Friday, May 15, 2015

Are We All Still "Beginners"?

Me at 17, wearing a top and jeans I made myself

  Some of us have been sewing a long time, but still think of ourselves as beginners, or maybe just intermediate level sewists. But I've been thinking maybe we do ourselves a disservice. Sewing involves so many skills, there's no way if asked that I would call myself "advanced", yet this picture shows that at age 17 I felt confident enough to sew jeans with a fly and a waistband (pretty good fit too, if I say so myself), a fitted empire waist top with set in sleeves, and a button in back with a hand made loop. Not too shabby at 17. But I didn't know that these things were considered difficult, I just sewed the things I liked and kept learning as I went along.
In yellow crepe formal

  If you don't know something is supposed to be difficult, or you have crazy teenage confidence, you'll try new things all the time. I made several formals when I was in high school and college, and never thought twice about how they might be more difficult than just sewing a dress, because my mother said,"oh they are just longer dresses". This one is crepe, with a high collar that rolled over (I forget the name) empire waist ( that was the style then) back zipper, long sleeves gathered into cuffs and a full lining. I hand-hemmed the bottom, and I recall it took a long time because the skirt was full and I was taking care that the stitches didn't show, and I had to hem both the lining and the outside.
 Those set in sleeves look smooth and unpuckered , and the fit looks good. Well done, 17 year old me.
   But on a survey the other day, the question was, "what level sewist are you?" and I thought "Advanced Beginner, or Intermediate" when clearly that's not exactly true. But most sewists would say the same, because the more we know, the more we know what we don't know. Sewing has so many levels, there is no way to know everything. I'd never tell anyone I was "advanced" because in my mind that would mean I could do tailoring, or make a suit, and I've never done those things before even though, with the right instructions, I think I could. Would that make me "advanced"? No, then I'd think about how I don't know how to do smocking or heirloom sewing or whatever challenge I'd never done before.

  Maybe I still think of myself as an advanced beginner because I still make mistakes (even though no one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes.) Just this last year I've made the following bone-headed errors:

  1. set in a sleeve backwards
  2. sewed the wrong sides together on pants (both front side seams to each other-oops)
  3. Put in a zipper upside down
  4. sewed the bottom of the skirt to the bodice, instead of the top. (in my defense, they both looked almost the same, but still, label your pieces, people. Learn from my mistakes.)

Although upon further reflection, I see that these are not errors in which I lack skills so much as I get distracted and lack mindfulness. Perhaps my weakness is a lack of concentration, or perhaps sewing hubris? (As in, this is EASY, I've done this before, no need to focus here?)

On Colette's blog this morning, she wrote about the difficulty in rating patterns, which made me think, What level am I really?  Compared to a real beginner, I'm an advanced sewist. I could probably sew a boned ball gown or a tailored jacket if I were so inclined. (Maybe we should rank ourselves not by beginner, intermediate or advanced, but instead by hubris levels? Like instead of those labels we use:

Instead of Beginner, Timid = I'm scared, hold my hand.
Instead of Advanced Beginner, Overconfident = I'm not afraid to make a huge mistake.
Instead of Intermediate, Seasoned = I know enough to know where my weaknesses are.
Instead of Advanced, Patient = I pay attention to what I'm doing and am a more mindful sewist.

  What about you? Do you still think of yourself as a beginner? Would you ever say you had advanced skills? What new definitions would you use?