Category Archives: Food for Thought

Why Do You Make Things? (Or: The Knitting Project That Didn’t Work Out)

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Why Do You Make Things? (Or:  The Knitting Project That Didn’t Work Out)

Today I have a knitting project that I finished earlier this year, but have waited to post until the weather turned cool.  This isn’t so much about my failed and salvaged hat project, though.  It’s about what that failed and salvaged hat made me consider.

Why do you make things?

Last winter, I decided I would knit the Traveling Cable Hat, a free pattern from Purl Soho in some beautiful yarn from Romney Ridge.  I’ve knit cables before, so I thought I could do it, even though it might be challenging.  I’m not a perfectionist, and I don’t like to go back and fix every single mistake.  I prefer to finish.  This project, however, was one I tried to be precise in.  There were parts I didn’t understand, so I looked things up and asked other knitters.  I ripped back when I made a mistake and read and reread the directions to try to get things right.  I got frustrated and persevered, and to say I wasn’t enjoying myself is putting it lightly.  My husband kept asking, “Why do you keep knitting?”  The question surprised me at first, because he’s always one of my biggest supporters.  He always encourages me to push through, knowing I can finish the project.  But he could see that this one was one long, downhill slide.

Why do you make things?

When I sew, I certainly don’t enjoy every moment of every project.  There are times I get frustrated and have to put my project aside for a while until I can figure out how to solve a problem or until I’m not so annoyed, but overall I enjoy it.  I enjoy knitting, too, although I’m not nearly as successful with knitting as I am with sewing.  In fact, my last few knitting projects have ended up…OK, but not amazing.

Why do you make things?

His question made me think, though.  Why do I sew?  Why do I knit?  What am I looking for in my photography?  What do I want to get out of each and is it the same for every one?

It’s important to think about what we do.  After all, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” (Socrates)  I don’t mean you have to give great weight to every activity in your life, but it’s worth it to figure out what you want to get out of your creative endeavors and why.

So, here’s what I came up with, for me, at this point in my life.

Knitting is for enjoyment.  I like knitting.  I like its tactile nature and I like the act of knitting.  I want to knit things that are simple enough that I can work on them while talking to a friend or watching a movie, but still interesting enough that I’m not completely bored.  However, this is not the craft I currently want to challenge myself in.  I don’t want to dive deep and learn every knitting technique and method out there.  I don’t want to do a ton of problem solving with my knitting.  I want a project that’s not too taxing, but is still enjoyable.

Photography is for seeking out and capturing beauty.  I’ve also been thinking about photography in this vein.  Even with this medium, which I’ve loved since I was quite young, I don’t want to get into the technical aspects.  I’m interested in composition and accurately recording what I see that I find beautiful, but I’m not interested in doing that deep dive right now.

Sewing is my creative practice.  Sewing, on the other hand, is exactly the place I want to dive deep.  I want to try new things, read all the blog posts, magazines, and books, and add skill to skill.  I want to see what it will be like to make certain kinds of things.  I love the planning and the finishing in sewing.  I love to wear what I’ve made, and I love discovering that I can learn new things and get good at something!  I don’t get into the process in the same way that I do with knitting–I’m heading for that end goal–but I do like the problem-solving involved with sewing.  It makes me smarter and it teaches me about how to handle other hurdles in life.  This is where I want to spend my mental energy and challenge myself.  This is where I want to work hard and grow.  This is my medium, my craft, and my art.  At this time in my life, sewing is my creative practice, and through it, I have learned so much, and I have gained so much.  I’m really thankful for it.

So after struggling with that pattern through the ribbing and the cable set-up, and after thinking all this over and coming to these conclusions, I gave up on it and stitched the rest in stockinette stitch, using another pattern to figure out the decreases for the top.  And I enjoyed it.  I can’t tell you if the Traveling Cable Hat pattern is good or not.  I gave up on it.  But I’m glad I started it because it (and my husband’s question) made me evaluate why I’m creating in the ways I’m creating and what I want to get out of each medium, where I want to spend my mental energy, and what I should call success in each area.

Why do you make things?

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Why do you make things?

What do you want to get out of your creative pursuits?  They don’t have to be sewing or knitting or photography.  They might be your hobby or they might be your job, but why do you love them?  What is the end goal for you?  Even if you can’t yet figure out the full and complete answer, taking the time to think through these questions will be worth the effort.

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There’s Winning, and There’s…Learning

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My husband has a friend whose son is in a chess club.  In the club, they tell the students that “there’s winning, and there’s learning”.  Losing somehow got left off the list.  When we heard that, we laughed, chalking it up to some sort of self-esteem gimmick intended to keep kids from ever feeling bad about themselves.  But then, as sometimes happens, I started to think about the concept.  So now I get to laugh at myself for being so cocky because, in certain areas of life, that principle holds true.  In fact, in sewing as in chess, the only real losing happens if you fail and learn nothing from it.

So, today, I have a few sewing failures learning experiences to share with you.  These are garments I completed awhile ago, but in wearing them I discovered that they weren’t really right somehow.

#1:  The cross-back shirt (McCall’s 6751)

 

 

McCall's M6751 by Pattern and Branch

McCall's M6751 by Pattern and BranchThis summer and last made me see that I really wasn’t wearing this shirt.  I like the concept of it, and I love the fabric and the binding I (finally) managed to get attached, but when I wear this, I’m always worried that it will blow open in the back.  I also can’t wear standard undergarments with it without worrying about my straps showing (something I’m not a fan of, despite current trends).  The shirt never lays right (which I think is due more to my fiddling with the seam allowances and binding than with the drafting of the pattern).  So, I declare this a fail learning experience.

What I learned:  It’s better to spend my time making a bunch of shirts I can wear with standard undergarments rather than making ones that will cause me to worry if anything I don’t want to show is showing.  Maybe five normal shirts equal one that calls for strapless support.  I also began learning to use my binding attachment on my Featherweight, something I had never tried before.

 

#2:  The overly long infinity scarf

Infinity Scarf by Pattern and BranchI thought I was so smart when I made this.  Rather than following the pattern lengths given in the tutorial, I used as much fabric as I had because I loved it so much and didn’t want any to go to waste.  And then I never wore it.  Because it was too long/big (actually, this picture brings the word “goiter” to mind).  Now the former scarf is on my sewing table, recut into a woven tank top.  Hopefully that will work out better.

What I learned:  Sometimes it pays to follow the directions, even if it means a little bit of “waste”.  Because, really, couldn’t I have used the leftovers for something else and then had a useable scarf?  Also, even though I could have reworked the scarf to a shorter length, sometimes you are just done with a project and need to move on.  And that’s ok.

 

#3:  The Soma Swimsuit Hack

Well, some of you knew this was coming!  My latest attempt at a swimsuit gets an A for looks, but is a fail for wearability.

Soma Swimsuit Hack by Pattern and Branch

I wore this suit once while in Michigan and, in addition to the issues I detail in the (very detailed) post about this suit, one of the underwires started to come out.  That was when I decided: I’M DONE!  Then I promptly bought a too-big tankini top from a thrift store and started fiddling with that, trying to get it to fit.  Sometimes, it can be hard to know when you need to walk away.

What I learned:  Know when to walk away!  I’ve put myself on bathing suit probation for a few months.  I’m still determined to get “mad bathing suit sewing skillz”, but I need to take a break before diving in again.  Also, there may be something to be learned in the realm of not trying to make a pattern do something it wasn’t intended to do…but you can’t always know until you try.

Maybe that’s the larger lesson to be learned from each of these projects:  TRY.  If there’s no “losing”, if you can learn from it, it’s probably worth it to try.  Of course I’m not talking about “trying” stuff with massively expensive fabrics on someone’s wedding dress or something.  The stakes were never even close to that high with any of these projects.  But I’m glad I did them, even if they aren’t going to become part of my wardrobe, because now I’m a better seamstress/sewist than I was before.

 

New Pajama Shorts and Weekend Reading

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I just finished a project!  Woo hoo!  That always feels like a big deal since I often (pretty much always) have to work on creative things in small chunks.  The latest creation is a pair of pajama shorts featuring this fabric.  Check it out:

Pajama Shorts (McCall's 6848) by Pattern and Branch

 

I wrote a review of the pattern on the Pattern Review website.  I’m also publishing it here in case you plan on trying this pattern for yourself.

Pattern Description: “Misses’ Tops, Romper, Shorts and Eye Mask: Top A is fitted. Semi-fitted romper B and top C have self bias binding. B: Loose-fitting through hips, pocket, elastic with purchased ribbon tie ends. A, C: Pullover. Shorts D, E (below waist) have elastic waist. A, B, C, D: Narrow hem. E: Ruffles. Eye mask F has elasticized casing.” I made shorts (D) without a ruffle. That is what this review covers.

Pattern Sizing: Multi-size pattern with Large, Extra-large, and Extra-extra-large. I made size Large for the shorts.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? Yes

Were the instructions easy to follow? Yes

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? I liked that it came together quickly without a lot of pattern pieces. I think the back crotch length could have been a little longer, at least for me. I’m hoping the backside doesn’t creep down when I sit or bend down.

Fabric Used: cotton wax print

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made: None

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? I would sew it again (I may try a crepe de Chine or something silky next time.) and I think it would be a good project for others to try. I would also like to try the shirts, but maybe in a knit, even though this pattern is meant for woven fabrics.

Conclusion: This was a good and easy pattern. I’m happy to have a pair of pajama shorts that are cool and comfortable.

And, just in case you want to take a closer look at the pattern envelope and the shorts…

Pajama Shorts (McCall's 6848) by Pattern and Branch

Pajama Shorts (McCall's 6848) by Pattern and Branch

Pajama Shorts (McCall's 6848) by Pattern and Branch

One thing I had thought of doing, inspired by a picture I saw on Pinterest, was to add some mini-ball trim to the leg openings.  The only time I have worked with that trim was when I helped a friend make a scarf.  I should really say ‘attempted to help’.  We could not get that stuff sewn on right because it’s just so narrow.  I finally got to the point with these shorts where I needed to finish them and be done or they would join the world of never-finished sewing projects.  Anyone have any experience with sewing mini ball trim?  I’m sure there’s a tutorial somewhere on the internet…

I like how these turned out.  Maybe (maybe) if I make them again, I would try to lengthen the back crotch measurement to avoid good ol’ “plumber’s butt”, but we’ll see.  I’m excited to make something else with this fabric.  Maybe a top?  I’ve been pinning plenty of clothing with wax prints to give me ideas.

I hope you have a great weekend.  Happy Father’s Day to all the dads of the world.

 

Here’s a little weekend reading if you get the time.  I love it when The Coletterie sends out weekend reading links, so I’m using their idea out of pure admiration.

  • My Mom sent me this article:  Why the World Needs the Makers to Say No Boldly.  It (and the article it was based on) gave me a lot to think about.  I think I now understand why my mental project list is 100 miles long, but I only ever finish one or two of the things on it.  Do you agree?  Disagree?  I’m still thinking it over.
  • I’ve been reading through Kadiddlehopper’s SwimAlong 2013 posts.  I’m thinking of taking the plunge… (ha ha ha)
  • I’ve also been contemplating becoming a late joiner in the slip sew-along on Gertie’s Blog for Better Sewing.  New territory in sewing for me, that’s for sure!
  • And if you NEED to build your body into a surfer body, Men’s Fitness has got you covered.  I was worried that, being a woman, this might not work out so well for me, but I’m getting there.  I may never again surf (I’ve gone a whopping two times), but you have to dream–even if your dream is just to get really strong and have good balance (and yes, I did watch too many surfing movies this winter).

Happy weekend, everyone!

Innovation

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“Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd.  Without innovation, it is a corpse.” –Winston Churchill

I read this quote for the first time on Thursday, while watching this video of art student David Popa (Gordon College, Wenham, MA) .

I was struck by the quote itself, but also by how perfectly his work embodies it.  It inspired me to keep studying art history, and to continue to explore.

 "Girl with a Pearl Earring" by Johannes Vermeer

VERMEER, Johannes “Girl with a Pearl Earring” c. 1665 Oil on canvas, 46,5 x 40 cm Mauritshuis, The Hague

Artwork courtesy of Web Gallery of Art.

Learn more about David Popa, Peter Huang, and their art co-op Bumbing Happens at the link.

The Thankfulness Journal

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The Thankfulness Journal

Thanksgiving is coming up, and that’s always a good time to count your blessings.  It’s also good to take gratitude beyond that one day into the landscape of daily life.

Some time ago, my husband and I noticed that we were all getting pretty negative even though we had a lot to be thankful for.

That’s when The Thankfulness Journal was born.

The Thankfulness Journal

A friend had given me a journal and I wasn’t sure what to use it for, so it was all ready and waiting when we decided to start writing down our blessings.  We don’t do it every day, but if we find we are slipping down into negativity (or, more positively, when we’ve had a really good day) we break it out.  Everyone has to say at least one thing they are thankful for.  We’ve had some pretty funny entries over the years, and some more serious ones.  In many ways, the journal has become a record of our lives.

On Tuesday, I took this concept and shared it with a group of moms at my church.  I was supposed to come up with a craft and, since it’s right before Thanksgiving, this seemed like just the thing.  I ordered some plain journals from Muji and bought washi tape at Jo-Ann Fabric.  Then I decorated a journal with the washi tape.

The Thankfulness Journal

If you’ve never used washi tape before, here is a great post explaining what it is, where to get it, and how to use it.  Just decorate your journal so you like how it looks.  You can use washi tape, write words, stamp, or add collage elements.

Here are some of the journals the women at church came up with:

The Thankfulness Journal

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The Thankfulness Journal

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The Thankfulness Journal

This one took it to another level:

The Thankfulness Journal

This turned out to be a great craft for a group.  It was easy and fun and, despite the fact that Pinterest is ablaze with washi projects, not everyone has used it before.

Check out these happy ladies!

The Thankfulness Journal

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The Thankfulness Journal

I hope you have a great Thanksgiving and find many opportunities to count your blessings in your everyday life.

Hadestown

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Hadestown

Do you have music that calls you back again and again?  I don’t have a wide knowledge of music, but when I find something I really love, I tend to return to it often.  One of the elements that can call me back to a particular artist is a compelling story.  In high school, I discovered bluegrass in a very limited way through the music of Jake Armerding and his father Taylor’s band, Northern Lights.  For me, their work was perennially interesting because they delved deeper into the expected love songs and also went beyond with the stories they created.

Hadestown

Hadestown by Anais Mitchell

A few years ago, I checked out the album Hadestown by Anais Mitchell after seeing a recommendation in a magazine.  The more I listened to it, the more I saw the resonant story and skill that had gone into this work.  Hadestown is the tale of the mythological characters Orpheus and Eurydice.  This is a story of love vs. poverty.  Consider:  if you could have love or financial security (but not both), what would you choose?  Orpheus makes his choice without a second thought, but for Eurydice, the lure of plenty after so much want is just too enticing.  She aches for rest from the endless struggle against poverty.  That yearning leads her to the kingdom of Hades…

The singers that play each character are sublimely perfect.  Hades’ voice is as deep and dark as his underworld kingdom.

 

Hadestown

Eurydice has a truly unique sound reminiscent of the music of the past.  I could give you a description of every single character, but it’s enough to say that the chosen singers make the album very rich.

 

Hadestown

Along those same lines, the woodcuts by Peter Nevins on the album cover reinforce the contrast of light and dark in the story.  One my favorite elements is that Orpheus’ goggles have a cutout that shows through to the CD below.  (I have a little bit of a thing for clever cutouts.  Have you ever seen the children’s book Joseph Had a Little Overcoat?  It’s so cool!)

Hadestown

When I looked closer, I discovered that this was originally performed in Vermont as a live folk opera.  (Vermont just puts out so much good stuff!  Cheese, art, Ben & Jerry’s…)  Now before you envision Goethe or women in horned helmets, let me tell you that this is not the type of opera you may be thinking of.  It follows more along the lines of the bluegrass music I mentioned earlier in that it has a sound that is closer to the vernacular.  If you listen to the CD, you’ll get a feel for that.  If I ever get the chance to see (hear) an opera, I hope it’s this one.

Check this out from the library…sample it online…and see if it doesn’t give you some new food for thought.