Friday, February 08, 2013

Thoughts on sewing and repetition

You don't read much else here these days but sewing, do you?  That could be because what I usually want to do most in the day is sit at my machine and stitch.

A few random thoughts about this ...

I love fabric.  I love working with color and patterns.  I love piecing quilts.  But I am a bit timid.  I have no formal training in design.  I have a hard time making up my mind.  I am afraid sometimes to try something because what if I don't like it and I've wasted all that fabric.

I learned to sew using patterns.  Perhaps one of my earliest sewing endeavors was an apron for
4-H.  It was going to be judged.  It had to be done right.  I read the instructions and followed the directions.  I learned to do things "the way you're supposed to."  That has served me well in some construction and finishing work, but I think it has had a bit of a stifling affect when it comes to design and creativity.

My daughter, daughters-in-law, sewing friends, and a couple of artists have been great encouragement lately, though I expect most of them have no idea that they have affected the amount of time I am spending at my machine and the frame of mind I bring to it these days.

First, Erin, Kandyce, and Kay.  They all sew, but they rarely use patterns.  Tutorials, sometimes, but I think they mostly look at things they like and then do them.  Erin makes repurposed dresses and skirts for Clara; Kandyce makes quilts from start to finish, doing the machine quilting herself - something I haven't dared yet; Kay finds something she likes at a thrift store and then cuts a little here, sews a seam there, adds an embellishment in another place and voila, a really cute outfit.  They are all intrepid when it comes to working with fabric.  I would like to be more fearless.

Enter a couple of painters whose work and words I've experienced recently.  Makoto Fujimura spoke last spring in his keynote address at the Charlotte Mason conference, of working with a Japanese master and painting straight lines for days in order to learn how to manipulate the pigment, understand his tools, develop his technique.  Just black lines, over and over and over again.  I immediately thought of sewing seams and doing it again and again and again, a bit like practicing scales on the piano or doing ball dribbling drills in soccer.  Repetition builds muscle memory and confidence in technique.  The more I sew, the more confident I become at my craft.

The other painter is Bruce Herman.  I saw his work at Duke recently.  Before going, I watched this video.  What struck me was the way he painted that face. (starting at about 3:08 in the video, and yes, the video is sped up in a few spots.  He didn't work that fast!) How did he know where he wanted these brush strokes to go?  Where a fine line, where filling in a space?  Practice, repetition - how big a part does this play in developing the painter's eye?  I am not a painter so I am surmising such confidence with the brush comes when you've done it again and again and again. You know how the paint is going to go on, how much variation in tone or value you need, what a certain type of angle or pressure with the brush will do to the stroke, how your materials behave.  That, plus ... because I'm sure it's not all just practice.

I have begun applying this lesson of repetition in my sewing.  In the time that has opened up to me this year, I have devoted much more to working with fabric. (and I have such a wonderful space for it now, too!)  I have a little motto - "a little sewing every day."  Sometimes it's a LOT of sewing in a day.  Other days do not lend themselves to much time at the machine.  Still, I can sew a few seams every day.  Each seam teaches.

I'm repeating the fabric I use.  Strips of sari fabric over and over.  We did it last summer and I've done it several times since on various projects.  I'm feeling very much at ease with using these fabrics and that is giving me greater confidence in my stitching.

I'm repeating projects, as well.  Not just one tetra pouch, but three, four, more.  I learn with each one.  With the first one, I learn the steps.  The next pouch goes more easily.  The sewing becomes a dance, step following step, flowing more smoothly and I start to play with fabric and enjoy the colors and textures more because I don't have to concentrate so hard on the basics of construction.

In the process of repeating projects, I'm repeating techniques.  Putting in a zipper, trimming seams and corners, folding and pressing straps, topstitching.  I get better at using my zipper foot, my topstitching is more even.  I'm happier with the end result and because I'm getting more skilled, I'm enjoying the process more, too.

None of this is surprising to me.  I learned about repetition while training for the triathlon last year.  It's just interesting to me to see how it plays out in a very different type of activity.  Repetition is a key to mastery in all kinds of endeavors.

And what about that timidity.  Well, just as I got past some fears with regard to my physical abilities in swimming, biking, and running last year, I'm looking forward to getting past my sewing timidity, especially in design and the use of color.  I'm starting to understand some of the steps I need to take with fabric in order to get beyond timid to confident and even intrepid, but more on that next week ...

Because today, ironically, I am taking almost everything out of my studio!  Design wall, cutting table, it's all got to be moved out before next week along with fabric, books, machines, even the new valance.  Because ... drum roll ... we're getting new floors and it's going to be dusty and messy in here.  But when it's all done.  Oh, my!  How bright and clean and beautiful our dark downstairs is going to be. I am going to miss my gray painted floor just a wee bit, but I don't think it will take long to get used to oak!  And I have a new-to-me desktop painted with the leftovers of the gray floor paint to remind me of the beginnings of this process of inhabiting my studio.

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