feeling. So, after my curtains were finished, for the first time in years I vacuumed my house. For over 25 years, it has given me a luxurious feeling to hire someone else to do it, but I think maybe I’ve had enough of luxury. Now a sense of accomplishment, no matter how small, is more satisfying to me.

I find that my needs and desires continue to change. Old age is definitely not a static end zone, a passive waiting for death. It’s quite possible that I’ve changed more since I turned 70, eleven years ago, than I did in many previous decades. The changes all feel like real growth to me. I understand so many things more clearly now, including myself.

From my little curtain-sewing project I’ve learned that for me, at this age at least, feeling useful outweighs comfort and luxury. I’ve seen how stimulating it is to challenge myself to do new things. I’ve seen also how easy it is to fall into a rut, doing the same familiar things over and over, never daring to strike out in a new direction. While figuring out all the details of making those curtains, my brain felt livelier and more interesting. It wouldn’t surprise me if I even stood up a little taller and straighter, and maybe even walked a little faster.



20 thoughts on “CURTAINS

  1. Fun piece, Liz. I love hearing about your underlying thoughts and emotions. I’m trying to work up the courage to pull out my fancy sewing machine, so this helps. That sense of accomplishment is really the crux of it all, isn’t it? I could use some more of it.

  2. Love this piece of writing!

    On Fri, Jun 23, 2017 at 11:11 PM The Tent Soloist wrote:

    > Liz LaFarge posted: “There are things about this aging process that are so > interesting that I wonder why so much of the writing about aging centers > around all the things we lose as we get older. Certainly those things are > noticeable, things like strength,memory,youthful looks” >

  3. Liz—what a wonderful essay! I’ll bet that, after reading it, every one of your readers, not just Steve, looked around and wondered, Gee. What project could I tackle that would lead me to learn to do something I’ve never done before?

    Hmmm… Barbara’s going to a movie with her pal (fellow nurse practitioner) Dorothy this evening. Should I bake a cake?



  4. I like your curtain adventure immensely. I get the same feeling of competence and accomplishment when I make them for my house. I live in a city and need blinds and curtains for various reasons. But the sewing machine has been living behind a small sofa for years. I just sew the curtains by hand. It doesn’t really take long, since they’re simple panels. And I always buy too much material in case of goof ups. I even reupholstered my sofa bed by sneakily attaching the new fabric with velcro and glue! I’m three years younger than you are and you inspire me!

  5. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Contemplating drastic changes here…………..looking forward and aprehensive at the same time………….kind of exciting!!


  6. You’ve done it again, my dear! I love the stories you tell on (and about) yourself. I especially appreciate this piece because it exemplifies the benefits bestowed upon mind (and body) when we engage in novel behavior, however or whenever encountered, with a sense of play and curiosity!

  7. Liz, Thanks for keeping me on your dust list. We met in Taos st a writing conference a few years ago. This essay resonates with me as I turn 70 in a couple months. Yes, I feel great accomplishment when I do something I wasn’t sure I could.

    Love your writing and hope to read more.

    Sally Krusing

    Sent from my iPhone


  8. Oh, this is a good one! It made me laugh and cheer and think and agree and wonder. YES!! Aren’t we all lucky that you’re still writing? Thanks for this one.

  9. Liz, being a part of your life change is a thrill as your friendship has been a part of my mine. Your story telling is so delicious and easy like pulling words through butter.

  10. All the memories your project evoked were rich for me, maybe especially the treadle sewing machine. But the best thing you gave me was a prompt to ask how I have changed in the past ten years–what I’ve gained and learned as well as what I’ve lost. Good time to explore that.

  11. You are a jewel in the beyond 70 years Liz. Lov the way you can capture a universal feeling and put it to words as an entertainmg story while explaining the joys of small accomplishments and the satisfaction within ourselves when we can perform them.
    Keep on keepin on ! Xo, Valeska

  12. Liz, thank you for opening the door to your wonder world. I too used to sew all of my clothes except jeans. With pride I remember sometimes working late into the night because I wanted to wear my new piece the next day. I had a Pfaff electric sewing machine and sewing was almost as much fun as wearing the new piece. I had visitors the last 6 months and I thought I won’t be able to cook, clean, and entertain so long but I did it. All the different guests were happy and fed. It made me feel younger. Sometimes we just need to be pushed a little and the reward is feeling young and capable again. I love you stories and when I saw your name in my email it was like receiving a gift. A gift of the best kind!

  13. Liz ~ how wonderful to receive this email and an update on your summer curtain project. I know the desire to stay active. At 68 I still drive my motorhome and tow my little Jeep behind it but it’s getting more difficult to do little things as I have developed cataracts. Not bad, but just enough to frustrate me when I’m reading and writing and especially when I do sewing repairs on my tiny, plastic ‘sized- to RV- life- sewing machine’! I hope I have all your enthusiasm in 10 more years! I just bought a small air compressor to keep my tires going. Now there’s a learning curve! LOL Randylrose

  14. Christina Baker Kline quoted from your last two paragraphs today on Facebook, and I recognized a kindred spirit. I love this story and your reflections on aging, which I have been calling jubilación in honor of Isabel Allende and her TED talk. I’m about to become a “grannynanny” again, and your words about the need to serve in older age really resonate. I’d be honored if you want to connect.

  15. Oh, Lizzie, this is one of my favorites. What a delightful, relaxed piece of writing, with so much wisdom in it. Falling into a rut – yep – happens to me all the time. Thank for putting it into words.

  16. Hi Liz….Im sorry I hate making curtains and Ive made many. Good on you and recycling with it. This is why I love helping others….because the purpose is strong and rewarding….much love and looking forward to the next story…..Now Im thinking I may do a blog thingy like you….x

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