Sewing to Learn

So many of us came to sewing wanting to know more.  OK, once I write that out I realize how ridiculous it sounds–I think what I mean is that no one comes to sewing thinking that we already have the knowledge and skills to accomplish the task.  More so than lots of occupations or endeavors, sewing is humbling in that when we come to the table, we know that we don’t know everything we need to know.  We’re not tempted to be too big for our britches right out of the gate, and we all recognize at one level or another that we have a ways to go in order to develop and expand our sewing.

I thought, when I was younger and more naive, that learning to sew was just that: you set out to learn skills or techniques, and by doing that, you’d learn To Sew.  As I get older and have more experience, and most especially as I meet more and more folks new to sewing and watch what it is that helps them to learn and to grow their confidence, I have changed my opinion.  I’m not convinced anymore that we learn to sew.  I think, now, that we sew to learn.

Here’s what I think that looks like: you might learn a technique, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you know where to use it, but if you make a project that requires that technique, not only do you learn to perform that skill, you also have a wider understanding of how that technique fits into the greater picture of what sewing is and how it works.  By DOING the skill in a practical way, you’re able to figure out where it fits in the tool belt.  And by doing it, and having the tangible results of a finished project, you are more motivated to continue to learn and grow and try new things.  It’s the successes that propel us forward–and we can’t have success with a few stitches on a scrap of fabric.

Sewing to learn means that you’re pushing yourself, challenging yourself, all the time.  You’re not working at your comfort level, where you’re not asked to try anything new; you’re not working at your frustration level, where everything makes you want to cry and use your “driving words,” as my daughter says; instead, you’re working at your challenge level, where the task asks for your full attention and rewards you with new connections and new insights–and those revelations are what make the finished product so satisfying and encourage you to tackle something new.  And then the process begins all over again.

“Learning to sew” sounds like such a loooooooong process to me.  And I’m the nerd girl who loves learning ANYTHING.  Something about the phrase makes me feel as though I am at one end of a very long path, so long that I can’t see the end, and that image makes me a little scared and intimidated.   Makes me want to stay at my comfort level.  “Sewing to learn” doesn’t sound like school, or like a series of hurdles or hoops through which to jump–it sounds like action, like forward motion, like I’m actually getting somewhere.  It sounds like the goal isn’t the learning, but the SEWING.  And that’s inspiring and exciting.

What do you all think?  Are we so caught up in the idea that we’re “learning to sew” that we forget to put in the 10,000 hours and have trial runs and prototypes and failures and mis-steps?  There are successes and epiphanies and miraculously close calls, too, chances where things go just the way you hoped, and they’re all mixed up together, the pluses and the minuses.  I love that.  I love that I can sew to learn, that each project is a chance to explore and discover and connect and uncover and find the joy that sewing can bring.

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  • Katy
    February 19, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    I kind of feel sewing is like engineering, but with fabric rather than bits of metal and plastic, and engineers take years to qualify, so we shouldn’t be at all surprised that it takes us a while to learn to so 🙂

  • Karen Chatters
    February 19, 2013 at 7:49 pm

    It’s whenever you got cocky and think, “I’ve got this sewing thing down, no problem” that you then spend the next hour ripping things out. I love sewing!

  • KerryQ
    February 19, 2013 at 11:54 pm

    So I’m not alone then? Thank goodness. Every time I start a new project (or stall for 2 hours reading every tutorial or book about said project) I think, “Ok, what’s this one going to teach me?” Often, there is dread in that moment. I have to get better at jumping in with both feet. It’s just fabric, right?

  • Megan
    February 20, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    This is just so awesome and so true. I’ve only been sewing for about a year, and I sometimes feel like I jump around a lot – I try quilting for a bit and then garment sewing and then home dec and back around again, but I think it’s because I’m learning so much. I’ll discover some skill while making a garment and think about how that skill will serve another project I’ve been thinking of and off I go. It’s like every new thing I learn offers all kinds of new paths I can try out. Which is why sewing is THE BEST THING EVER.

  • Rachel at Stitched in Color
    February 27, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    I love it when a careful use of language can make all the difference! I have seen with my students how happy they are when they are learning in context (while making something they actually want to make). I agree – that’s where it’s at. And, it’s a place I continue to want to be.