Recently, after many years of being away from the art of putting pieces of fabric together with lengths of thread, I bought a new sewing machine. A sewing machine that requires not one but two getting acquainted classes for the new user, and whose owner’s manual is considerably larger than the one for the Dodge Aspen station wagon on which I learned to drive.
But the absurdity of a sewing machine with more computing power than my first desktop is a topic for another day. The thing that I want to discuss is one of my characteristic failings: my inability to approach a new craft or art with any sort of restraint or sensible plan. You see I got this new sewing machine and, rather than start back into sewing by making something I’m familiar with — clothes or curtains — I figured that I’d move straight into quilting.
I mean, if I can manage a princess seam how hard can a lot of straight lines be? Besides I’ve done this before. I think. Once. More than 30 years ago.
Every craft or trade has its magazines and journals. The quilters and knitters and woodworkers and boat builders and bike builders of the world can subscribe to and read and ponder and hopefully learn from a plethora of publications dedicated to furthering their art. And there are always new techniques to learn: appliqué, marquetry, hand pin striping. The magazines and books conveniently provide instruction in these things and along the way they provide a series of projects designed to let you learn the technique and put it into practice, generally on a small, nominally useful project. Some tchotchke that will serve no great purpose in your life beyond giving you a place to learn the new technique. Scarves, jewelry and cigar boxes, garden ornaments — any of them could be useful, if you happen to have a cold neck, a pile of bangles needing a home, a number of loose cigars. But you can only wear one scarf at a time (certain Hollywood practitioners of the fine art of BoHo fashion statements aside) and if you have enough jewelry to require multiple jewelry boxes, well …
The patience to work my way through even a few of this astounding number of practice items isn’t on the horizon. I could have, for example, started with a nice patchwork pillow project. A simple block. Something with only squares. Learned how to get the seams all lined up perfectly, and to get that all important consistent 1⁄4 inch seam allowance. And then made another pillow — something that had triangles in it: learned to work with bias edges and their tendency to stretch. And maybe added a little border. And then another pillow, one with, say, four mini blocks, something requiring the fine art of sashing between blocks. Something on which to learn how to get those blocks all to line up in perfect ranks and rows. And let’s not forget about the actual quilting: putting together the sandwich of pieced top, batting and backing, then basting the layers to hold it all in place while you quilt it. Stitched in the ditch first — the easiest — then on the next one, a few straight lines, moving on to some curves and curls… maybe a little stippling, or some pebbles? One little step at a time, ending up with what? An entire couch full of pillows that I hate.
Because yes, I have to say it. I hate patchwork pillows. They annoy the crap out of me. Single blocks look unfinished and random. And not in that good, artless, effortless way. They look forlorn, alone, bereft of their patchy buddies.
So here I am. I want to learn to do something but all of the Learn To Do This projects are little, useless time wasters, not the thing that I see in my mind when I think of being able to do that thing. There are no cute tea cozies in my knitter’s mind; there are beautiful sweaters. There are no cigar boxes next to that table saw; there are Mission style blanket chests. There are no patchwork pillows; there is a queen size bed quilt. And so I start with the thing I want, then figure out how to make it. It takes me longer than it takes someone who knows how to do it. I waste a bunch of material making mistakes that someone who knows how to do it wouldn’t make. And it most certainly is not as “nice” as it would be if it was made by someone who knows how to do it. Truth be told, I’d be time and money ahead if I had just sat down and done all the little learning pieces and then tackled the final piece. But to Hell with it. I don’t want the little learning pieces.
I want to dive right in and make the Thing That I Want. And I will, and I’ll love it. All of it’s flaws included. Okay, mostly, sometimes. A few of them have need up being untenable messes that can not be saved even by the blind love of a mother. I don’t think that there is a practice piece in the world that would have made that lime green, knitted tank top a good idea for me, no matter how perfect the execution.
So, no patchwork pillows. Nope, there’s going to be a sizable blanket when I get done with this sucker. And it’s going to be a bit of a mess. It’s going to have all of the beginner mistakes writ large and repeated a bunch of times because I’m kind of a slow learner and I’m going to try a couple of my own solutions every time I run into a snag before I give up and actually go to look up the Right™ way to do the thing. And everyday for the rest of the useful life of that object (and some of them have lasted a good long time), I’m going to be looking at those beginner mistakes. The unmatched seams and little pleats and wobbly stitch lines and probably a dozen more mistakes that I don’t even know are there yet.
Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn to fish, bake, draw, garden, knit, meditate, solder silver, or frame a picture. No matter what there’s the sensible beginner, without-a-lot-of-cost-and-risk way. Knit a one skein scarf, plant some marigolds in a planter by the front door, build a bird house, weld a garden ornament. Then there’s the Lara Way. The full, damn-the-doubters, make-the-whole-thing-and-make-it-a-useful-thing-right-now way. Knit an Aran sweater, build a garden shed, tear out the lawn and put in enough raised bed planters to grow all of your vegetables for a year, weld up a rat-bike frame from that old Honda you found in your uncle’s garage, or make a queen-size bed quilt. Because no one needs another scarf, or bird house, or garden ornament, or pillow as much as they need a sweater, a garden shed, a rat bike, or a warm quilt to sleep under. Especially a quilt.