Monday, January 14, 2013

False Promises

By the late  '70s, my interest in sewing had merged with my path as an artist, which I chose to pursue through fabric. While studying art at the University of Oregon, one of the best things I learned about the creative process came from my printmaking professor, LaVerne Krause. "Never be afraid of your materials." This monumental idea - that if you're not afraid of your materials, you won't be so fearful of making a mistake - allowed me to enjoy my work and approach it without the threat of ruining something hanging over my head. Taking risks is important, but learning how to take advantage of the twists and turns that happen along the way is even more valuable, because all mistakes can become something positive. - Preface, The Party Dress Book by Mary Adams

Chasing self-fulfilment is a bit like chasing happiness. It's an emotion that cannot be sustained. It relies too much on circumstances. It depends on a person's mood. In contrast, you can develop yourself regardless of how you feel, what circumstances you find yourself in, your financial situation, or the people around you.
- Chapter 15, The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth by John Maxwell

... the second thing that happens to people who stop trying to actively grow is they lose their passion. We all love doing what we're good at, but being good at something requires us to keep our skills sharp. Less skill leads to less enthusiasm and eventually discontent.
- Chapter 15, The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth by John Maxwell

Friday ended up being one of those days that knocks you over at the knees and takes some time to recover from - the not fun kind. My favourite form of recovery is curling up on the couch with a blanket and a book. Next to sewing and writing, reading is one of my top three favorite activities however... it led to false promises. I read. I thought. I processed. I did not sew. The sweater is not finished BUT... the collar is.

After reshaping, I used a 5" strip of the ribbed fabric folded in half, serged to the wrong side, and turned to the right side. If the cardigan opening were to fold back and become visible, the inside is very neat plus the serged edge gives the collar roll and lift. The look is narrow and perky, almost rebellious. Now for the button band. I won't promise it for tomorrow as I have guests this afternoon and I'm not actually sure what will get done but it's next and we'll see.

I first read Mary Adams' The Party Dress Book a few years ago and since the copyright is November 2010, it was most likely right around that time. I remember enjoying it so much that I sent a copy to my friend Caroline with the suggestion that we sew party dresses for our 50th birthdays. When I gift a book, it has impacted me significantly and at the same time I am aware that books - and quotes - impact different people in different ways. The quotes above hit me in a particular way this weekend. They may mean absolutely nothing to you. Isn't that fascinating?

The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth by John Maxwell has been just the right book at just the right time and so powerful that I bought copies for each of my boys and offered to pay them to read it and work through the questions. I rarely do this and they've never yet taken me up on the offer but I'm hopeful this will be the time. Starting at fifty, it's valuable. Starting earlier, the benefits could be amazing.

In the closing circle at the Design Outside the Lines workshop this past June, I talked about how I breath in fabric and how it felt like I'd been on a respirator for a long time, not creatively dead but not nearly as alive and energetic and passionate as before. That kind of creative energy is like a drug. Without it, you're in withdrawal and all you want is more. Returning home from the workshop, I was positive that I'd be re-energized and eager to charge full steam ahead. It hasn't turned out that way BUT... it was a turning point from which I've been steadily growing.

If you read Mary's book, you'll see that she dabbled in a few different things but she focused on one - the dress - which became her blank canvas of experimentation. I giggle when she writes that this or that technique was unique to her because in every instance she's discussing a technique that I have used in clothing. It reminds me of when I was creating art quilts in a particular style and then another artist wrote a book about her style... which was similar to mine... and suddenly my work wasn't my own anymore. When people saw it, they would immediately assume - out loud - that I was copying the other artist. That can certainly burst your creative bubble. It burst mine to such a degree that I changed the way I worked. I didn't want to be seen as a copy or a copycat.

What we know about ourselves and our work and what we know about the work of others is limited by our field of reference. The Internet has made the field bigger but not so big that we know everything about everyone. Mary thought she was unique and in her field of reference she was. I'm not a well known dress designer and have no desire to be and I doubt that the two of us were the only ones using those techniques. There were probably other women sewing in other studios using similar ideas. I've come to see that as an interesting phenomenon - the art of doing the same thing in similar ways with individual twists. We all get dressed.

Among other things, John's book pointed out that I need to pick a focus and step strongly in that direction. And Mary's book once again reinforced my belief that fabric is my art form and clothing my canvas and that I need to dip my brush and paint boldly. No answers but I spent the weekend thinking about how to blend those two thoughts and create an energizing field of study. I think it may have to do with t-shirts because that's the garment I wear the most often and when I've struggled in the past, it's been with the question what's the point? Circumventing that question by focusing my creativity on the garment that I wear the most often could quite possibly be the answer because learning how to take advantage of the twists and turns that happen along the way is even more valuable... than doing without the drug.

Talk soon - Myrna

Grateful - credit cards in unexpected situations


  1. I resonated with "people who stop trying to actively grow" quote. I am "good at what I do"; I get that compliment all the time. I can whip up those rodeo items like no tomorrow but I am at a place where I need to sharpen my skills and learn more. I keep thinking about this as I finish up my rodeo sewing. I do know I want to learn more techniques so the clothing I make for us is high end. If making less means learning more, I am at that point and will be starting the journey in the summer months.

    1. The difficulty for me is not can I, it's will I as in it not being a lack of information but action - do the work. That has been a good question so far this year, am I doing the work.

      I started reading Today Matters by John Maxwell in this morning's journal session and I think it's going to be as powerful as his other book. It's about how today is the only day that truly exists. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow is not guaranteed - however - if tomorrow comes about we will have impacted its potential by not living fully today. That helps me to find a motivating factor.

  2. What you said about being afraid of your materials really struck a chord with me. I am so hesitant to cut into expensive fabric, or even choose a pattern for it. I'll buy a pattern, and then buy another one, and maybe even another, thinking this is the perfect one, but never actually cutting it out. I am the same with art materials, especially paint. I buy it and it just sits in a drawer because of my hesitancy to use it. Thanks for this insight, it might help me to move forward...Anna

    1. Not being afraid of my materials was something I learned in 2004 during my year of play. I understood completely what she meant when I read the quote from Mary's book. I've now reached a point where I feel the "waste" is in NOT using my materials. If I do something, I have something to respond to. If I do nothing, the result is nothing. If I make a "mistake" I can move forward from there and experience has shown me that mistakes have evolved into some of my favourite garments. Fabric is still fabric whether it's flat folded or sewn into a shape. Until I shred it, burn it, or throw it away, it's still in the studio and open to opportunities. As I wrote that I was thinking about the potential of shredded fabric - LOL - because once you're open to ideas, they flow.


Thanks for commenting. I appreciate the feedback and the creative conversation.