Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Oh Bobbins!

Believe me the air was blue with language a tad worse than bobbins as I did battle on Sunday with the sewing machine. It was not meant to be a battle. It was meant to be a simple, pleasant exercise with a useful item to show for my efforts at the end of it.

My sewing is not getting any better by looking at the machine and willing it so, practice is required. When I saw the beautiful simple handkerchiefs that clever Kate (who needs our positive vibes at the moment as she recovers from a stroke) created from an old shirt it seemed like the perfect project. A few straight seams did not sound too daunting, it seemed like it would be a good confidence booster, a little bit of fun.Two and half hours later not so much really. Oh there's a hankie but it's got half the sewing it was supposed to have and what sewing there is, is really not up to scratch. I even managed to scorch the fabric with the iron. Worst of all the experience was not enjoyable.
It started out so well, a lovely shirt needing retiring that actually had stripes on, praise be, the seams might even be straight! I was excited to make this project and to really start to make friends with my machine. And then... and then what really went wrong?

It's hard to put my finger on it but most of it is in my head. The bobbin was tricky, getting it threaded, tension etc and once I started finding it fiddly it was as if I was transported back to some kind of horrible reconstruction of the sewing classes at school. It doesn't feel fun. I'm scared and I'm not even really sure what of. Scared of spoiling the fabric I've thought with the other more precious things I've tried but really with a hankie made from a shirt that's had its day, that doesn't ring true. I guess I'm scared of the power of the machine a little but more I'm just worried that I can't do something and it won't go right. Cross that I can't do something 'simple'. I get very stressy which just compounds whatever is going wrong. I feel out of my depth and I don't like it.

I didn't have this when I started knitting as an adult (something I was also bad at when I was first trying it as a child). I let myself knit a mess of knots and gradually get to grips with what I was doing. I was out of my depth but I had a book and I was learning and in a way that was all that mattered. The first horrible little pieces of knitting still made me proud that I was making stitches. Maybe there's a bit of the special knitting magic at work, you're taking a ball of yarn and creating fabric; with sewing I'm taking good fabric and risking creating less? Anyway the knitting learning curve was good: I started out bad, I was patient and practiced and got better. The same shall apply to sewing!!

I need to focus less on the pretty things I want to make for the home and for myself to wear. I so much want to be able to sew the things I see in my head that aren't out there to buy. That vision, instead of being inspiring, is creating a pressure that either leaves the machine untended on the side or leaves me swearing at it in mounting hysteria! When I started knitting I don't think my ambitions were much higher than a plain scarf. It was more about finding something fun to do with the time I have to spend sitting around at home, about tapping in to the benefits of making something tangible. Since then I've refined my understanding of myself as someone who can work with textiles, a maker, a craftswoman and I love that. I'm rightly proud of what I can create with my hands and brain but it's set the bar a lot higher for this new craft. All that internal expectation is too much for this poor ninny and her little machine! I thought I'd dealt with that by picking a simple project but in its simplicity, and almost because of its simplicity I expected the final item to be perfect. Ah that word, so easy for it to become an enemy.

So, enough! I'm in at the beginning, wading in the shallows and I'll stay there and enjoy this stage for what it is as long as needs be. I look at new knitters with a certain envy, those first moments when the obsession is takes hold when you're surprising yourself with what you can make are so much fun. So I'll have them again but with my new friend sewing.

It's safe to say in the making of this funny little hankie and in thinking about how to write about the experience here it wasn't just a little more sewing skill that was learnt.
I'm going to do it all again this weekend - but hopefully with less swearing and a lot more fun. No expectations about the hankie, maybe it will be good, maybe it won't - it will be whatever I am capable of making at this point in time and precious because of that.

14 comments:

Fiona said...

In my head - I'm my own most vocal critic. Why is that? Why do I think it all should be perfect? And is there any way I can inherit some of my teenager's "Yep, that'll be good enough" attitude?

Thanks, Sarah. Now I'm sure that it's not only me!

mooncalf said...

I think that when you're already quite good at one craft it is very difficult going back to being rubbish at another. I have found learning to sew and crochet incredibly difficult because I expect to be able to make nice things with minimal effort.

When I started knitting I painstakingly made a load of hideous useless stuff. It is easy to forget the learning process...

Clare said...

Stay Strong Sarah! You are on the right track, but as mooncalf says, it is tricky to be good at one craft because the learning curve at the second can be really frustrating. But keep at it!

It's important to get your thread tension right before you start, so keep a bag of scraps that you can practice stitching on before you start on the real deal (it may be 'only a simple hanky' but the fact that it's the 'finished object' means that the mental stakes are higher); go sloooowly with the machine, turning it by hand if necessary, and be prepared to make mistakes.

You are not alone - I tried to make a pair of pants at the weekend and they've turned out horribly, so I still have a long way to go (but yes, the dream of making one of a kind perfect garments is often my undoing, too!) And don't get me started on my overlocker, which is like an untameable beast...

xx

Linda said...

Oh dear. I know too well how you feel about sewing, I am there too and have sold most of my books now as it stressed me out so much! I have a few bits of fabric if you want them? Email me. x

T. said...

Good for you for giving it a go no matter how hard. ANd I'm sure given time it will all get better.

Charity said...

Hang in there, Sarah! I've had so many moments like that, while I've been (slowly) learning to sew! It gets better, really it does. (And if you still hate making hankies, I'm sure you can find some at the thrift store? That's where most of mine have come from!) :o)

Kelly said...

As someone who has taught myself to sew gradually over the last few years, I can relate. I think part of the difference comes from the fact that with knitting, I am totally in control, and can take as long as I want to figure out a stitch, back up, and try it again. When I first started with a sewing machine, I would put my foot on the pedal and the machine would take over. There's a sense of urgency and loss of control, and I had to learn to co-ordinate my hands and foot to slow it down.

My best advice would be to buy some inexpensive fabric and a pattern for pyjama pants. You'll learn to read a pattern, sew curves, and if the stitching isn't perfect, it doesn't matter. Most of the stitches are on the inside, and you're only going to wear them at home anyway. And if you make them a bit baggy, you don't have to worry much about them not fitting.

It does get easier, but knitting came to me a lot more naturally too.

trek said...

Nice job. One thing I like to do with napkins or similar items is to trim the corner that gets folded under so that the finished corner isn't quite so bulky. Just snip at a 45° angle.

Lynne said...

Are perfectionism! What a curse!!

Be sure there are plenty of us in blogland and beyond who understand your frustration. *hugs*

raining sheep said...

Oh My! You will get better, it just takes practice. The tension thing is a pain in the butt, I keep threatening to just buy one of those really, really, good machines like a bernina or something like that. I think your hanky is awesome and you are probably being way, wayyyyyy too hard on yourself!

Gidgetknits said...

My machine just chews up the fabric whenever I try to use it - then has the indecency to operate perfectly normally for everyone else. It's the sewing machine! I'm going to save up for a vintage pedal one. Then I'll have control...

So, I know the feeling!

Rose Red said...

I know exactly what you mean about sewing! I could just about write this post myself!

But like your early attempts at knitting, and the wonderful stuff you produce now, I'm sure it will be the same with sewing!

PuggleTrouble said...

I know exactly how you feel! Maybe it's because knitting is so slow, whereas sewing is so fast! If you knit instead of purl, you can un knit the stitch easily enough. But by the time you realise you're sewing something wrong, you've finished sewing it!
And sewing tiny, stright seams, at perfect right angles is REALLY hard!
The only decent thing I've managed to sew nicely since getting my machine was some cushion covers. And I think that was because all the ugly (and I mean UGLY!) seams were inside, where no one can see them!

Rachel said...

Oh, as with most of the commenters, I know that nasty little voice of fear so well. And while it speaks out whenever I even consider sewing, it's also there on other endeavors (every single time I start a new art project which hasn't happened of late sadly). This would be why the only time anything shows up sewn on my site it's because I've spent some time with my mom and she's held my hand through it.

I have no words of wisdom...even the idea of using cheap fabric to learn wouldn't work for me...but I can offer encouragement that I'm confident you will reach that point in sewing that you have in knitting. I have faith! :)

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