Friday, March 19, 2010

Why Am I Sew Awful at This?

I didn't take pictures.

This was so you would consider that my failure, the amount at which I suck at this, might be believed to be exaggerated in some way. That you might think I'm mocking myself. But I'm not. I really suck. Really.

I am glad, that in my life, there are some things that I am good at.

I can remember things. I mean, ask me anything, and if I happen to have read about it or talked to someone who has, I can talk at length about it. I remember movies I've seen, people I've seen them with, and the person who told me I ought to see the movie, since it was so good. I remember songs from elementary school programs--which is one of the many reasons elementary music programs are so important--and all the many books I've read in my life.

Last month, it occurred to me that there was a television show that aired only a few episodes back in the day.

Then I thought some more about it. I mapped out the plot line in my mind.

I then remembered what actors I'd seen in it. I remembered the man who played the lead FBI agent in charge of the 4400 investigation...and I remembered that it was where I saw the actor who played Jayne in Firefly starring in this show...

Then I remembered what the intro looked like. Then I went to IMDB, I found the actors, and I compared their various shows. From there, I discovered the name of the show.

Noticing the female lead, I said, "She looks familiar." And I checked the cast of the recent Star Trek movie. And noted that yes, she had indeed been covered head to foot in green paint, playing the Orion woman who was Uhura's roommate. Did I mention that, even though I own that movie, I've only watched it once, in the movie theater, because it was so good I don't want to ruin it by watching it again and again. I'm giving it time, so that the image of it will fade a little so I don't accidentally memorize the dialogue like I did with Return of the Jedi. And Star Trek VI. And most of The X-Files.

But that's not all. I'm a decent writer. There's that, too.

Oh, and I can read well. Very well. I read faster than anyone I work with. And can analyze with the best of them.

And I can knit. And do varied crafts. I'm good with all sorts of crafty things. I can make jewelry, scrapbook, decoupage, card making, alter books, and all sorts of other things.

I can cook! Oh, I can make lovely tasty things. My family loves it when I cook.

All those are skills. They aren't all marketable, but they're skills! People get jobs doing those things. They really do.

And I consider myself to be a relatively intelligent person. I'm a fast learner. I'm telling you all these things so that when I show you how much I suck you'll understand it doesn't happen all the time, so I do have some kind of worth.

Not a whole lot, though...

There are these bags. They're cute. Really cute. Rachael sent me the link to them.

I decided to make them.

This was a good opportunity, I thought, for me to learn to sew before making the dress that I've decided to make. The dress that will so not be finished in time for Audrey's wedding. But I plan to try.

I would learn to use a sewing machine. I would learn to follow a pattern. In short, I would learn to sew.

Now, if I hadn't decided not to show you pictures this time, this is where I would break out pictures of my grandmother's dresses. She once went into a tailor's shop when she was looking for work. "Do you have experience?" The tailor asked her. "Yes," Gran said.

But, of course, she didn't.

She learned it all, teaching herself everything so effectively that she was finishing work faster than the tailor could send her things to make.

And you should have seen the clothes she made for herself, for my mother, for me...I have a kilt of Scottish wool that she made with so many wouldn't believe how lovely it is. It's a beautiful thing to look at.

My mother can sew. She made me all kinds of clothing, lovely little dresses. She made the quilt I have on my bed. By hand.

But I have never learned. Well, unless you count all the hand-sewing I do. But all of that takes place in a closed off place, my room, with my own supplies. I've never really used a sewing machine. I've never followed a pattern.

It isn't that I haven't tried. It's just that every time I sit down to learn with Mom, it ends with me crying.

I don't even know why. It must just be that things...go wrong. Really wrong. And while I don't remember why they went wrong in the past, since the memories were clearly sew traumatic that I blocked them out.

But today would be different. I would make a bag. It would be good.

Here are the things that went wrong:

1. I chose a pattern that was more a guide and less a pattern. Meaning that there really wasn't anything to use as a template.

2. I took the guide's advice of "1/4 yard" literally. Not realizing that, according to the directions, I would need a fat quarter, not an actual quarter of a yard.

3. When at Walmart, since I had not bothered to print my pattern and seemed to have lost my written directions, I assumed that the zipper would go over the top of the bag. This would mean that I need a zipper the length of the bag. This was not true. My zipper needed to be not 7" (as I guessed) but 12". This would make it long enough to go down the sides of the bag. Always remember the accurate length of your zipper. This is important.

4. When we discovered the zipper issue, I went to Walmart and switched zippers. However, Walmart according to the worker I spoke to, doesn't have the best supply of zippers. "Our zipper selection sucks," she said as I dug through them, looking for the right length. I ended up with zippers that were 22" with one 12". This was...not the greatest, though we can deal with that. Zippers can be shortened.

5. Instead of having my mother read through the guide and figure out what might cause issues, we decided to work out the pattern together. Step one: cut 12" by 16"
rectangles from each fabric and the interfacing.

6. Fabric one? Correct. Fabric two: all done. Why was fabric two a different size? Frustrated, we set this aside. What had we done wrong? Interfacing? Correct. Except, no, now it wasn't. Because, "We'll need to make the interfacing and the first fabric smaller, now, in order to match," Mom said.

This was where the bad happened. "I broke it," I said. Because fabric breaks. "I suck at this. I suck at geometry. I suck."

I handed over the rotary cutter. I handed over the fabric. I walked away.

"How's it going, Laura?" Paul asked as I walked past his doorway and into my room.

"I suck," I replied.

In the background, I heard my mother say, "See, this is why it doesn't work every time I try to teach her this."

And she's right.

Here is why I have trouble learning to sew: You can't make a big mistake at the beginning.

When you knit, if you cast on the wrong number of stitches, if you twist your knitting when you join it into the round, or if you fail to set up your pattern right, you can rip it out. In fact, if you knit the whole sweater and screw up, you can still fix it. You can fix almost anything. Knitting isn't really permanent, unless you're working with mohair or another yarn that clings to itself as you knit with it. You have to mess up again and again to make your yarn unusable, and if that's a habit for you, you can always work with a yarn that's ultra forgiving, like acrylic, when you're starting out.

But when you're learning to sew, the first thing you do is cut your fabric. If you screw that're screwed.

You need to then go back to the fabric store and buy a new chunk of fabric. And if you screw that up...another.

Meanwhile, the stack of fabric sitting on the floor next to your sewing machine keeps getting bigger. That is not something you want.

I went into my room. I opened this window. I started writing about this experience for your fun and amusement. And then a knock came at my door. Like that one there. No Mom, I don't know where the band-aids are, or the anti-biotic ointment. Sorry.

But that knock was Mom. She came in, sat on the floor, and spread out the now equally-rectangular pieces of fabric. She spread them out and looked up at me.

"I just wanted you to see this," she said. "When you sew, you have a quarter of an inch of fabric on each edge."

She traced her hand over the edge of the fabric. I nodded.

"I need to be done with this now," I told her. And what happened next is exactly the reason why this Mom-teaching-me-to-sew thing never works.

"So nothing's wrong with this," she continued.

"Except that it's the wrong size."

"That isn't important."

I felt my eyes well. Yes, I had failed. Yes, the bag would now be the wrong size, because I sucked so badly. My horrible, disastrous math skills had come to haunt me yet again. I would never be a real adult, because I could never hang a picture or a shelf, I could never put in tile, in fact, I could never even find the right sized frame for a picture. No, I was screwed for life because I didn't have a math friend to keep with me to crunch numbers for me like she did in high school, since I bet Rachael wouldn't like me to call her at all hours of the day and night because I'm having such a hard time figuring out sales tax.

Calculators can only do so much.

Finally, I felt better. Then, there was another knock. It was Mom.

"I figured it out," she said. "It's my fault."

I sat up, put down the computer. She led me out to the self-healing mat. And pointed at it.

She showed me the mat. There are marks for each inch on the mat. If you lay out your fabric and reach the 12, you get 12". Unless you go from the other side. On my mat, if you go from the other direction, measuring from the opposite edge to the 12, you get 11", not 12". This was what we did.

It's kind of like that math joke someone showed me in elementary school, where the teacher held out his hands and asked us how many fingers he had.

"Ten!" The class chorused.

"No," he replied. "I have eleven fingers."

"No, you don't!"

"Let's just check," he said.

He counted aloud from one pinkie to the thumb, "One, Two, Three, Four, Five."

Then he counted from the left, starting at the opposite pinkie, "Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven, Six. Six? Five plus six is eleven. So that means I have eleven fingers!"

This was the same concept behind the reason I ended up with one wrong piece and two right ones. And the reason Mom ended up with two other squares of paper, that she was making as a template, both 16" by 11". Not 16" by 12".


Turns out it runs in the family.

In the process of screwing this pattern up, it had never occurred to me that a mistake might not have been my fault. Nor did I consider that the fault might be split between the two of us. No. It had to all be my fault, because I am so stupid. Also, I'm kind of fat.

This is not a good or healthy way for me to live my life. This has to stop.

I might not have learned to sew today. I might not learn on Sunday, when we plan to break out the sewing machine. But now that I know that it isn't just me that makes these sort of mistakes, I feel more confident about learning in the future. I might actually end up with a bag that can hold yarn. Maybe not the size I'd been planning on making, but who cares? It will still hold a sock-in-progress, and that's all that really matters.

In the meantime, I'm using my self-healing mat. The mat that's middle is marked, that has an even number of inches on each side. The mat that has 12 on either side. That has 34" with an inch on each side that's not marked. Mom's is freakish, so the middle isn't so much the middle.

I'm going to work this out, and I'm going to have a beautiful dress to wear when I'm finished, plus tons of fun knitting bags I can carry projects in.

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