Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Only Is A Slippery Slope

Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans; that the moment one DEFINITELY commits oneself, then providence moves too. - W. H. Murray

The quote above is one of my favorites so when it came up in a study recently I could easily have skimmed over the text. Instead, the word definitely jumped out at me as in providence won't move if I'm sitting on the fence. I have to be all in. Of course, I had to think about that especially because one of the things I really enjoy is pondering a good question. It's true. It's only been when I'm totally committed that things have really clicked together and that feels almost like magic. It's so energetic. I love it. I want more... which means I need to be definitely committed more often.

You are the boss of your schedule. It's your responsibility to keep command of your calendar - and you must - in order to simplify your life. Your calendar is the primary tool for helping you become who you want to be. A simplified life begins with well invested hours each day. You can harness the true power of your calendar by filling in each square holistically, creating room for both the outward activities and inner priorities of your life. - Simplify: ten practices to unclutter your soul - Bill Hybels

One of the things I've been thinking about is what I do each day. I just started studying Bill Hybel's book Simplify. It's about burnout, feelings of isolation and exhaustion, and feeling overwhelmed and overscheduled and about how to create a life of greater energy, clearer purpose, and richer relationships.

Compared to most people, my schedule is relatively wide open so I'm coming at the book from an unusual perspective and yet it's similar because while too much negative pressure can be debilitating, not enough positive pressure can be equally so. Two of the questions near the beginning of the book are what are the replenishing people, dynamics, activities, and engagements that predictably fill you up when you've gotten low in the tank? and what things work uniquely for you?

One of the things that works for me is creativity. Recently, I watched a review of Twyla Tharp's book The Creative Habit.  At the top of her list of the six habits that will improve your creativity is rituals. For me, creativity is the daily ritual that fills my tank. It started in my teens and with very few exceptions, I have done something creative each day. My most effective ritual is the morning hour when I get up, grab a cup of coffee, head to the studio in my pajamas, and work for an hour uninterrupted. That hour sets the right tone for the day. When I don't have it, I notice my tank is running low which...

... it's been doing since I moved to this new house. I'm not getting my hour every day. Some days but not every day. At first, I was busy moving in and renovating and then, at the beginning of October, I had that fall down the stairs and I'm still in recovery mode. I was at the doctor's last week and one of two things will happen. Either it's going to be a long, slow, and tedious natural recovery (as in years) or I'm going to have surgery and then it'll be a long, slow, and tedious surgically aided recovery (still in years). That being the case, I'm determined to get back to my morning hour every day. I need that energy.

Very rarely will I knit during the morning hour; mostly I sew. My preferred way of working is to organize tasks ahead of time for the next morning so they are ready when I get up. That means I have to know what I want to do. In a recent posting Carolyn asked how do you decide what to sew? With a new job, a different clothing culture, and significant weight loss, she is struggling to develop a new way of sewing that is equally satisfying and engaging. With a new location, a different clothing culture, and just enough weight loss to make my clothes baggy, I'm in a not-quite-the-same-but-similar situation so I've been pondering that question a lot and especially because it ties in well with the Simplify questions.

While I sew because I want to and not because I have to from the perspective of  being dressed, presentable, and able to afford to buy clothes, I also sew because I have to as in I breath in fabric and being creative with fabric is what I do. It uniquely works for me.


If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I'm more than a bit fanatical about fit. When I saw the simple rectangular shape of this knitted blue vest, my mind went crazy with its creative potential except... a rectangle does not fit well over a curved form. There is always that weird lump at the back of the neck, the sloping armholes, and the dragged shoulders. Poor fit is not me. I could try out all of the ideas swirly around in my head but if I did, I wouldn't wear them so...

... I'm better off knowing who I am and being more realistic and changing shapes. When Caroline was visiting, she made a muslin of Katherine's out of print Vogue 8777... which she didn't like... and thought looked way better on me... so she left the pattern and the muslin... and it's perfect for incorporating all those ideas. It - or a similar cardigan - is equally a blank canvas to the simple rectangle.

The number of patterns we could endlessly develop are endless although for me there are some core ones I want to develop so they fit well and then I can re-design them in new ways. They include a t-shirt like my favourite Vogue 8691 above, a blouse, a pant pattern, and a skirt. Fitted, tested, and sewn over and over, these patterns are tried & true. A cardigan is a t-shirt with a front opening. A dress is a top plus a skirt or a lengthened top. Jeans are pants sewn from denim. Once you have those core patterns, the possibilities truly are endless. To me, this is the place to start. I'm reworking my core patterns to be slightly smaller. Usually this is a vertical tuck so it's not too difficult.

Core patterns are good and then we need to play. I have a girl's coat pattern that I love to sew over and over because it's not my size, because there are no expectations, and because I can experiment with new techniques, try thing I'll never wear, and do the frilly girly thing. Above is Kathy's daughter wearing the dress I made for her from a recycled man's shirt and a pair of woman's trousers. She's just big enough now to wear it and how fun to see her twirl.

Paint by number is not my thing. I can only do so much repeating of the pattern and then I need to challenge the edges. Refashioning is a fabulous way to push creative boundaries, especially in my new community where every garment at the thrift store is only $1.25. Only is a slippery slope, seductive with possibility. I've had to reign myself in and make sure that I don't accumulate too many possibilities. This grey sweater is sitting on the mannequin waiting while I answer the question of what does it want to be - a top or a cardigan.

What I love about refashioning is the not knowing and the total involvement in the process. With these pieces, I can only think ahead one step at a time and have no idea where the piece is going and even when I think I do, that doesn't always work. I bought two purple sweaters with the same yarn and weave from the same designer and un-ravelled one to knit it into the other with. Knitting into sewn garments is one of the goals I'm working on and I'm learning that some types of fabric and yarn work better than others. You can see in the image of the sweater with the hand-knit piece over top how the electronic knitting machines massively condensed the yarn. The machine knit piece and the hand-knit yarn don't look at all alike at this point. I didn't have a yarn or a fabric that went with the purple so this piece is currently immersed in a black dye bath partly to see what happens and partly because I've made a commitment to only buy if it is absolutely necessary. I didn't have fabric. I did have black dye and fabric that goes with black. This is not only good for my finances but great for exploring what if.

I'm debating an insert in the back of the purple sweater like the one shown earlier. I thought refashioning this holey beige sweater and combining the two pieces might work. The purple sweater is 100% cotton. This beige one feels like it has some cotton and some acrylic in it. I threw it into the dye bath as well and - ironically - it's looking a purple-ish color right now that just possibly could have been fine with the original purple. Too funny. I'll see when the dye is set and rinsed but wouldn't you know.

I'm sorry these pictures are so dark. The dress at left is Vogue 1410 which I refer to as the magic dress because I've seen women of all sizes and shapes try it on and it looked fabulous on everyone. I've sewn it twice before and this version is a black knit with flocked rectangles. I plan to wear the dress to a gallery opening this weekend so hopefully I can get a better picture then.

Sewing a tested pattern is very satisfying. I can pat the work and enjoy the process and experiment with the results. Equally satisfying is testing a new pattern. The dress at right is out of print Vogue 7795. Although I loved the pattern, I didn't like the results on me partly because the knit I chose is too heavy for the dress and partly because of the seam around the hip. It's not flattering on me. And that's wonderful. Because now I'll cut it apart, make it into something else, and it'll lead to a whole new journey. Mistakes have become a wonderful thing. Who knew that one day instead of crumpling up my yucky pieces and throwing them in the garbage, I'd be thrilled that they didn't work out so I could make something new... with mystery... and not knowing. YES YES

Copying RTW can also be fun. All three of these dresses could be developed from that same "magic dress". The first is simply a floral fabric and a band around the bottom, the second could be done with surface design work, and the third uses contrast color at the hem to add a subtle detail. I love architecture and subtle details and learning more about surface design is on my goal list. All three of these are inspiring, doable and wearable. Even with casual clothing, I can find designers to inspire and that's always fun because I end up with unique and creative casual clothing.

Goals are an important part of my studio, a part that has been missing since I stopped writing and teaching in 2010. Six years is long enough to be less focused when focused is the way I work best. I've been thinking about that reality along with Carolyn's question of how to decide what to sew. In general, that's an easy question - sew something, anything - and I think that's partly the solution to answering the question. Just start and see where it goes because starting is the hardest part. HOWEVER... when I look at being the boss of my own calendar, I'm reminded how much I enjoying both new learning and exploring a topic deeply.

While I was at my daughter's, I watched several videos on wire weaving and then bought Timeless Wire Weaving: the Complete Course. When I realized that reflective and open elements were missing from the textile jewelry I was working on, I thought that wire weaving might be a solution but as I explored the topic more, I realized that the solution was to give up on including textiles and to explore jewelry from a completely different angle without that pressure. Not only was it taking time and energy away from my other fabric goals, I've spent several years on it and I'm not getting where I want to go. It's time to set a new direction - wire weaving and painted beads. We'll see what happens with that. MEANWHILE...

... I want to sew clothes that fit, flatter, and are fun. I want to sew a slightly smaller wardrobe that isn't baggy on me starting with some funky pants that - for now - will hide my hip injury. I want to explore refashioning and grow my skills at developing unique creative one-of-a kind clothing that I'll wear. I want a more eccentric wardrobe in keeping with the new clothing culture I find myself in. I want to continue to develop core T & T patterns and then explore the boundary of pushing and piecing those shapes to the point where the fact that they are exactly the same pattern is unrecognizable. I want to develop my surface design skills further to incorporate dyeing and painting fabric as an integrated skill. I want to incorporate more architectural details into my developing T & T patterns. I want to sew more bags. I want to explore a new direction in jewelry. I want to develop a "workshop" for the joy of digging into a subject deeply.

What do you want to do?

Talk soon - Myrna

Grateful - really good questions 


  1. "...starting is the hardest part." Myrna, my problem seems to be the reverse of yours. I am always starting -- where I have trouble is finishing! I have lost count of the UFOs in my sewing room and consequently I seem to have lost interest in sewing -- at least for now. For now, I'm working on crochet. I used to be good at it but lost it on my way to quilting (sewing) and now I am trying to be good at crochet again while the quilting projects languish. Seems to be the story of my life. I will eventually finish the current lap quilt project but there are other projects up there that are being ignored while I try to find my way again. Ah well--I love reading your blog to see what you are up to. You inspire me.

    I'm sorry to hear about the problems you are having as a result of your fall. I hope you find the best way for getting relief. Take care. Charmion

    1. ... ah yes... and then finishing. As you know from my teaching, I believe that finishing is a matter of choice and discipline. We're always stalled for a few reasons - either we don't know what to do, we con't know how to do what we want to do, or we're bored. For myself, I limit the things that I have on the go to a small number to avoid the piling up of UFO's. If I can't figure out what to do next with project 1, I'll work on project 2 and when it's done go back to project 1 and if I still don't know, I'll go on to project 3 and then back. It's a rhythm. Now that I'm learning to work on more than on project at a time, it's altering slightly but I still only have a few things on the go. With other art forms like knitting, I work in the same pattern. If the is that we don't know how to do what we want to do, digging in and learning is the only way past that "fear". If it's boredom, every project has a boring phase that needs to be pushed through but if the project itself is boring, that usually tells me that I need to raise the level of challenge. And then there's my philosophy on finish or be finished with - sort through those UFO's and decide is this one going to be finished and if so keep it but if you decide you've gotten everything you need out of it either throw it away, give it away, refashion it, or take it apart and put the pieces back in stash and move on. SUCH a relief. HUGS - good luck.

    2. OH... AND... starting does not necessarily mean starting a new project. It means starting to work on something so if you don't know what to do, starting with one of those UFO's might just be the answer to getting going until "it" appears. Sometimes all we need is some fabric in our hands and the sound of the machine.

  2. I want to build a stable of TNTs - I'm so close on a couple of things, but I need to push myself to do yet another muslin. It's way more fun to do them when the changes are dramatic, but now I'm at the 'tweak it by a 1/4" stage'. I know I'll be happy when I've got a pants pattern that works for me, but getting there is WAY less than half the fun...

    And I've discovered that I don't have nearly enough muslin grade fabric in my stash.

    1. The tweaking is well worth the effort. Even when you're done that, there will always be the fabric factor but it's WAY easier. Today, I'm working on a pair of jeans. With non stretch denim, the pattern is perfect with 5/8" side seams. With a stretch denim, I have to adjust the side depending on how much stretch there is but the overall shape and the hip and crotch depths and the crotch curve remain okay and that's the important part.

      LOL - I've gone through a lot of broadcloth over the testing times. Sheets can be great for muslins as well.

  3. Myrna, I love the shape of the gray sweater you cut off in a curved shape. that is my style! I will have to do some shopping at my local thrift store.
    do you ever think about the designers that work in groups and who have staff mocking up their designs 20 different ways? It has to be easier in some ways for them.

    1. Thank you. I'm really enjoying that shape as well, so much that I can't quite decide what's next.

      I've never thought about designers with staff to do what they want but now that you mention it, that's not something I can see working for me. I love the exploration of trying this and that hands-on and through doing the work I develop skills I can take to other pieces. If I had someone else figuring it out, I wouldn't develop those memory skills and I wouldn't stretch the limits of my own possibilities.


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