I finished the Alice Top by Tesutti Fabrics late the other night. I made so many wrong turns, I essentially sewed the top twice. (It’s in these detours that you learn the most about sewing.) Sewing a garment, inherently, is much faster than knitting a garment. It’s 1-2 weeks from start to finish versus 1-3 months (and that’s if it’s basically a straight line from start to finish). So why does sewing feel like it takes longer than knitting a sweater?
Maybe because for the very fact that sewing is a faster process? Expectations always shift one’s perception. I expect knitting to take time; one stitch here, a row there and over a course of a long while you have a completed project. I’m not a speed knitter so when I pick a pattern, I don’t have the expectation that I can wear it the next day.
When sewing, the expectation is that if I work quickly enough I could wear it tomorrow. But I’m not a fast sewer either. And the actual sewing is only part of the process. Selecting and washing the fabric, choosing a size and tracing the pattern; cutting out the fabric, changing the needle and thread on the machine (which used to take me so long! I’d have to pull out the manual to do the bobbin for years) and then the sewing begins.
Sewing my own clothes should be a reminder that speed is not the goal but the learning , building skills and my handmade wardrobe in the process is the purpose. It’s a relief not having to pull out the manual every time I need to change the bobbin now. It makes sewing smoother and less frustrating. Sewing the yoke of the Alice top backwards the first time then picking it out with the seam ripper enables me to really understand how it’s constructed and when I encounter that again- I’ll know how to do it. Same with sewing the armholes on upside down. Twice. I always tell my son that working quickly doesn’t always mean it gets done faster. Often the quick work has to be redone many times because you went too fast. If I slow down with my sewing, I bet it would be faster. But then, that’s not the point. Right?
If I want a piece of clothing immediately, I can just go to a store and buy something. Fast isn’t why I make my own clothes. And sometimes, I need the reminder.
Hello there. It’s been a long while. The vision when I started this blog was to write regularly and document my creative process. Somewhere that idea and intention got lost in the business of life. The projects continued: knitting, sewing, baking, family time, and theater. And somehow, now, time has opened up a bit (or maybe it’s space in my mind) and I find myself back here, ready to share once again what I’m making.
I finally finished Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Actually, I thought I had finished it a long time ago; it being started it right after her appearance at Seattle Arts and Lectures. The bookmark was peeking out of it as it was being put back onto the shelf and it revealed there were a few chapters left. Sometimes you read things right at the right time. She talked about following your curiosity in times of creative drought. In this season of child rearing, theater, my chosen creative profession, seems far out of my reach. Inspiration calling on others who are able to answer it. Handcrafts, knitting and sewing specifically, have sparked my interest but it it hasn’t fulfilled me in the way that I expected. And maybe that’s because I’ve been too caught up in product. Somewhere along the line completing a project has become the only measurement of success. The number of creative things completed equates to my ability/productivity/talent. To a certain extent that’s true. I’m both a beginner sewer and knitter and the time to work on projects is so fragmented that most of it is used re-learning what I was doing in the first place. The sweater is being knit one slow row after one slow row. Instead reveling in the fact that I finally learned how to pick up a dropped stitch, the focus is on the fact that it’s been 7 months since it was cast on. It’s hard when your mind works much faster than your hands; when your days are filled with countless worthy (and not so worthy) tasks. I’ve been toppled by a wave where product means everything and process nothing. This is the place where the craft ceases to be easy or rewarding; where it’s harder to push forward and easier to veer away from it- sometimes to pick it up again, sometimes not.
My son was gifted a book called Stardines, Swim Across the Sky and other poems by Jack Prelutsky. We love it for it’s word play. One poem stood out:
PLANDAS sit around all day,planning what to do. Their plans amount to nothing for they never see them through. They plan to run a marathon or take a railroad trip. They plan to cross the ocean on a wooden sailing ship. They plan to learn to roller-skate, to juggle, and to fence. They plan to go to clown school and cavort in circus tents. They plan to play the saxophone and form their own brass bands…But PLANDAS never do these things- they just keep making plans.
Plandas are my spirit animal, in a way. Planning lands squarely in my comfort zone: imagination, creativity, grand ideas, courage with basically no risk (aside from a closet full of supplies). And while one might see failure in a plan never being put into place, in this case, failure doesn’t even have a chance. If you never begin the plan it still has worlds of potential. (The trigger can be pulled at at a moments notice.) And thus, you never get to the place where you’re stuck in process without product because you’ve never started in the first place.
Ah, but just being a planda isn’t really living. And just quitting when things get tough, when the real work begins, you never grow, learn, discover or improve. To finish the sweater, attempt colorwork, to take another sewing class to complete the dress; to continue to follow this curiosity of handcrafts is where life happens. Yes, it’s easier to plan or start and complete projects that have definite deadlines but much harder to sit in a sea of process.
Whether I guide the handcraft projects into the harbor of completion shouldn’t be the only measurement of success. Reading Big Magic served a reminder and encouragement that curiosity is valuable, just in itself. A meditation on the journey. A prompt to think how success is defined. A result, a finished object, is not required every single time a project begins. It’s a balance between planning (dream) process (journey) and result (destination). We can’t be in one spot for too long. A few dreams, a couple of journeys and a handful of destinations, all cycling at different intervals. It’s tempting to cut one or the other short, to camp out in one place for too long or forget to be present in whatever stage we’re in at the moment.
So I guess I’ve been in the process part of my current handcrafts for a little too long and tangled up in what constitutes success. Maybe I’ll start a new project, pick up an old one again (I did just start a sewing lab class) or follow my handcraft curiosity to somewhere deeper. I doubt I’ll ever become an expert knitter, sewer or even theater director. And to be honest, that would be putting a a predetermined measurement of success on my curiosity. But if I don’t allow myself to continue to work, learn and create, no matter what pace or outcome, how will I ever know? There may be a day that I can say: I’ve been knitting, sewing and directing plays for 30 years now!
There was a period of time in high school where I raided my dad’s closet. I was into the baggy/skater/slightly hippy look. I cut off old 501’s for shorts and took this rag wool REI sweater from who knows when. I always kept this sweater, long after I realized fitted clothes were much more flattering. This past fall I decided to transform this over sized sweater into a vest I could wear.
On the first try I just sewed a few inches in on the sides, following the existing line of the sweater. That didn’t give the fit I wanted so I ripped it out and then pinned a sweater from my closet on to the wool sweater. Then I sewed the outline of the black sweater. For the sleeve holes, I pinned back the sweater material, sewed and then cut the excess fabric to get the best fit possible. This is my first time altering a garment and it was a relatively quick project once I figured out the shape.
I can be pretty nostalgic about things but they do me no good when they sit in a box or drawer. It’s fun to wear this old/new vest, especially with the added meaning that it used to be my dad’s. Plus, it fits into my goal of a mostly handmade, hardworking wardrobe. Triple win!
Last year I was gifted a small book, One Thought a Day. It’s a little book where you write a line or two each day for five years. Thoughts were written until March and then it was put down. I picked it up again this new year, to give it another go. It was a surprise that I started writing the same “realizations”, struggles and challenges almost to the day the year before. If my thoughts from last year weren’t written down in the little box, I would be patting myself on the back for the new insights I had, plowing ahead with expectations that the coming year would be completely different.
It’s funny, the narrative we play over in our minds and what we forget. This year I set out to knit all my family members a gift. In my planning, I thought what I set out to do was doable: a few hats and cowls. Intellectually, it all was possible- just like all the change I planned with my “new” revelations but in practice it was a whole different story. I knit a lot faster in my mind. There are few interruptions and my fingers move at lightening speed. In truth, I was rushing through the knitting, frustrated that I didn’t have more dedicated knitting time, just in order to finish and get on to the next gift. It wasn’t the relaxing or enjoyable experience I expected. It prevented me from being present with my knitting or benefiting from all the reasons I love it; it became another “to do” on the list.
Through my first season of gift knitting and re-reading my thoughts from last year, it’s clear that my expectations have been a bit unrealistic, especially during the holiday season. I want to do all the things: knitting, baking, shopping, cooking, cleaning, decorating, parties and the list goes on. To have all the family gatherings to be relaxing and smooth without conflict or frustration; to participate in every activity with enthusiasm and grace. In what world does this happen? Yet every year, I set myself up for the impossible and then have the hardest time enjoying what is right in front of me.
New Year’s resolutions are not something I make every year, and if I do, they’re usually big sweeping statements that are great sounding but nearly impossible to carry out and inevitably fade away by March. This year, however, I will focus on sleep. I figure, lots can come from being more rested…or not (adjusting those expectations!). Some weeks will be better than others. Often it’ll be out of my control (right now it’s 5am wake ups in my house). But I can start small and forgiving and not get caught up in all the things I’d like to change/do (exercise, yoga, de-clutter, less phone time, creative pursuits, reading, travel…).
One thing knitting has taught me is if I rush it, it saps the joy from the act of creating. When knitting to finish in order to cast on the next project, I’m not present with what’s in front of me but instead wishing for what I don’t have; always wanting more. Knitting endlessly is not possible. My hands ache and other tasks and people call my attention. Balance is required. It helps remind myself that taking it slow is part of the process; it encourages me to accept where I am at this point in my life.
The gifts are still being made and the joy that I have in giving a homemade present is just as wonderful. They can always wear it next winter! And little thoughts are being recorded right before an earlier bedtime- I just hope I make it past Spring.
A lot of food was made in the kitchen this last Thanksgiving week: apple cake, turkey on the green egg, roasted vegetables, and chocolate birthday cake. It was a bright celebration of food, family and a little boy.
The first few of the holiday gatherings are done. I’d like to say it was a blast but that would be untrue. To say I didn’t enjoy it isn’t honest either. There were moments that I loved, wonderful memories created, but I’m still wondering whether I enjoy hosting or not. Maybe I’m a better support staff person? Perhaps my expectations are unrealistic? This holiday season seems to be one of deeper exploration, teasing out what brings joy and what feels like obligation. Of course, there are many things to consider, least of all is what I, alone, want, desire, need. There is a struggle within myself between the part that wants to be at every party, give every gift and execute all the holiday traditions and the part wistfully imagining a simple, minimal holiday season with just my little family. The truth is that I don’t just want one or the other but a blend of all of the above. And that blend will be different each year. Being in the moment and present is awfully challenging when you’re always thinking about what might be better and how you’d change it. It prevents you from enjoying what is at hand. I know this in my head but it is so hard to put into practice. So hard!
To help remind myself and consciously begin to change the narrative of ‘It’s such a stressful time of year’ (because while it can be it isn’t all it is), here are some of the wonderful moments of the past few weeks. And they out number any negative ones by far.
Beginning with Halloween and through Chinese New Year, it is the busiest time of year for our family. We have all the holidays as well as two birthdays. Add in other friend’s birthdays, holiday get-togethers and travel to the already full schedule of school, violin and life in general, each day is filled to the brim; each moment bursting. And you hear coin phrases to slow down, minimize, say no; appreciate it all because it goes by so fast, enjoy and soak it all up! So many expectations of yourself, your family members and the desire to have it all go seamlessly without tears. Lots of effort in trying to meet (and exceed) everyone’s expectations; to please, to help, to create memorable memories. Otherwise, why do we even do it all? What other option do we have aside from staying under the covers?
Last week at my son’s school they had a mindfulness expert come and talk to the parents. It was very hard for me to be present while working on the two and three minute exercises. I shared my story that I’ve tried these “mindfulness” techniques but they never seem to work for me, for our family. And then in one of the last silences of the meeting, I realized that I spend more time talking about this narrative than actually practicing any of the techniques. They don’t work because there is no muscle: I haven’t exercised them with any sort of consistency. It’s been easier to throw my hands up and say it’s hopeless; nothing works! Stress is permanent, cooking dinner or the bath time tension is here to stay.
Then I jump to the story that this holiday season is going to be so hard and so busy; let’s race to the end of it. Then things will be get better, slow down. Again, spending more time dreading/anticipating than actually getting tasks done, enjoying it or being present.
To be truthful, there really aren’t many things that I would take off my list or say no to: it’s all good stuff, all the things I like doing this time of year and it’s pretty paired down. But here’s my goal: to let go of perfection (who cares if we use the stained napkins or if the bunt cake sticks to the pan or the kids talk with their mouths full?) and to seek out the pauses in my mornings, afternoons and evenings. Moments of presence, moments of quiet. And these moments will not be found in large quantities, separate from the daily demands. To me, this realization is key. Waiting to have time to be mindful means it will never happen. Seeking out the pauses inside the busyness is what’s required.
From the pictures, you can tell these pauses and moments have been there, I just haven’t been present enough to acknowledge it. Instead I’m waiting until the next thing that needs to be done. There is no habit or muscle built to seek out these minutes of time consciously. I don’t recognize that in these little moments, I can pause, settle and be still. I’ve always been waiting for a large swath of time to be reinvigorated, re-energized, restored.
Because I’m choosing to host Thanksgiving, celebrate birthdays, travel to family, see dear friends, I also choose to start a different narrative. One that acknowledges that it will be stressful, at times overwhelming; something will be burnt or forgotten, feelings may be hurt, but along side it all is the notion to take a pause, breathe and look around in little moments of my day. Be present. It’s the one tradition I’d like to cultivate this season and pass on to the next.