Friday, November 7, 2014

Slow (to Think About) Sewing

In the past few months, Sew Mama Sew launched a Slow Sewing series, features that explore subjects like organic cotton farming and the benefits of having many WIPs. If I had to boil the series down to its most central concept, though, slow sewing means sewing by hand.

And I can honestly say I avoid that at all costs.
Why make one when I can make three?

If a pattern requires a little blind stitching to finish off a gap in a seam for turning, I top-stitch with my machine around the entire project instead. If a designer touts the look of hand applique on a bag or quilt, I sketch-stitch with my Janome. I’d rather work on my machine-quilting skills instead of trying to get my hand-quilting stitches nice and even. And in all honesty, hand sewing is hard on my body. That repetitive motion takes its toll, not unlike the keyboard I’m composing at right now.

But there’s one aspect of my creative process that is slow. I like to mull over project ideas, design decisions, and fabric choices (especially fabric choices!) as I work on a project. To hurry a bag or quilt along without giving my brain the time it needs to work things out seems dishonest to who I am as a creator.

Take one of the projects on my sewing table this week: three tote bags. I spotted them first on Instagram and was happy to learn that the designer, Sue of Sweet Jane’s Quilting, provided a tutorial. They seemed like a great way to both use up some old Brannock and Patek jelly-roll strips I discovered I had and bang out a Christmas present or two in the process.

These are simple bags. They are fairly quick to sew. So why did it take me nearly a week to create all three? Because I’m slow to think about sewing.

Here’s how the week panned out:
  • Sunday evening: I decided to make two bags and laid out the red, green, and taupe jelly-roll strips, arranging and rearranging until I liked what I saw. Then I did some cutting (admittedly, this was premature for my creative process!) and slept on my decisions. 
  • Early Monday morning: I realized that one of the collections of jelly-roll strips was horrid! I edited some of those already-cut fabrics out and added in others. I labored over which fabric to use as that thin horizontal strip separating the top exterior fabric from the vertically pieced bottom ones.
  • In the last moments of crafting time on Monday: I had an epiphany! I could put those strips from the black colorway to good use. Pairing them with some scraps of Little Black Dress (by Basic Grey for Moda), I realized I had a third bag to make.
  • Early Tuesday morning: I started writing this post. For real. The fabric wasn’t halfway on the road to becoming bags, but I like to take my time thinking about my writing just as I do with my sewing projects.

I’ll spare you the rest of the blow-by-blow account. Let’s just say I finished my first bag on Thursday and my third and final bag on Friday (and worked on a variety of other WIPs in the process).

This design and the fabrics are more traditional than I usually trend, but I’m super happy with the results. In fact, I think I will gift the black one to myself. : )

If you decide to have a go at this tote tutorial, it’s worth noting that I opted not to quilt my bags. Instead, I used Pellon’s Shape Flex on the back of both the pieced exterior and the lining.

Picking out the lining fabric is almost as much fun as the exterior fabrics

How fast—or slow—do you approach a single project? I’d love to hear your take, even if you’re one of those quilters who can bang out something in, like, a week. (I’m so jealous!)

Linking up to Finish It Up Friday and TGIFF at Quokka Quilts ...

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  1. I loved reading your creative process! I usually start out with a great idea in my head, rush to the sewing room thinking I can get started quickly and then end up spending two hours doing fabric pulls. I'll tell my husband, "Oh, it's a quick project this time, I'll be done in a jiffy!" and then I'll spend the next week and a half on it.

    I certainly end up enjoying the fabric auditioning and such a lot more than I think I will when I'm ready to start sewing. Thank you for sharing your process and your bags are lovely!!

  2. For me, how quickly I complete a project is as variable as the project itself. I generally avoid patterns that are super complicated (or finicky as I usually call them) and I lean toward straight line quilting. I like finishing things, but I don't feel the need to limit myself to WiPs. Puttering in the studio can be just as fun as finishing a project!

  3. Thanks for sharing this process. I'm more like you. I'm not keen on hand-sewing anything, although I do like embroidery. Creating, in any form, is what slows me down, even if it's a design choice at the time.

  4. Thanks for sharing your progress. I do a little of both, slow and fast. There are some projects that within a few minutes I know exactly what fabrics to use and even how I am going to quilt it. Others take a lot of time, thinking, and editing.

  5. I loved this! I am very much like you. I spend a lot of time thinking. I realize this applies to my writing as well. For example, I read a post when it first appears in my blogreader. Then I think about it. Then I reread it. Write a comment. Read. Edit. Reread. I feel like my sewing process is much the same. My husband would call it over-thinking or procrastinating. I just tell him my genius needs time to marinate! Great thought-provoking post! ;)


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