Sewing and Stitching With Parkinson’s

Lori DePorter avatar

by Lori DePorter |

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I met my friend Kathy when she came to our exercise class more than two years ago. She has Parkinson’s, too. Over the past year, we have developed a “big sister, little sister” relationship. Exercising is part of our time together, but we do so much more, including cooking, shopping, planting flowers, and, most recently, sewing.

Kathy used to make her own clothes, and they are beautiful and ornate with great attention to detail. The garments are truly works of art. (Yes, I said art.) The different sizes and types of stitches come together in precisely finished edges. Today, we pay outrageous prices for strategically placed holes and unfinished hems.

Kathy and I needed a creative outlet. I wanted to learn how to sew, she wanted to do something for me, and it would be a good hand-eye coordination exercise for us both. It was a win-win. How hard could it possibly be? After all, I have an engineering degree and sewing involves a machine.

Over the years, Parkinson’s had made Kathy’s sewing machine quiet. It took some effort to convince her, but she agreed to give it a try. We needed a project, and I had a dress that needed a zipper. That seemed easy: Rip out the seam, put in a zipper, and we would be done.

Well, it wasn’t that simple — not even close. We lost material when we ripped out the seam, the material frayed, and the zipper I purchased was not the right color. Despite my appeals of “let’s just do it,” we abandoned the dress before we even sat down to use the sewing machine.

She was getting frustrated with her “let’s just do it” student, and I was getting nervous. We needed a new project — an easy one! We decided to make two scarves by cutting a large scarf in half and sewing the edges together. There would be one for each of us.

The moment of truth

We were face-to-face with the sewing machine, but something didn’t look right. We were missing thread! Imagine two Parkinson’s sisters trying to thread a needle. Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself, and it’s better when someone is laughing with you. Finding the humor can make challenges a little less frustrating.

However, it was pretty clear we needed help. We called in our reinforcement, the master of the needle threader: Kathy’s handy hubby. Needle threaded. Let’s sew. Wait! We needed a bobbin.

What is a bobbin? It’s a little, round spool that holds thread. It supports the thread below the needle and helps complete the stitch. The bobbin we inherited from the previous sewing project was not the right color.

The “let’s just do it” student suggested it was fine. However, the artist at the machine disagreed. The bobbin thread must match the material. We needed to load a new bobbin. Great! We were faced with another fine motor skill.

After two failed attempts, we needed reinforcements. The master of the needle threader was now the master of the bobbin. Bobbin set. Let’s sew. Wait! We needed to iron.

All seams and materials must be ironed to ensure all edges line up perfectly. We do have an iron at home — somewhere. However, I cannot tell you the last time we used it. Hanging our wrinkled clothing in the steamy bathroom during a shower was our idea of ironing.

After a quick ironing lesson, I managed to press the seams for a quasi-straight line. Seams ironed. Wrinkles gone … well, most of them.

Finally, let’s sew

The next two days were filled with sewing classes. Everything from thread emerging from unknown places to rethreading needles and reloading bobbins challenged us. We took turns pushing the foot pedal and guiding the material while the machine placed our zigzag stitches.

The stitches and the seams were not perfect, but it was a success. We emerged from the basement, proudly wearing our works of art: two matching scarves.

They represented something more for each of us. For Kathy, it was a reminder that she can be the teacher. For me, it was a lesson in patience. Sewing is a lost art, and the “let’s just do it” approach “just doesn’t work.”

(Courtesy of Lori DePorter)


Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.


Mary Fryar avatar

Mary Fryar

So proud of you two friends for your positive attitude towards Parkinsons.You are an inspiration. My Mom had Parkinsons.She climbed a montain.Keep up the good work.

Lori DePorter avatar

Lori DePorter

Thank you. Parkinson's is a mountain but it's better with friends. I'm glad you view your mom as a mountain climber. I hope my boys see me that way!

Kathy DePorter avatar

Kathy DePorter

Wonderful story....great scarves!!

Lori DePorter avatar

Lori DePorter's been fun to learn.

Margaret M avatar

Margaret M

I recently got out my old sewing machine (never really learned to use it) and am teaching myself from the manual. I laughed to read of your similar experiences (bobbin?). I ended up edging? Not sure what you call it when you sew with the thread wrapping around the edge so it doesn't fray... a rectangle of fabric I use as a table cover. I also started ironing my own shirts for the pandemic -- saving lots of money! Thank you for reminding me.

Lori DePorter avatar

Lori DePorter

Thank you for sharing. I’m surprised you need to wear anything ironed these days?

Lori DePorter avatar

Lori DePorter

Margaret - I am sorry I did not reply to you earlier. I missed your comment. I am glad to hear you are sewing, and you won the bobbin battle.

JoAnn Dilloway avatar

JoAnn Dilloway

Awesome job, ladies!

Lori DePorter avatar

Lori DePorter

Thank you!

Roseann Van Woerkom avatar

Roseann Van Woerkom

I can "sew" relate! Sewing is a long-time hobby that enabled me to develop a skill that can be intimidating for people with PD. This story reminds me how much enjoyment and satisfaction I feel (and miss) with that final stitch. With some hesitation and happy anticipation, I will pull out my machine and do something with fall-themed fabrics in my "gotta have" collection. When? Next week since it's already the middle of October.

Lori DePorter avatar

Lori DePorter

Thank you for sharing. I am so happy we inspired you to sew again....keep the machine out...Christmas is coming!


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