• Cherie Calletta

A (sewing) room of one’s own: A vindication of rights


The writer's sewing room is a non-negotiable. (Courtesy Photo)

Everyone has his or her lines in the sand, the lines which no one may cross. These are the non-negotiables. I don’t have many but my sewing room is one of those. I’m sure there are others, but as time goes on, more and more of them fade away into “Who Really Cares Land.” Not so with the sewing room, not so.


I delegated as “The Fifth And Final Sewing Room” the finished basement room that my dad had used for his dental lab for many years.


I rehabbed it to the point where nothing of the old lab is left; there are new walls, a new ceiling, new floor and new lighting.


One thing we learned was that in the ‘50s, if a carpenter built custom cabinetry, that stuff was going to last a few lifetimes. I don’t think particle board and IKEA existed yet.


The lab had been built like a rather eccentric kitchen: there were bottom cupboards and Formica countertops. There was a large round opening with a bin beneath it for easy disposal of materials; there were also two pull out hutches that contained large amounts of stone and plaster. I imagine in a kitchen context they would have been originally designed for flour and cornmeal, perhaps.


At first I had the idea of keeping all the original cabinetry and just cleaning it and repurposing it for a sewing/craft room, but I was convinced by the people doing the renovations that this was unwise, due to the amounts of toxic materials both liquids and powders and a lot of other residues that would surely be left behind in those cabinets. So, out they came. I understand they were a real beast to take apart.


If anyone even begins to suggest, looks like they might suggest, or glances at that room sideways, I go ballistic on them: “Do not even think of it... don’t say it, don’t dream it, don’t think it: The answer is no.”


To understand why I am so firm on this point, let me take you on an historical tour of “A Few Almost Sewing Rooms I Have Almost Had.”


It’s ironic because when I was living in a smallish apartment in Japan, that’s when I did most of my sewing. In those days, I did what I called “guerilla sewing,” which was sewing in self-defense. I was there in the 1980s. I doubt that much has changed, but here’s the way it was then:


I was going to be there for three years which turned into four. As I quickly learned, in the Japan of the early 1980s, women were expected to wear skirts and dresses. Jeans and sweaters had not really taken over there as they had in the States, and I was a missionary teacher in a mission school; I was expected to dress professionally and not cause anyone to blush or look askance. During those years at least, there were things that most Americans wouldn’t even notice that bothered the Japanese. For some reason, sleeveless tops were a big no-no. All tops had to have at least a cap sleeve if not something more substantial.


Skirts and dresses had to be just about at the knee or a bit lower. The fashions of the time included much longer skirts; calf length with leggings was a popular look.


All of that is fine. What wasn’t fine were the prices of Japanese fashions… a simple dress might be priced in the hundreds of dollars…. 1982 dollars… on a missionary’s salary, which believe me, was just about poverty level even back then.


The other factor was that no matter how much you spent, the clothes were made for a Japanese woman’s build. European and African heritage women have a very different physical shape, and so sleeves were too short, inseams were too scant… everything was too short, too skimpy or just the wrong shape and size.


I’d always enjoyed sewing. Living in Japan gave me a thousand good reasons to take it up again. I had precisely one book to learn from, and I used it well. After a time I had graduated from the easy patterns to more complex ones; jackets, skirts and slacks with linings; tailored pieces, too. Tailoring is the master level of sewing, by the way. All respect to the tailors.


Then I moved back to the States, and in a succession of houses, I always reserved one room as a sewing/craft room. Because of job and family needs, I wound up never using any of those rooms.


The first sewing room I did not use was a bedroom in a house I had in Charlotte. I’d decided on a primary color theme, so I painted the walls white and did the trims and doors and windowsills in blue, yellow and red.


Then first stepson moved in with us, and the sewing room was gone. That was one.


The next sewing/craft space I’d designed was the finished basement of a small cottage I had in town. I had the basement treated for dampness, had it sealed, insulated, stucco’d and tiled. It was a nice space. It was also a space I never got to use because before I’d really set it up, second stepson moved in. That was two.


The third room I had, or almost had, was an extra bedroom in a large house I no longer own. I painted it a very bright yellow (and at the closing when I sold the house, I apologized profusely to the new owners) … yellow is fine, but that tone and saturation… it was a ridiculously yellow room. An in your face yellow. I think by then the frustration with losing sewing room after sewing room had started to build and I took it out on the walls. That was an “enter at your own risk” color. (This is why God made Kilz oil-based primer!)


I never got to really use that room either, because as I was painting it and setting it up, I had been called to a year-long temp job, which I took. But that took care of that room. Between working and commuting, I really had no extra time to sew and craft. That was three.


The next thing that happened was that my elderly mother moved in with me, and that Almost Sewing Room was commandeered by her and her caregivers.


And that was four.


Now back in the old homestead, I have delegated the former dental lab as my sewing/craft room. It is still not completely set up, a situation I have no excuse or explanation for. I painted the walls pink and the trims bright white. Even though it’s in a state of disarray at the moment, (work again), I love the room and plan to spend a lot of time in there, sewing, crafting, maybe even writing. I have in fact, done some actual sewing in there, which given the history is a big step forward.


Thus, be it known to all presents:


If anyone, friend, foe, fowl, canine, feline, spouse, kid, stepkid, grandkid, parent, half-sister, step-sister, brother, half-brother, nephew, niece, saint, sinner, The Fuller Brush Man or any random passer-by, even thinks about commandeering that room for any other purpose… them’s fightin’ words. I will go to the mat to keep that room exactly the way it is. Don’t even look at it. It is mine. Look up Boudica. That’s the vibe I have in mind.


This is the line I have drawn and since it’s the fifth one, I have assigned to myself a guilt-free sense of ownership of that room.


Somebody in the family said once, “Gee, a big pool table would go great here….” I won’t belabor the point, but let’s just say I had a very strong reaction. Nobody has ever dared a repeat. If ever there are whisperings or suggestions, I shut them down fast. Real fast.


Virginia Woolf wrote an essay about a woman needing “a room of her own,” a space in which to write (or sew), a room that is designated for her use only “without question.” She points out that many men have had a room like that, and nobody ever questioned their right to such a room.


Go, Ginny, go.



Cherie Calletta was born and raised in Hammonton. She graduated Saint Joseph High School in 1977, then graduated from Rutgers College in New Brunswick and went to Japan for four years to teach English as a foreign language. She later spent about five years in Germany outside of Frankfurt am Main. After several years in Charlotte, North Carolina, she returned to Hammonton in 2002, where she and her husband make their home.