2.4.2014, 15 comments

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!

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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.

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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….”.

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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.

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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.

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Am I on to something? Do you feel like this, or have you? And what helped you become a maker?

Felicia

* 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 😉

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Text and images by Felicia from The Craft Sessions: www.thecraftsessions.comwww.facebook.com/thecraftsessions

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Comments

  1. Mickey Louth says:

    My mom always told me “If you can follow a pattern you can make anything”. She was right! I wasn’t intimidated by books/patterns and taught myself to knit, sew, crochet, and all manner of needle work. It may not be perfect, but it is functional and I keep honing my skills each time I make something.

  2. Laura - Behind the Hedgerow says:

    i think you’ve hit on something here. Recently I was mulling over why, when reading sewing blogs, the term ‘talented’ never sits well with me. Usually you see it when a blogger is introducing another blogger and invariably refers to her as talented. Nothing wrong with a bit of flattery, which of course is what it’s intended to be, but that term talented has a sense of innateness about about which, like you said, isn’t necessarily true.

    Your post also brings to mind a study I was reading recently about raising children and the danger of labelling them talented or gifted. These terms imply that one is born with or without them, as if their destiny is predetermined, and thereby overlooking the key ingredient of hard work as a means to success.

    In the study they gave a challenging task to both ‘gifted’ and ‘normal’ kids. They found that the ‘gifted’ ones gave up first because since they believed that accomplishing a task was a black and white affair of either being able to do it or not there was no need to persevere. The ‘normal’, ones that perhaps had been praised for hard work and effort, stuck with the task to the end.

    I think your example is a perfect case in point of this study. You’re right, so many people think that sewing (or many other skills for that matter) are a matter of being talented and if they can’t do them successfully straight away then they assume they’re not talented and then give up. But, all us sewists know, it’s more an issue of practice, working hard, making mistakes and, yes!, BELIEVING you can do it!

    Thanks for starting the conversation.

  3. Jodi R says:

    Thank you for this insightful post. I come from creative. My mum sewed for us when we were growing up out of necessity … tight budget and limited availability of affordable kids cloths where we lived. She loves to experiment and learn new things & has taken to embroidery and fibre art. My sister is also a try anything – have a bash kind of creative. I am a perfectionist who struggles to overcome my need to make it “right” so that I can actually “make it”. It is difficult to overcome that perfectionist mindset but I have grown to realise that if it has to be perfect it won’t be at all so as good as I can do is what it will be and I will celebrate that it is.
    Thanks again for sharing.

  4. Nienke says:

    Great post, thanks! I recognise a lot of your statements 😉 I learnt to sew and knit as a kid and now teach my daughter, but just like you I learnt SO much the last few years through blogs and indie patterns… And yes, people act as if it’s a unique talent, whereas it is mainly a simply learnt skill.

  5. Lisa says:

    What a lovely blog!!! This should be the mantra of everyone, regardless of what they are trying to create!! Bravo!!

  6. Kelley says:

    This article hits home. I live in a relatively small town, where big corporate stores are the main source for people to purchase what they wear and what they eat. When I tell them that yes, I am a stay at home mom, AND a maker/ craft blogger they look at me with confusion. As I explain what it is to be a “craft blogger” the next statement I get is, oh wow, I wish I could make things. I always say you can, you just have to try and practice. They then ask if I will make a “thing” for them, and ask how much it will be and then they want to know why its “so expensive” and we’ve just circled around to the DIY part of the conversation… ho hum. Lovely article. thank you.

  7. BJMarley says:

    I think you are right on target. If we don’t see others that we identify with doing things, we think we can’t do things.

  8. Carolyn says:

    My biggest fear in trying something such as sewing, crocheting ect was failure. Failure to not meet a certain expectation, from who, I don’t know, but it was always if you don’t get it right the first time, you’re a failure so don’t even try. I’ll be easier on myself from now on. & yes imperfections are quite beautiful. Thank you for saying what I needed to hear.

  9. Sewcial Warrior says:

    I love this post. I have similar conversations with people often and I love the fact that I’m learning all the time. I’ve always been a ‘maker’ of things but have hopped between one thing and another- it’s only since I’ve struck on sewing, which I’ve been doing regularly for about a year, that I seem to have found the one that has stuck and is the right fit for me. I learn something new with each project and look back on where I was a year ago and can’t believe I’m making some of the things I produce.

  10. joanne roberts says:

    My mother was also a sewing teacher. Between my mother & grandmother, we children started to learn to sew at 3-4 years old. Even my brothers had to learn. Unfortunately my daughter & nieces had no desire to learn until last week when my youngest niece announced she was ready to learn. My sister & I were just beaming. You would have thought she had just won the noble peace prize. So we discussed the basics and will start her with a sewing kit so she can learn her stitches. She is a new wife & mother 31 yes old. Its never to late to learn and its nice to see her carry on the tradition

  11. Teri says:

    Great post! I’m always telling people that anyone can sew, but all I ever get are funny looks 🙂 So I decided my children will all be able to sew just to prove that it is possible.

  12. Allison says:

    This is so great! I constantly tell people that seeing isn’t hard and that you just have to practice. They don’t believe me! I’ve offered many friends to teach them how to sew, I’ve given cousins basic swing sewing machines and taught them and they still don’t believe they can do it without guidance! It’s so frustrating that these people have the desire to create, but they lack the confidence to try. My family was not crafty, but when I started reading mommy blogs I also stumbled upon sewing blogs and it inspired me to tr. And now 3yrs later I can make pretty much anything on a seeing machine, completely taught from web tutorials and trial and error. Thank you for putting this up, I know I’m not the only prison that believes that anyone can be creative.

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