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Repost: Sewing With Cats

This is a very old, possibly funny piece that I didn’t convert when I redid the site.  I’m reposting it now as a tribute to my big, beautiful, smelly boy cat, Gus.  Gus was half cat, half dog, and half ottoman – a mathematical quandary that he solved by being very large.  He was the bull cat, and for almost 12 years, he was a very good boy.  It’s an odd thing to say about a cat, but he was. *sniff*  Alright.  Enough soppiness….

A Tail of Three Kitties

The original Sempstress splash screen
Remember this old thing? Can you believe we all used to use splash screens?

Sempstress has cats. The two cats in the ‘woodcut’ that used to be on the front page are modeled after the two I had when I redesigned the site (way back, when it went from SewHappy to Sempstress). I have three now. The most recent addition to my life walked up to the door and demanded to be let in one night, and it’s hard to say no to 4lbs of desperately hungry grey fluff. (The 4lbs cat promptly proceeded to beat the snot out of the nearly 30lbs cat, but that’s another matter.) The point is that, for the human of three equally loving (read: jealous) cats, sewing requires a few advanced skills.

You wouldn’t think cats would get so upset about their human wanting to sew. I mean, they’re cats. It’s not like I have dogs or something. Cats are supposed to be aloof and self sufficient. Cats are supposed to treasure their alone time. Of course, cats are also supposed to hate water (gus and ghost will jump into the shower with me on occasion, and sivitri likes lying in a bathroom sink half full of cool water in the summer), like fish (sivitri has been known to turn up her little kitty nose at fish and dive straight into my mashed potatoes, although she’s partial to cajun style fish), like tinned food (it took gus almost a year and a half to figure out that he could eat it), be afraid of vacuum cleaners (I used to vacuum sivitri to cut down on shedding during the summer), be graceful hunters (gus frequently falls off tables, and sivitri tries to bathe and recessitate mice after they stop playing and becomes forlorn when I can’t “fix” them), and generally behave like, well, cats (gus is a dog trapped in a cat’s body, sivitri and ghost are both children). I have three beautiful, wonderful, excessively loving kitty-children. They don’t like it when I sew. They’re not in favor of me doing anything but sleeping or reading on the couch (and honestly, they’re not too keen about the book being present). But they really, really don’t like it when I sew.

Have you ever tried to sew with three cats all clamoring for attention? None of mine are bothered by the noise of the sewing machine. It should be a deterrent, but they couldn’t care less. Sivitri will walk up and plop herself down in my lap *on*top*of* the fabric that I want to put through the machine. While I am extracting her claws from the fabric and removing her from the pile (she does the limp-jello-kitty routine well), ghost has jumped onto the table and sat down in front of the machine. Fortunately, I don’t necessarily have to deal with that, because odds are that by this time, gus has decided that it’s time for some quality time with the human and has collapsed behind the machine and pushed it forward several inches (did I mention a 30lbs cat? That’s gus, who once fit in the palm of my hand), knocking ghost off the table and into my lap, which sivitri was planning on jumping back into. Ok. Remove the cat currently occupying the lap, pick up anything she pulled off the sewing table while being knocked off of it, shove the machine (and gus) back across the table several inches, and prepare to sew again. Gus fights back. Every single time. He head-butts one side of the sewing machine, knocking the machine off kilter. He waits until I have started sewing. I have learned to start sewing with one hand, and be prepared to shove the machine back where it belongs with the other. The cats and I will rehearse this same sequence between one and 27 times.

Eventually, ghost (the most cat-like of the three) gets bored and goes off to snarf down the rest of sivitri’s tinned food. Now I’m back to two cats who want my attention, just like old times. Sivitri is either sitting on my lap under the fabric I want to sew (which, really, is fine…. I’m completely ok with this, except for when I move my leg to get to the foot pedal and she digs her claws into my leg. On the whole, thought, under the fabric pile on my lap is a good place for her. Er, except when it’s august…. I didn’t have air last summer.) Sivitri has also recently decided that it would be good for her to lie down right next to the needle end of the sewing machine, where I might normally want to feed the fabric that I am working on. Fabric does not feed well over a cat. Cats are lumpy, and tend to twitch. Complicating this is the fact that gus stations himself behind the machine. (Well, he didn’t get to be as big as he is by moving….) So I’m trying to feed fabric over two cats, both lumpy, both twitching. I could probably handle that. Except….

Gus has a bad habit when I sew. Gus waits until I’m really going, on a hem or something, then puts his kitty head between the needle assembly and the main body of the machine. Upside down. This puts a kitty ear perilously close to a needle that is moving at approximately 120 stitches per minute. It’s terrifying the first time you see if. My friend pam was over sewing one night (we were working on garb for a wedding party), and all of a sudden I heard a lot of screaming and swearing. And without pausing in my serging, I said, “Just shove him. He’ll get the hint.” Pam was a little upset, and more than a little startled. I mean, it is a little disconcerting to suddenly see an upside-down cat head right next to your sewing. He just materializes there. No warning, nothing, just *poof* kitty head. I’ve learned to sew while shoving the kitty head back out of the sewing machine, making sure the ears don’t go under the needle. SewsewsewsewsewSHOVEsewsewSHOVEsew. Eventually, he goes back to head butting the machine.

The long term solution to gus’s antics is to pet him while sewing. That means one hand is scratching a cat and the other is guiding the fabric, hitting the backtack button, lining up trim, raising and lowering the presser foot, guiding the material around a curve, removing any pins I actually used, and rethreading the machine when I forget that part of that poor hand’s job is to hold down the threads when I start off. Now, keep in mind that I have three cats. Rule one is that if you’re going to pet one of the cats, you have to pet all of the cats. So the hand in charge of petting gus-who’s-lying-behind-the-machine also has the task of petting sivitri-who’s-lying-on-the-needle-side-of-the-machine. It takes sivitri about 1.5 minutes before she demands to be petted again and it takes gus about 28 seconds of not being petted before he resumes his machine head butting and magical upside-down head materialization antics. So that leaves both hands working pretty frantically at different tasks.

So, don’t ask me why my seams aren’t always straight.

Since Then…

Well, eventually the cats got a little older.  Ghost went to live with my sister, and has gotten fat and happy.  Sivitri and Gus stayed with me, and moved into the slightly more sedate state of kitty middle age.  I started sewing in a different room, and playtime didn’t overlap sewing time so much any more.  My seams have gotten a little straighter….

Gus, the bull cat
Every year, Christmas morning, Gus would patiently let us decorate him after he went romping through the wrapping paper.
The lovey-est cat, ever. Patient, too...
Who's a good boy? Are you a good boy? You are a very good boy...
my cats, snug as two love-bugs in a rug...
Publicly, she always swore she wanted nothing to do with him...


  1. Violetta DiParma
    Violetta DiParma October 17, 2010

    My dear, you made me laugh so hard that I had to pause whilst reading your post! I have cats (furkind) in my life, and while they don`t tend to do the same thing when I am actively sewing on my machine, they do tend to lay down upon my fabric while I am away from the room…

    I have learned that the easiest way to deal with this situation is to cover the project with another piece of (more) cat friendly fabric.

  2. Kat
    Kat October 19, 2010

    I love this post. I have nine kitty-helpers (or perhaps overlords), and while they don’t supervise the actual sewing process (I don’t let them in the room with the sewing machine), they assist with cutting and pinning. Large pieces of fabric get laid out on the kitchen floor to cut, which is the signal for eldest kitty to come in and flop on the lovely new bed I made for her. Approximately 2.5 seconds later, I hear the rumbling of the Wildebeest Stampede as youngest kitty decides to “play” with several of his elders. Down the stairs, around the corner, hit nicely smoothed out fabric on hard floor and SKIDDDDD! Often followed by someone bouncing off of the kitchen cabinets with an “I meant to do that” expression.

    They’re such wonderful little cuddle-hugs, though.

  3. missa
    missa October 19, 2010

    Wow…. Nine? And you actually get things sewn? You’re a better woman than I am, Kat. ;)
    When I was doing my fashion degree, I had basically one room in the house as bedroom/kittylandia/study/sewing room/art studio. Gus and Sivitri both learned to be fabric weights – ‘if mom puts us on the fabric, we hold still and if we’re good, our tummies get rubbed.’ That actually worked pretty well, except when Gus wanted to “help” me with the scissors…

  4. Tia
    Tia September 5, 2011

    Oh my gods, I’m still laughing! I had 5 cats at one point, and gave up using my machine altogether and stuck to hand sewing things. Except that one would want to chew the needle, another wanted the thread, and another wanted to chew the cat who wanted to chew the thread…I know how it is, but it’s always hilarious to hear someone else’s experiences!

    • missa
      missa September 8, 2011

      *laugh* “…and another wanted to chew the cat who wanted to chew…” That is so true!
      The boy used to want to jump in the tub with me. The problem (aside from the obvious “eventually he will work out the conundrum between happy-cat-in-warm-water-with-mamma and cat-in-bath and he has all his claws and I’m not wearing chainmaille”) was that he’d eventually freak and remove himself from the tub. Then he’d chase his tail for a while, believing it to be the intruder who kept biting his tail.
      The girl cat would hide behind the toilet and “help” him by trapping the intruder’s tail with a paw. So he’d bite the intruder, then be terribly upset about the intruder biting his tail….
      Sometimes I think he was more dog than cat, but, you know, he was a good dog. I miss him.

  5. Medievalnerd
    Medievalnerd June 23, 2020

    My kitten chases anything that moves or makes noise, which is why I now sew in the basement, with the door closed…

    • missa
      missa June 24, 2020

      That is smart! Lol!

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