All In

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. 

Russian Prints Quilt
Once you’re snug­gled under it, you can’t see the mistakes.

2 replies on “All In”

  1. All in or noth­ing in! Sometimes it’s a great mot­to. Sometimes it must be frus­trat­ing. LOL

  2. Could you have learned a lit­tle of this approach from your Mother.….…

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