Lockdown day 16 – Memories part III

Well things are looking bleak these days, aren’t they? Coronavirus numbers keep going up and it’s so hard to see light at the end of the tunnel even for France. It’s horrible to think so many people have lost/will lose their lives, so many families will lose loved ones and so much hardship has to be felt by the medical service communities all over the world. I really hope we come out of this without being too traumatised. I wish I could see the end but I also wish the earth can stay clear of pollution when that happens. Oh why do these things seem to be so mutually exclusive?

“You have to suffer first in order to enjoy life later,” my grandfather used to say to me when I was young. He told me how he grew up poor and had to stop going to school and start working from the age of 13. This was in the late 1920s. But he was lucky because he didn’t have to serve in the Japanese army. He pulled a cart full of metal scraps around town and it was hard work. He never really learned to read or write properly but he had an engineering mind and managed to invent the first “linking machine.” He was interested in machines that sewed fabrics together but noticed that there was always a seem. The linking machine allowed fabrics to be sewed together without a seem and became the eventual link to a lucrative contract with Singer sewing machines in the U.S. in the late 50s. His business grew into building very large and industrial quilting and bedding machines that were sold around the world from Japan in the 60’s and 70’s. Having had 8 children, he sent his oldest sons to New York to learn English so they could help with the business internationally. That’s where my father met my American mother, got married, and moved back to Japan where I was born. Japan’s economy was booming at the time and continued until the late 90s until the Asian Crisis. But by that time the bedding industry had already moved over to China and Vietnam and soon the Japanese machines were simply too costly for most bedding companies to buy. But the Iwase Prince companies kept my father and his brothers busy most of their adult lives and served me with Summer jobs in the 80s.

When I graduated from high school in 1986 I didn’t want to rush into college so I took a job nearby on 4th Street in Berkeley (California) at a fancy Futon shop called Thousand Cranes. A Japanese lady ran it and needed help selling and making pillow cases and quilt covers with an industrial sewing machine. I was keen to learn and told her about my family’s business in Japan. She hired me and taught me how to take the beautiful silk textiles and turn them into cushion covers with zippers. She also sold cherry wood bedframes with tatami mats instead of box springs. Once I took an order on the phone from Morissey of The Smiths. He wanted us to make him a silk pillow cover and send it to an address in New York. I happily obliged of course! Another time Alice Waters (famous chef) came into the shop with her young daughter at the time and ordered a quilt cover to be made. I took on this job too. She was already famous for her local gastronomic restaurant called Chez Panisse and is considered a pioneer of California cuisine. Her restaurant must have been my first introduction to French style food that I would become very attached to later on in my life, in the South of France of all places.

I loved using the industrial sewing machine to make bedding covers. It worked so fast and had a huge table underneath it which made maneuvering even large pieces of cloth easy and fun. I got to be good at it too but eventually the owner and I had a falling out over another employee whom I felt was not being treated fairly so I left and took the path toward higher education.

I’m staring at a small sewing machine that I bought last year hoping I might find some inspiration to use it for something more exciting than hemming my kids’ jeans. I’m not the most creative person with crafts or visual art. I admire others who can create beautiful things. Maybe I’ll take it out tomorrow and start a quilt. Ha! That would be something.