The Zen of Making

The Zen of Making

I’ve been a professional tailor and pattern maker for twenty-five years. Some days I love my job. Some days I hate it. Some days everything goes together without mishap. Other days needles break, threads knot, seams bunch, the sewing machine makes crazy bobbin art for no reason, and garments with alteration tags that read, “drop a lining in” hang on the to-do rack. (please see ‘drop a lining’ rant at the end of this post). All of these things sometimes make me forget that I actually really do like to sew, to make things, to create from a pile of fabric a new complete garment.

The hard part about ending up in a career that involves doing something you love is that, every once awhile, you end up hating the very thing that you know you love.

Which is a shame. Thankfully, I always get over it. Sometimes the getting over it as easy as finishing an annoying project and moving on to something new. Occasionally, I need to have a little talk with myself, take a deep breath, and slow down (even if there are three people asking me when I’m going to be done.) I have to block out outside distractions and focus fully on what I am doing. That is when the ‘flow’ happens.

…my alterations motto is: leave no trace.

Currently I’m working on a show that, though it involves endless multiples (lots of stunts so actors usually need four to five of the same outfit plus one for their stunt double), never really sends me to the “I hate sewing” place of darkness.

One of the characters, new to this season, wears high-end clothing that usually requires quite a bit of alteration. I love taking apart a designer dress and figuring out the best way to alter it without anyone being the wiser. As in hiking, my alterations motto is: leave no trace. I can get happily lost in such a project.

Go with the Flow

The same goes for when I’m patterning or building something from scratch. I find that I’m in the flow of making. I forget about everything else going on and just concentrate on the thing I am doing.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says that Flow is the secret to happiness — a statement he supports with decades of research. During a 2004 TED talk, he said “When we are involved in (creativity), we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life. You forget yourself.”

A study titled, The Neurological Basis of Occupation, found that music, drawing, meditation, reading, arts and crafts, can stimulate the neurogical system and enhance health and well-being. And this study concluded that computer activities; craft activities, quilting, playing games; and reading books were associated with decreased odds of having MCI (mild cognitive impairment).

What this all adds up to is probably what most of us who sew and create already know: making things is good for your psyche and your soul (and your memory!). However you do it, wherever you find your flow is important and necessary to your well being, to you being you.

Drop a Lining In Rant

“Just drop a lining in,” they said, “It’ll be easy. No big deal. Shouldn’t take you that long.”

Anyone who tells you this really doesn’t know much about sewing or patterning. “Dropping a lining in,” is no easy task and certainly not as simple as dropping, well, anything. Unless your garment is a true honest to god couple of rectangles sewn together (and believe me it very likely is not) there isn’t anything ‘just’ about it. To line a jacket, or skirt, or dress, or anything, you really need to make a pattern and it’s going to take more than a couple hours to do it correctly. On Boardwalk Empire, we would regularly end up with vintage dresses literally hanging on by thread with the note, “Drop a lining in!” attached. None of us wanted to do them. We’d shuffle them to the end of the rack until we couldn’t put it off any longer and finally someone would say, “Ok, ok, fine, I’ll do this one if you’ll do that one.”

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