Thursday, January 8, 2015

Excavating School Basements and Other Random Tales

In a few minutes, I'll be meeting a fellow mom volunteer to go exploring the school basement. Our mission: to find forgotten decorations from bygone eras to pretty up the school for the upcoming winter social. It's funny how this all began: people hear that Emily's/Jenna's/Kate's mom "sewed their Halloween costumes" and they translate this to "she must have interior decorating skills."

So not true.

Exhibit A: My house walls are still the same natural white that they were when we moved in almost a decade ago, except not as clean. "I had babies!" I tell myself and -defensively - anyone who mentions things like "painting" and "wall art" and "a bit of color might be lovely". Then my babies grew up and my walls are still eggshell - and I don't mean the finish - with only two possible reasons for it: my amazing prowess at procrastinating, or my total disinterest in decorating. 

It really is the latter. 

But it's also amusing how often it's assumed that sewing people or cardboard people or wood-crafting people have The Decorating Gene. I blame Martha Stewart, who set the bar so high for the rest of us one-skill wonders. One year, long ago when I was a teacher, our junior college (like senior high) ran a production of The Mikado. It was a whole-school effort, and everyone, including the teaching and non-teaching staff, were assigned jobs to make it happen. 

"Can I do costumes?" I offered. Because, you know, I sewed the prototype costumes for the school choir and did all the liasion with the tailor. Plus, it was all kimonos and obis and wonderful ethnic fabrics - everything I had a weakness for.

"No," the principal decided. "You're crafty; you get to decorate the front-of-house."

So I spent my afternoons painting stylized Japanese masks on long swaths of fabric to hang, like melancholy sheets of snow, ash and blood, from the ceiling of the theater. And all was not lost - I got to hang out with the Art Teachers, whom, I discovered while fabric-shopping with them, knew some of the best places on the island for lunch stops of minced-pork noodles.  

But back to the present, and the winter social. 
I'm happy to help, of course. It's for the kids and the teachers, after all, and whether the decorating team is truly skilled or just well-intentioned is beside the point - it's lovely to work with other moms to do something for the school. And, if all else failed, we have a stack of Oriental Trading Company catalogs to fall back on. 

It did, however, make me think about creativity and how it is both a blessing (mostly) and a curse. 

Two points:
One, I've decided, from now on, whenever I meet a person whose reputation precedes him/her as "creative" or "artistic", I will ask him/her, "What is your expression of choice?" Because I'd love to be surprised to hear options like writing, poetry, software, photography, architecture, the culinary arts, landscaping, hairstyling, code-breaking, scientific R and D, linguistics and translation, and anything else that may have nothing to do with pigment or fabric.

Two, I am slowly discovering the madness that is the creative mind on a deadline. Or maybe it's just a mad mind, period. It's astonishing how much goes on in my brain when I allow it to invent. There is no way to close the door once opened. And no way to be productive in the other areas of life that require to-do-lists and repetitive tasks and small, distracting details when I'm simultaneously creating. My favorite projects are the ones born of ideas that have had the luxury of months or years to percolate. By the time they emerge under the presser foot, or the glue gun, or the hammer-and-paint-brush, they are well-developed and problem-shot and effortless to actually produce. They have no returns other than the satisfaction of seeing them brought to life. 

Then there are the Assigned and Contracted Projects - the ones that usually have due dates and fat checks attached to them. These stretch me artistically and mentally because I have committed to pulling them out of a hat; they will still be beautiful on the outside, but they are not fully so on the inside- the result of an accelerated hatching. I think that is why I procrastinate - it is my desperate attempt to incubate an idea against a looming finish line. I always think that if only I could just "churn them out" and not care that they were not a true reflection of what goes on in my mind, I'd be far less tortured by those of my projects I call premature. 

And sometimes I can. But sometimes I can't. And I'm not unhappy at all; the torture is just a state of artistic and creative tension that propels me forward and higher. And that is the madness. Do you know what I mean?

Now that is far too much foolish and unnecessary introspection for the start of the new year. Most people do that at the end of the previous year. Like I said, I'm good at procrastinating.

And here's another bit of procrastinating to show you. 
My old wallet, made in 2009, is finally in its death throes. It's been terminally ill for a long time - all ratty and ripping fabric from my uncaring shoving into pockets and purses lined with pointy pens and ragged keys. The last straw was the coin compartment, which now consistently and energetically expels its contents onto the floor when I take the wallet out to pay for things in a store. 

So, this new year, I've decided that, after sewing for everyone else on the planet, I need to take care of myself. 

Here's the new coin compartment in progress - a pleated welt pocket. Have you ever made one? It's fun, but it's not for cowards (or members of the whip-up club).

And here's the coin compartment, finished. The rest of the wallet isn't.

Did you notice a bit of mass-production? If I was going to cut out one wallet, I thought, I might as well cut out three (the third is somewhere on my sewing table). The challenge, as always, is to tuck away all those raw seam edges so that it's as pretty on the inside as it is on the outside.

I'm going to keep one and maybe put the other two in the shop. Although I am tempted to keep both of these just so I won't have to procrastinate another 5 years for a replacement.

And I'm still working on my dart-drafting posts, friends. Believe it or not, Part III was so massive that I've had to split it into Part III and Part IV. Blows the mind, doesn't it, that just discussing darts would require four entire posts? 


  1. I have a 'cousin' who desperately longs for a 1970's tri-fold wallet with velcro. In PINK.
    I have materials, I'm just procrastinating on that coin pocket. Which is exactly what your photo shows. Please, will you please, do a an IKAT-worthy tutorial on it?

  2. Wow, a four-parter on darts! Read the first two, they are amazing.
    But if you're writing extra posts now, I would love to see how you made that coin-pocket! I want to sew a wallet for myself for the past two years, but could never find out how to make a compartiment such as yours. So I shoved it to the future, maybe one day... With a tutorial on that pocket I no longer have an excuse =)

  3. I am SO not an interior decorator, either! I sure don't know where that daughter of mine got her genes. I seriously doubt it was from her father. ;)

    Looking forward to seeing more of that wallet!

  4. That pleated welt pocket is fascinating! I must figure it out and make some, on something, even though I have absolutely no need for a pleated welt pocket.
    I appreciate the musings on creativity... I also prefer to let projects percolate in my mind before I've ever begun them physically, but I've never connected that and my dislike of rushing into a project.

  5. I about spit out my drink laughing in agreement - I love to sew... and I am the most NOT able to nor care about interior decorating person you could meet. Sure do wish someone in my family had some ability in that area. I've been in my home almost 13 years, and I have (bowing head in shame) the same cheap paper blinds you get at Lowes for $5 - that are supposed to be temporary until the real ones come in....

    1. Angela: your blinds sound like my pink bathroom walls - came with the house, never meant to stay beyond the first week, but lived with us till a couple years ago when (and only because) we hacked up the bathroom to repair something else. Which, had it not broken down, we'd never have thought of replacing, either.

  6. I love your insight in the creative mind. It made me cry, recognizing some of my own unconcious reasons for procrastinating.

  7. I do a lot of my crafting first in my mind too (knitting and sewing). It's great for planning out every detail in 3-D, especially order of seaming. So many times I've tried to seam up something in my mind only to realize that it would contradict previous seaming! So then I plan out a different order of sewing or knitting, trying to maximize efficiency in doing everything with one thread colour or one type of foot in one go. All this is a bit brain-breaking (in an enjoyable way!), but it does make things easy once I start working! However, I'm constantly surprised by how things take on a life of their own -- despite everything being planned beforehand, projects sometimes just demand that one component be done differently!

  8. Yeah absolutely. I do less complicated stuff, but it really does have to come from my vision and not someone elses. This is the main reason I don't sew for other people, as it takes all the fun out of it. Or maybe I'm just selfish.

  9. My mother is the seamstress; I know just enough to get into trouble. But I love reading your blog. As I said so to my hubby before reading aloud your opening paragraphs and enjoying a good giggle, he stated matter-of-factly, "You should tell her." He was right. So I am. I think you are such a gifted writer. Definitely much more than a "one-skill wonder" as you mentioned above. Thank you for sharing your musings with us.

    1. Nancy: hello back! Thank you to the husband! I'm glad you told me, and I'm glad you enjoy reading my blog!

  10. This was expressed so well! I am the "crafty" one in my circle of friends, so of course, it's assumed that I can do anything remotely related. Therefore, I get approached all of the time to do this and make that, with promises of being paid any price that I ask. But for me, as soon as it is a paid project with an implied contract and dealine attached, my creativity slows to a trickle. I like to let things cook mentally until they are ready. This is why I only take on non-creative paid projects like alterations and mending. It would be nice to make an income creating things, but the two processes just don't mesh in my brain, lol!

    1. impromptu-mom: amen! It took me a while to decide to make a job of my sewing hobby, too. Along with deadlines (which don't seem compatible with raising children), there was the fear that I'd start to hate my own hobby, given enough time "exploiting" it for income. I am happy to say that hasn't happened yet. I burn out from time to time, and I go totally off sewing quite regularly, but the children have been a constant source of inspiration, so it's still fun. And cardboard helps, too - a very helpful sidetrack sabbatical until I feel interested enough in fabric to start all over again.

  11. I second (or third or fourth?) the idea that you write a tutorial about how to make a pleated welt pocket!

  12. Since I couldn't figure out how to make a nice coin pocket on my selfmade wallet, it turned out to a simple zipper-pocket on the outside. Works, but nog great.. Would love to find out how to make a nice pleated welt pocket like this!


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