I’ve been sewing this week. Much of what I do both for work and for fun involve writing, reading, and listening. I’ve needed a way to take a break from words and work with my hands.
Over the years I’ve learned lots of sewing skills and techniques. I’ve learned about fabric types, what styles suit me, and how my body is shaped. The biggest lessons I’ve learned in sewing, however, have little to do with correct techniques and everything to do with living.
Ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away.
Sometimes I notice my fabric is off grain or I made a cutting error or didn’t get the pieces lined up quite right before I sewed them together. Fixing these problems is tedious and time consuming. Sometimes the only way to fix it is to start over completely.
It’s so tempting to just keep pushing ahead, hoping the issue will somehow resolve itself or at least won’t be too noticeable in the end. Occasionally the problem doesn’t turn into a big deal and no one but me is any the wiser. But more often, what would have been a small inconvenience if I’d dealt with it right away becomes a much bigger issue.
We do this, don’t we? We tell ourselves our job really isn’t so bad because it seems easier to stay than create a new opportunity. We dismiss a friend’s hurtful comments as just the way they are because it seems easier than setting boundaries. We pretend we’re happy because we’re afraid to feel our sadness. All of these things may seem easier in the moment, but our problems don’t disappear if we refuse to acknowledge them, they just get more entrenched.
Doing everything right doesn’t mean the end result will suit me.
I’ve sewn clothes I never wear. Technically there’s nothing wrong with them, but they just don’t feel right on me. Just because I love the way the pattern looks on other people doesn’t mean it will suit my body type or my lifestyle.
We do this with a lot more than clothing. We see what looks good for someone else or what we think will make us look successful. We can do all the right things—get the right grades, go to the right school, get the right job—only to realize the the life we’ve built isn’t right for us. We can beat ourselves up about it or we can learn from the experience and make better choices in the future.
New challenges seem impossible until we actually try.
I’m intimidated by new techniques—setting in sleeves, inserting zip flies, and sewing welt pockets. I see other people doing these things and assume they’re just much more experienced and skilled than me…until they share their fear of trying something I tackled years before.
We all face challenges, but for each of us the most intimidating challenge is the one we haven’t tried yet. Of course we can research and plan, but eventually we just have to go for it.
I tend to shy away from trying new things in a lot of areas of life. Being a beginner at anything is hard. I tell myself I don’t want to try things like water skiing or climbing, but honestly I’m afraid. My fear won’t just go away, but I can feel the fear and try the things I want to try anyway.
Making mistakes is part of the process and failure isn’t the end.
There’s a reason seam rippers are on every list of essential sewing tools. There are days when I spend way more time ripping out the seams I’ve sewn than actually sewing. It’s frustrating but it’s part of the process.
Everyone makes mistakes, even people who have been sewing for decades. I can get upset about my mistakes or learn from them (and maybe one of these days I’ll learn the lesson of paying closer attention to what I’m doing).
I hate making mistakes. Who doesn’t, right? But sewing has taught me mistakes and failures are part of life. If I hadn’t been willing to make mistakes and sew many failed garments, I would have never learned to sew. I’m learning to watch for where fear of making mistakes is keeping me from embracing new opportunities and have compassion for myself when I mess up.
I don’t know what I don’t know.
Looking back at my first sewing creations is a lesson in how far I’ve come, not only in skill but also in knowledge. I’d never heard of seam finishes or grainlines and didn’t know there was more than one way to sew a hem. The more techniques I try, the more I realize how much I have yet to learn. I can be appalled by how far those early projects are below my current standards or I can appreciate the process of getting where I am today.
With all the things I’m learning about myself these days it is tempting to criticize myself for not knowing better sooner. But the thing is…we don’t know what we don’t know. I can spend my energy criticizing my past self or I can focus on the opportunities to learn and grow where I am right now.
There are people willing to show me the way.
I say I taught myself to sew. In a way it’s true—I’ve never had an actual teacher sit with me and tell me what to do—but it doesn’t mean I’ve done it alone. There’s a thriving online sewing community filled with generous, encouraging people. Everything I’ve learned has come from a combination of utilizing sew-a-longs, tutorials, reviews, articles, and forums…and my own trial and error.
Sometimes we think we need to figure things out ourselves and do everything on our own. While it’s true no one can do our work for us, there are so many people willing to help us find our way. I’m learning to look around to see who is already doing something similar. What can I learn from them? This might mean actually asking for help or it could simply mean looking at what they’re doing and seeing what I can apply to my own work.
Take a break.
I can’t tell you how discouraging it is to sew a seam wrong and spend what feels like forever ripping it out and resewing it…only to realize I made the exact same mistake again. When I get to this point the only constructive thing to do is walk away for a while (although I usually have to sew the same seam wrong for the third time before I take the hint).
When things aren’t going well I have a tendency to push through and try harder. I’m learning to recognize when I need a break. Sometimes we need to take a step back and catch our breath so we can return with renewed energy and enthusiasm. Sometimes when things get really frustrating we need a moment to remind ourselves why we’re doing them in the first place.
The lessons we learn in one area can often be applied in other parts of our lives. I’d love to hear… Where have you found unexpected lessons or teachers? What have you learned? Where else are those lessons serving you?