Sewing Through November

As I wait, as we all wait, I sew. I browse patterns online, I browse the patterns I own, I browse fabrics, I browse fabrics I own. I do this instead of playing Candy Crush, my nightly distraction for a long time now, but it is no longer enough to distract me. What was once soothing is now only mildly distracting, so I plan sewing projects.

I find it soothing now to print and put together the patterns and put them all together and then cut them out again. I think about how I was supposed to fail kindergarten because of my poor fine motor skills, a deficit I know is common for kids with ADHD, but I was fluent in two languages, read English at a 4th-grade level, so my mom said lol, naw, she’s going to first grade, and I kept “failing” penmanship, but it’s not like an extra year in kindergarten would have helped that.

Give her paper dolls to play with, but I couldn’t have been less interested in paper dolls at that age. I now cut out giant pattern pieces for to make dresses for myself instead of flat pieces of paper. Fitting all the pieces together reminds me of when I was obsessed with origami in either the third or fifth grade. We read 1000 Paper Cranes, and we learned how to fold our own. I became obsessed with being able to take a flat piece of paper and making complicated three dimensional objects.

I think about this all as I assemble the patterns and then place the pieces on the fabric to cut. The process makes me slow down, to focus on reading directions, to making lists, putting things in order, but also that once one thing is done, you move on to the next thing which is just different enough from the thing you just did that it’s novel enough to keep engaged. My mind either can’t or won’t wander in the same ways it does when I do just about anything else except write. I transform the small space in our bedroom, the only space in our townhouse big enough to lay fabric and cut, and even then, I have to do it in stages. Now I put the excess fabric up on our bed, pulling it down slowly as I need it.

Each project I have made so far has had one non-catastrophic but comical mistake that I was able to fix, but for the life of me struggled to describe and would probably never be able to recreate if I tried. I’m learning that materials matter, tools matter. I’m learning the quirks of my sewing machine that often is the thing that takes the longest when I’m trying to finally sew a garment, with the bottom stitch getting looped and tangled, and I had to remove them all, re-thread the whole thing and do it again. I’m learning patience, persistence, problem-solving. I watch YouTube tutorials over and over again because I have trouble thinking in three dimension, so I need to watch the burrito method a number of times so my mind can see it for what it is and not inexplicable magic.

I was so close to finishing a pair of pants, my first, and then I screwed up the waistband, and had to spend an hour meticulously ripping each little stitch while also not ruining the knit fabric I was sewing. But I sat there ripping stitches, stabbing my fingers along the way, but eventually getting into a rhythm that was both efficient and minimized bleeding. I made pants, good pants, pants that fit, pants that are comfortable. All I want to do is now make pants, but my brain wants something new and more challenging.

So I’m making a shirt dress, out of pinstripe, burgundy base, my color. I don’t know why people say it’s hard to sew with stripes, because it makes it easy to place and cut the patterns properly. I managed to sew my pants with stripes focusing on the marker on the sewing machine rather than the lines of the pants, and it worked and I maintained mostly focus on that while my mind wondered if it was easier because of years swimming backstroke and trying to stay in a straight line, but not for long because if I wandered too far, the line wasn’t straight anymore.

I keep sewing because it’s something concrete I can do, something that has a tangible output, but also something just for me. I’m sewing for myself, and only myself. I sew and listen to my favorite podcasts, some of them done by my friends and I feel less far away from them, more connected to them. There’s a rhythm I can get into, listening and watching the fabric feed through the machine, matching stripes, trying to align everything, trying to figure out which side is the right f&$(*ing side of the fabric. And as soon as I get complacent or proud of myself or think, hey, this isn’t so hard, I see a mistake or something goes horribly wrong.

There are moments while I sew that I don’t recognize myself. Where did this patience come from? This focus? I remember endless hours spent folding paper. Or doing string art, starting with cat’s cradle and then trying more and more intricate patterns to make out of a loop of string and my clumsy fingers. But I would just drop the string, start again. Even undoing the knots I inevitably created was soothing to me. I wish there was YouTube back then, so I wasn’t stuck trying to translate a static two-dimensional image trying to present dynamic three-dimensional process.

I have to think that meditating has helped with this process. I can stay in the moment much easier than I ever have been able to before, and I find myself getting less frustrated with the mistakes than I would have in the past. Part RSD, I am sure, but mistakes used to cause my chest to tighten my frustration-fueled anger coursing through my body, my legs and arms tensing, tears forcing themselves out of my eyes. Now, I breathe and it doesn’t come. Sometimes I even laugh.

I don’t know how long I’ll keep sewing. Will it be like Candy Crush, where one day I just abruptly stop? Or like swimming, something I keep coming back to over and over and over again? I don’t know. I can’t really predict how my brain is going to react from day to day. When my body will physically reject doing something it did for a long time. When it is no longer effective at stimulating me and my brain and keep me engaged and distracted and satisfied.

At least until I’ve used up all the fabric I’ve bought, I hope.

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