We’ve shared before about the marvellous new music ministry that God seems to be crafting for Peter, with so many people donating violins when we were last in Canada. With all these violins, our 450 sq. ft. apartment was beginning to feel a little crowded—especially when we had company over. 

A pile of violins

Then, one day when I was at church to meet a friend from our community, some men from the local seminary came by. Our church, as one of the largest in our area, sometimes allows the seminary to store things in one of the rooms off of the sanctuary. This time, they'd carted in some things they intended to haul to the dump in a couple of days’ time. 

“You can take anything that’s here, if you want it,” they told me.

Nestled in the midst of everything else were two metal cabinets that had seen better days, but that would do quite nicely for violin storage. Peter and I quickly moved them into our English room. Classes were slated to start in a couple of weeks. These cabinets were so very ugly, and my aesthetically-sensitive self cringed at the thought of having them in our room in their current condition.  

Our ugly cabinets

Maybe I could peel the tape off of the cabinets, and they would look a little better?

Nope. The tape had been on there long enough to be almost impossible to remove. And where it was possible, there were tape stains left behind.

Maybe I could paint the cabinets, or perhaps just paint over the taped/stained areas? A nice, bold floral print might do the trick.

Nah, that could be pretty messy. And I’m not confident enough in my artistic skills (especially those involving paint) to think that I wouldn’t just make the cabinets uglier than they started.

Ah, I’ve got it! I can make slipcovers for the cabinets!

Now, one thing you have to know about me: I’m extremely clumsy. (There’s no way to highlight that word enough to convey how extreme this is!)

I’ve never been good at sports, or dancing, or anything at all that involves coordination or the orientation of my body in time and space. This has actually been a huge source of shame for me over most of my life, but recently I read a book called The Body Keeps the Score, which shares that this level of clumsiness is quite common for those who have experienced early trauma. So the shame has slowly been evaporating, and I’ve been learning to be more gentle and compassionate to myself.

But still—making slipcovers? When I already struggle to hem a pair of jeans?

My mother—a near-genius at designing and sewing her own patterns—tried to teach me how to sew when I was a teenager. Nothing clicked. For one thing, I kept forgetting to put the presser foot down. (By the way, I just had to look it up to discover it’s called a “presser” foot, not a “pressure” foot.) But it wasn’t just that. I just seemed to have a complete mental blockage against the entire activity.

And then we come to Spring 2024, and my inexplicable decision. I honestly don’t know what I was thinking—both with the initial decision or the one later when I decided that I didn’t need a pattern. I would just buy some fabric, and go for it.

Call it ridiculous optimism. Call it a hearty helping of stupidity. Call it sheer insanity. 

But that’s what I did. 

The only thing I knew was that I wanted the fabric to be heavy, so that it would hang well; and that I wanted to try making my own piping, so the covers would look special.

I went to the store, selected some fabric that looked nice, and found lighter fabric for the piping. After checking out, I realized I would probably need some thread. Having no idea how much, I bought three spools. The lady at the sewing store looked at me like I was crazy, but hey—I didn’t know what I was doing, and with only a couple of weeks before English classes started, I didn’t want to run out!

Back home, I laid out my wares on the floor. 

And that’s when I realized my big gaff.

I didn’t have sewing scissors (I’d thought I did), or proper measuring equipment, or anything to make sure I was cutting in straight lines and 90° angles, or anything to mark the fabric with before cutting. 

Here are the supplies Peter helped me scrounge up for this project. [1]

I had a sewing machine that I’d used once after I’d bought it three years ago. And fabric. And thread.

Oh, and by the way: the sewing machine was purchased in Japan. That means the manual is also in Japanese.

It took me an hour to translate some of the manual and figure out how to wind the bobbin and thread the needle.

The first day, after struggling with thread tension and that blasted presser foot, I was able to complete work on my piping. It took four hours.

I decided that I would use two days during Golden Week to complete this project. That way,  I wouldn’t be mixing the stress of memorizing the Japanese language with the stress of sewing. I’m pretty sure that was the only well-thought-out decision I made during this project.

The next time I picked things up, I started on the heavy fabric I’d designated for the main part of the design. (I use “design” very loosely. I was making this up in my head as I went. There were no drawings. There was no significant idea of how everything would come together. If I didn’t know how to do something, I didn’t look it up. I made it up.)

Making things up as I go…

After the fact, my sister suggested that I could have looked up my questions on YouTube. But for me, that’s a no-starter. Perhaps it’s because of my unaware-of-my-body-in-time-and-space issues, but I can never seem to understand physical explanations over video. Peter’s got some very embarrassing family videos of me playing and pausing an old step aerobics video as I try to figure out what the lady’s doing with her ridiculously talented feet—and when I say “playing and pausing”, I mean over, and over, and over again—I’m not exaggerating—about 10 or 15 times. So, no YouTube.

Whenever I ran across an issue to be solved, I thought to myself, I’ll figure it out later. It’ll all come together somehow.

And that’s how it went. 

  • Don’t have a sewing table?
    • No problem, put it on the kitchen counter.
  • Kitchen counter too high? 
    • No problem, I’ll stand.
  • Standing translates the fine motor movements required for controlling the sewing machine pedal into course motor movements? 
    • I’ll figure it out somehow.


Sewing at the kitchen counter

  • Kitchen table too small for measuring and cutting the fabric? 
    • Use the floor and hope your still-recovering knees will hold up. After all, you’re kneeling on a pillow; that should be enough, right?
  • Can’t figure out why the thread seems to be snagging on the thicker fabric, and can’t seem to sew even one seam without major issues?
    • Peter took pity on me for this one, and looked up the problem. Turns out I needed to adjust the thread tension.

And so it went. 

The mistakes became fewer and farther between.

My ideas for my on-the-fly design seemed to be good ones.

And then came that last of the three days, when everything seemed to align, and in the span of 8 hours I was able to triple the productivity of the previous two days of work.

It was then that—again, I’m not exaggerating—a guttural cry sprang from my lips: “The blood of my mother runs in my veins!!” I proclaimed, arms lifted in victory.

Never have I felt such intense genetic pride. 

When I went to the church to test out my finished slipcovers, I was stunned. 

They fit well. 

The edges were straight. 

The piping and corner caps were cute, and our English room felt so homey and welcoming for the students.


Testing the slipcovers (piping untrimmed, corners and ties still not done)

 Later: hand sewing on the corners at church, with Peter’s help

It would turn out that later we would have to buy cabinets, rather than use the ones from the seminary. There were issues with mold and bugs in the older ones, and we didn’t want to endanger thousands of dollars in violins to save a few hundred dollars on cabinets.

But these slip covers are still so helpful in classing up our English room and helping the students feel cared for. We’ve created this special space for them, and they know it. 

The final product!


[1] After the major sewing was finished, I picked up some iron-on self-adhering seam liners to use as ties to keep the slip covers closed once they were on the cabinets.