I think I was seven when Neva taught me how to sew. She brought over a basket filled with colorful scraps of fabric from her collection and dragged out the huge heavy sewing box she had made for my mother years before. We cut out two small pieces of pretty purple silk with the sharp sewing scissors and pinned them together. She showed me how to thread the needle and sew the fabric together. My stitches were large and crooked, but they held the fabric together. We turned it inside out, stuffed it, and I had a tiny purple pillow I had made myself. She left me the basket of fabric when she went home. Two weeks later I proudly called her to let her know I had learned how to knot the thread the way she did, wrapping it around her finger and pushing it off.
In high school I began designing my own clothes, but they never came out quite the way I wanted. The hems weren’t straight, the zippers buckled, the sleeves were too tight and strangely pointy and pulled in every direction at once (it took me a long time to sort out sleeves). Whatever went wrong, Neva knew how to fix it. A bit more curve in one sleeve, a smaller armhole for another. And when I made something that came out well she would get so excited. “Oh!” She would say, “Naomi Neva, that is a beautiful dress!”
One summer Neva arranged for me to work for her neighbor, a costume designer. It was a pretty great summer job – I got paid to sew all day and I learned a lot about sewing and about the other work involved in a design job. After work I would go over to Neva’s and we would eat tacos from the truck on the corner and talk about our lives. She would show me a twisty branch she’d found while walking the dog or a letter I’d written her years ago from her archive, and I would tell her about my latest sewing project.
Neva died a bit over a year ago and I miss her very much. Happy birthday, Neva.