On Sewing

This post originally appeared on my main blog.

I should be writing. I have a book to write. I have multiple books to write and to edit. But instead, the time and energy I usually spend thinking about my writing and then writing is now spent thinking about sewing (what I am going to sew, what pattern, what fabric, what next steps) and then sewing (which includes putting the patterns together, cutting the pattern, cutting the fabric, and then actually sewing, which also involves a lot of un-sewing and swearing).

I stopped playing Candy Crush, and instead go through my sewing Airtable, filled with my patterns, organized by type, and my fabric, and my projects. Yes, you read that right, I have an organized system for my sewing. One that I have tweaked and made even better, in my opinion. Adding a category for the amount of fabric and type of fabric any one pattern requires. There is a ritual now: download a pattern, add it to my dropbox folder, open the instructions, create a new entry in the appropriate category, screenshot of a line drawing, connect it to the pattern designer, how many yards, what kind of fabric, link to the dropbox folder, link to any online tutorials.

I’ve also tried to organize my fabric, somewhat. New fabric arrives, and I take a picture of it, upload it to the Airtable, say where I got it, how much it I have, what kind of fabric it is, and then I take a comic book cardboard and fold the fabric around it, in an effort to keep it somewhat neat and tidy. It’s still a mess, but not an unruly mess, just a mess. These are new rituals that are soothing to me now, like I can impose some sort of order within the chaos that is the present moment, control something, somewhat, if only for a moment.

Going through that Airtable at night when I used to play Candy Crush is a little piece of hope, of planning, of something to look forward to. My ADHD brain runs wild with what it thinks we can do, but the order of the patterns, of the process, gives tangible steps to help my brain see the end, understand how it will end, when everything else seems never-ending and unknown. Follow these steps, and at the end, there will be a garment you can wear, that is your own, just for you.

Sewing is possibly the most selfish act I have ever done. Even my writing, while for me, has taken on the added pressure of writing for an audience, an audience with expectations, I write for myself, but I have also always written for an imagined audience of people who just want to feel less alone, like they are not the only ones thinking what they think, feeling what they feel. With sewing, it is only just for me. I did make little outfits for my niece and nephew for Christmas, but everything else has only been for me. It feels strange and liberating to do something for myself like this, especially since I don’t have any guilt around it, which is an unfamiliar feeling.

I have my pattern and fabric library and I browse it, planning my next sewing project(s). When I find one I want to do, step one is to print the pattern. I prefer printing the patterns myself, rather than ordering paper patterns. Part of it is because of the immediate satisfaction of downloading the pattern as a PDF, rather than waiting in the mail. I can start the soothing cycle of organization immediately. Before I print, for some patterns, I have to figure out what size to print. My measurements now live on a little post-it note just under my monitor, in both inches and centimeters. I know my measurements in inches by heart, but still need to check in centimeters. I have perfectly proportioned chest and hip measurements, but my waist is off, too large for a perfect sizing. So I look at final measurements, to see if I can size to my bust and hips and not worry about my waist. Make sure my printer is set to print at 100%, measure the test square, print the pattern, print the instructions because I need an activity where I am not looking at a screen.

Lots of people hate this next step, but it might be my favorite: putting the pattern together. You have sheets and sheets and sheets that you now have to put together to create a large sheet where you then cut out the individual pattern pieces. It’s the easiest puzzle in the world. My biggest challenge is to find enough floor space to put it all together. I’ll sit in our bedroom/office/workout space/sewing nook, listening to a podcast or binging some show or movie, and fold, align, and tape. Fold, align, and tape. Fold, align, and tape. Printers have one job, and yet they still do them as badly as they did when they inspired Office Space to destroy one in a fit of cathartic rage. In other words, the pages don’t always align. But I make it work. Fold, align, tape. Fold, align, tape.

And then we cut. If the pattern doesn’t let you choose which size to print, sizing becomes an issue again. If the pattern doesn’t give finished garment measurements (so, what the clothes will actually measure), then I have to measure and make sure the size will fit me. So far, I’ve selected patterns with a generous waist, so I haven’t had to do any adjustments. Yet. The nice thing about printing my own patterns is that if I make a mistake, I can just print the page or pages again and add them back in, or even just start all over again. I’m not worried about “ruining” my patterns.

And yes, I know that’s what tracing is for. I am passable at cutting. I am horrible at tracing. I will choose the former over the latter any day.

One the pattern is cut, it is time to place them on the fabric and cut the fabric. Sometimes it takes weeks between cutting the pattern and cutting the fabric. I can always re-print the pattern. Once the fabric is cut, there’s no going back. Sometimes, if I’m still really not sure, I’ll make a muslin, a cheap copy of what the garment will be, for fitting purposes. But I hate this extra step, hate the wasted time spent on a piece of clothing I won’t ever wear.

The challenge here, again, is my small workspace on the floor. Even our kitchen table isn’t big enough for me to sit and cut pieces, so I am on the floor, hunched over, cutting. I’ve gone back and forth between pattern weights and pinning the pattern pieces. Pattern weights are faster and easier, but less secure. I prefer the pizza-cutter style tool over regular scissors because it’s easier to do straight lines, which means I have to constantly move my cutting sheet, and the weights get shoved off. So a little extra time, and pins it is. Because of the lack of space, I can’t set up all the pattern pieces ahead of time, in the way recommended by the pattern, so I have to hope that I have enough space.

This is also where things start going wrong, as my mind wanders, gets impatient. I don’t read how many or in what direction each piece requires. I forget to mark the pattern markings in the fabric. The fabric slips and I don’t notice. Maybe I followed the wrong line. I just keep plugging away at it, hoping everything fits together, wondering how I’ll fix it if it doesn’t. The latest skirt I made I didn’t pay attention and a) picked a fabric without enough stretch, and then b) didn’t have enough fabric. I cheated the seem allowances, added an expansion on the waist band, and cut some pieces on the bias instead of the grain. It worked.

Now, finally, after all of that, it is time to sew. I have a Singer Simple that was a gift from my mother to my daughter when she was 8 and decided she wanted to learn to sew. I muddle through with it, but I underestimated how finicky sewing machines are, and I had sloppy stitches, then broken and misaligned needles, and shitty thread that kept breaking, and thin fabric that kept getting chewed up. I would think, I just need to sew a straight line, and it would take forever because something would go wrong and I would have to rip out stitches or constantly re-thread and adjust the machine. And that’s just the machine screw-ups, excluding human error. I don’t align the pieces properly, extra fabric gets sucked into where I am sewing, I stick myself with the needles. One time, I accidentally sewing through my finger nail, breaking the needle and ripping my nail.

I have learned patience through my sewing, and self-forgiveness for mistakes. This is not nothing for me. I see a mistake, and I get out my seam ripper and rip away, re-aligning and re-pining. Moments like these used to physically hurt me – my stomach would knot, filled with a ball of rage and shame, self-loathing and disappointment. My heart rate would sky-rocket, my face turn red, my jaw and fists clenched, with tears forming in my eyes and a scream forming in my throat. I still want to throw my machine out the window when the top thread breaks for the 87th time in one seam I am trying to sew, but I take a deep breath, and now it was become part of the routine: stop, snip, re-thread, begin again. I am learning to be patient, to be more careful, to pay more attention, but also just to be kinder to myself. I don’t miss that physical pain from mistakes.

When I come up against instructions and images that aren’t clear to me, I google. I find how-to videos on YouTube and watch and re-watch, because I usually don’t get it the first time or the second time. I think, huh, that looks easy enough, and then I go back to my machine and I immediately forget everything I just saw. So I watch and and I pause and I watch and I pause and eventually I get it, but it takes time. Watch it once or twice to get the concept, watch it again (and again and again and again) while I do it. I am envious of these “pros” whose machines just seem to work while mind sputters along. I’ve bought two new ones, but one of them doesn’t do a stretch stitch and I am still too afraid of my serger with it’s four threads and complicated threading set up. There are videos about how to use my serger as open tabs in the “sewing” browser window, but I haven’t gathered up the courage to watch them yet.

I am terrible at the finishing. I don’t iron my seams down, I haven’t yet mastered neck facings, and by the time I get to hemming the garment, I just want to be done. I have yet to sew a garment with a zipper, but I have managed button holes and buttons. My ADHD brain resists that last 10%, wanting to be done, ready to abandon the project, but I also can’t stand to see it so visibly unfinished, so I push on. I need to get this done, which always takes longer than I think it is going to. Oh, it’s just the hem, and an hour later, two hours later, I am still tying to sew the hem.

One lesson from my writing I now take into sewing is “good enough.” My sewing isn’t perfect, and I don’t actually care that it isn’t. Is it good enough? Then that’s good enough. I remember when my daughter sewed her first skirt and her hem was, well, not straight, and she was so proud of herself, but terrified of wearing her creation to school lest one of her classmate’s noticed the imperfection and make fun of her. I told her that if they thought they could make a better skirt, then they could just go and do it themselves, but this was her skirt and she had every right to be proud of it. Fuck the haters, and she would say, mom, you know I can’t swear and swearing isn’t nice, you know, I wish you wouldn’t swear so much. And now she’s almost 14 cussing up a storm with her friends, just like I did at 14.

And then when it’s done, I put it on and take a picture of myself in the full-length mirror I have in my room. It’s never a very good picture because often it is late and I am tired from sewing which I have been doing all day, so I am sweaty and frazzled, but I put it on anyway and take the shitty picture and post it on the socials, because fuck it, I made this dress, these pants, this skirt, and while they are only for me, maybe you’ll be inspired. Or maybe I just want the likes and the hearts and the compliments. It’s both, really. I wish I had a place where I could take those fancier pictures showing off the garment, someone to take those pictures, but alas, it would be too embarrassing for my daughter, my son doesn’t like taking pictures (too nervous), and my husband isn’t interested.

I do all this instead of writing, instead of reading, instead of just about anything else right now. It isn’t perfect, but it’s mine. That’s enough for now.

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