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I am a mother, a new grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Sunday, October 10, 2010

On the creativity of limitations

I realize this fall I have been sewing entirely from my stash and not buying fabric.

There are a couple of reasons for this.

For a start I have been really busy and reaching into one of my fabric bins is the easiest way to shop. Also, my local fabric store just isn't inspiring at all, ordinary fabrics at inflated prices, and I just can't see paying $50 shipping for my Fabricmart "bargains" any more. 

I have enough stuff. I need to work my way through some of it to see more clearly.

At what point did we sewers stop being the clever women who could make beautiful clothes from what we had on hand?

At what point did sewers become women with thousands of dollars of sewing machines, stashes that rivaled fabric stores, masses of patterns, industrial irons, fancy dressforms, pattern making software, and mail order couture buttons who produced ordinary clothes? Count me guilty of all of this.

I have hit some kind of a wall. 

Maybe it was too many sewing shows watching hundreds of women in jeans and sweat shirts pulling along trolleys of newly purchased gear saying they hadn't touched what they bought at the last show? Maybe it was my own faint nausea when I hit the "submit order" button one more time, knowing in my heart that it would be a long, long time before I had the time to sew this fabric and knowing too in my heart that as a sewer I was being overtaking by greed, not by creativity.

It's the creativity I want back.

And I am getting there, trying to make the most of what I have this fall. By waiting for pattern sales rather than sending off for $20 indy patterns I am now divesting to women I have never met to just get them out of my house and off my conscience.

Great sewing, both the experience and the process, is like cooking. Not so much about elaborate ingredients but about working with good ingredients and with care - tasting the tastes, not obscuring them.

Think about Depression quilts, think about how those women used their creativity to extend their limits.

So I think my new plan is to stock up once a year when we go to the US and I get myself into some good fabric stores and spend the rest of my year making it count, living off my investments, not digging myself in deeper.

Make sense?


Sewfast said...

Absolutely Barbara! Still doesn't stop me from going crazy when I see a sale alert, but I do enjoy shopping my stash because I know I love everything in the shop!

a little sewing on the side said...

"At what point did we sewers stop being the clever women who could make beautiful clothes from what we had on hand?"
Whoa, speak for yourself, Barbara! I use my thousands of dollars worth of machines, fabrics and a fancy dress form to make beautiful clothes!!

LOL, just kidding!!
Seriously, don't be so hard on yourself. If we lived during the Depression, I know you'd lead the way with beautiful creations made from nearly nothing.

And as far as the slightly nauseated feeling when clicking on the "buy" button, I know the feeling. As the old saying goes, "when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging". It id wise to listen to the gut feeling and adjust actions appropriately.

As for myself, I thought long and hard about each purchase and decided it was worth every penny to me.
My advice would be to stop comparing yourself to women of the depression. For example, I compare myself to my sister who spends similar sums of money on her horse & many pets. Or my brother who spends (way more) on his sideline as an indie film-maker. Or my other brother who spends (way more) on his '69 Camaro that he races all up and down the East Coast.
I hope my sense of humor about all this is coming through in the written word. And I hope you need to visit DS again before too long so we can meet up for lunch.

RuthieK said...

Yes it makes a lot of sense. Sure don't feel bad about what you have but if it starts to feel like excess it makes a lot of sense to use what you have and give stuff away. That will make your life lighter and your creativity flow.

Carolyn (cmarie12) said...

That is one way to look at it...another way to look at it is that not everyone who pulls the trigger on an expensive machine or a cart full of fabric won't use the materials she/he buys.

I do buy and own an impressive amount of fabric. But I sew more than the average person and not just for myself. Family and friends are also the benefactors of my fabric collection.

Also new fabric purchases inspire me. They coordinate with pieces I already own, as well as, take me in new creative directions. I'm not sure though if I would be such a fan of Fabric Mart if my shipping were $50 instead of $8. Then I'm sure I would agonize over every purchase since as you noted the shipping would outweigh the benefits of the discounts.

As with all things sewing, each sewist must decide what they are comfortable with doing, making, using, etc. What works for one sewist may not work for another. It's that whole free will thing going on...but this was a very interesting post!

Barbara said...

Oh dear I didn't mean to offend anyone, the offender I was talking about is me - and hitting a point of my sewing life where I said to myself, OK lets start sewing this stuff up. Perhaps if I had posted a photo of what I have collected this would have made more sense.

My life is moving towards more time to sew too. I do know that in the past when I worked really long hours that I bought instead of sewing. When I worked media for my old boss during elections it was the worst. I would get up at 3:00 a.m. and just go on fabric websites to regain my sanity. Needless to say when I got off the road there were boxes piled up all over the entryway.

All of you whose production is a constant as their acquisitions is not who I was talking about, but maybe just who I am trying to be.

Thanks for the great comments.

Irene said...

I sympathize with you, however... Many people who need supplies to fuel their passion often face the fact that the supplies far exceed the possible output. I tend to think of my stash as "free" shopping. Fabric (and trims and buttons and ...) are purchased with a particular project in mind. Life happens. Projects don't. Don't beat yourself up over this.

Personally, I think that I am blessed to have this "bank account" of future projects. There have been oh, so many times when I've needed something new to wear (even if only to make myself feel better), or a gift for someone, and there was no money for spending. That stash of supplies made everything possible - sometimes with more than a dash of creativity. Without my stash, I could not even begin to afford the clothes in my closet.

Ann's Fashion Studio said...

I can relate to this post at the moment:)
I buy more than I sew and sometimes feel overwhelmed because I am not sewing. However I know that this will change, life is busy right now, priorities are made and my sewing time will come back...and when it does I will be well stocked :)
Have a great Thanksgiving!

I too wish shipping wasn't so high. I have backed away from a purchase because of the cost :}

Linda T said...

I relate completely to what you are saying and feeling. I go through stages - clearing for a while - then collecting for a while. I kinda roll with the flow.

LinB said...

The terrible economy has constrained me to seriously consider how I will use the 3-pickup cabs-full of designer upholstery samples a friend rescued from the High Point, NC furniture market five years ago. Also, friends clearing out their deceased mothers' stashes have enriched my hoard. I love trying fabrics I would never have purchased on my own. I hate having to wad whole yardages of moth-damaged goods that they could not bear to throw away. Also, my wardrobe makes me look as if I dress myself from a costume department. Love to read your story every week.

Anonymous said...

Depression women were living when money for materials was scarce and
creatively making do was a way of life. It would be nice if some of
that inventiveness carried over into our age. But we live in a period
where it is much easier to buy patterns, fabric, and machines than it is
to find time to actually make the things we imagined when we bought the

We're just as creative and inventive as those depression ladies, and can
dream with the best of them. When we buy materials, we are actually
buying our dreams. We have a vision of what we might make, and with a
click we also have everything it takes to make it, except the time. My
personal dream purchases are manifest in a closet partly full of fabric
and patterns, since I am a natural Luddite when it comes to fancy
machines. I would much rather have the end products completed, and maybe
someday I will. Making the purchase puts me one step closer to making
the dream real.

Your once a year plan sounds great. I'd love to hear what your thoughts
are on your annual shopping list. What will you stockpile? How much will
you try to plan ahead, and how much will you yield to impulse?