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Mar 10, 2010

Sewcology 101


As someone interested in learning more about myself and what makes me tick, I'm always looking for new sources of insight that don't cost $175 per hour.

My bookshelves are crammed with titles like Who Are You, Really?, The New Personality Self-Portrait, and the rather academic Your Beautyscope.

There's a maxim I happened across, I don't remember where, that says that "the way you do anything is the way you do everything."


If you're not familiar with this concept, take a few minutes and think about it.  It's really quite genius and, I believe, accurate.

When I look at my approach to life, I can see patterns and themes that recur no matter what I'm doing.  Like most habits, they probably served me once, most likely as a child, but no longer.  Acknowledging these habitual ways of being can help me recognize when they're taking over and do something about it.

I've been thinking a lot about this lately in relation to sewing, both as an activity and, in a larger sense, as an area of focus in my life.

I can clearly recognize both my strengths (hurray!) and also my weaknesses (grr...), in observing how I sew.

For example, I have always been very passionate about my interests.  Sewing is now one of them. When I get into something, I don't just dip my little toe in, but rather I jump in hook, line, and Singer (little pun there).

It may seem remarkable to some people that in a period of roughly nine months I've learned to sew, purchased nine sewing machines (and two sergers), and now blog about it, but to me, it's just my way.  It's a blessing in some ways, a curse in others.

The downside for me has always been a tendency to burn myself out or to have unrealistic expectations which, if things don't happen as quickly or as easily as I'd like them to, leave me feeling discouraged and frustrated to the point that I lose interest and just want to move on. 

I generally start a sewing project with tremendous enthusiasm.  This positive energy can usually carry me through to the end, unless I hit a snag -- like attaching a lining, dealing with a difficult finishing technique, or cutting a big hole in my sleeve (ouch!) -- at which point I just don't want to do it anymore.  I'll hang the project in the closet as-is and never look at it again.

Needless to say, patience has never been a strong point and I have a tendency to give up too easily.  I was the kid who, if he wasn't winning in Monopoly, would throw the entire board up in the air and walk away.  (Still trying to figure out how this served me as a child and it drove my brother crazy; Egads -- that's it!)

Today, I am learning to adopt the long view and to pace myself better, taking breaks when I'm pushing myself too hard.  This helps.  Life is actually not short (for a great many of us).  Life is a long time.  Better to be the tortoise than the hare. 

So, gentle reader, how about you?  Can you see in your own life that "the way you do anything is the way you do everything?"

If so, what does the way you sew say about who you are?

Let the conversation -- and the healing -- begin!


  1. I've noticed a pattern whereby in the 11th hour of the 11th hour, after painstaking work, I'll just down tools. I'll sew an entire dress but lose the energy for that final hook and eye. Or I'll paint a room but not the stretch of skirting behind the sofa, because I can't be bothered to move the sofa. Or sit through an entire film and then walk away during the last five minutes. I still can't work out what that one's all about.

  2. Well, you could make a sleeveless shirt, or even a one-sleeved one to be more fashionable. You of all people could pull that off.
    But I'd say definitely throw that one out instead of hanging it back in the closet. You live in NY, you can't afford 9 sewing machines AND a closet full of hacked sleeves! What would Cathy say besides??
    You could get inspired later about a bad design feature, but fabric doesn't grow back. No siree. The fleece top I've been wearing for 5 years with the visible scissors nick right next to the neckline proves that.

  3. That has always been my nemisis, enthusiasm that dies out before the project ends. My newest things, I am taking small steps on at a time, rather than burning myself out. With all these kids, I have to take time for sewing when I can, so I try to finish a step or two each time I enter the sewing room (rather than passing through)

  4. Karen said: 'I'll sew an entire dress but lose the energy for that final hook and eye.'
    That's so true. Or it may be sewing the buttons on or a little bit of hand stitching that needs finishing. Or sometimes it's even the fact of cutting into good fabric. There's a niggling doubt that even though I've made a muslin and I've adapted my pattern but is it really going to fit and be gorgeous.
    For me, I think, wanting the finished garment to be perfect is a stopper. It can inhibit wanting to start anything and it can inhibit wanting to completely finish something because there's always doubt that it's going to look and fit as I envisaged.
    I need to take a step back and see that it's the journey that counts as well as the destination. It's all learning and it doesn't matter if it's not perfect.

  5. Great responses and I can certainly relate.

    So, taking it one step further, is the way you sew a window into how you approach other things in your life?

  6. Yes, it can be. It could mean that I want my home-cooked dinner to be perfect or not having someone sit on the freshly made bed or using the freshly cleaned bathroom or whatever ... lol !!!
    My goodness, I really do like people to visit and to sit on my bed and use the bathroom ..... really, truly .... lol
    And I'm currently making myself a jacket, out of a lovely wool with a silk lining ......
    Am I worried about whether it's going to be perfect ... yes. Am I going to keep on going ... yes. Do I mind if it's not quite perfect ... yes but it's going to be worth it, I will still wear it, it's been a joy to sew, natural fibres are great to work with.

  7. Sue, don't worry, I'll go before I come over. LOL

  8. I procrastinate. About everything. If I stress about something it turns out horribly (sewing projects, uni assignents, interviews) if I let it "wash down my back" as it were I generally ace that assignment or get that job.

    I waste time and convince my self I dont have enough time to do this or that. Last wedding I went to I was finishing the hem in the car on the way to the ceremony. I have three in the next few months and I am trying to start early, take everything slowly and stress less.


  9. You know, I was just thinking about this the other day! (1) I am an overthinker. I will think about something so much that once I've done it in my mind, I never actually do it in real life. (2) I have trouble starting. It seems like there's this little hurdle of "anxiety/doubt/this is gonna be too hard/I don't have time" going on. Due to both of the above, I have too many patterns with the fabric to sew them that have never been made. (3) I work circuitously. I rarely plow right through with enthusiasm as fuel (because it's usually trepidation instead, which rather feels like trying to accelerate with one foot on the brake). So my own personal workaround is that I do a little bit here, then something else, then a little bit more, lather, rinse, repeat...and ultimately it gets done. Sort of the "baby steps" approach, which manages to get past my own barriers.

    It's not how I approach everything, but, yeah, there is some truth to that I think.

  10. Those photos are so painful to look at. Please keep at it. You're a really good writer, so it's fun reading your blog even when you don't have a perfect new project to show.

  11. Oh, thank god I found you yesterday!! If you were a stay at home mom in so. cal, you would be me. I hate finishing anything, ever. Being forced to give birth after being pregnant(i.e. follow through) was totally flippin weird for me. It was like I didn't have a choice in the matter, whereas I had always had a choice before. Starting and enthusiasm is where it's at for me. I have the most amazing little girl clothes almost finished, literally they both need to be hemmed and that's it. But, then they would be done, and I would no longer be me, right? I have a stack (5) of quilt tops that need to be finished. 6 or so bags cut out, 3 half sewn. I think you are definitely onto something here. I think the fact that I had 1 vintage machine in Aug 2009 and now at the beginning of March, I have almost 20, I think that is me. I'm a hoarder, but not quite bad enough to be on the show! I have so much fabric at my disposal, I just can't stop buying! I should send you some of my vintage patterns, I have an amazing one for Cathy!!

  12. I tend toward perfectionism. I do this in many areas of my life and it was only recently that I realized how much it was slowing me down.

    Part of it is my fear of "wasting"-- wasting fabric, or dirtying up too many dishes while cooking, etc.

    Or being so fearful of mistakes that I'm afraid to practice a new skill.

    I just have to keep telling myself that I'm not being graded on this, and that I can't get better if I don't spend some time and use up some materials. It's all part of the expense of learning.

  13. I can hardly add to what has been said. Karen, Sue, and Betty have said everything for me. I have always been such a perfectionist that when I finish a project my husband will pause dramatically while I point out the miniscule mistake in it. I have been getting over this lately.

    I made a blouse three weeks ago that is hanging in my closet--without buttons and buttonholes. I didn't like the facings or the fit around the armhole, so I didn't finish it. It's not lost though--I'll get back to it and fix it. Although I might have two or three unfinished projects lying about, I never have more than that. I try and finish what I start.

    As mentioned the hardest part of many projects for me too is starting. Years ago I decided to be more bold with my sewing (and other parts of life too). A sort of forge ahead attitude. While there've been pitfalls it's been a more enjoyable/exasperating journey. I also try and take more time with the details which I didn't do when I was younger. This alone has improved my sewing skills.

    No matter how many years you sew there are those horrible mistakes: like your cut sleeve or when I accidentally clipped too far and into my stitching. Just walk away for awhile.

  14. Overall, I'm not a patient person. Making a sewing mistake and then taking the time to rip out and correct it is not patience. It's OCD. And I have lots of that. ;-) But I also know when it's Good Enough. Good Enough for me to wear and Good Enough for no one else to notice a mistake unless I point it out. Which I *never* do in real life (only on the blog or in reviews so that others can learn from it too).

    I also have a short attention span but I find that sewing is the perfect hobby for that because there is SO MUCH to learn and keep learning. So many techniques to conquer. So many patterns to sew. So many different projects available (garments, quilts, home dec, and more). With all of that, I find my short attention span is satisfied. When I'm tired of sewing a top, I'll move on to a pants. When I'm tired of that, I can make a dog bed. It's been 9 years so far and I'm still not bored with it. I think I finally found a keeper.

  15. I relate to P. TOTALLY.

    I'm an over-thinker and I get bogged down in the details in a big way. In my sewing, I've got a coat that had too many "new" things to learn to do it (inserting piping, matching houndstooth pattern, Spanish Snap Buttonholes, zip-out lining, etc.) that I FROZE. I was afraid I'd screw it up, so I did nothing. I sat on it for four months and sewed nothing else. It was a bad time, sewing-wise.

    What I've decided since then, is that I can take baby-steps and I'll make it through. Life won't end if the coat takes another YEAR to complete. I just want it to be right the first time.

    I'm working on getting more comfortable with failure (or potential failure). And, instead of seeing it as a reason to berate myself for supposed shortcomings, look at it as a learning opportunity and move forward from there.

    Of course, this is TOTALLY reflected in my "real life", too. I've got a great new business idea, but I get bogged down in the details and how I might mess it up. Time to take baby steps there, too.

    Thoughtful post, Peter. Thanks!

    BTW: It's only been NINE MONTHS since you started sewing? You so rock!

  16. I'm consumed by the question. I'll research to death, over think, experiment, and try try again to answer whatever the current question is. Right now, it's how to get jeans that fit and flatter.

    This quest to answer the question shows up in all areas of my life. I'm thankful that it's shown up in sewing fashions because the quest stops me from participating in mass production and involves me more fully in the creativity and the skill of sewing fashions.

    I only work on one item at a time and I always finish it before moving on. I've heard that I'm a little strange for working this way. That's okay. It works for me because all of my creative energy is directed at the project with a focused flow. That takes me interesting places.

    EVERY interest/job/task has times when we don't know what to do, don't know how to do what we want to do, or it's boring. I'm currently on an extended sabbatical. Before this break, I taught art & design in textiles and coached creativity. From my experience, one of those three reasons was always present when my students wanted to quit. If they did quit, they never went on to experience the success that comes from pushing through. Success is not always (and more often not) a masterpiece. It is the learning that comes from finishing.

  17. I can relate to everything everyone has said. I'm a perfectionist which makes me overthink, not start, start but not finish, throw it out in disgust if I don't get it right the first time, and be really pissed if I mess something up and I HAVE to fix it for some reason. I used to be able to give the messed up articles to my sister who's perfectionism drives her to sew and rip and sew and rip until it's EXACTLY what she envisioned.
    I'm getting a little better after watching my daughter who I tried not to pollute with my perfectionism. She turns out vast quantities of sewing, knitting and crafting but she doesn't require everything to be perfect, so she actually finishes stuff...and everyone is amazed at her skills. They don't notice the little bit of a crooked seam or plaids that don't match exactly. They just see the finished project as a whole and are envious. I'm trying to reach that plane...

  18. Peter, this is your best blog yet. Sigh. This is why I am a fan and ardent admirer (not the scary type though).

    I have the same or at least similar personality. Passionate, perfectionistic, impatient and want to skip all the steps in between. :-P

    I tend to overwhelm myself with information before I actually sit down and sew. Right now I am learning how to make a shirt with a palmer pletsch pattern. This mean a FBA, widening a sleeve and then altering the shoulder and bodice underarm area. Good heavens, you'd think the universe had asked me to do brain surgery for all the frustration I go through. Impatiences is my number one flaw.

    However ... sewing offers enough new ideas and creativity that I can't stop myself and have to try again or try something new.

    Thanks again for a great topic.

  19. Looking at my last post, apparently spelling is my number two flaw.

  20. I am OCD regarding UFO's. I cannot stand to have something unfinished. Drives me nuts. Even when I've totally lost interest in a garment, for whatever reason, I HAVE TO FINISH IT.
    I have obsessed over garments that I know full well I'll not wear when finished. I still have to finish the garment.
    Don't know why I'm so crazy about UFO's and not sure how that translates into my non sewing life. Well, maybe I do, but that would be a long, boring story.


  21. Well I can certainly relate to what's been said so far -- except that thing about not wanting to dirty a clean bathroom: THAT is sick! LOL

    I generally don't think of myself as a perfectionist and (like to) think I share Debbie's Good Enough concept. I do sometimes point out flaws in my work publicly, though I'm realizing strangers on the subway aren't interested and don't know why I'm speaking to them.

    I think I'm more of a perfectionist about my blog than I am about my sewing, especially because I have infinite opportunity to "tweak" something after I've written it!

    All except the comments, of course. Those have to be deleted and rewritten: a bummer.

    Great conversation and I appreciate people's candor. Maybe it's time to start a therapy group!

  22. (Goodness, too many exclamation points.)

    You see what I mean?

  23. Crap, Peter. I hope this isn't true. Am I really half-assed? The weird thing is that with my sewing, I'm highly organized and productive. With real life, less so. With my job, I'm kind of complacent & just doing what I need to do to do my job (because I'm so busy thinking about sewing). Yes, my heart is in it, but my actions are not. Like you, though, I do tend to throw my whole self into everything I do. Perhaps this is because I've already thrown myself into work (the first ten years of my career), and now I'm able to focus more on my hobby (addiction!).

    But then I think about my husband. He's compassionate and dedicated in every aspect of his life. I guess that's why I married him.

    Do I need therapy? Thanks for giving me something to chew on. I think you're wonderful, and I love, love, love your blog. Hugs!

  24. My biggest problem is getting started on things. I plan and plan and plan and just have trouble getting started on a project. Once I do get started, I have a tendency to put off doing things like buttonholes and zippers until the last minute. I've literally had items pinned around hangers for over a month before spending two hours making 20+ buttonholes to finish a half-dozen or more projects!

  25. I just had to laugh at sewing blooper photos, the been-there-done-that feeling was too much. My snip in the sleeve was in a print so I just mended it and gave it as the intended holiday gift anyway. The recipient couldn't have cared less, he liked the shirt.

    My "trick" for dealing with eff-ups is to try to not stop, not miss a beat, just keep moving, especially if it is something that can be undone or unsewn. The unsewing, sometimes repeated unsewing, becomes part of the construction. If I stop to think about it and have any kind of feelings about it, well, that's the birth of a ufo.

    Maybe you are lucky that you are working with vintage patterns. The instructions and drafts produce a much better success rate than today's farcical tissues. I have lost count of the number of modern patterns that I have with great satisfaction punished by burning in the woodstove. Vintage and independent designer patterns don't seem to need to suffer that fate.

  26. This spoke to me!

    Initially, I was in complete fear to cut into my good fabric. I am now over that fear. I cut into my silks with no problem.

    Now I am left with issues: 1) being a perfectionist - making an outfit looking at it and ripping it apart because it could be better but never finishing it.

    2) just not finishing. I have 2 dresses that are sewn except for zippers and hems!! One that just needs a zipper hem and attach the bodice to skirt.

    I think my problem is sewing ADD....I keep coming up with new projects and hopping from project to project leaving half sewn projects in my wake.

  27. Another great conversation starter, Peter. I find that I have to read your posts in the morning and then ponder them continually all day.

    I see a lot of my perfectionist self in these other commenters, but I've learned (after 38 years of sewing) that 99.9% of the time, no one else will even know there's a mistake. As for UFOs... I have some, but they don't haunt me. And if I'm really invested in a project, then I'll finish it. My UFOs tend to be whims, or something I was just trying that turned out to be better in my head.

    Like Rita, my biggest problem is sewing ADD, and though it's not official, my family thinks I have good ol' regular ADD, too. I guess that's what you were saying when you say the way you do anything is the way you do everything. I'm just most successful with my sewing.

  28. I'm what I like to call and "ADD crafter". I'm a knitting designer who hasn't knit a thing in months because sewing was looking so **shiny** out the corner of my eye ;-)

    This results in things like starting to sew tights, then drawing up/tracing the patterns for 3 kinds of baby t-shirts, a baby Hawaiian shirt, sewing a project bag for a (yarn) spinner who gave me lots of fabric, drafting a pattern for shorts for my teen to sew (and choosing fabric to make her a pair myself), Oh yeah, sewing a rainbow skirt for mardi-gras the night before, when rainbow coloured nylon parachuting arrived in my mail unexpectedly, all while I should have been finishing a tutorial for sewing dolls out of small fabric scraps from a 1930's pattern.

    Oh wait, I have an excuse for that last one, I broke my computer :P

    There are many sections of my website that aren't finished. I was in the middle of doing video tutorials for hairpin lace crochet when I decided to work on the weaving section, which got put on the backburner while I printed up the patterns to knit my sister's birthday present, which got put aside because your shirts looked so nice that I decided I should really get off my arse and make the baby something more difficult than elastic waisted pants :)

    I also approach shopping this way at times. We went to buy my daughter shoes for school and I bought her 3 pairs, the baby 3 pairs and a t-shirt for their Dad.

    All the projects end up getting finished, but especially with my sewing, there will be a pile of 17 (or more) different items all cut out and piled on the dining room table before I start sewing any of them.

    I'm trying not to start an embroidery sampler, start learning to make oya needle lace and do a bit of teneriffe lace in my non-spare time...

    And I tend to rant on in people's comments with awfully long run-on sentences :P

  29. Peter said: 'Well I can certainly relate to what's been said so far -- except that thing about not wanting to dirty a clean bathroom: THAT is sick! LOL'

    Lol .... Well, when you have 3 boys and you have just cleaned the bathroom and then they walk in with dirty feet and dirty hands and leave dirty water droplets all over your white hand basin and dirt all over the floor it sort of makes you want to scream.
    So you turn around and go clean it again!!

  30. What you say is so true. I grew up with a mother for whom 'near enough was good enough' and that was the way I handled most things into my life. In my late 20's I met the man who would be my husband (now my ex-husband). He was and still is a man of detail and perfection. He is a cinematographer with a very keen, creative eye. The 13 years we were together taught me patience and the importance of finding zen in the detail. I firmly believe that had I not met this man and learned these lessons I would not have stuck with my sewing nor perfected any of the skills I now use every time I sit down at my machine. My new partner is of the ADD, quick fix generation. He describes his approach to everything as 'rip, sh*t and bust'. With that energy around me all the time, I have found myself at times thinking, 'I'll finish that later' and sometimes it takes me a lot of strength to ignore that voice and actually complete a task. I'm a bit like you in the way I immerse myself in a new interest, but now I am pleased to know that I have learned the discipline of 'follow through' and sometimes following mean through means chucking out and getting rid of. Once again I've really enjoyed reading all of these comments. Thanks.

  31. Absolutely - the way I do anything is the way I do everything. And man, I live hard! I'm exceedingly driven in my enthusiasm. I'm not a collector, as you are, but I am certainly trying to work my way through the pantheon of projects in some kind of time-elapsed frenzy. I'm trying to take the long view. I didn't sew last weekend. I may not be able to do much this weekend because I actually *have* to focus on my child (you know, something other than my fun hobbies :-)). I feel I'm learning about balance, just exceedingly slowly.

  32. The F-word (Finish) is my favorite. Embrace it! I, too, have ideas for the next project before I finish the first, so I write them down and sketch them in my Idea Book, and get back to work on the current project. Peter -- don't be too hard on yourself. Nobody's perfect. I'll be your therapist, and slap you on both cheeks and say "Get over it, Sister!" -- San Antonio Sue (no URL so I have to post on your blog (only) as Anonymous!)

  33. You sound just like me, enthusiastic and excited and fired up until I hit a snag. Then the project is dead to me. I've been working on that for a while. I try to pace myself, and when the fire burns down a little I discipline myself to slowly plod ahead. I try to do one little thing to it every day; at least that way I'm making progress.


    Except on that quilt that was lovely except the borders were the wrong color so I unpicked them and re-cut new borders and it is still sitting in pieces 6 months later.... But do we really need to bring that up?

  34. Yeah, I struggle with patience, too. I typically start a project full boar and then tire out towards the last 10% or so. And yup, I find I do the same thing in other areas of my life. I actually am working on being better about finishing strong with my sewing projects in the hope that it will bleed over into other areas of my life. Sounds kind of crazy, doesn't it?

  35. thanks for this very interesting post. I've been reading your blogs for a couple of months but have not yet dared to comment. Here i am ;o)
    I'm a bit like you. I've been sewing for 3 years now (had never sewed a button before that) and it is now a big thing in my life. I've been struggling with patience too. Blogging has somehow been tricky int he past : wanting to share/post a completed project used to make me hurry - at the expense of quality sometimes
    As my skills build up, i blog less but am more proud of the clothe i make.
    Ps: your posts really make me think about my own practice, my own project, motives, etc. Thanks for taking the time to share all this with us!
    Amélie - Lyon, France

  36. I'm so much the same! I've been sewing all my life since I was a little girl.. and I've always been impatient and wanted things to be 'done already!' I work on two or three projects at once, tag-teaming all the serging steps together, all the cutting steps together, etc. And when it goes bad, I hide the evidence.. or stash it away to be fixed later, knowing that later never comes along.
    But now that you mention it.. is that how I do everything? How embarassing to admit it's probably true! I hurl myself into everything I do - same as you, if you're gonna do it, do it right! (Or if you don't do it right..bury the evidence).
    Now that I'm (slightly) older I'm trying to slow it down, to enjoy the moment and to enjoy the process as much as the finished results - both in life and in sewing. I'm pretty new to blogging and the more I read other sewing blogs, the more I want to treat my projects as special and handmade, rather than just getting it done.
    PS. Just found your blog today, it's fantastic! look forward to checking it out regularly.

  37. Welcome, Amelie & Tasia! Great comments, everybody.

  38. Gosh I loved this post. And I wish I had the words to explain why it (or maybe your readers' comments in response to it, probably both) resonated so much with me, but suffice to say, it did. And it was quite comforting. So thanks!

  39. It's so good to read about other people with same problems :) (sorry).
    when I started to learn sewing, I knew that it would be hard for me because I'm everything but not patient. and precise. but I thought it could be a good lesson to me how to be a better person through it. and learn to finish things. and not to give up. after starting the sewing course my colleague advised not to buy a sewing mashine because i'll give sewing up.(nice support, yes?)
    and now i made so many mistakes (how may mistakes could you do in the first 4 months? :), but still my every second thougth is around sewing :)
    and what I've learnt from it: (yes, I learnt it newly): somehow I had to learn it and nobody started sewing knowing everything and making perfect clothes. so I accepted me being really beginner and it helps actually.
    maybe after a year's mistakes I could tell wheter sewing helped me with my patience issues.


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