Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Studying Little Decisions

I have been thinking a lot about how slightly I plan things as I'm sewing, and a little about how I decide what to do next. How did I learn to sew? Not 'what did I learn', but how did I learn to sew the way I do? I'm looking at the cloth suspended all over the house every day asking what these makers learned to do next once the cloth and the needle were in their hands.

Here are patches on a dress- I notice the patches are big, anchored far outside the hole being mended, and overlapped.

And the stripes on the patch are carefully matched to the stripes on the garment, even though the patch and the garment are different colours- the dress is faded, the patch is not.

The edges of the hole are slightly turned and overcast. The patches are magnificent, spontaneous. The stitches aren't hidden, they are part of the patch.

The stiches on the top around the outisde of the patch are guided by the stripes. A decision.

Lines of straigh stitch on the boro cloths I have to look at here are similar in some ways; the lines wander to conform to the shape of the seam. But the construction overall is distinctly different; this is a composition of smaller cloths, not a reconstruction.

The flap here, on the left hand side, is a loose tail. The whole piece it is part of is applied here on top of other cloth. It is kind of a reverse patch, a hole added over another cloth. Maybe yet to be finished? Or maybe whoever was composing this cloth wanted it like that. I don't know.

And on every Mayan textile I have, the embroidered details are applied on one surface and the tails of the thread are woven into the base cloth.

Barely a stitch of the the thread appears on the other side. The tails leave tracks under the base cloth on the embroidered side, but not a trail on the other side.

This is a South Asian textile, a wool shawl with a heavily embroidered border and all-around edging. Here is the front:

And what I presume to be the back.

And the edging detail, from one side or the other, I presume 'the back'. The difference here with the Mayan textile is intriguing; certainly this is in part a function of the base cloths themselves; a fine wool doesn't have so many places to hide stitches I guess. But the stitcher's decisions are here; even a bit of that person's  process is here. I think the orange was sewed last?

And finally, a little mystery that just dawned on me the other day. I have owned this weaving for a few years; I bought it from a weaver from Guatemala who once ran her own weaving stall and workshop just over the border in Honduras. I saw her weaving this a few times as I walked by her workshop until finally I decided to ask if she might sell it.

And I didn't notice the differences between the 'bottom' two rows of bees until I was back in Canada. There are ten rows of the upper row of bees on the cloth, and only one row of the smaller bees. It dawned on me the other day what had happened: she changed her mind. The bottom row is the first row of bees and the one above is the second row. The first and second rows were each an experiment as she figured out how she wanted the bees to look. Even though I had seen her weaving it over a few days, on a backstrap loom, I didn't get it.

So maybe that is what I'm thinking about. About how making something unfolds as a set of decisions, step by step, about how much experience and spontaneity goes into taking each step. That the process unfolds in the making, and not in the planning. That's what I'm thinking about.


  1. I think subconsciously we think like a painter. Now, I have no idea how they think, but there is an intuitive sense that takes over. The okay, I need to add a little yellow here and a feather stitch would accent this line. It is not front brain, nor is it taught. You know when it is right and you know when to take out the stitches. At least that is how I create. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I admire those who keep beautiful sketchbooks of ideas and then execute them so well. I know that if I put the effort into the sketchbook, I would not create it in cloth. It has already been done in my mind. I also don't cook following a recipe, rarely read the directions for sewing clothing. I do follow knitting and crochet instructions. I wonder why!

  2. Gracie, I love the message of this post, really liked your photos and discussion about the likely process of each piece. I'm stuck a lot -- too much in my head thinking and planning about what comes next. But I think you've got it, it's in the doing/heart, not the planning/mind, where the magic happens and that is huge. I'll be back to reread it, I know...thanks! xo

  3. Cloth can teach us so much simply by looking at it and being with it. It contains stories, the traces of another person's life, decisions made, one foot in front of another, a path. Thanks for the thoughtful post!

  4. I love the close attention you pay to those works. I do that too with the works i like . I too ask myself sometimes how did i learned to make quilts.
    It seems to me that i went through two different phases: the perfectionist one and the spontaneous. Obviously i'm in the second now. Trying to be spontaneous, natural and just make it. Of course as Jeannie said sometimes it doesn't work...never mind, as Heather said is a path, a process, said womanwithwings. I agree with them and with you "the process unfolds in the making, not in the planning". So true..