Sunday, November 2, 2014

How'd You Get That Way?

Once my brother said to a rather large female friend of my Grammy's "You're fat!" He was probably 3. She stuttered a response something along the lines of "well....yes.....I am" and then to add salt to her wounds Garrett said; "How'd you get that way?" Ever since then the phrase "how'd you get that way?" has stuck in my head. He wasn't asking to be rude, 3 year old's can't really be rude, he was asking because he was curious. I'd say we were both curious kids who grew into curious adults.

I like hearing back stories, finding out how people got to where they are now. I am awkward at meeting new people because I just want to skip the chit-chat and get to the "how'd you get that way" questions. I love asking how people met their significant others. I love to hear about how people chose their profession, or the house they bought. I also adore when people ask me the "how'd you get that way questions." Who doesn't love taking about themselves right? (why else would people have blogs?! am I right?)

The other day I helped a co-worker sew something for her mother-in-law. She watched me sew the item and then remarked, how did you learn to do this? I thought I'd share the (long) story here.

My mom has been sewing all of my life. She's made tons of clothes for Garrett and I, and even my wedding dress. She likes to sew, knit and cross stitch, so I grew up seeing her doing those hobbies. Honestly, I don't remember really learning to sew. My mom says that I used to sit on the table next to the sewing machine while she sewed and watch her. I do remember a few time when she would leave the room and I would jump off the table and sit in her chair trying to reach the pedal and sew. She says that sitting on the table lead to sitting on her lap while she sewed. I can only imagine how helpful I must have been (nawt). We had a vintage sewing table in the kitchen that I used to play with. It never worked, but I guess I liked to pretend. I'm not sure which my mom taught me to do first hand sew or use the machine, probably hand sew. Who wants their 5 year old to sew through their finger? I can remember hand sewing little clothes and pillows for my dolls. I also remember getting frustrated that my stitches were not the same size and were much bigger than my mom's; I tended to be a perfectionist even then.
I swear this is me, not a boy. 

I seemed to stick with hand sewing for a while, mostly because I didn't exactly know how to use the sewing machine very well, but also because the things I was sewing were rather small and were just easier to sew by hand. Garrett had a teddy bear named Baxter, he would pay me a penny for each item of clothing I made for Baxter. That one eyed bear had quite a collection of clothes after a while. One summer we decided Baxter should get married to my bear Kimberly (named after the Power Rangers). I spent hours making Baxter a tux and Kimberly a wedding dress. On July 12th (Garrett's birthday) Baxter and Kimberly got married; a stuffed leprechaun performed the ceremony, and there was a mini cake made from a bit of Garrett's real birthday cake. It should be mentioned that Baxter also needed many "surgeries" performed by my mom of myself to re-stuff him because his insides kept falling out. He was a very loved bear, and still lives with my brother.

Aside from sewing for Baxter I tended to get inspired by movies and books and try to sew clothes for my teddy bears based on what I had read or seen. I vividly remember spending hours making a hoop skirt from straws for a teddy bear after seeing Little Women for the first time. It never turned out the way I wanted it to though.

The summer between my third and forth grade year I started using the sewing machine more often. We had a babysitter named Elizabeth who lived next door. She would drive us to art camp and swim lessons everyday. Regardless of the weather we had to get out of the pond at exactly 1:35 in order to go to the market in town to get a bar of candy for each of us, and make it home in time for Elizabeth to watch her favorite soap opera, which came on at 2. Being home from the beach at 2 left a few hours of open time for Garrett and I to either get into a lot of trouble, or to crafts. Garrett usually chose the trouble option, and I usually picked crafts. I'd sew using scraps of fabric, make friendship bracelets,  and do little needle point kits. A few summers later when our parents started letting us stay home during the day without a babysitter I kept filling my free time with sewing. Whenever I ran into trouble I'd count down the hours/minutes until my mom got home to get me out of a bind.

I have mentioned here before that following patterns has never been my strong suit. Patterns for doll clothes and accessories were not as popular as they are now, so there were not many pattern options anyways, even if I had wanted or had access to something along those lines. I have also mostly been much happier to make up the pattern as I go. It's easy for me to visualize the end product and the steps to get there. I think this developed over time, but also has something to do with having a smidgen of the same skills as my dad. He's a carpenter and can build things with minimal measurements or drawings. When we build things together he only draws a picture so I can see it, not because he needs it. I'd like to think his ability either rubbed off on me or was just in my head to begin with. It was probably a mixture of the ability to visualize and many instances of trial and error that got me to the level of sewing I was at in middle school.

All through middle school we had to take Family Consumer Science, I usually messed up the cooking part but excelled at the sewing. We made lunch bags and stuffed toys. Some of the items we sewed I remember being bored by because they were too easy.  I also finished projects so fast that I offered do my classmates projects secretly; I was such a rebel in sixth grade. This was the point where I switched from sewing bear clothes to sewing purses and making shoes. Yes shoes. I was positive I would be a shoe designer in the future and used all the available resources I had to make this dream a reality. At that point resources included wood and fabric. Not the best shoe making materials. I had a pair of "high heels" made out of plywood and an old closet rod. I had to add a wooden lip at the bottom of those shoes so my toes would not slip out of my 5 inch heels. This pair never really made it to the wearing stage, as I was barely able to walk normally as a 13 year old with normal shoes. I made one pair of "flip flops" out of solid blocks of oak that I cut out using a band saw and a pencil marking of the shape of my foot. Then I covered the wood with fabric and made fabric straps to keep them on my feet, which I used a staple gun to attach. I proudly wore them to school one morning. My pride lasted all of 10 minutes before I started clomping across the gym floor to get to the point where my friends always stood before school started. Everyone in the whole gym (all 4 grades of students) turned to look at who was making the huge racket. Every step made an echo, everyone stopped talking to stare and my face got redder and redder. That was the end of my shoe designing career and the beginning of my "awkward phase".

After giving up shoe creation I went back to sewing. I made a lot of little drawstring bags and several purses. My mom was still helping me a lot, and also sewing things for me that I could not do myself. I had a hard time getting my ideas from my brain onto paper and into her pattern minded head to get what I actually wanted. Many times she'd listen to what I wanted, then when we were buying fabric would get a pattern that kind of fit what I was describing and use that. It was so nice of her, but I am sure I was not as appreciative as I should have been at the time. I think my body shape at 13 did not help either. I was as tall as I am now in 7th grade, and about 50 pounds lighter with no "shape" to speak of. Clothes obviously did not fit me the way I expected because I was too busy imagining myself to look like the models in my Delia's catalog to realize what I actually looked like. A pencil with acne. You couldn't pay me enough money to agree to relive those years.

Not having items turn out the way I wanted them too frustrated me, but also fueled me. I kept trying, and proudly wore my creations to school despite the ridicule I am sure I endured. My sewing and crafting in general went through periods of great enthusiasm and periods of not being interested all through high school. In 11th grade I got a job working at the town dump; still the best job I've ever had to this day. Lots of people would bring in clothes to donate and my co-worker Cathy and I got first dibs. Some things were really cool but not exactly my style or size. I'd take interesting things home and make them bigger or smaller, or add panels of fabric at the bottom of pants to make them longer. This was super fun, and saved me a lot of money. One cute boy who moved from England senior year signed my yearbook; "you look pretty good for someone who gets all her clothes at the dump." My heart melted and I was sure that meant he was in love with me. He was not.

High school was also the time that my great Grandmother gave me her old feather weight sewing machine and my Grammy bought me a sewing machine of my own for Christmas. At 16 I had two sewing machines, talk about lucky. Having my own machines to figure out how to use, and inevitably mess up was big for me. I didn't have to worry about screwing something up on my moms fancier machine. I also had a license and money (hello dump job) so I could buy my own fabric, talk about revolutionary. I could pick out my own fabric and supplies instead of relying on my Mom to drive me and pay for things. High school ended, thank goodness, and I managed to make it out alive.

At the beginning of college I focused primarily on school, diving, and finding a boyfriend, and left the sewing machines at home. I did buy supplies and create things I'd been dreaming about over vacations and breaks from school though. Lots of belts and drawstring bags. Once senior year rolled around and I had my own place to live, and had secured a boyfriend, I started sewing again. I made myself a Halloween costume with no pattern. I also made a lot of throw pillows and curtains for every window in our three room apartment because that's what I thought you were supposed to do when you moved in with your serious boyfriend; serious meaning you'd been dating for a year.

After graduating I had a whole summer that I was kind of lost during. I lived with my Grammy and worked at the local swimming pool. I had a lot of free time so I sewed Charlie a quilt; again because I thought that was what you were supposed to do when you really really loved someone. After the summer was over my sewing mo-jo continued into graduate school. I had classes all day for a few days a week and then had a few days totally off to myself. I could not possible study or read textbooks the entire day; sewing was a welcomed reward for writing a paper or reading a few chapters. It also filled my time between waiting for Charlie to graduate from college and move in, and when he was working on the weekends at his retail job. At this point in time I started sewing clothes from scratch instead of modifying clothes I already had. I still needed a lot of help from my mom and would save projects for visits to Maine where she would help me sew zippers or explain where I had gone wrong. This is when I started keeping this blog. I had been following a few sewing blogs, and felt like I wanted to share my projects too. At the end of graduate school my friends and I formed the very short lived "sewing club" where I tried to teach them to sew. One friend already knew how, and the other spend her time making us a delicious dinner. She has since started sewing a t-shirt quilt, so I feel like I maybe helped inspire her a little bit.

After six years of "higher education" I graduated (thanks Mum and Dad) and Charlie and I moved to the town I got a job in. We got a two bedroom apartment because Charlie was sick of hearing the sewing machine, and sick of the mess my crafting left everywhere. We were engaged and a lot of my free time went into planning a wedding and worrying about tiny details that only I noticed. I did find time to sew purses and the occasional skirt and top for myself. In the last four years I have gone through periods of being totally into sewing, and not so into it. Mostly due to what else is going on in my life, not so much a lack of interest but a need or desire to focus on something else at the time. I cannot even begin to add up the amount of time I have spent sewing in my lifetime. I was reading recently about the idea of "flow", when you're so immersed in an activity that the steps come easily to you, you lose track of time, you don't worry about screwing things up, and the task is just hard enough to keep you interested but not so hard that you can't master it. I'd say this happens a lot of the time when I am sewing now. I know it didn't used to happen, when I was still learning. Now it comes easily and I could sew for 2 hours and it feels like 30 minutes. This is highly annoying to Charlie, because 5 more minutes turns into an hour and I do not even realize it. And now we're caught up. I can sew button holes, follow patterns, and for the most part sew things without bursting into frustrated tears and running to my mom.

I think this (insanely long) post does a good job of telling my sewing story, but also explaining why I am who I am. Sewing has been a big part of my life and has helped shape me into who I am today. I'd say I stick with things longer than most people, think more outside the box, and am more creative than others in part thanks to my experiences with sewing.

Do you have anything that you think has helped shape you as a person?


1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad (for you really) that you wrote this all down. A good keepsake. Now print it out and put it somewhere safe so that you'll have this "story" even when the internet doesn't exist in its current form!


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