The Hairdresser’s Sewing Lesson or Why Moving Furniture Is Good For You

The sofa against the “impossible” wall

Since birth, I have inhabited twenty-two different residences in eleven different municipalities in three different provinces. Some of the re-locations were beyond my control. For example, I was born on a farm, transferred to a city apartment, then moved into a house all before I turned two years of age. I had no say in those decisions. Most of the others were self-motivated. The need to uproot myself so often forms no part of this story. I have not examined the theme at any length. I suspect it’s a disease. However, as I have stayed put for six years, perhaps the illness is cured.

The adult changes of address had two serious repercussions: how to find a good hairdresser and how to arrange my motley collection of furniture.

In newest province I call home, I perch on a wooden bench in the change room of a yoga studio. I surreptitiously scrutinize hair styles, espy one that would suit me, ask its owner who cuts her hair.

Once home, a phone call to the salon is met with: “I’m so sorry, Melanie is not accepting new clients”. I leave my contact info anyway. It has been a month since my last haircut. Two more weeks pass. My usual super-short hair is now super-longish. From the internet, I choose a beauty salon at random and book an appointment. Just days before the crucial date, I get the call. Melanie has had a cancellation. Would I like to take it?


There are no coincidences. Melanie is a soul mate. She talks about her Greyhound rescue; I share my Cairn Terrier stories. On my recommendation, she buys a copy of Living Your Yoga; on hers, I enjoy a dinner at the Landmark Cafe. She visits the Louvre and conveys her impressions; I build a black gazebo and she asks for photos to show her partner. She describes her successes in interior design; I show her pictures of my rooms to get her input. She says she would love to learn to sew; I invite her to my house for a lesson.

I have been sewing since I was seven. Mother sent to me to the Singer Sewing Centre on Main Street. The instructors assigned me to a children’s machine. Mother demanded that I learn on a full-size model. In order to reach the controls, I sat on a raised stool. I made a pink calico dolly’s nightgown. In another set of lessons when I was eleven or twelve, I constructed a light brown dress with inset pleats and darker brown piping. Later came blouses, dresses, slacks, jackets and vests. Then, dozens of costumes for my children—Halloween witches, devils, angels and clowns; ballet tutus; an ice-skating prince’s togs.

At some point, I determined that savvy shopping yielded well-made clothes at the same expense as fabric with no work involved. Well, except a new hem now and then. These days, I mainly sew home décor items—especially zippered covers for feather inserts. A change of seasons demands a change of sofa cushions.

On the appointed day, Melanie arrived with a portable sewing machine and a fresh apple pie in hand. Perfect synchronicity! It was Gilles’ birthday, and I’d not made him a special dessert.

After an hour and a half of instruction—threading the machine, winding the bobbin, straight-stitching, back-stitching, and squaring fabric, Melanie said that her brain was saturated. Then she asked, “Have you ever considered putting the sofa on that wall?”

I dare say, I had tried it on every other wall. But, not that one. That wall backed onto the garage and formed one side of a wide entry. You can’t put a sofa in a hallway. Instead, I had island-ed it and angled it and even considered replacing it. The room is a decorator’s bane—on its borders are four doors, three staircases, two closets and two wall extensions. For six years, without success, I had attempted to make the room “work”. In fact, I had changed the set-up so many times that Gilles, having more than once tripped over a re-positioned ottoman, learned to navigate its interior with caution.

I thought that my frequent rearrangement of furniture was, like moving residences, a kind of sickness. It was a relief to discover that the activity provides several health benefits. According to some studies, moving furniture and other movement-based creation–such as building a gazebo or sewing cushion covers–spur energy, spark joy, assist with problem-solving, and improve self-esteem. Further, Carrie Barron, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Dell Medical School, states in her article Rearranging the Furniture Makes Me Feel Better/ Achieving inner and outer harmony by moving things around:

An impact on the environment…lifts mood, provides concrete satisfaction, and instills a sense of effectiveness. Inner and outer harmony happen when pieces are placed in a way that makes sense for you.

With undisguised mistrust, I told Melanie I would “try” the sofa on that wall.

“Let’s do it now! I still have an hour before I have to leave.”

So, for the next hour we two small, strong women heaved and shoved and pushed and carried chairs, tables, chests, cabinets, rugs, artworks, lamps, and the sofa. When we finished, Melanie surveyed the room then said, “You need something small and narrow in front of the couch”. From the main bathroom we retrieved an antique oak chest of the perfect proportions. Melanie tossed a white faux-fur throw over it to “add texture and soften the angles”. With the transformation complete, for the first time since moving into the house, the room functioned to my specifications, exuded comfort, and even photographed well. And, as nothing had been bought, there was no buyer’s remorse. As Barron’s article predicted, we felt “creative, clever and resourceful”. I alone was astonished that a sofa could exist comfortably in a vestibule.

On seeing the metamorphosed space, a friend said, “Melanie missed her calling”. I hope not. Who so talented and compatible would cut my hair?

Home-sewn Halloween Costumes

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