Kitty Felde, winner of multiple
for journalism, is Special Correspondent
Angeles radio station KPCC. Prior to this
she hosted the station's "Talk of the City"
years. During her career she has distin-
herself with reports from Africa and The
AIDS and the war crimes tribunals for Rwanda and Bosnia. Also an award-winning
work has been produced in New
York, Los Angeles
and at the National Theater
The following essay originally was printed in
the Los Angeles Times on
June 7, 2007. It speaks
eloquently of deep and blessed friendship. It is re-
to Kitty for her generosity
in sharing this with The Religion
blessed to call her a friend. --LIsa Bowman
Dreaming in thread and fabric
Many people dream of a gourmet kitchen,
a spa bathroom, a master suite to rival
the fanciest hotel. For Mary and me, our
dream space was a sewing room —
dedicated to our obsession for silk char-
meuse, measuring tapes and 5/8 -inch
There would be space for a 6-foot fabric-
cutting table, two sewing machines, a file
cabinet to hold hundreds of patterns and
dozens of shelves for the glass jars we
filled with buttons and thread and every
notion under the sun. It would be a cozy
room with a comfy armchair that invited
us to sit down and hem a skirt. Most im-
portant, the room would be flooded with
natural light, perhaps a sun porch or a
cupola with windows on every wall, on the
top floor of a quaint Victorian. It was a
dream we talked about over and over again.
Mary O'Donnell was my sewing buddy. We
met on a Catholic church retreat in the
mountains above Los Angeles and hit it off
the moment we discovered a shared
sion for sewing. Both of us had come that
weekend to meet single men. We
couple of thirtysomething girls on the loose,
determined to find the man of
that very weekend. Instead, we found a
friendship for life.
Mary was an unlikely sewer. In her late
teens, she'd developed rheumatoid arthritis
and suffered through several operations
that left her hands partially frozen and
in pain. So in typical Mary fashion, what did
she choose as a hobby?
Something that demanded excellent hand
skills and precision dexterity. Mary gloried
off her finished projects. She
passion in cyberspace:
mail address started with "Marysew@."
We started spending all of our Friday nights
They soon became sacred. Forget
dates with mere
boys. As soon as our work-
week was over, Mary
and I would gather up
our pattern pieces, scissors,
and acres of fabric. I'd head over to her one-
bedroom bachelorette estate, or she'd come
over to mine.
We'd turn the dining room table into a cutting
board, set up a sewing machine on the sofa
table and drape pattern pieces over every
available surface. We'd watch British cos-
dramas. We'd sip tea. We'd solve the
in Step 23 of a particular pattern.
our dream wardrobes. We'd
ponder our futures.
And we'd imagine the
perfect sewing room —
an altar dedicated
to the gods of fabric.
Time and again, we swore never to buy
yard of silk charmeuse or pin-
striped wool until
we'd tackled the stacks
in our closets. But then
Mary would discover
a fabulous fabric store on
line. Or I'd be
traveling and stumble across a
Asheville, N.C., that specialized in vintage
remnants from the 1960s. We'd both sur-
render to our addiction and buy just a few
yards of something irresistible.
Though Mary would never admit it, we both
she was the better seamstress and
would always baste before using
I was a graduate of the just-
Mary could wear her
inside out and be
was embarrassed to
let anyone see
of mine. Mary's work
Mine was "good enough."
On another one of those church retreats, I
finally meet the man of my dreams.
only one condition: He had to find
else to do on Friday nights. Tad
and encouraged — my sew-
So Mary and I kept meeting, our attention
focused on the dress — the one I would wear
marching down the aisle on my wedding day.
For six months, Mary and I worked together
that one. It was a little bit of "Anne of
Gables" with enormous puffed sleeves
lot of Princess Diana with royal ruffles
The skirt was off-white taffeta,
trimmed at the
bottom with acres of flounces.
The bodice was
covered with heavy em-broidered lace. Mary
fitted and refitted it until
it became a second skin.
We sewed our
dreams into that dress. On the
the wedding, Mary was there with
and thread to sew my veil to the garland
of flowers at the back of my head.
Those Friday nights with Mary continued
after I became an old married lady.
looked forward to getting kicked
out of the house
when Mary and I would
meet at my place. We
tackled Halloween costumes for my niece, wool
Mary's winter trip to New York and
gowns to wear to my various journalism
awards ceremonies. (If I wasn't going to
win anything, I'd better have the best dress
in the room.)
Then Mary found the man of her dreams —
a delightful Australian gentleman she
met on the
Internet. After a lengthy long-
they married. It surprised
me that Mary had no
desire to sew her own
wedding gown. But she
made certain the
dress she wore was perfect.
She was a
John, it turned out, was a much handier
than my own bookish husband. He
and abetted our obsession,
building a special
cutting table, hanging a
string of spotlights over
our workspace and
outfitting an entire storage
cabinet for Mary's
mountain of notions. He never
when their small apartment was buried
in fabric scraps. His only flaw was that he
her so much he didn't like to leave on
So, on the nights we'd meet at their place,
work around him. We'd dispatch him
to the kitchen
to make us a proper cup of
tea. We'd send him
down to the laundry
room to bring back the pre-shrunk cotton
But it wasn't quite the same. Three really
crowd. We started skipping a week
here and there.
Gradually, over time, our
regular Friday night sewing
a once-in-a-while event. Perhaps it
preparation for what was to come.
In February 2006, just a month before
birthday, Mary was diagnosed
with ovarian cancer.
She fought bravely,
enduring operations and chemotherapy.
She had zero interest in dying young.
That summer, I traveled with a delega-
tion from our
church to visit our sister
parish in Kenya. Naturally,
I dropped by
their sewing class. This group had been
meeting at the local church for more than
training mostly young women
in a skill that would
support them and their
I briefly mentioned Mary, told them about
and asked the class to keep
her in their prayers.
What happened next
moved me to tears. Everyone
working immediately. They gathered a-
their treadle sewing machines,
holding hands, inviting
me into the circle.
One young woman started singing a cap-
pella, and before long, everyone else
joined in. It was
a powerful prayer for one
of our own: a sewing sister.
After I returned from Africa, Mary and
to attend the annual Southern
California sewing expo
together in October,
determined to brush up on our knit tech-
nique. But a week before the event, she
me her tickets. She just didn't have
Two weeks later, she was gone.
John asked me to come over and help
through Mary's massive fabric stash.
bought nothing but the best: the yum-
tweed embroidered with shells and
sequins, fanciful cotton sateen
airplanes or palm trees or
There were boxes and
boxes of unopened
patterns she'd never
gotten around to using.
I packed it all up in my car, took it home
tried to figure out where to store it.
us ever found that dream sewing
room, but I
had to put Mary's sewing legacy
under the bed, on the top
shelf of the linen closet,
somewhere out of
sight. It was too painful.
In the months that followed, I discovered
that I had
all too many sewing questions —
and no Mary to
answer them. How should I stabilize the facing on
that jacket? How short
should I make this skirt hem?
buttons too busy for this print? The silence
Then one day, I opened that linen closet,
and I looked
again at Mary's stash. I fin-
gered that silk tweed Mary
Melbourne, Australia. I remembered the
fabulous jacket she dreamed of making
with it. Slowly,
it came to me. I knew exactly
which pattern Mary
would have chosen.
And which version.
I started hand-basting before moving to
Every seam was finished on
the inside. I could hear
to me about technique and style and
patience. I wasn't alone anymore. Mary
mined to make me a better
My living room soon became my favorite
the house. It may not have been
the sewing room
of our dreams, but it was
our sewing room — Mary's
and mine. Every
crowded inch carried the memories
Friday night sewing fests.
I will miss Mary, but she's not far away
sitting at my makeshift sewing
table, trying to under
stand the directions,
struggling with a tangled bobbin
dreaming of a new project for that buttery
wool crepe that's been calling to me.
I keep Mary
O'Donnell alive every time I
start a new project.
It's a good thing I have
enough fabric to last a lifetime.
Reprinted with permission