Thirteen Ways of Looking at A Pattern


Among twenty boxes of patterns

The only desired thing

Is that pattern, over there, on the Internet.



I had three ideas

Like a table

On which ten patterns are hopelessly jumbled.



The pattern lies wrinkled on the floor.

It was a small part of the shambles.



An idea and a pattern 

Are one.

An idea and a pattern and two yards of Tana Lawn

Are one.



I do not know which to prefer,

The beauty of the line 

Or the beauty of the fold,

The girl in the illustration,

Or the dress made flesh.



Pins scatter themselves

With ill intent.

The lines of the pattern

Break and clash.

The plaid

Underneath it all

A matchless question.



O thin women of Vogue

Why do you imagine harem pants?

Do you not see how the full skirts

Swirl around the knees 

Of the women about you?



I know welt pockets 

And gently rolling collars;

But I know, too,

That the pattern doesn't know

What I don't know.



When the facing piece disappeared

It marked the end

Of following instructions.



At the sight of the name

"Ceil Chapman"

Even those who draft for themselves

Hit the "Buy It Now" button.



She floored the pedal

Of the machine.

Once, a fear pierced her

In that she mistook

The back bodice of 4788

For that of 8744.



The pattern is motionless.

The scissors must be snipping.



It was almost finished all day.

It was done and almost done.

The pattern did not

Fit back in the envelope.


[with apologies]

48 thoughts on “Thirteen Ways of Looking at A Pattern

  1. Wow. Erin, I have been reading your blog for years and years and years. Your writing always inspires me, and I find I print off your posts sometimes and give them to my sewing students. (Plaid = Joy changed my whole concept of dressing and personal style.)

    This is wonderful. This goes on my wall. Thank you.


  2. Oh my goodness – I have to say I can relate to that first one. I certainly do not NEED to buy any more patterns, and yet the one just out of reach always seems to be absolute perfection! And once I have it, something else comes along . . .

    Thank you for sharing this – and letting us know we are not alone in our obsession with Ceil Chapman!


  3. that Stevens poem is one of my favorites. well done.

    also, i seem to recall a poem in our high school literary magazine written by one Erin McKean called “With apologies to William Carlos Williams”. i remember only that it was funny (i can’t find my copy these days).


  4. Sigh—this combination of two of my favorite things, poetry and sewing, is so satisfying. I’m sticking this in my inspiration binder that’s already full of pictures of dresses. Thanks to you.


  5. There are actually 14 ways of looking at a pattern if you include the poem itself. This is fantastic – I’ve never thought of patterns or sewing as being particularly poetic.

    Though I do manage to come up with some very creative swear words, and combinations thereof, from time to time.


  6. Could you redraft it all in lowercase, please, ee mckeen?

    Wow! Hand will be permanently tugging my forelock all day now in veneration of your immense talent…


  7. Perfect! I can especially relate to the first one. I have so many untouched patterns and I keep seeing more that I want. Thank goodness they make them multi-size now.


  8. I’m tickled that there are so many other folks out there who are A. sewing fans and B. get this reference! I wish we all lived near each other (or you all lived in St. Louis)!


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