Dark night of the crafter’s soul

Dark night of the crafter's soul

Saturday was one of those days. You know, when nothing is working right: technology, interpersonal relationships, spatial reasoning. The kind of day where the last thing you should do is try a new-to-you sewing maneuver, right? And yet, I was feeling way behind on my Archer for Summer of Basics, which was still at the state you had seen it last Monday. My goal for the weekend was to attach the sleeves, sew and finish the side seams, topstitch everything, and hopefully get the collar and/or the cuffs attached. The first part of that went fine, amidst assorted other turmoil — sleeves, sides, topstitched. Then I decided it would be better to tackle the cuffs than the collar, given my suboptimal mental state. Why did I think that? I have no idea.

It did not go well.

Remember that quote I included in Elsewhere on Friday, about being willing to be bad at something in order to get good at it? Normally, lately, I’m totally feeling that way about sewing. I’ve been sewing at beginner level all my life (having peaked in the 8th grade and then regressed from there), did more sewing last year that the previous couple of decades combined, have gotten very good at bias facings and precise edge-stitching and whatnot, and I’m now really committed to enduring the discomfort of expanding my skills. But on Saturday, following several days of doing a series of other things I’m either not yet or no longer good at, it was brutal to be so stymied by my first cuff. (Or at least my first cuff since that 8th-grade popover anorak. I wonder if my mom still has that pattern somewhere — that just occurred to me for the first time.)

There I was, already steeping in frustration and stress over so many other things, reading the pattern instructions and the tutorial, scouring the internet for other blog posts and photos that might provide me with the crucial details I couldn’t get my brain around — failing to find those clues anywhere — but still feeling like I had to press on. So I tried to fumble my way through it … and … nope. And I just about lost it.

The thing is: It was not a big deal. It was just a few minutes’ worth of sewing that wasn’t right. The stitches could be ripped out. No harm was done. And yet I tortured myself (and Jen!) over the course of a couple of hours, between the googling and the trial-and-erroring and the stomping around on my beloved walking path (ruining a perfectly nice outing with my husband), and the texting with Jen, trying desperately to understand what she was telling me even while telling her my brain was in no mood to do so.

I always say to myself and others: walk away. If something’s not working, don’t make yourself crazy. Don’t send hate mail to the pattern designer — it’s probably not their fault. Don’t light the project on fire. Just put it down, walk away, sleep on it. It will almost certainly look different in the morning. No matter how urgently I wanted to get it figured out and have a win for the day, I eventually had no choice but to take my own advice.

There was a great photo in the #fringefieldbag feed recently, by @disorbo, whose caption read: “A little post mountain bike knit. After a ride, I like to remind myself that there are things I know how to do relatively well.” I thought of that as I plunked down on the couch Saturday night for what would normally be knitting time, but I knew it would be unwise. There was no way I was risking messing up my fisherman, and in the dark place I was in, I felt fully capable of screwing up even the grey stockinette thing. So I just sat there, like non-knitters do. It was terrible!

It did keep me awake, the cuff failure. I woke up turning the task over and over in my brain, sorting through the fog. And I got up, and I tried it again, and it worked.


PREVIOUSLY in Archer: Queue Check July 2017

38 thoughts on “Dark night of the crafter’s soul

  1. I am sorry you had such an “off”day – those SUCK! Thank you for sharing. It helps to know I am not the only one who can read perfectly good instructions, and still not understand what the designer is saying. On a good day I, just start doing what I think they intend. On an “off” day – I just want to scream… Great job on those cuffs!!

  2. argh! So sorry you had such a bad day, and a hard time of it. Love the line about sitting on the couch like a non-knitter. How do they stand it? :-)

    And I am so happy for you that on Sunday, it worked. It looks great to me!

  3. Having taught classes for many years, I understand the frustration. I would tell students, if you make a mistake, frog it, and make the same mistake, walk away. There is a distinct body mind connection, and if you’re preoccupied with other things of just brainy weary it’s best to just do something that requires no effort. Have a glass of wine (or tea) and read a magazine. Don’t try to re-focus when you mind needs a rest.

  4. That is some beautiful top stitching! Sorry it was preceded by so much hair pulling. I have definitely been there more than once!

  5. Been there, done that, and sadly, it still happens occasionally. Walking away is definitely the best approach. Sleeping on any ‘project from hell’ is the best medicine, and the new dawn brings a new understanding. It’s always like magic. I’m so glad it worked for you…….and your new cuffs look awesome.

    ………and how do those nonknitters sit on the couch night after night with nothing to do???? I’ve never understood that!

  6. Some lessons need to be learned over and over again. Sorry for your agony. Wish we could skip it. Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone in my occasional knitting/sewing frustrations. Be kind to yourself .

  7. It looks like you had a happy ending. I do know how you feel. My sewing sucks but I am determined to get it to work. I think for me, my problem is I don’t do it often enough to improve. It’s like I’m always starting over. That’s why they make you practice the piano every day. We need to try more often, so we can build on what we have learned.

    • For sure. Between getting so much more practice and having replaced my herky-jerky old machine with a wonderfully smooth-going Janome, it’s amazing how fearless I’ve gotten about top-stitching, as just one example! I would never have chosen such a contrasting thread color before (on a project with this much top-stitching to be done).

  8. Your stitchery is very beautiful. :) It’s funny how, as knitters, we tink and frog almost without blinking, but with sewing there is often much self-flagellation if we mess up or can’t solve something. Not sure why but perhaps because it’s sometimes easier to hide imperfection in a knitted fabric. Take heart, though – you are defo not alone in your pain! In my sewing career (which dates back 45+ years to my mother’s knee), I cannot count the number of times I’ve been confounded by a shirt (or dress, pants, skirt – just fill in the blank) and thrown it into a corner and stomped from the room in tears (after dutifully switching off the sewing machine light and unplugging the iron) vowing never to set eyes on the wretched thing again. But, like you, a fitful sleep and a clear head usually led to salvation and, ultimately, success.

    • I pride myself on having really good spatial reasoning — I’m that person who thinks Ikea’s wordless assembly instructions are the height of genius — and can’t stand feeling stupid. So I was really hating being so confounded by such a simple little thing. But it was totally just bad timing, wrong frame of mind.

  9. “Don’t send hate mail to the pattern designer — it’s probably not their fault.”

    Thank you for including this simple, beautiful line. Thank you from me and everyone else who writes patterns.

  10. “Walking away for awhile” is some of the best advice for sewing. I can sew for hours straight, but once I start to get fuzzy, I make mistakes. Seam ripping takes SO LONG to do compared to sewing those same stitches. Walking away before ripping gives me a chance to reset and come back to a project with more energy. Similarly, if I am learning a new technique via written instructions, and it doesn’t make sense, I walk away and then the fog suddenly clears and the instructions make sense when I am focusing on something else.

  11. Well, you made it through with flying colors, as they say. Can I ask what the sticky part was without bringing you back to darkness? The continuous placket? (my enemy) matching cuff length to sleeve edge? You have thoroughly erased the hell of Saturday! A hard won skills victory.

    • Yeah, it was mostly just how the edges were supposed to match up and whether that little folded under bit of the placket needed to stay folded under. All of my assumptions turned out to be correct, but when I just took a shot at it in my Saturday state, it didn’t work out (it was super crooked and the lengths didn’t match), so I thought I had it wrong. That sort of thing!

      • State of mind. Our brains are such incredible tools for good and evil, flow and obstruction!

  12. Collars and cuffs are hard. And you definitely get “rusty” when you haven’t been sewing for a while. I guess you learned a lesson–walk away when it isn’t working, go back later after you’ve hit the reset button. I’ve been there also and can sympathize; sewing can be extremely frustrating. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

  13. My memories of high school sewing are the best. Saturdays I would shop for a pattern and fabric, and Sundays would be for sewing. Mondays, of course, were for wearing my new make. It was all so easy because there was no internet, no IG, no FB, no blogs — no place to go for comparison or help other than that piece of paper. I loved it! This was pure creativity and on the fly problem solving. Don’t you miss it?

  14. Taking my own advise tastes like dill pickle juice but sometimes it must be done. Love yourself enough to walk away from a battle in order to win the war. There are always socks to knit and podcasts or black and white movies that should be watched. I solve my biggest problems in my sleep.

  15. Those off-days are awful when they happen and they are beyond frustrating. It seems like the part of the brain that can’t understand the instructions or is making mistakes is the same one that is Determined To Finish This Now, instead of doing the smart thing and walking away. Despite all the pain, your end result is lovely!

    I sympathize with feeling behind on Summer of Basics – I spend three days perfecting the fit on the bodice of a dress (3 muslins!) before realizing I didn’t like the look of it and probaby wouldn’t wear it if I finished. I’m starting over today with a new pattern.

    • Exactly — I kept thinking “I would feel so much better right now if I could get one thing to go well, and be able to cross it off the list.” So I was just compounding the problem.

  16. I’ve made several Archers, and I still manage to screw the cuffs up every once in awhile (pleats facing the wrong way, plackets that immediately form holes at the top, etc). It used to really bother me if every detail of a garment wasn’t as perfect as I could possibly make it, but I’ve let go to the point of not even bothering to put in buttonholes and buttons on cuffs (I always wear buttondowns with the cuffs rolled up , so who cares?). “Perfection when necessary” is my motto!

    Ultimately, your Archer is looking beautiful! And hopefully next time will be less frustrating :)

    • I was just wondering about you this morning! I miss seeing what you’re making!

      Like you, I only wear things with the sleeves rolled up, so I am a little nervous about blowing out my sleeve placket over time, which has never occurred to me to be concerned about before.

  17. Your post reminds me of The Coat I made waaaaaay back in my college years. Similar to this one, but full-length: https://mccallpattern.mccall.com/m7058

    I remember the mess of sewing The Coat as if it happened last week, instead of 30-ish years ago!

    Home for the summer, found a gorgeous London-shrunk (pre-shrunk, basically) wool Melton in deep, deep, garnet red, and on clearance. This coat was going to be my summer project, and I was going to end up with a gorgeous winter coat to take back to school in fall.

    Except that I forgot to grade the seams at one point, which was when I discovered that yes, Melton has a right side and a wrong side, and you can see the difference when you’ve sewn them together. And that 100% cotton thread isn’t stretchy enough for sewing that wool. And then there was the day when I when I was trimming the collar facings and cut away the seam allowances.

    My mom came into my room when I was sitting there in tears and took the bundle of half-sewn wool from my lap, turned off the machine, and said, “It’s just fabric, sweetie.” She made me stay away from the coat-to-be for a week, and then she and I finished sewing it together.

    I wore that coat for almost ten years!

    We all have melt-downs and days (or weeks) where the thing just won’t *%$!?#*! work. Also, hooray for moms (and friends and sisters and aunties and grandmothers) who’ve been there and done that and make us step away from the madness for a bit!

  18. I hear you. Some days are just like that. Usually, for me, it is because I am so tired and my twins need me *right now* and I cannot focus to complete anything the least bit complicated…but whatever, it happens to everyone sometimes, I think.
    It helps me to put things in perspective as I walk away….am I (or anyone I love) going hungry? Do we have a place to sleep tonight? Will I have to go without clothing, shelter, shoes (whatever) if this does not succeed?
    And whammo, I get a grip. That I am really lucky, and this is just something new but not something vital to my existence. That this (whatever the hurdle is) is just not such a big deal. That either I will rest and figure it out, or I won’t–and so what!? The world will not end. Once I get to this place, and I take a break, well, it is surprising how many things are no big deal and much easier to conquer the next day.

  19. how frustrating and kudos to Jen for being patient with you ( i assume she did anyway). and kudos back to you for getting it the next day. sometimes it is just too hard to be talked down from the precipice (even by yourself).

  20. I feel your pain. I think it was Sat when my horoscope basically said ‘don’t go anywhere or try to do much’! No I don’t normally live my life by it, but I have to admit to that I paid attention and didn’t try anything challenging, because it certainly felt as if my brain wasn’t in gear. When I knit and get stymied by things that shouldn’t be hard, I just put the project in time out…and yes “walk away”! I make tea, do something else, and come back some time later. If the project has reached epic frustration levels and I’m totally stymied…I leave it in time out for a few weeks before deciding to abandon it altogether or trying to continue. The odd thing is that when I pick it up again I wonder why I’d been stymied in the first place, and then, normally, breeze right through. Most of us go through things like this with creative projects, you are certainly not alone! Hugs!

  21. Thank you for such a refreshing post. When I first found your site, I thought you must be one of those “born with a silver needle between your fingers” types. How lovely to find out your a real person with all the frustrations and shortcomings attendant to it. I love that you are so forthright about the setbacks that come with trying to enlarge the boundaries of your world. You give me great inspiration to stick with my passion, but great lack of experience, in needlework. I look forward to following your posts

  22. Hi, I’ve just finished making my daughter ‘ stage jacket’ in yellow leather…and the trauma I had over one very small detail equals yours. In the end I had to call my friend, just to come up and say ‘yes do it’ . But as you know with leather there’s no going back when you have stitched and it’s wrong… Please take a look at my blog From Sewing Room To Potting Shed as I am so proud of my achievement. She looked amazing on stage too.

  23. I had many of those frustrating moments as well but soon realised that things are actually not that bad when a beautiful sunny day awaits the next day :)

  24. It’s looking so good! I felt really bad I couldn’t make it make sense that day, but I’d also had a doozy of a day so I might not have been at my best explanation wise :/

  25. I wish I would have read this before attempting to attach the sleeves on my Kalle. I did one – and I was angry the whole time because my fabric was bunching and I knew I should just stop, but I didn’t. I powered through all the bumps and now I will have to rip out the stitches and start again because I was too impatient, and frustrated. Sewing is hard… I think I peaked in grade 8 as well… With a pair of pink, floral capris… But I am trying to be ok with not being very good at something again. It’s good for my pride, I think.

  26. Pingback: 2017 FO-8: My first button-up shirt (SoB-1) | Fringe Association

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