Creating for today, creating for myself

The Craft Table Chats have left me a lot to think about. My friends’ responses were the wind in my sails. I don’t know that I can verbally unpack how each friend’s responses directed my thinking. Instead let me work through a couple big concepts that I want to shape my year.

Creating for Today

I have many sewing or craft ideas that start with, “When I finish X…” or “After I work out a bit more…” or “Next year I’ll…” or “Oooh, I’ll Pin this idea for later…” I likely spend more time talking about what I will do and under what conditions than actually doing it. Raise your hand if this sounds familiar.

And each morning I stand in my closet, adrift. I did a purge during the Wardrobe Architect project, but I didn’t fully follow through on repopulating it with garments that unified outfits. I really want to wear a gray wool Banana Republic skirt that I bought at Goodwill but it is just a bit too big in the waist and I can’t seem to find the time to alter it.

Carving out time to sew a small alteration shouldn’t require a jackhammer. I should be able to say, “ok tonight I am going to rip out the seams and repin the skirt.” And then do it.

There will always be another cosplay project (or something similar in scale). Last year I created a detailed to-do list to keep track of the costumes, minor alterations, some repairs for my husband, and a couple knitting projects. Long to-do lists can be nice. They are useful to keep track of things that inspire or that I really want to make. However, by labeling these as “TO-DO” items, the task of creating becomes a chore. It becomes mandatory. I used to buy a pattern to force myself to make something, and a lot of those patterns sit unused. When something is dropped (uncompleted) from a to-do list, there is a psychological weight, a voice that says, “Well, there is another thing you failed to make.” And if I already spent money on that project, ouch. Tara spoke about keeping a list of daily or monthly accomplishments, it seems like that would be healthier way of tracking progress. But then how do I keep track of what I want to make in the future?

I think many of our to-do lists are actually wish lists. What happens if I think about my sewing list as a wish list instead of a to-do list? For starters it begins to look more like my Amazon wish list. I save things to my Amazon wish list without much thought or discipline. Does it interest me? Yes. Do I want or need to buy it immediately? No. Ok, I’ll just save it to the list, and either I’ll get around to buying it later when I have money or have a need, OR someone will buy it for me as a Christmas or birthday gift. Some items sit on that wish list long enough that I outgrow a wish and eventually delete the item (with no regrets).  I realize, ok that particular dress is pretty but I don’t need another dress right now.

And this is why I want to create a creative project wish list. If the need or desire for something is great enough, I want to be able to drop everything else and make it right now (or as soon as the fabric store has a sale). If I don’t see a need for a particular wardrobe garment, don’t allocate fabric or money toward it yet. My wish list will be kept on this blog as a separate page for things I’d like to create one day.

I plan to reserve the “to-do” or the “to-make” list for projects that I have truly committed to. Such as the Disney Princess cosplay group. I have wanted to make Mulan for years (a continually dropped to-do item), and now I have told a dozen other women that I will be Mulan to their Ariel, Cinderella, Jasmine, and Merida.

Creating for Myself

The label “selfish sewing” is frequently thrown around the sewing blogosphere and I saw a lot of it this year in the New Year posts. Often it is sewists confessing and even apologizing for making things for themselves. This seems wrong to me.

Why not help your husband hem his pants and shirts?
Why not help your friends make a lifetime of Santa memories with their daughter?

Individually, I have absolutely no regrets about these projects or gifts. These were choices I made and people I care about. But when you consider how my sewing to-do list has functioned in the past, adding a hemmed shirt, a mended pajama pant, or a Santa Suit to a long To-Do list meant that something got shifted around or bumped off the list. (Usually it was Mulan.) That nice neat hand written list now has arrows and scribbles and dozes of edits. And that means there is SOMETHING I ultimately have regrets about.

The idea of “selfish sewing” is rooted in an assumption that if you can DIY, you should naturally be Doing it For Someone Else (not yourself). I’d wager that some of this comes from the Martha Stewart ethos of make all the things and do so altruistically. There is some very sound logic to this, how many scarves do you really need? How many cupcakes is it safe to eat by yourself? Why not make scarves and cupcakes for friends and family? What bothers me is the expectation that you SHOULD be making things for other people, and that sewing for yourself is considered “selfish”.  For those who are employed or self-employed as seamstresses and costumers, the balance between personal sewing and client sewing is different. I’m referring to the majority of use for whom sewing is a hobby.

One upon a time, households knew how to do the skills they needed to survive – farm, preserve fruits, churn butter, butcher meat, sew clothing. They did these things as needed and as resources, time, and storage space allowed. Then as civilization developed individuals became experts in specific skills, eventually forming guilds. This specialization allowed your average person more time to focus on their skillset. If you are a farmer, don’t worry about your shoes, you can buy or have your shoes repaired by the village cobbler. If you are the cobbler, you know you’ll be able to buy food for your family from the local farmers.

In a world (insert dramatic movie trailer voice) where manufacturing skills are no longer necessary in our daily lives, fewer people are motivated to learn how to knit, sew, or bake awesome cakes. I realize and appreciate that I have cultivated a skill set that allows me to have greater options with my clothes – if something doesn’t fit or if I really want a style or color that is no longer available in stores I can take fabric into my own hands. I can repair more than popped buttons and I am happy to use these skills to help friends and family, but once open, the floodgates of “favors” can be hard to close.

I like to be helpful. I don’t like to disappoint people, especially friends. This is a dangerous trait, particularly with my old to-make/to-do list method of tracking projects. When my husband asks, “Can you help alter this costume before ECCC,” no matter how much I want to help, if I was not planning on it ahead of time, this request can disrupt what little order I have over my workspace and workload.

The fact is, I am not making a career out of these skills. (Has anyone successfully charged their spouse a fee for mending?) I started sewing for personal reasons and I still have a closet with a bunch of disjointed outfits. Every day I am reminded of projects I would like to finish (or even start!). In 2015 I want to focus on my sewing needs. This may even require cutting back on cosplay to address my more banal everyday needs.

Next Steps

Create a wish list page on this blog to track things I want to make. More intentional than my pinterest boards of sewing and knitting projects or DIY crafts I want to try, this list is everything I think about making, and maybe weblinks to other Sewcialist projects that inspired me .

Regain a foothold. After spending my Christmas season and the first week of 2015 working on a professional conference presentation, I have free time again. I have Christmas gifts that need to be put away and I have a stack of small projects cluttering my sewing table. I also have two cosplay projects looming before the end of March. I’ve buried myself in a too-long to-do list, but I am going to dig out. Some of these small projects are going to the Wish List. I’d like to alter a dress I picked up from a clothing swap, but right now it is not a priority. However, I do really want to wear the gray wool skirt that is just a bit big in the waist. This also assumes I have space to work. It would be nice to have a work surface that didn’t require clearing every time I walk into the room. (Isn’t that the dream?)

Manage my time with a wall calendar and a finite to-do list (in numbers and in time span). At work we have a broad view of the year, with a list of programs we expect to develop for the museum. But we focus our detailed planning on the upcoming 3-4 months. It is easy enough to divide the year by seasons and consider what I want to broadly accomplish each season, then focus and build project timelines for the current season. This also means don’t get distracted by Netflix marathons. And keeping my sewing room organized so that I don’t have to spend a day digging out just to sew a zipper.

Say “No” and “Yes” – and mean it. What have I committed to this year? What else is on the horizon? I want to be a resource for my friends, but I must ensure that my projects and needs do not take a back seat to pleasing others. Be ok with saying “No” and when the answer is “Yes” immediately map out a timeline and integrate it with other project timelines.

Accept that plans change – acknowledge it and move on. Maybe that Dungeon Master costume will never get a full blog post.

Create and be joyful.


9 thoughts on “Creating for today, creating for myself

  1. Great post! I’ve participated in discussions about selfish sewing before, and I feel like I did a bad job of articulating how I felt. You summed it up great. I am so stoked to find your blog. I have to go catch up on all your posts now!

  2. So much to nod along with! I’ve been reading for a while but I’m a rubbish commenter. Reasons etc.

    Just wanted to throw in my 2 cents about to-do/wish lists and ‘selfish sewing’:

    I really struggled with my to-do list, because I love lists but nothing was really working for me. My notebook was heavy with post-it notes but I never took it anywhere with me so when I was at the fabric store, I never could remember what fabric or notions I needed! Then another sewing blogger via Instagram mentioned using Kanban boards for work as her to do list and lo and behold, I found a thing that I really like. I use Kanban Flow – it’s a great program accessible on desktop and mobile/tablet – that allows me to visually represent what I have in mind. I have no connection with them, nor mean to promote them here: it is simply a program that provides ‘boards’ and allows me to move things between the boards. It allows me to colour code (yes!): so, I have the following boards: ‘Backburner’, ‘To-Sew’, ‘In-Progress’, ‘Need to Acquire Stuff’ and ‘I Made It!’. I colour code dresses, tops and bottoms, bags, gifts, sewing-for-my-partner (he gets his own category!) I move projects and ideas between the boards (so something gets added to To-Sew in a burst of inspiration, but I realise when the dawn of common sense arrives that it’s not weather appropriate just yet so I move it to Backburner, or summer is near departing (in Australia) and I can go look at Backburner and move a project like a coat back onto the To-Sew list, and maybe even onto the ‘Need to Acquire Stuff’ list. I also like to regularly look at the ‘I Made It!’ board to remind myself of how productive I’ve been when I’m feeling down in the dumps. This is simply to say, I like the Kanban program (there are lots of different kinds); you might like to check it out in case it might suit you too.

    My comment has gone on for long enough … but ‘selfish sewing’: I make things for other people (especially my partner) quite a bit. I really enjoy doing it. But usually, it’s my idea to make something for someone. When people ask me to make something for them, I don’t say no. I say nothing. I let them talk through what they want me to do, come to a realisation about exactly what they are asking for, and eventually, they drop the request. If they don’t want to pay someone to make or alter something for them, they are not respecting that person’s labour. (I wouldn’t say yes to payment, either, because they would be paying a lawyer to alter their clothes. At lawyers’ rates.) It’s my hobby and I don’t have that much spare time, so if anyone requests something in a way that doesn’t respect my time and the fact that I DO THIS FOR FUN, they get short shrift from me. I love making things for other people – but it’s a gift, never an obligation. If it becomes an obligation, I drop it. I’m just clearly not as nice as you! (But I thought I’d offer my more unforgiving take on it … )

    I’m loving the Craft Table Chats, by the way! Great inspiration!

    1. Thank you for your recommendation on Kanban boards. I had not heard of them, but they sound very useful. I really appreciate your comments and thoughts on keeping a hobby enjoyable. This is why the sewing community is so great!

  3. I love the idea of renaming your sewing-list to a wish-list. I also have lists on scraps of paper lying about, but when time comes to actually start a new project I can’t find the list and start on something completly random. I hope you don’t mind if I steal the idea of keeping my wish list on my blog.

  4. Meris, your post, which I enjoyed immensely, is leading me to some (hopefully productive) reflection about some of my own creative foibles, so thank you. I will often respond to a request that I lend my skills to someone else’s project by explaining that I am currently fully engaged for at least the next (fill in number of weeks or months). If I do think there is reason to try to fit in their request in that future, I will offer to “put it on my list.” You can probably guess where this is going…
    As for the to-do list itself, I am less troubled by the list that is never completed than I am by the associated stash of materials that keeps growing. It seems to me that this habit of collecting for projects I am not ready to start is probably psychologically much the same as eating when one isn’t hungry.

    1. I like your comparison to eating when one isn’t hungry. I’m preparing to move in a few months and it is casting a bright light on my sewing stash. I might take this opportunity to downsize a bit.

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