There are not many books about learning the humble art of sewing that set up the problem with a few chapters on the world’s religions plus a visit to Prince Charles’s Savile Row tailor. But John-Paul Flintoff’s personal memoir,Through the Eye of a Needle: The True Story of a Man Who Went Searching for Meaning – and Ended Up Making His Y-fronts
UK version, (currently available in the US via Amazon UK) is about learning to sew in a Post-Modern way, and so it is stuffed full of influences from Christianity and Zen Buddhism to personal shoppers and Indian call-centers.
Flintoff’s starting point is the vanity of our current clothes purchasing habits plus the way that we have all been disempowered by Western consumer society, so we no longer know how to
do any of the things that got our grandparents through the last Depression.
He finds a copy of “Make do and Mend: Keeping Family and Home Afloat on War Rations,” a collection of war-time DIY pamphlets. This immediately inspires him to mend his wife’s hand-made and very expensive bra, as well as some socks and jeans of his own. His stitching looks like the work of a blind man, but no matter because “I nervously predict that home-darned clothing will soon be considered chic,” he confides to the reader.
He meets some people who have made it their nosey business to change the world by changing the rest of us – unlike Flintoff, who hopes to change the rest of us by changing himself, Alexis Rowell is a green busybody who proudly tells the author that he only used his car twice in the previous year, and one of those was to pick up a sewing machine. Emboldened by this, Flintoff drives a hundred miles to buy himself a second-hand, pedal-powered sewing machine for five pounds sterling, and finds he now embarks on a phase of obsessively darning scraps and mending perfectly good, or else completely horrible, items of clothing. He then wears these garments out, until his wife stops him, at which point he retreats to making outfits for his daughter’s teddy bears.
Perhaps Flintoff, a journalist for the London Sunday Times, needs a bumper sticker or a badge saying “I fixed this myself,” to wear with every home –mended shirt. Otherwise he will spend his dinner parties attempting to bring the conversation around to his own dishevelled appearance.
The only part of the book that does not quite ring true is the cover blurb, repeated on Amazon, that the author was previously “the archetypal mindless consumer until one day he set out to find a purpose in life.” There is nothing mindless about Flintoff, although paying 35 pounds sterling for a pair of Merino underpants comes pretty close (to be fair, he does say he “thought about it for quite some time”). No, Flintoff is a bellwether for the post-consumer society – a thoughtful, highly ethical character who could give us all lessons in integrity and good humor, and is making the transition to another way. Whether he can give anyone lessons in fashionable clothing, I rather doubt, but that does not stop him from trying.