Igniting a passion is a tricky thing. It takes a specific chemistry of interest, time, driving need, knowledge, and - perhaps most importantly - wins. It also, as Rob has told me many times, takes having other needs met so that you can move on to the joys of a hobby. Once those things are in place, though... wow. Watch that passion go.
Reader warning: personal stories of childhood struggles ahead.
My personal history is pretty terrible. Take 8 parts psychosis, 6 parts codependence, 10 parts bullying, and a huge measure of personal anxiety and you have the elixir that was my childhood. So what does this have to do with sewing?
Well, I learned to sew when I was young and given that I was moving through a storm of terror and dysfunction, it was a fraught exercise. My sister bullied me around just about everything and my sewing was no different.
My first ever sewing project was a self-patterned panel skirt modeled after a doll pattern I had designed. I was about eleven, and I made it out of a really awful cotton fabric that I had bought with my own money on deep discount at Joann Fabrics. I can't find anything like it online, but it was not attractive. It had small forest-green ivy climbing across a bright peach background.
My older sister tried to keep me from : 1) designing it (she told me it would never work 2) sewing it (she told me I was wasting my time) 3) wearing it (she told me it was incredibly ugly). For context, she was 3 and a half years older than me and was the one who had wanted to get into sewing in the first place. She was my role model in many ways, but she was also incredibly brutal both emotionally and physically.
However, the skirt turned out well. It looked nice despite the fabric. And after I wore it a bunch - first at home, and then out to the library and then to the fabric store - my sister started borrowing it. And because she was also very thin (much thinner than me), she told me she looked better in it and she pinned it so that it would fit her, and I don't remember if I really ever wore it again.
Instead, I tried my hand at something new and designed another skirt - a full one in blue ticking pattern cotton (I had learned a lesson about pattern scale and decided a simple blue vertical line would be good.) I modeled it after a McCall's early colonial costume It wasn't this pattern quite, but it was close. The skirt looked vaguely early americana and I liked it quite a bit. It was hard to resist letting my sister borrow it, but I managed to keep it mostly mine.
The memory of that very first pattern design and what happened always haunted me, though. And every time I went to design something new I tried to make it slightly... less. Because if it was more, it would set off a series of events with my sister I didn't like. And thus my struggle and my opportunity in making.
Back to making
I've been making every now and then for years, usually designing something that would be too expensive or too unique to buy. It was always under some kind of pressure timeframe and there was always a 'good' reason why I 'had' to sew it rather than buy it.
I made a dirndl to go to Oktoberfest because good ones can run up to $450, and I couldn't afford it. I made palazzo pants for Hawaii because I am too tall to fit into anything I can buy online. I made myself a couple of fancy dresses for parties because I didn't want to spend thousands of dollars. I made myself a pair of poofy pants for an Aladdin costume when I was younger - which I still wear to this day. (Photos at end of blog.)
Looking back on these makes, I see now how much each one has informed my style and almost all of them have been consistent wardrobe staples (except for the fancy things.) Quite the revelation! The things I sew are the most long-lasting garments I own. For example: my poofy pants I've had for 15 years now. I still wear them every summer, and I always love them.
My favorite garments have a few things in common:
1) They are long enough for my loooong legs
2) They are fairly simple and fit my body
3) They have a strong, central design feature
4) They can be styled in a bunch of different ways
We began the post with how to ignite a passion. What I'm realizing now is that despite these garments being beloved and beautiful, they aren't enough alone. I need a community of understanding and excited makers to help rewrite my history and to help me build my pathway to making now. Beyond safety and stability - which I have now - community is the next most important thing to help me. Beyond that: tools, a budget, a place to make. All of which I have.
So what's next? New makes. I've been a member of Seamwork for some time, and I've downloaded and printed one pattern, the Catarina out of a beautiful eggplant-purple jersey knit. Now I'm trying my hand at the Colette Crepe out of a gray stretch denim that I just picked up from Joann.
I'm super excited, and also scared. If I fail what happens? Will I be judged? Will I be hurt? Made fun of? Will people think less of me? And if I succeed what happens? Will others be envious? Will they hate me? Will they steal my things? Pushing against these fears is what I need chemistry for.