Category Archives: Sewing philosophy

Slowing it down

I thrive on deadline pressure. My 24-year career as an editor and publications manager has been spent producing publications on time and on budget.

I am also always in a hurry to get to the next items on my endless lists. Living in the future, rather than the present, you might say.

I’m not sure if the reason I’m a good fit for a deadline-oriented job is because I’m always in a hurry, or if the reason I’m always in a hurry is because I’ve lived my entire professional life on deadline. It’s the chicken and the egg.

But the idea that it’s all about the journey, not the destination, has been rolling around in my brain for a while now. I’ve been wanting to slow things down; but in the rush of everyday life — work, family, volunteering — I had not found a way to do so.

And then, in November, my employer of 17 years and I mutually agreed to part ways. I was no longer a fit for them, and they were no longer a fit for me. So we amicably separated.

And I’ve discovered a little time to slow down. This has benefited not only my life, but also my sewing.

I read a quote in Threads magazine quite some time ago that went something like this: “Why are you rushing? When you finish this project, you’ll just be starting another one.” And more recently, I saw somewhere: “Why are you in a hurry? It’s your hobby.”

The teal dress is a perfect example of my slowing down: A partial muslin, a wearable muslin, then the final product with time-intensive seam finishes. Slow, sloww, slowww.

But, in my mind at least, a triumph. To me, that dress was a culmination of everything I know about sewing, 30 years in.

And the rest of my life?

I’m slowing that down as well. Sometimes, when I find myself rushing, I stop and instruct myself: “Slow down. Do one thing at a time.”

My editing is better. My house is (marginally) cleaner. I make more meals. I spend more quality time with my children. I (try to) make shorter to-do lists.

And I feel like I’m getting more done and enjoying it more.

I know the sewing is better. More importantly, the life is better. My business as an independent editor and publications manager is not yet where I want it to be, but I’m also taking my time with that. I want to build a business I can be proud of. To do so, I may have to speed my life back up. But I hope it won’t ever be as fast as it was before.

Modern life seems to dictate that we be in a hurry all the time. Our ever-present smart phones send us constant reminders of our multiple obligations and the next items on our to-do lists. But do we really need to rush through life?

I think there’s room for us all to slow down a little.

Why my serger and I no longer speak

I can use a serger. Honest. I took a full semester class at the local junior college learning how to use that darn thing. I can thread it, turn beautiful corners with it and make cool-looking home dec fringe on it.

And still we can’t work out our differences.

The last time I tried to use it, I would thread it, it would sew beautifully for 4 inches, then it would make horrifying kachunk noises and jam up. Over and over again. I am convinced it is not my fault. I have 3 semester units that say so. I think the timing is off. I’ve had the serger for 17 years, and it has never been serviced. But then, it’s barely been used.

Regardless, I got so frustrated during this incident that I had a crazy thought: What if I tossed it out the window and never used it again? Well, the broken-window-for-no-good-reason part sounded crazy, but the never-use-the-serger-again part? That sounded, well, absolutely liberating!

The Fancy Damn Sewing Machine has a straight stitch for knits. It also has a nice overcast stitch. It doesn’t trim for me, but is that so much to give up to eliminate a considerable amount of frustration from my life?

Right now, I am a one-machine seamstress. And monogamy feels really good.

So, my serger and I have ended our relationship. Said serger remains in its trolley case in the back of the closet, in case I ever decide it has learned its lesson and deserves a second chance.

Meanwhile, we are no longer on speaking terms. And I don’t miss the cussing at all.

Tip of the day: When NOT to sew

I shouldn’t even have turned on the machine …

After three-quarters of a painfully unproductive weekend was over (no sewing, no cooking, no cleaning), I attempted to salvage some sense of accomplishment via my sewing machine.

I should have known better.

The thread snarled, a dart got mangled in an errant line of stitching and I sewed the zipper seam from the large dot down, instead of from the large dot up. Then I undid everything and tried it all again.

I fought my way through a couple of hours of sewing with mediocre results and called it quits. Fretting over my inability to accomplish much of consequence the entire weekend, I ended up not going to bed until after midnight. I woke up before the alarm went off. I had been awake all of 5 minutes when I realized that I’m using an invisible zipper in this project. I shouldn’t have sewn the zipper seam at all — the zipper goes in first! Sigh.

How many times must I learn the same lesson?

I should not sew when I am:

❦ Crabby in general
❦ Irritated by life
❦ Annoyed with myself

My sewing machine can sense this, and will NOT help me out in any way.

Today, I’m tired but determined to make up some of the cooking and cleaning. Tomorrow, I plan to rip that zipper seam out for the second time.

And then I’ll sew it all over again.

How I started a sewing business and lost my mojo

I have been happily sewing since I was 15 — almost 30 years. I thought I loved it enough to have my own home-based home dec sewing business.

Yeah, well, I was wrong.

Today, I’m sharing my experience as food for thought for others who are considering making the jump into sewing as a business. As always, feel free to use my life as a cautionary tale.

What worked

❦ I love home dec sewing, I’m good at it, and frankly not that many people know how to make a pinch-pleated drapery. I’d done enough projects for friends (and had enough pep talks from them) to be confident in my skills.

❦ I’m excellent with admin and paperwork, am very handy with a cordless drill, and love doing everything myself.

❦ Consulting with clients was fun. I got to go into their houses, hear their ideas and make them a reality. How cool is that?

❦ Seeing my custom designs installed in clients’ homes was thrilling.

❦ I had the opportunity do a wide variety of projects that I wouldn’t necessarily have done on my own.

Board-mounted valance

My favorite project from my sewing business — a board-mounted valance with sheer swags. Here it's resting on my dining room table prior to delivery and installation.

❦ I enjoyed the flexibility of having a home-based business. Sketching pillow designs while with the kids at the pool was a great way to work a second job.

❦ The business gave me a good excuse to upgrade from my 30-year-old Kenmore to the Fancy Damn Sewing Machine, which I LOVE.

What didn’t

❦ I tried to start my business while holding down a full-time job. I’m also a wife and mom. That was challenging, but not impossible. (Why yes, I do have a tendency to overcommit my time. Why do you ask?)

❦ I was required to file paperwork with the city, the county and a couple of state agencies so my very tiny business was 100 percent legal. (I live in California, a state that’s considered less than fully business-friendly.) I was drowning in paperwork before I ever sewed a stitch for a client, but I’m a rule-follower that way.

❦ I started my business about 18 months before the recession hit, so I had just enough time to start gaining some traction before the bottom fell out. I’m glad I didn’t have time to really get rolling. What if I had done so well that I quit my job THEN the bottom fell out?

❦ Having to perform to someone else’s expectations under deadline pressure is what I do at work every day. I THRIVE on it. But sewing under those same circumstances took most of the fun out of what had been my hobby.

❦ And the biggie: I felt bad about charging appropriate prices for my work, although I did it anyway; and I was not comfortable selling my service. Even if this were the only negative, it still would have been enough to sink my business. 

Why I don’t regret it

❦ I’ve always wanted to have my own business. I’m proud of myself for trying. So is my husband. He hates when people talk about things but never take action. He was 100 percent supportive, which was awesome.

❦ I loved, LOVED, being totally in charge of all aspects of the business, even if the business itself wasn’t the right fit.

❦ I made a little revenue (alas, not profit), which was really exciting!

Where I am now

A home-based home dec sewing business didn’t work out for me. This does not mean it’s not a viable business for someone. I just wasn’t that particular someone. Your results may vary.

I actually stopped sewing for a while after I ended my business. Lost my mojo a bit, you might say. But I came roaring back to garment sewing earlier this year. I do need to make some detours back into home dec soon because the master bedroom and bathroom need some love from my sewing machine, but at the moment I am totally groovin’ on making vintage-inspired clothes.

For now, I’m selfishly sewing ONLY for myself, blogging about it and loving every minute of it all. I’m back, Baby!

If you are considering starting a sewing business and have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask me via a comment or the contact page.

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