Not knitting, but still making things 

That is, I am still knitting, but this post is not about knitting, but about branching out.

A couple of months back, sort of on the spur of the moment, I bought a sewing machine.  IMG_0045I wasn’t absolutely sure what I would use it for or how often, but at the least I wanted to learn how to work it and be able to do basic repairs like hemming pants and shortening tops (do other people do this/want to do this? Almost every top I try on is too long to look good untucked and too short to be a tunic). And I harbored a secret hope that I could learn to make myself clothes that don’t just fit, but fit ME. The husband approved, even expressing interest in making shirts for himself. (He does tend to leap into the deep end of things.)

A couple of weeks later, I posted my first foray into machine sewing on Instagram. I figured out how to load the bobbin and thread the machine and use the various functions (it’s an amazing machine for what it cost, but it’s a pretty basic one because I’m not exactly engaged in complicated endeavors here). I doodled around a bit figuring out how to sew in reasonably straight lines and what the different stitches do.

Last weekend, I actually tried making things. And it was SO much fun!

An “intro to sewing” book I’d bought had some patterns, so I started (over ambitiously) with a toy elephant. The results weren’t pretty:

IMG_0413

I mean, it’s recognizably elephantine (minus ears, tail, and stuffing), but the seams are…wonky, to be kind, and my whole pinning/sewing something that three-dimensional didn’t work very well.

So then I backed up, and decided to try making one of the Purl Bee‘s Easy Drawstring Bags.

IMG_0417currently lacking drawstring

That went MUCH better – but then, everything is square or rectangular or straight lined, so much much easier for me to handle. And even then I managed to sew the corners to each other the first time I tackled creating the little gusset (practice unpicking seams!).

What amazed me was how different sewing felt from knitting. On the one hand, that’s a duh! kind of statement – of course sewing cloth and knitting yarn are absolutely different. But I hadn’t realized how much my adult ideas about crafting had been shaped by knitting – primarily that you can do it in fits and spurts, in front of the TV, or while reading a book, or wherever you find yourself (assuming you’re not in the midst of really complicated lace or trying to seam a sweater or the like).

Sewing seems much more all-encompassing – I can’t imagine how you could really do anything else at the same time besides sew. I listened to some podcasts, but that (or having music/the TV/a movie on generally as background) is as far as I can see it going. Partly, this is because of the logistics of machine sewing. My machine is incredibly light (it’s advertised as suitable for taking to sewing classes), but using it requires a table top of certain dimensions, and I’m not going to haul it all over the house (which I do with my knitting), so it lives upstairs, in our loft. I would imagine that if I were hand-sewing, some of that might be more portable and easier to have in my lap and work on in front of the TV.

But mostly sewing just seemed to engage a different part of my mental processes than knitting. When knitting is going really well for me, when the yarn is flying off the needles (in fabric, not lost stitches), it’s almost mindless. It’s automatic. There’s a reason so many patterns talk about how easy their stitch pattern is to memorize. I enjoy the knitting process, but in a zen, meditative kind of way, in which the repetitive motion of the fingers allows the mind to wander in all kinds of directions (admittedly periodically jumping back from time to time to check whether the YOs are in the right place and so on).

On the other hand, sewing took up all my concentration. It was at once both physical, and mental. There was figuring out what I was supposed to do, and measuring and marking and cutting, and manipulating the fabric to be where I wanted it to be at the machine. Time flew in a way that it doesn’t when I knit (one of the things I like about knitting, actually, is that time doesn’t quite fly – if I knit when I’m sleepy I will start to fall asleep. If I’m reading I will stay up doing the “just one more chapter” thing until the book is gone, and not really realize I’m tired until the inevitably far-too-late end. Knitting disengages my mind enough to say, “self, you’re tired, go to bed” much more easily. I don’t see this happening with sewing).

What sewing reminded me of most, in this respect, is singing – which is also at once intensely physical and mental, but mental in a very concrete, material way, and which also demands your presence and focus in a way that can’t be ignored.

And like singing, sewing was really fun. And I want to do more.

So I’ve raided the remnants bin at Joann’s (aside – the local fabric store has to be a thing, right? Like the local yarn store? I’ve only encountered one what I’d call a genuine local fabric store, which is no longer local to me, and was actually a local yarn store as well. I’m sure there have to be better resources than Joann’s, but for the moment, that’s where I know I can go, and at least they’re generous with the coupons).

At the moment, my plans are pretty modest. Make a couple more drawstring bags – bigger ones, even, as project bags for my knitting, and line them (based on various online tutorials around the web). I’d like to make a Dopp kit-shaped project bag out of the yellow canvas. It’s supposed to be 111 degrees this weekend, so I’m sure as heck not going outside, and even though the loft is the hottest part of our apartment, I look forward to holing up there and cutting and marking and pressing and sewing.

What is very familiar from when I started knitting again as an adult is that yawning gap between my aspirations and abilities – and not even abilities, but just resources. Being an absolutely newbie beginner means that every time you want to make something, not only do you probably have to learn a new skill, you also pretty much have to go out and buy stuff. I started small (after the machine), with some nice shears, thread, marking pencils, a seam unpicker, and a ruler. But now I have interfacing (for structure for project bags) as well as zippers (for Dopp kit/project bags), and a denim needle for the cotton canvas (it’s pretty heavy). And yellow thread. And ribbons for drawstrings on the way. And more fabric. And I really want a rotary cutter and mat, but am trying to be frugal (since I have been failing miserably to accomplish that with knitting).

But the skills gap is real, too. The things I want to make are the things I don’t yet have the skills to make. The same thing happened when I started knitting, too, but I’d forgotten. And there’s some uncritical part of you that thinks, I can do one craft, I should be able to do the second as well! Nope, still have to learn. It’s a good thing to be reminded of, but I still want to run before I can walk.            

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