Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Bear with me here for a bit.

I have 2 new dresses hanging in my closet. I think they make me look purdy. On the first one, I had not quite as much fabric as the pattern said I needed for the view I'd chosen, and I was matching stripes for the first time ever, so I was hyper-alert when cutting. I called my Reverend Mom twice, pinned and repinned, smoothed and resmoothed. The result is near as nothing perfect, though I had to redo one of the sideseams about five times to get the pocket right. On the second one, I had enough fabric and I figured I knew how to do it, so I relaxed, and made a cutting mistake that left me with insufficient material for the bodice, and the fabric wasn't available anymore. So I did the bodice and sleeves in white, with the cuffs in the same bright orange-red-green-with-gold-curlicues fabric as the skirt, and a little embroidery at the neckline, and I think this is better anyway. Less overwhelming. Monday I stitched the hems on both, wasting a couple of yards of the orange thread because, though I know how to wind a bobbin, I kept doing it wrong. So, like the pockets, I did it again and again and again until I did it right.

It was like writing a book; except I don't follow a pattern when writing a book. At least, not anymore. I've been dealing with stories so long that I don't need one, any more than a fashion designer, or one of those people who make all their own clothes and draft their own patterns from scratch, needs to review how to make a dart. But I bet they still make occasional cutting errors, or can't seem to get the bobbin wound once in awhile.

The thing people lose track of, or never notice to begin with, is that all human endeavors have an underlying unity. Making a dress is like telling a story is like building a house is like baking a cake is like playing a game is like programming a computer is like raising a kid is like fighting a war. Depending on our interests and aptitudes, we may feel that we are good at one of these things, competent at others, and hopeless at others; but the underlying process is the same.

I think it's an evolutionary thing, like anatomy. An anatomist can take a bird skeleton and a human skeleton and an elephant skeleton and show you how to match up the bones and how each species has adapted the underlying structure to different needs and uses. Creativity, learning, and skill are part of our mental anatomy. No matter what we apply them to, the basic functioning is similar.

No matter how good we become, we will always make mistakes, and no matter how inept we think we are, we can learn enough to get by on if we let ourselves. The difference between a good writer and a bad one is less talent and more willingness to judge some passage or plot inadequate and redo it.

And "inadequate" is relative. My hems do not meet professional standards. The dress I described above as "near as nothing perfect" would not be good enough to put on a runway model or sell in a store. The story your kid loves to hear you tell may not, if written down, be good enough to publish; your presentation of it may not be good enough to take on the road. So what? Do the meals you cook have to be restaurant quality? Because you're the best basketball player at your local pickup games, do you feel ready to challenge Tim Duncan? You don't have to be able to do something at a professional level in order for it to be worthwhile.

Since I started sewing, I've started noticing clothes. I never did before. A lot of people don't, I think, looking around me; not even people who are paid to do so. Actors and actresses are dressed by professional costumers, yet they appear on screen in clothes that don't fit, with standing wrinkles in places where the outfit should have been altered. It's not as painful to me as reading a book full of grammatical errors, flabby prose, plot holes, and lazy characterization; but that's because books are my profession and clothes aren't. I wouldn't know a good basektball player from a bad one, because I hate team sports.

You can apply all this to your own life and activities however seems best to you. I just thought I'd point it out.

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