A Maker's Journey - The Project

A Birthday Bunting

This week in A Maker’s Journey I present you: 12 meter of birthday bunting! But before you applaud my efficiency on having sewn 84 triangulare flags in two weeks, I shall confess these buntings have been sitting in my stash ready to be lined up for over 7 years now.

A relict of that time in my life when I thought it would be a good business idea to open an Etsy shop and sell buntings. I was wrong of course. It was a highly unsuccesful idea, which cost me a good few hundred pounds in fabric, binding and website graphics before the penny dropped. 

Although it didn’t, did it. Instead I found myself with a rather large stash of unused fabric and bias binding. Plus about 120 tiny bunting flags that I had enthusiatically sewn up immediately and then didn’t know what to do with as no one was buying my buntings. 

In the end, of course, it all became the core of the stash that inspired this journey. Not entirely wasted then. But it is safe to say, it filled me with great satisfaction to finally sew those little flags up for their intended purpose. 

I had been dreaming of creating some festive bunting for our house for years now. I always imagined turning our dining room into a cheerful installation for every birthday and celebratory occasion, something that would make your heart sing as you stepped into the room.

Now, as I said, these flags have been ready to go for years now. Yet it took me once again nearly two weeks to finish a project. While I ironed and pinned and rattled the seemingly endless chain of flags through the sewing machine I did start to wonder why. As once again I found myself thinking that my vision of this project and my lived experience didn’t match up.

When dreaming about being on A Maker’s Journey I had visualised this open wide meadow of time in which to make and create, but the reality is more like plucking weeds from the cracks of street corners. Where are these idle hours gone? Like the times when I would walk the family dog for hours across the fields near my parent’s house. Having come home from school in the early afternoon, and thereby having fullfilled all those obligations put on me, I got to enjoy this free space of time and thoughts.
When I became responsible myself to keep the scaffolding of my ife’s obligations together, I have obviously taken the same schoolish approach to it that I’ve been familiarised with. Scheduling everything into little time compartments. Except, it seems, time to be idle.

More so, I’ve started to realise that organising my commitments in this way means I never get to connect them to my energy levels, interests and whims. Which are such crucial elements to learning and creating. Furthermore it threw up a lot of questions for me regarding our school system the way I experienced it and most children still do today and wether it really achieves its intended outcome?!

But I digress, it did make me wonder though wether it is really that beneficial to plan fixed times for A Maker’s Journey in my week. Particularly as the fixed time slot it currently occupies is sandwiched between the weekly shop and pick up time from nursery for the oldest. Two rather stressful, high-energy absorbing events. And interrupted by lunch for me and all the cuddles and milk stops for the newborn.

I’ve come to realise being on this journey requires a lot of rethinking in areas I never anticipated. And so, while I hang the buntings ready for my 39th birthday, I begin to wonder in earnest how I can direct my life, and subsequently the lives of my children, to unfold by my needs rather than learned behavioural structures of timing and compliance? How can I ensure, I have time for the things I want to do with and in my life, yet simultaneously know the things that have to be done will be taken care of too?

A Maker's Journey - The Project

Two Hats and A Baby

Not a baby blanket, but an actual human being. That is what I’ve created in the three month since my last letter from the making road. Sewing-wise I have therefore very little to show at the moment, but I’m learning to be content with it.
Productivity, worth, money and our strange fascination with it all, has been very much on my mind lately. But before I delve into that I thought I’d give you a quick summary of the last 12 weeks:

It all began with the messy removal of a reduntant chimney in my little sewing studio, which led to so much more light but also required fresh paint (there was an incident with the tester pot not matching the actual paint but let’s not get into that), a new carpet and bespoke desks. Our neighbour is a very talented joiner and has created some simple magic for us, I must say.
Least to say all this was done and dusted mere days before my due date, which turned out to be uneventful anyway. I then spend another 10 days feeling heavy and cumbersome while rather impatiently awaiting the arrival of our second daughter. Who in the end came with such force in the early hours one morning, she certainly gave credit to her birth date (May the 4th ;). 
Naturally, there was some rest and recovery time before I slowly began to tip toe into the studio again. But I didn’t pull out the sewing machine until the sun came out in England and I realised my (now two!) children could really do with shady hats. Which led us to the here and now, three month, two hats and a baby later.

Where I ponder the crux of productivity and worthiness as I pick up the threads of this project. You see, originally I had envisioned this project to be noisier. Not just because of the constant running of the sewing machine, but the energy and time it would take up in my life. Instead the sewing machine has stayed largely quiet. Somehow in the competition of life’s should’s and must’s I find too many excuses not to sew. Don’t get me wrong, I was well aware that the impeding birth would hit the pause button on my Maker’s Journey for a while. It also seems only natural that with two children under 5, a newish house, an allotment and the dawning of our first home education year other things keep pulling on me. Wisphering, suggesting constantly how much more important they all are. Time, after all, is limited. 

But these past few months I found myself most distracted by doubt instead of other work, by indecicivness instead of action and ironically the constant worry of not being productive enough. When time became even more scarce I quickly arrived at the conclusion that if I do make time for sewing, I would need to know exactly what to do and how, in order to not waste this valuable resource. A clear paradox as this project is all about play and experimention which in their very nature require me not to know exactly what and how I’m doing things. It’s the entire point of this journey to figure things out as I go along. Yet, I busied myself with research and planning instead of sewing, so that when I do get to the making desk the path would be laid out in front of me.

When I eventually found myself in the studio ready to sew again, I found my thoughts of doubt there too and we continued to battle about how I should spend my time more wisely. 
Doubt particluarly loved to bring up the prodcutivity equation. Why does it take you five hours to sew a simple hat, it asked. You’d be better off just buying one! It’s not really worth your time, it said. There it was: productivity = money = worth?

While I’ve managed to quietly continue the work on the hats in all that thought fog, it still left me exhausted at the end. Requiring yet more rest and recuperation.
What is it, I’ve wondered about this need to feel productive. How have I lost that sense of value in experimentation and working things out, in not knowing until you know. Because there is value in it, that special kind of satisfaction when you look up from the road to see the distance you’ve covered. Before turning towards the open path again. Would life still feel the same if we managed to do everything on the first step? If every action immediately leads to the end? If we never find ourselves on unexpected detours? 

I doubt it and yet, I continue to worry at every step wether I should be quicker, and am constantly tempted to cut corners to make this project go faster. As if the only value really lies in the finished product. Not in the journey of making. 

A Maker's Journey - The Project

A 1980s Baby Blanket Cover

The original title floating in my head, while I spent most of March getting familiar with the seam ripper, had simply been a 1982 Baby Blanket – not just the cover. However, as the days and evenings went by were I slowly unpicked and then diligently re-assembled the work my mother had completed decades ago, any thoughts on running ahead with an easy project disintegrated like the frayed pieces of fabric I had pulled from the blanket. 

Only a few weeks into the journey I had to accept that I wouldn’t complete the blanket in time for this first letter from the road, let alone the top cover, ultimately forcing me to reconcile with a much slower pace than my enthusiasm had hoped for. 

Still, it seems fitting to have started this journey, which is about creating with care and frugality in mind, with a mend instead of a new make. Therefore, I’m grateful for opting for the repair of the oldest piece in my fabric collection: the baby blanket my mother had sewn for my arrival on Earth. (Interestingly the only piece of fabric, I can think of, my mother and I ever agreed on. We have a lot of things in common, but taste is not one of them. Clothes shopping with her in my teenage years was generally an exercise of eye rolling on my part and shoulder shrugging an hers as she pulled frilly dress after flowery blouse from the racks to present to her plain jeans and printless t-shirts wearing daughter.)

Yet, I couldn’t help feeling at times greatly mislead by the simple design of patchwork squares and sometimes crooked stitching that suggested the work of a beginner and therefore a straight forward fix. Instead was faced with a conscientious make and probably 100s of meters of thread, as my mother had taken great care of not only sewing the pieces together but sealing all edges of the small squares with zigzag stitches. Not to mention the cursing that ensued once I realised my underestimation of the fragility that nearly 40 years of use and love would bring to probably any object. As I began the tedious job of stitching it all back together and more than once had to undo a thread and re-sew the patches as their frail edges had disappeared into the sewing machine or worse found my darning needle in the later stages widening a hole rather than sealing it.

A timely reminder then to not only fully apply myself with care and consideration to this project, but also show myself grace and compassion in the face of my crumbling (literally) aspirations.
Words from Elizabeth Gilbert came to my mind in the midst of a particularly seam ripper intense phase:
‘I didn’t promise the universe to write something good’, she wrote in her bestseller Big Magic. ‘I only promised to write.’

And thus I realigned my tools that day and reminded myself that nope, I never said I would make anything good – particularly in the beginning – I just said I would make and write about it.

Thankfully for the salvation of my ego, it’s not like I haven’t anything to show for the past few weeks. At the time I’m writing this, I’ve replaced all torn pieces with new cotton squares and stitched most of the smaller holes back up, reinforcing the particularly delicate fabrics in the process.
For the replacement fabric I have landed, after much consideration, on some home-made naturally died scraps in plain green, grey and light blue from my stash. Which I once, a few summer ago, had made myself, when I figured natural dyeing could be my thing (I’m still undecided on that one). Rather than trying to hide the mend I wanted the new patches to be complementary to the existing ones without erasing the historical changes. 

For the repair of the smaller holes, I originally chose to darn them. However, after the first two holes only got bigger by my attempts to close them, I moved on to reinforcing the perforated patches instead, tacking some backing fabric to them with sashiko-style running stitches in colour matching embroidery thread. Nearly 5 holes down, there are only about as much to go. Before I can finally sew the cover and back together again, refilling the blanket with some lovely cotton batting.

And yet it is, given the tender state of things, still not without hesitation that I’m uttering the hope that I will soon be able to present a completed mend. Until then I shall get comfortable with the new pace of things around here and probably keep the seam ripper close by.

A Maker's Journey - The Project

A Pile

The Englishman’s scepticism is palpable as I get my camera out. In front of us, framed by the hawthorn hedge, balances a precariuosly but hopefully photogenicly stacked pile of fabrics on a kitchen stool. It’s unclear wether the eye roll is aimed at the structural soundness of my arrangement, why I had to haul it up here to the allotment for a picture or the entire endeavour that drives this photoshoot. 

Whichever, I can’t say I haven’t earned it. The pile itself is a physical testimony to my track record of unfinished, failed or forgotten projects. It consist of about four baskets and two bags of textiles. Scraps, remnants of past sewing projects, never-attempted clothes repairs and fruitless intentions manifested in over 20m of yet to be used bought or gifted fabric.

Thankfully despite all the visual evidence of my lack of success, my enthusiasm for new projects never seems to seize. Which brings us here to the hawthorn hedge. Where me and this pile of fabric are about to embark on a journey together. A voyage of making and writing; and I’ve lugged the boxes and bags up here to take a final picture before our departure.

Our destination is not quite clear yet. There is no map to guide us. Just a few travel rules and a vivid picture in my imagination of a clear home studio space and a blog full of words.

It’s a sunny place in my mind. Freed from all the fabric that has accumulated around me over the past 10 years and freed from the mental shackles that keep me tied to my past ideas.

I’ve often longed for a life where I make meaningful things and write meaningful words for a living. It is the very reason why this blog was originally created in 2016 and why time and again I bought fabric and accepted donations that might one day become something. Everything was always driven by a desire to somehow earn a small living with my words and hands from the comfort of my own home.

This time, however, I’ve taken money out of the equation. Neither the pile of fabric nor the blog will be about making a living anymore. They will be about the way I live. The rules for this project, therefore, are simple: Make and write about it.

Yet, in some respect it’ll be much harder than that. For one year, starting from today, I challenge myself to prioritise something that won’t potentially earn money yet will take time away from my responsibilities as a mother and home keeper.
Using my resources for other things than the immediate comfort of my family has seemed utterly indulgent for the past years. Hence the Maker’s Journey is quite the daring invititation to myself to become an intentional maker and storyteller simply because I long to be (although it undoubetly will benefit my family as it asks me to make beautiful and useful things for our lives with the materials at hand, practicing creativity and frugality).

So, while that pile might stand for my past failures it also proves that if nothing else, I do dare. And so accompanied by a last shoulder shrug from the Englishman, I hunch down, the camera shutter clicks and the journey begins.