Sew Grateful week, making things, and mountain climbing

Here is a quote from one of my favourite books ever:

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

This is why I sew. Learning and getting better at something is the best feeling in the world (especially when you get new clothes out of it).

The only problem is that the better you get, the less happy you are with your work. Because your knowledge of what you don’t know keeps expanding.

It’s like being at the bottom of a huge mountain shrouded in fog. You start off blithely because you can’t see the top, but the more you climb, the more the fog recedes, and you start to realise that it’s actually a really, really long way up, and your feet hurt, and you left your museli bars at the bottom (might be pushing this simile a bit too far now).

Here is a photo of me actually climbing a mountain. Visual metaphor ahoy.
Here is a photo of me actually climbing a mountain. Visual metaphor ahoy.

So the biggest high is when you first knit a holey swatch, or sew an elastic-waist skirt from quilting cotton. You don’t realise how crap it is, you’re just happy you made something.

But pretty soon you need a better hit. Tote bags and aprons aren’t enough – you move on to the hard stuff. Welt pockets and hand-picked zippers and Burda patterns with cryptic instructions. And it’s not enough just to make something, it has to be perfect.

Addiction symptoms include diagnosing innocent clothing wrinkles as bad fit, an obsessive need to finish seams prettily, and the making of totally impractical ‘couture’ garments.

That’s why I think Debbie’s Sew Grateful week is a lovely idea. It reminds me to be grateful of everything I’ve learnt, everything I’ve made, and the fact that I have the time, money, and privilege to be able to sew my own clothes for fun. And to enjoy the process rather than focusing on mistakes in the outcome.

Personally I am very grateful for:

  • People who take the time and effort to photograph sewing tutorials and tips, and then share them online for free. They have saved my bacon many a time.
  • The lovely people I’ve met, all from combining two solitary activities – sewing and blogging.
  • All the amusing, inspiring, informative, and interesting blogs out there, and everyone who writes them.
  • The fact that some people actually read my blog and even leave nice comments. You are all awesome.

Here’s another quote from the poet Sharon Olds (in Oprah magazine, of all unlikely places), which sums up why we need to keep making things:

Writing or making anything—a poem, a bird feeder, a chocolate cake—has self-respect in it. You’re working. You’re trying. You’re not lying down on the ground, having given up.

Here’s to everyone who hasn’t given up.


25 thoughts on “Sew Grateful week, making things, and mountain climbing

  1. Paul Elwell February 18, 2013 / 12:35 PM

    Your posts for mountain climbing are very helpful post. I saw your post its very inspirational post, Inspirational post Thanks for sharing this beautiful post.

  2. Chuck February 11, 2013 / 9:06 PM

    I didn’t bond with TOAFK as a ten year old but that quote is perfect. It feels like a book I should revisit next time I’m ill. Does that make sense? Your new haircut is great btw. X

  3. Thea February 10, 2013 / 3:47 PM

    I love this post – it sums up the learning experience so well. I’m sure I’ll re-read this post for inspiration and calm when I get frustrated at my lack of perfection in sewing in the future. Thank you!

  4. gingermakes February 8, 2013 / 4:11 PM

    Beautiful post! Those quotes are both new to me and are so true. You’re right– the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. But if you find joy in the process, in the learning, and in the time spent trying new techniques, it’s such a pleasant journey (or hike, to maintain your metaphor).

  5. Uzezi February 8, 2013 / 7:14 AM

    Thanks for the post . After some light reflecting, I realised that I do the same thing and get rid of the clothes . No posts on my blog, nothing and I become unhappy instead of being happy and I Really Enjoy Learning.
    I am going to keep trying.
    This post is beautiful and gave me what I needed.

    Thank you.

  6. Jenny February 7, 2013 / 9:56 PM

    I had to laugh at your diagnosis! I kept thinking, “Yes, that’s me. . .”
    Also, LOVED The Once and Future King! Except for the unicorn part which made me sad 😦 Thanks for sharing that quote–it’s been awhile since I’ve read it.

  7. joelle February 7, 2013 / 9:47 PM

    I meant to comment on the post about the arctic explorers, and then I meant to tell you how awesome your jeans are, and now, well, this post is just awesome, too. I completely agree about the love of learning new things and overdiagnosing wrinkles. How perfect to end with a quote stating that trying is a sign you haven’t given up?

  8. whatkatiedoes (@whatkatiedoes) February 7, 2013 / 11:45 AM

    What a lovely post – I love that quotation. I think you’ve hit on why I’m so obsessed with craft/cooking/anything classes and courses. I’m addicted to learning new things! I just need to get better at sticking with one and mastering it – doing those tricky perfecting bits rather than get another cheap hit from a new thing, ha ha.

  9. theperfectnose February 7, 2013 / 3:25 AM

    Nicely put, couldnt’ agree with you more. Especially the part about us all being awesome.

  10. Donna February 6, 2013 / 8:29 PM

    Here here.

  11. Scruffybadger February 6, 2013 / 7:15 PM

    Great post, really well said. And that’s the second awesome quote I’ve read from your fave book. I must read it.

  12. Debi February 6, 2013 / 6:53 PM

    What a brilliant post! It is so true that the more you learn, the more you realize how little you know! lol. This post was so uplifting and just a really good reminder to look up sometimes at how beautiful the mountain is…instead of just focussing on the trail.

  13. maddie February 6, 2013 / 5:42 PM

    I can see how and why the addictive need to get better can happen but it doesn’t have to be that way. If we constantly remind ourselves of how bad we were in the beginning, those feelings will go away. When I’m feeling frustrated, I remind myself about how far I’ve come.

  14. charityshopchic February 6, 2013 / 5:36 PM

    It’s so easy to slip into that mindset of perfectionism… great post!

  15. sweary sewer February 6, 2013 / 5:33 PM

    great quote.

    i echo point one. i don’t take pictures of my creations or blog about them, but i am SUPER grateful to all the people who do. googling my problem/s with a pattern always yields so much advice.

  16. CGCouture February 6, 2013 / 5:14 PM

    Awesome post! That is all. 🙂

  17. Tamsin W-P February 6, 2013 / 3:57 PM

    Well said – here’s to not giving up and eventually climbing the mountain!

  18. Saskia February 6, 2013 / 3:28 PM

    I’ve got a really bad case of looking up at the looming mountain at the moment! So thank you for writing this, it might just be the encouragement I needed to get my stalled sewing projects out of the cupboard in the hallway and try again.

  19. didyoumakethat February 6, 2013 / 2:58 PM

    What a truly lovely and eloquent blog post. Very inspiring indeed!

  20. Heather Jenkinson (@heatherdesign) February 6, 2013 / 2:53 PM

    This is a pretty timely post, for me – it’s a relief to know that I’m not alone in the occasional valleys of life (to extend your metaphor, if I may) and a hearty reminder to just keep on making pretty things even if they’re mostly excel sheets and specifications docs…(*yawn*). Lovely post. Your blog cheers me up.

  21. Vicki Kate February 6, 2013 / 2:40 PM

    Beautifully put. I love the not giving up quote.

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