Believe you can make!
So I was at kinder pickup last week and we were chatting about sewing (as you do), and I heard that classic ripper of a line “I’m terrible at sewing. I just can’t get it.” And I did what I always end up doing. Saying something along the lines of “Patterns that are around these days are fantastic as they teach you as you sew – as opposed to old school patterns that assumed that you knew the techniques required”. And then “The diagrams are much better so you learn techniques as you sew”. And then “Sewing isn’t actually difficult – it just requires a bit of practice”.
I make things most places I go (always have knitting in my bag) and I often wear handmade clothes, so “making things” is a conversation that people bring up with me a lot. People want to talk about it. And so over time I’ve begun to notice how many people have said something along those lines to me over the last ten years, and started wondering about the why.
Why do people think they are bad at making, and that they can’t learn? And why does there seem to be a perception that you are either good at crafting (“you’re so talented”) or you’re not?
I’m here to say that it’s not about talent!
In my experience, the attitude of “I’m so terrible at …..” OR “I just rubbish at it that I kept making mistakes” OR “I tried but just couldn’t get it” is so prevalent within our society that I have done a bit more thinking about why.
And I think there are some clues in what has changed in society over the last hundred years. For starters there is less knowledge floating around in the community about domestic handcrafts such as sewing. Whereas once you would have learnt sewing and knitting from your family (aunts, grandmothers etc) or even from school, nowadays those avenues for knowledge gathering are not available to most of us.
However when I think what has been lost, and the thing that leads to all the comments above, it is more subtle than just a loss of skills. I think we have lost the belief that we can make and that making with our hands is learnable.
I want to clarify that we aren’t talking about making a couture lace wedding dress by hand. We are talking about making a beautiful dress, or a quilt or a cardy.
There is this wonderful Elizabeth Zimmerman (a wonderful woman and fabulous knitter) from her life-changing book Knitting Without Tears from 1971. She says that she has come across people who say “I’ve always wanted to knit, but I just can’t.” Elizabeth continues “Pish, my good woman, you can plan meals, can’t you? You can put your hair up? You can type, write fairly legibly, shuffle cards? All of these things are more difficult that knitting.”
Making – whether it be knitting or sewing or weaving or crochet or quilting – is simply a matter of practice*. None of it is really difficult. It is simply learned skill on skill with practice. And then you learn another, and then another, and then you wake up one day and have found you are on the other side. People are calling you “talented” and “creative”. And saying things like “I wish I could….”.
I think that the loss of belief is the key to why we are so afraid to try and so quick to quit. And I think maybe that it comes from our childhood. We are no longer surrounded by people making things with their hands as part of their day. Due to need, and the lack of disposable clothing and income, people mended and made as part of their daily life. It wasn’t a hobby but a necessity; a part of life. This daily observation of people just getting on with it and making things, translated to an underlying belief that it was learnable. For many people sewing and knitting was part of their skill set – like most people now use a computer, cook or drive**.
I’ll give you an example from another craft to demonstrate what I mean. This guy I know, let’s call him Will***, grew up in a family of tradespeople. He isn’t one. He has always worked in corporate job. But he does all his home maintenance and he builds stuff. Sheds, chicken houses, rewiring lamps, making bunks – you name it and he will have a go at it. Even if he hasn’t done it before, he gets on to the internet and figures it out. “How to hang a door” was one of the many tutorials I have seen Will look at over the years and he did a slow but fantastic job. He isn’t phased by something he doesn’t know about to do with building, because he believes he can learn it. He finds a person who can teach him, or a book or an internet tutorial and off he goes….
I was lucky enough to grow up with a mother that is a sewing teacher. And yes I learnt to sew when I was small. BUT the skills that I have now have pretty much all been learned as an adult over the last ten years. I sew differently to my mum. She thinks the way I put my waistbands on is much harder than it needs to be. I would argue that it gives a nicer finish. And although she can knit, she didn’t teach me. I learnt from youtube when I was nearly 30, and now I am much more of a knitter than she is. What I did get from her though was so key – and that was the belief that I could learn it if I tried and practiced.
So how do you get the belief if you don’t have it?
I think that starting with the basics is great. Do something simple but achievable. Get some quick wins.
Some encouragement helps – try to find a friend that knows something and harass them to teach you. OR go to classes at your local store – but make sure that it is one where the teachers are really encouraging and think that mistakes are part of the process.
Use the internet. There are wonderful wonderful tutorials out there. Find a blog you love and follow it.
Use new school patterns – the ones that teach you things as you make them. This means use independent pattern makers patterns – labels you find on the internet. Some are known for their skill at teaching while you are sewing/knitting. For example for kids clothes try and Oliver and S pattern. I guarantee you will learn something even if you are an experienced sewer.
Start with something that inspires you. Find a pattern you really really want to make and then learn the skills you need to be able to do it. This might mean making three other things first to learn the skills. For example – my first knitting project was a lace shawl. It was a total disaster that I ripped out 4 times. And I finished it with some interesting holes in it however, the recipient loved it. And I learnt a LOT about knitting.
Acknowledge that “Mistakes are how you learn“ so embrace them. They are often very pretty.
Am I on to something? Do you feel like this, or have you? And what helped you become a maker?
* I should qualify this by saying that it is inevitable that the odd person really won’t be able to get it. But definitely not most. Like some people are crappy drivers and some people are race car drivers – most people fall somewhere in between. And that is enough – it means we can get from a to b and enjoy it on the way.
**sewing and driving are not disimmilar. Except sewing is easier as you only use one foot and if you make a mistake no one gets hurt.
*** not his real name 😉