Drapery makers are indestructible. At least that’s what most of us think. Each of our bodies is just another highly polished tool in our repertoire of equipment. We’re physical beings after all. Lifting, grunting, sweating, hoisting, pulling, pushing, drilling, hammering, stapling and general throwing our backs as well as hands into our work.
I remember the day I was training a new apprentice in our shutter department. “I’ve never seen a woman with so many scars on her hands,” he observed.
“They’re tools, tools develop wear,” was my reply.
I’ve spent hour upon hour unconsciously watching my hands work. I like the look of how they work—gracefully moving to grasp or gently caressing the object of their creative labors. I like that they are strong, and the veins pop out when I’m using them hard. They link me back to my father and grandfather who were both craftsmen. I see their hands when I take the time to notice mine. But mostly, I don’t notice them. I use them. The scars are just part of their character.
A HOST OF DINGS,
One Sunday morning soon after the apprentice noticed my hands, I sat in church and slowly drifted from the preacher’s message to the distraction of counting the scars on my hands. Forty-one, forty-two, forty-three…I’m still counting as scars are added with time.
I have a nice new one that looks like a three-inch long zipper. If you don’t already know, box cutters are humorless. I remember the emergency room doctor looking askance at me. “Have you been depressed lately?” he asked. He was fishing for a reaction, and looking up the phone number of the local mental institution just down the street.
“I haven’t got time to cut my wrist on purpose, I’m a curtain lady,” I said.
“Ohhhhh, well that’s different,” he said, as he dropped the phone back on the receiver.
As he sewed me up I told him, “You better watch those stitches, fella. I will be checking for workmanship and quality.”
So he stitched me up, bandaged me up, renewed my 20-year old tetanus shot, and I went back to work. Actually, the arm brace he put on proved to be a handy hammering device.
If I survey my body at any given time, I can find a host of dings, scars, bruises and boo-boos. I never know when I get them; they just appear. I like watching the nature channel on television and seeing bull walruses with multiple scars. They prove to me that I could look worse.
Let me regress and clarify the “I never know when I get them” statement. Sometimes I do know. An industrial sewing machine flying at top speed will do a number on a finger. That can’t happen without knowing it. But I have noticed a curious thing. A sewing machine needle moving that fast develops heat. A hot needle through a finger draws almost no blood, never seems to get infected, and in fact isn’t even sore the next day. But an event like that will get your heart pumping and make your finger automatically fly up into your mouth. It’s not possible to run over your finger at top speed and look cool doing it.
OF TAKING CARE
I’ve always considered my body as kind of a last resort, stopgap answer to every question. Lose money on a job? No problem. I’ll work longer to make up for it. Fall behind on deadlines? No problem. I’ll work harder. Employee absent today? No problem. I’ll do my job and theirs. Something too heavy to lift? No problem. I’ll get it off the ground somehow, I always do.
Limitations of this frail body are something that I, and all drapery fabricators, must contend with eventually. It’s a hard pill to swallow and often one that others don’t help us swallow. You see, others count on us throwing our bodies at the problem. Deadlines looming? No problem. Pull another all-nighter like you’ve done before. You have no help lifting? Since when do you need help? What do you mean that upholstery fabric, lining and interlining is adding up to a lot of weight? The installer took off early for the holidays, but it’s OK. The curtain lady can hang it after hours. Drapery makers have been so reliable and quietly putting our whole selves into our work for so long that the reliability of our physical stamina is often taken for granted. But what happens when our bodies disappoint us?
I once took a nice little four-day mini-vacation down at the local hospital. As I sit here typing in my fluffy slippers and robe, I have to ponder. Shouldn’t a boo-boo that can knock a person flat for a solid week be bigger than 1/4 inch? And shouldn’t a boo-boo like that be required to show itself rather than sneak up from behind?
Deep in my subconscious, I know there’s been a little elbow itch going on. It’s just one of those little scratch and forget places at the end of my elbow that couldn’t be seen without some effort. I’ve never actually seen the end of my elbow without the aid of a mirror, which in my book is cheating. So no, I don’t have a clue what my elbow looks like much less what’s going on back there night and day.
That common sense point seemed lost on the emergency room doctors as they kept asking, “What did the sore look like?” “How big was it?”, “When did it get red?”
“How the heck should I know?” was my repeated answer. Making a daily assessment of the boo-boos I can see is not high on my priority list, much less doing the daily elbow check. It’s all I can do to keep my nose out of other people’s business, my feet out of my mouth, and my hands to myself. Now I have to be accountable for my elbows as well?
It seems as though I am indeed accountable for my elbows and everything else. I know this has been a bell-ringer of a wakeup call. I can’t do it all forever. It will be interesting to see how it changes me and helps me understand the importance of taking care of me, even if it means disappointing someone else on occasion.
Fellow drapery makers, I hope that you will take this opportunity to join me in taking steps to preserve your health and energy. We can’t make draperies when we’re down…it’s important to stay in tune with our bodies when they give us clues that we’re overdoing it. I’m sure a self-imposed vacation would have been much more pleasant than a boo-boo imposed one.
Mary Ann Plumlee is the CEO and founder of Workroom Association of America LLC , a trade association dedicated specifically to the betterment of the workroom industry. Visit www.workroomassociation.com to learn more