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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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Friday, April 21, 2017

Sewing as a character building exercise

Today my friend Trudy and I had one of our all to infrequent sewing days together.

Trudy made a great knit top and then we both moved on to projects that were unfamiliar to a pair of garment sewers like ourselves. I worked on bags, which meant unfamiliar shapes, and Trudy tried to figure out some stuffy toys for her granddaughter.

My efforts in particular were of the one step forward two steps back variety. The reasons for this were 1) I talked the whole time, once again demonstrating that Babs can't talk and read instructions at the same time 2) I have sewn so much, but not bags, that I skimmed the instructions with the assumption I knew what to do, when in fact I did not and should have been reading every word with full attention (see point 1).

However I didn't give up and improvised a series of fixes on the time honoured principle that most folks would think those extra seams were supposed to be there, and Trudy, being my friend, was wise enough to tell me that no one would notice.

The persisting, which women as we know do, made me think of the things sewing had taught me about lasting through life. In fact Trudy and I discussed various challenging times in the past that we worked our way through, probably because of the way sewing had toughened us up.

To summarize a highly intelligent discussion I think sewing has taught me these life skills:

  • There is no point in freaking out. Cry all you want but that sleeve is still going to be in the wrong armhole anyway. You might as well pick up the seam ripper and get going.
  • O.K. you blew it. Move past that quickly and get onto all possible salvage fixing operations. After all nothing erases a mistake like a good recovery. Or a few extra seams.
  • Sometimes you make a wrong decision but beating yourself up won't transform it into a good decision. Get it out of your sight and think of the next thing. That's what garbage pick-up days are for.
  • It's alright to say you are tired and to take some time out. It will be better in the morning than it will be in the extra half hour you keeping pushing on tonight. As a matter of fact sometimes the  greatest progress is made when you stop pushing so hard.
  • There is always the next one and it may be great. Your bounce back matters. Do enough of it and you will get pretty resilient.
  • It's only clothes. Don't take it all so seriously. Even the serious things in life can be lightened if you ease up.
Now over to you.

What has sewing taught you about life?


AJW said...

Thoughts and words to live by. Sewing can teach us a lot about life. Thanks for articulating this so clearly.

Marianne said...

Yes, sewing teaches us so much! Two of the things I've learned are "keep going" and "know when to stop."

Sewing teaches me that one small step at a time takes me to where I want to go. I made a coat once using difficult fabric and bits and pieces of 3 patterns, plus I had some fitting issues. Before I started I did not have a clear idea of how to proceed. But, I tackled one problem at a time and ended up with exactly the coat I wanted.

Sewing also teaches me about my limitations. It doesn't matter if I need to wear that new top tomorrow. Once my brain is tired and I start making mistakes, no amount of forcing will get it done. Sometimes it's better to walk away for a while.

becky said...

Thank you! I'm printing that part and sticking it up on my Sewing Bulletin Board. Good advice.

Kathleen Meadows said...

Sewing has taught me valuable lessons in ATTENDING - read instructions, take my time, better to take the time to do it right than have to redo later. That each step in the process is equally important - from planning and visioning to pattern and fabric choice, to preparing both, cutting, marking sewing and finishing. It's helped in my daily life to be less impulsive, more patient and leaving things undone until tomorrow is OKAY. Surprising I hadn't learned these things before 60 but my return to sewing 2 years ago has given me all this and more. I can attest to how much better my brain is working overall. All that "puzzling" has been brilliant for a remarkable recovery and development of my memory and strategic planning skills.

bbarna said...

Time management- most things can get done in small increments, done regularly.
Use up and make do. I have plenty of fabric, both for sewing garments and quilting. Some of my best work has been done from the stash, when I didn't have money to go buy more stuff.

Anonymous said...

My 89 year old aunt, who has been sewing for over 80 of those has two "sayings" that stick in my mind. For herself if she makes a mistake it's " I was going along great until that little miss know it all decided not to bother reading the directions properly and then I had to rip it out" . If she is mentoring someone else it's " oh tush you won't see THAT from the road"

Mapmaker said...

First, I am not a perfectionist, but I enjoy doing meticulous work. It's my hobby, so I get to do it the way I want, and I am very seldom in a hurry to finish a sewing project, so who cares how slow I go. Second, I definitely have control issues, and I try to work them out on inanimate objects rather than people. Works better for both them and me. And third, building on what the other Barbara said about working from stash and within limitations, sometimes the "mistake" becomes the best aspect of a project, once you figure out how to proceed. Which can take time, which brings us back to the beginning again.

Jean said...

Sewing has taught me to slow down and prepare for the project at hand. I often have "thinking day" where I read the directions, prep the fabric, make alterations to the pattern, gather supplies, and then I might just sit and think about what I am going to do, particularly if the project is something new to me. I use these techniques for other things I am doing-such as tiling my bathroom floor. The prep has taken longer than the actual tiling, but it is coming out really nicely.

Esther said...

Oh, Barbara, I always love your posts, and this is one of the best. I am in my early 50's which is always a time of surprise, "how did I arrive here?", and for reflection. Reading about life, interests and goals of women like you who are older than me but feel great about life is very moving.
I sewed as a teenager , forgot about it when I went to university, and restarted 5 years ago, when my own daughters were almost teenagers themselves. Sewing has helped with my control issues as well as Mapmaker, it feels better and more harmless to control your sewing than to control two teenage girsl. It has also taught me that when you are tired it is best to stop and have a break or continue the next day.
I wish you the best. Halifax is for me the door to America, everytime I have flown to the USA from my Europe, after crossing the Atlantic, when I read Halifax on the screen, it means we have arrived to America.

garnet128 said...

1) Like others, sewing has taught me that it is ok to put off till tomorrow if your focus is not there now. I can't tell you how many times that the clear resolution to a problem is right there the next morning. 2) It has also showed me that I am not the multi-tasker that I thought I was. 3) I have learned that there are multiple RIGHT ways to do things. What feels right IS right. And it is OK if it is not right...let it go (I'm still working on this one). 4) I have learned that I slow down and do my absolute best when doing something for others and that I need to value myself more. Working on this one as well. 5) I have learned that sharp cutting tools are a must, worth every penny and must be respected.
I just realized that I could go on and on. The End!

Anonymous said...

To perservere. You get better but can't always see the progress. But you do get better. So much better!

Commenting as anonymous because google account is such a pain!

Summer Flies said...

This is a lovely post. Sewing has taught me no matter what, I do not give up. I know when to be pedantic and when to let it go. I learned sometimes when the machine talks (i.e. doesn't do what it should be doing) you must listen and stop and most importantly, it's ok to make a mistake because most of them don't really matter and most of them can be easily and creatively fixed. It also taught me I can do anything if I want to put in the time. And I really mean that...

Anonymous said...

All great lessons and ones that I seem to need to learn over and over again. Hoping to see your "learning bag".


Jane W. said...

Ha! This list really resonated with me--nothing to add, but just what I needed to read.