Button, Button, Who’s Got The…

Posted by admin on January 5, 2015 in Pirate Adventures |

I take pause on occasion to reflect on some of the things I’ve done. When I do, it both amazes me and astounds me, for I have found myself in some unusual situations, ones that I would have never thought up on my own, largely because they were either ill-advised or just plain stupid.

I used to go to Port Royal, Jamaica a lot. For you non-piratical types, that’s the place the buccaneers used as their home base so they could pillage the Spanish and generally make life miserable for their interests down in the Caribbean and Central and South America.

At one time it was the richest port in the New World, eclipsing Boston. It was also rowdy, famously so, largely because of the tremendous wealth that arrived daily by ship. The story of one buccaneer who purchased a cask of wine still sticks in my mind. He broke it open in an intersection of the town. Dipping his tankard into it, he beckoned passersby to take a swig. If they didn’t he would douse them with the liquidious red stuff, even when dressed in their finery.

Of course, all this wealth went to hell in a hand basket literally when the great earthquake of 1692 struck. Three separate earthquakes in the space of two minutes rocked the city, killing thousands. Two thirds of the town sank beneath the waves, never to be seen again.

Fast forward to today and Port Royal is a town of about 1,200. There are few signs of the pirate town these says. Some of the streets still have the same names, the jail where Mary Read and Anne Bonny were incarcerated is still there, as is Fort Charles.

That’s about it. Just out of town is Morgan’s Harbour, the only hotel in town. Modern(?) Port Royal isn’t exactly a haven for tourists, but rather a quiet fishing town where raw sewage running in open troughs becomes the signature scent and little boys and girls still marvel at the sight of a white-faced tourist, it being such a rarity.

During one of my many visits there my friend and I became aware of the hotel’s desire to make their staff look a little more pirate-y. Not in the eyepatch and hook kind of way, but in a spirit of the heydays of Port Royal, when men wore waistcoats and jabots and women wore bodices and poofy blouses.

Big mouth that she was, my friend boasted that we could make clothing for the staff. All the hotel had to do was pony up some trade outs for rooms and food (she didn’t bother with beverage for some reason) and we would whip it all up for them.

Whip it all up. We’re not talking about a couple of costumes, but a couple uniforms for each member of the staff. Jamaica is, after all, a sweaty place to work and play and they couldn’t wear the same outfits every day of the week.

When all the numbers were tallied, it came to something like 100 uniforms that we were to produce in our tiny apartment in Orlando.

I knew that we were in over our heads when the fabric semi arrived. Yes, semi. You can’t buy that much material at a Joann’s Fabric. It has to be ordered by the bolt from the mills. And you just can’t order one bolt; you have to order several. We had two main fabric needs – the white cotton for the men’s shirts and women’s blouses and the heavy upholstery fabric for the matching bodices and waistcoats.

Insanity at its best. Just lugging these huge bolts into the apartment was a chore. Apartment stairwells and doorways aren’t made for such massive things and the delivery guys weren’t about to help us get them inside weave them around the tight corners.

Production began in earnest. We only had one sewing machine, which we quickly learned was totally inadequate for the job at hand. We needed a serger. Not any old serger, but an industrial grade one that could sew and cut the thick upholstery fabric.

As you know, sergers can be damned finicky. Ours only worked half the time; the rest of the time was spent seam-ripping all the errant threads.

I couldn’t deal with the serger’s freak outs and I wasn’t about to screw with all the grommets on the bodices. We didn’t have a machine to set the grommets. No, they all had to be done with a hand setter and a hammer.

My niche turned out to be buttons Only the men’s waistcoats needed buttons. Sounded easy enough, until I started to do the math. Each waistcoat had nine buttons, which meant that I had to hand sew 360 buttons. I guess I was the fool.

Still, I launched into the task with aplomb. The promise had been made and a bunch of almost free stays in Jamaica seemed like the work was worth it. Eventually, finally, all the pieces were done and we dutifully hauled them all in suitcases to Jamaica, trying our best to make it past customs by lying through our teeth about why we had so many matching outfits in our luggage. They actually believed that we loved the pattern that much and being Americans, were worried we’d sweat a lot and overpacked.

Thankfully, they bought the story and we made our way to the hotel to deliver the goods and take advantage of our first “free” stay at Morgan’s Harbour.

I never got my money’s worth. The tumblers of life turned unexpectedly and a short time later, I was aced out of my “free” stay plan. I guess I didn’t have things sewed up tightly after all (sorry, had to use the line).

Ah, but the smile on Milton’s face, pictured here with his button-sewing friend, was kind of worth it. He desperately wanted to come to the U.S. to be my servant. I thought that was a crazy way for him to say thank you for his new duds. Turned out that he feared for his life and would have done anything to get out of Jamaica.

In the Emerald City, sewing my oats, but not any more buttons.


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