Want to sew but think you can’t: Confessions of a softie failure.
Sewing is one of those activities that conjures up conflicted feelings, love and hate all tangled up together. Seems almost everyone has a horror story associated with sewing, often from a Home Ec. class at school or from a sewing project that was so complicated that it became a living nightmare and is lying somewhere in a bag, waiting to be completed, or more likely, has been dispatched to the local thrift shop. My own horror story centres around my Year 6 teacher who, bless her, had us making bloomers, yep bloomers…I remember that I was always getting shouted at…probably my stitches didn’t march along in perfect military formation…but whatever the reasons, I was singled out as a bad apple, a sewing malfunction, and I clearly remember dreading and hating those classes. Quite a while passed before “the sewing bugs” taught me that sewing could be simple, creative and fun.
Sometimes, when I ask bloggers to join in with Sew a Softie, they respond with a “Hmmm…I’m not sure…you know, I’d really like to give it a go but I haven’t sewn anything for ages…I don’t think I’d be good enough etc etc etc”…and even if they don’t breathe a word, I can feel the presence of THAT experience.
Amanda Eldridge from Barley and Birch is one of the many who were suffering from PTSSS (Post-Traumatic Sewing Stress Syndrome). She joined the Sew a Softie tutorial hop with a belief that she was “stitch challenged”, although you’d never know it from her beautifully simple softie crab design. I was curious enough to ask how, she ever came to identify herself as “stitch challenged” and I think her reply, which is full of humour and real-life sewing truth, might inspire other bloggers to realise that they can move beyond their own dark sewing traumas…so if you want to sew but think you can’t here is…
When Trixi invited me to participate in Sew A Softie I was so honored and excited…but more than excited…to be completely honest, I was mostly…kinda…terrified.
Having grown up in a family of sewing pros (my mom and grandma were experts of needlepoint) I loved nothing more than spending an afternoon observing and learning from my very skilled teachers when I was little. Threading up my own projects and studiously working away at my embroidery patterns were summer afternoons well-spent during my pre-teen years.
As time passed and my interests turned to long phone chats, meeting up at the mall (remember those…?!) and other typical teenage stuff, sewing kind of went by the wayside. I put down my needle and thread and really never picked it back up again…
…fast forward to almost 25 years later: my best friend announced she was having a baby, and suddenly I felt the urge to make something super-special to celebrate. A cuddly handmade soft toy seemed like JUST the right thing, and I had grand visions of a loved-up little keepsake she would keep forever and fondly look back on – her very own version of a Pooh Bear or Velveteen Rabbit.
Knowing that I had a little catchup to do, I looked for a simple but sweet pattern. I found a cute bunny pattern that didn’t seem very complicated at first, but as I got further in to the project, things kind of began to…unravel. After cutting out my pieces, I realized there were actually quite a lot of moving pieces. Some had 2 or 3 layers of patchworked fabric. I had to visualize it backwards so it could be turned inside out to hide the stitches. Suddenly, sewing seemed a little more complicated than I had remembered. What on earth had I signed myself up for here??
With every step, I felt a little more insecure. And let me tell you…each of those single steps took me such a ridiculously long time to finish, that it became painful for OTHER people to watch. After months – MONTHS, I tell you! – I cobbled something that had the semblance of a little body together. I stood back, gave it a good look and thought. “Meh…this might not be so bad…” The body of the thing had a kinda cute bunny-esque shape and sorta loveably-assymetrical floppy ears. It WAS loveable…right…? My disproportionate stuffed little mess was *maybe* cute-in-an-ugly-way – and I decided maybe it was SO almost-cute that finishing it by hand-stitching the eyes probably wasn’t even necessary…(gulp.)
By the time the day came to gift it in person, I had really psyched myself up and talked this little bunny up in my head. My friend’s daughter ran toward me with glee when I told her I had a super-special present for her. I squeezed the little bunny hidden behind my back – she had such a huge grin – my heart swelled – it was happening!! You are going to love this forever, and ever and EV…
My friend later told me it was the first time she’d ever seen her daughter scream that way at a toy. The sound this sweet little biscuit made was one of abject horror. I literally had to take the thing to the other side of the house before she could get a breath in in between sobs. It was the kind of crying that causes neighbors to uncomfortably wonder if they should be calling the police.
Luckily, I have the kind of evil friends who can laugh at their kids screams of terror (kidding!), so instead of feeling crushed, we were both doubled over with the giggles. Between guffaws, my friend asked me what on earth I had made. “A bunny!!!” I said. “What kind of bunny doesn’t have eyes?!?” “A…modern…bunny?” Looking back, the decision to move forward sans eyes was definitely the fatal mistake.
Due to it’s stony, somewhat distant, no-eyed disposition, we deemed the “bunny” Soulless and stashed it at the bottom of my friends’ bag. Soulless still exists (probably still hidden in the darkest corner of a closet somewhere) and even though none of it turned out the way I had imagined, I wouldn’t trade that softie experience and our many giggle-filled mentions of “special” Soulless for the world.
In addition to the memories, my first (and up until now, last) softie attempt taught me quite a bit about my relationship with sewing. It helped me accept that my version of “simple” was probably not going to be the same as everyone else’s. It reminded that I had some work to do on my patience and persistence. And it reinforced my notion that, at the end of the day, no matter what, there really ISN’T anything quite like a handmade present.
THIS time, when I sat down to make my softie, I came to the table knowing there were going to be frustrations. I went through quite a few mistakes figuring things out. I left out important bits, had to pull out stitches, mis-measured and mis-measured again, stuck myself once or twice (or 8 times) with a pin. But I DID IT. And I have to say – I LOVE what I came up with.
So if you, like me are someone who has a complicated, messy love-affair with sewing, I’m here to tell you – “keep at it”. You’ll find your own little hacks just as I have, and what they say about “practice making perfect” – it’s true – but also perfect is really overrated. For every accomplishment and lovely finished project, I hope you end up with a Soulless of your own too. A project that can help you remember part of the fun is that we are ALWAYS learning, that we should never take our mistakes too seriously, and that one way or another, all of your hard work will be appreciated.
If you want to sew but think you can’t, here are some more easy to sew projects. Let me know how you go!
Amanda Eldridge is the Managing Director and Lead Designer at barley & birch. With a passion for cultivating imagination, she aims to help families discover their creative potential and be inspired to generally make the world a better place through art, play, adventure, activism, conservancy and community. When not tinkering with ideas, designs and projects for barley & birch, Amanda manages her own small design business and enjoys working as a modern art curator. Beyond work, you’ll likely find her playing mom to Thor – a ginormous Golden Retriever.