practice

 

 

As my brain slows down to match my current pace, I am rewarded regularly with ideas and thoughts I believed lost, buried, or wasted. It is amazing how much of my creativity was being overrun by the stress of managing a busy life.  I know that I may be running over the same ground, but it keeps hitting me over the head. Slowing down is very beneficial to human beings. When I was a kid I would spend a fair amount of time daydreaming while staring out the window. I find myself falling back into that pattern lately....

 

I recently finished a quilt I made for our neighbors. We live in a rural area, and when it snows, if we are not home, we can get snowed out of our driveway. If we're here when the snow falls, Don will go out and clear the driveway. Full disclosure, I do not know how to operate this piece of equipment.

 
I like putting labels on my quilts. I dream of the journeys they will take, and the story a future user will tell about their history....

I like putting labels on my quilts. I dream of the journeys they will take, and the story a future user will tell about their history....

I'm sure I could learn if I needed to, but that has never been the case. Anyway, when we get a large snow dump, and we're at work, and the plow guys have been down our road, it can be impossible to get into our driveway without clearing it first. So our neighbor often does it for us. He loves his snowblower, and always keeps his driveway clean, and we pay him when he does it. But still I wanted to show him our appreciation in a special way.  Oh yeah, and he was recently diagnosed with cancer. So I made him a quilt. That's the way my brain works. Oh you've had a life change? Here, let me make you a quilt.  I wish my output reflected my intentions, but I am human, and there are only so many hours in the day....

Don very generously held this critter up for photos in the snow....

Don very generously held this critter up for photos in the snow....

 

I think it only fitting that I finished this quilt and photographed it during the last snow of our season, that dumped a foot on our bruised psyches on April 1st. Our neighbor did his trick, but it came down all day, so Don got out there too.... 

Quilts take time. I started this one in early January and finished it late March. The idea for the piecing came to me all of a sudden, and I got about half the blocks done quickly, and then I stalled.  I pushed through and brought the top with me to Savannah for QuiltCon. I took a quilting on a home machine workshop with Carolyn Friedlander and was hoping for some inspiration. When I returned from the South I was laid low by a bad cold which lingered for weeks. So the actual quilting didn't happen till March. But then it went pretty quickly, with ideas from the workshop.  When I finished the binding of this one I thought I might dive right in to another one, but I find myself turning back to garments. Maybe because it's Spring, and a change of season always inspires a new look at the closet....

I have been turning the idea of practice over in my thoughts recently. It is a simple concept, but one that we rush past in our fast lives. When I was young I danced. That is to say, I took A LOT of dance classes. Someone told my Mother I had good feet and she should put me in ballet, so from the tender ago of about, I don't know, ten(?), I went three times a week to study tendu's with a stern British woman named Miss Craske.  She scared the crap out of me, full disclosure, but I had some aptitude for the form and so could live up to her stern glare. I took dance classes from that young age until I was in my mid-twenties. Somewhere there is a photo of me in my leotard in a static pose that floods me with memories. I'll see if I can dig it out. I expanded my dance studies to jazz, modern and even tap throughout my career. And it was, for a brief moment, a career. I was (somewhat) gainfully employed as a modern dancer by a couple of companies, including Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane & Co for a couple years in the mid 80's.  The point of this reminiscence is to highlight the decades I spent practicing my dancing. The whole construct was so instinctual to me by my teen years, that daily class and rehearsals were the routine that maintained my craft. Do you see where I'm going with this? I would never have walked into an audition for a dance company without having spent years practicing my turns. And yet, somehow, many folks think they should be able to make a dress without any practice. Sewing patterns have directions, you follow them, and then you're supposed to finish with a wearable garment.... Um, no. You WILL get there. If you practice. It is not beyond most engaged people to be able to sew a well-fitting garment of most sorts. You may never get to the level of fine tailoring, or wedding dresses, but you can get to competent zipper insertion, even gathers, and buttonholes. But you have to practice!  You have work on your straight stitches, your accurate cutting, your seam finishes. Each time you make a garment you get better at the steps. Practice does make perfect, or, more importantly, great!  I try not to sound like a schoolmistress when I tell people they can sew, and that they shouldn't give up after their first attempt, but go back to it and try again. And again. And again, until they get it right. When you are starting out you don't want to go for the Archer button-up shirt, but instead try your hand at a Maya top.  Make yourself a simple pull-on elastic waist skirt, and get good at all those steps to it's completion. Your ego will feel better, you'll be happy with a wearable garment, and your muscle memory will begin to accumulate. This is part of the Slow idea. Don't expect to be an accomplished sewist (seamstress) after one week's work. Train yourself, read about the techniques.  Practice, touch a lot of fabric, cut out dozens of patterns, familiarize yourself with sewing terms, get comfortable with understitching, and you'll begin to recognize techniques. You'll get better at it all, and then one day you won't need the instructions. Or your zipper will go in without you stressing about it, at all!  What a feeling that is!  As my friend Lauren Taylor of LLADYBIRD says, sewing is entertaining, it's fun. What a lovely way to learn, by having fun. I'm not saying it's always fun, or that there aren't frustrating moments, but that's the nature of learning. You make progress incrementally, through trials and tribulations, until you absorb the information, and the struggle subsides.  Learning makes you flexible, it makes you smarter, and it gives you empathy for others. And at the end you get that cool skirt to wear.....!

 
I'm loving this new Rosa dress from Tilly and The Buttons in some heavyweight jersey I bought at Mood last trip to NYC.

I'm loving this new Rosa dress from Tilly and The Buttons in some heavyweight jersey I bought at Mood last trip to NYC.

 
An old Tova top, one of my two pairs of Ginger jeans, and my second Tea Leaves cardigan in Quince & Co. Chickadee.

An old Tova top, one of my two pairs of Ginger jeans, and my second Tea Leaves cardigan in Quince & Co. Chickadee.

 
A different kind of Ginger, the skirt from Colette Patterns, and a much loved Archer.

A different kind of Ginger, the skirt from Colette Patterns, and a much loved Archer.

For another angle, take baking. I worked commercially as a baker for about three years total. I left my corporate job as a photo editor at a magazine to study baking, and then went to work in the field. After a season of something like 200 pies, I cried Uncle and looked for a way out. Baking led to my Tennis Elbow, which made me turn my attention from knitting to sewing, so that was a good outcome. But in the middle of it? Not so much. I got into baking for many of the same reasons I sew and knit. Start with raw materials, follow a formula, mess around with it a bit, and come out with a useful finished project. I love that alchemical moment when you beat the flour into your chocolate/butter/sugar/eggs mixture to make brownies, and you can watch the texture change just from the action of your beating. Magic!  And then the finished product makes people smile....? Pretty special.  But doing it on a commercial scale took all of the joy out of it for me.  Too much repetition, and manual labor.  I cut my losses early, and considered it a life lesson. It got me out of an office job. So for about a year after I quit I didn't bake anything. Slowly I came back to it, and now I love it again.  I made cookies this weekend, and fell back into the rhythm of weighing, measuring, creaming, folding, scooping, and baking easily.  But that's because of all the cookies I made badly, or wrong, or burned, or under or over-baked in the past.  We learn by doing, by repetition, by making mistakes and trying again. Just like anything, you don't start out as an expert. Any artist will tell you that they painted a lot of shit before they got to a half way decent painting. Authors can tell you about the years of their life spent writing words that didn't string together worth a damn, until they hit the zone.....and it all flowed.  Practice is how you get good, but you've got to put in the time, make mistakes, screw up, start over, make more mistakes, try again. Till that day when you put on that dress and it fits like it was made just for you..... Ha! It was because you persevered, and practiced, and learned how to do it. The feeling of satisfaction from that type of accomplishment is so much more rewarding than a million followers on social media. Rewarding, practical, useful, and deeply satisfying.....