Sunday, February 15, 2009


Friday I was working on sewing myself a skirt, again, and even though I didn't finish the skirt, I did have a mess of Useful Insights that I wanted to share. I usually tend to avoid writing about something that feels so personal, your basic fear of revealing the inner self, but I've been so moved by some other people's sharing in this way that I am taking the leap and doing it. Please be gentle with me. I feel like I've made a great breakthrough figuring out what has kept me from sewing more and achieving my goal of a wardrobe of custom-tailored one-of-a-kind clothes that I made myself. Yes, that's my goal. I admit it. I am vain, and not only do I want to look fabulous, I want to reply to all those future compliments with a casual, "Thanks, I made it myself." I chalk it up to my Venus in Leo in the 10th house, but call it what you will.

I haven't talked too much about this goal because, well, did you read it? It sounds awful. It doesn't sound noble or worthy or like it will help save the planet. But you know what? It's mine. It's one of my dreams, so I'm coming out of the closet and telling the world. I want to look great in clothes I made myself. I want to be freed from the depressing shackles of ready-to-wear bullshit clothes that are made to fit heaven knows who. I want to decide the exact colors and shapes that go on my body every day: classic, well fitting and perfect for me. That's my goal, one of the most pressing ones I have these days, even more than figuring out What To Do With My Life, because whatever I do, I'm going to be so much happier doing it if I'm dressed nicely. There, now you know the truth. I feel better.

So, I am working away at this skirt on Friday, a simple A-line skirt, a real beginner project, nothing fancy. And it was No Fun At All. I was not enjoying myself. I kept going because I have a deadline, finally. This wonderful woman who is a Home Ec teacher and who I met at a draping class last fall is meeting with me first thing Monday morning, and by God, I am going to have a skirt to show her. At least most of one, my hope is total completion, as in I am wearing it over there, but I would settle for everything but the hem. The good news is, even if I don't finish it, she will hold my hand and/or crack the whip (or some combination thereof) so that I can finish it when we get together. I am so blessed to have found this generous woman.

In the midst the slow slogging away, though, my mind was churning. And I wondered, do I even like sewing? Maybe I was wrong and I don't even like it? A few years ago I took a bunch of woodworking classes, even made a little wall cabinet and a very nice end table, even bought all the fancy power tools so I could keep making more furniture (confession: I also want to live in a house filled with beautiful, handmade, custom-designed, one-of-a-kind furniture; are you sensing a theme here?). And you know what? That wall cabinet is still sitting in the basement needing to be sanded and finished. The end table is only done because The Professor finished planing and sanding and finishing it for me. Turns out what I like about woodworking is coming up with ideas, designing the exact piece to meet the exact need, with just the right size, shape and features. I'm scared witless of the table saw and want no part of using it. Sanding is just boring hard work, and I'd rather save my wrist energy for knitting or typing. Measuring and assembling, I'm down with those, but they make up so little of any project. Luckily, The Professor has taken to woodworking like a duck to water, so the investment in setting up shop hasn't gone to waste, thank heavens. I was wrong about woodworking, maybe I was wrong about sewing?

But no. I have had loads of fun sewing things that I can sew. I made this sweet little bag a while ago just on a whim, and I had a blast doing it, because it was in my comfort zone and because it didn't require me to follow instructions, just do some math, a little bit of planning and thinking and then go.

But making a garment is a different matter. There is a lot more pressure to get it right, because if I don't, it won't fit, and then it misses the entire point. But also, I don't really know what I'm doing yet. I have only sewn one truly successful garment in my life, and that was done under the close supervision of my mom. She came to Philly for the weekend and babysat me while I sewed a dress for my high-school reunion. It came out great, but with no motherly safety net, I have been scared to take a step. Because even though this nice Home Ec teacher is taking me under her wing, I just don't feel right calling her with every silly question that stops me the way I would feel okay calling my mom.

But I realized Friday it was more than that. I have been classifying sewing in my mind as fun, play. An enjoyable hobby, a self-indulgence. You know what? It's not. It's work. Me making clothes for myself is, at this point, a chore. Because I'm not just sewing for fun, I'm sewing because I need something to wear. It's been so long since I've had a comfortable pair of pants that weren't sweats. My body has changed since I moved to Ohio, and my wardrobe has yet to catch up. It's embarrassing.

And on top of that, I'm not just sewing, I'm learning to sew clothes. Learning being different from just doing, and clothes being different from any other kind of sewing. And not only that, I haven't been learning in the way that's easiest for me so far. I like to learn from a real live human, a person who can answer my questions and help me when I get stuck. I have taken excellent classes, and I have a mess of sewing books and videos, but you can't ask a video questions, and my class notes don't cover every hiccup I encounter.

So no wonder I haven't been sewing. When I am deciding what to do with my down time, I'm just not going to pick an activity that is more work, even if it's only my subconscious that perceives it as work (or perhaps especially if it's only my subconscious). If I treat sewing clothes like the chore it is, I will schedule it for when I have more energy, and it will get done. And if I honor the truth that I am still learning and that I need more support than I've been giving myself to learn this new skill, I bet it will go a lot better.

Another embarrassing truth is that when I have to do something, I just don't want to do it. A rather immature trait, I know, this chafing at authority, even when it's self-imposed, but here we are. And the fact that I refuse to buy clothes from the store because of their overall suckiness combined with not having anything left from my old life that fits means that sewing clothes is one giant have-to. No wonder I haven't been sewing.

Another helpful thought that occurred to me is that a year ago, I didn't know how to make bread. Now I can walk into the kitchen and make a double batch of whole wheat bread without even looking at the recipe. So, it took me a year, but I mastered bread making, and the other night I even tackled pizza dough. I feel more hopeful about my potential for sewing my own clothes when I think about bread. It's just going to take time and practice and patience with myself, and probably a little more outside help than I've been allowing myself. What a burden lifted to realize these things.

And actually, what a burden lifted to write out these thoughts and share them with you, dear reader. Thanks for listening. I sincerely appreciate it.


  1. I think what you've written in wonderful. Seriously. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to look fabulous and wanting to make all your clothes yourself. I think that's admirable! And I think you're right on track about thinking that making clothes - and learning to make clothes, even more so - is WORK. Baking bread, woodworking, sewing are all skills that need practice, and certainly are easier to learn if you have a competent craftsperson right at hand to answer all your millions of questions. I say good for you!

  2. Brilliant, Darcy. I totally have BOTH of your goals. In fact, I'd like to have EVERYTHING I own or am surrounded by be beautiful, handcrafted and built to last. So rock on, amica, and pave the way!

    You'll get there, but because you're someone who's impatient to get things done (ahem, Activator), you'll mostly feel you're doing things too slowly. So remember to keep patting yourself on the back, and sharing what you learn with the rest of us so we can be inspired by your example.


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