Making for the Sake of Making

The husband tells me that I think too much. I don't believe he means that as a criticism—we could use a lot more people in this world who actually do think. Rather, he sees how much I get myself tied up in knots sometimes. I am not blessed with his capacity for just letting go and moving on to the next thing. I have to analyze the living daylights out of the last thing, first.

I've been this way for 52 years. I don't see that changing any time soon. 

There hasn't been any sewing since I finished that Hayden bag. Part of that has been this week's schedule. Part of that has been a total lack of desire to start something else, so of course I have to ask myself, "Why don't you feel like starting anything else? What is it about that last project that seems to have killed your desire to sew?"

And then I came down and read John Thomas's comment on my last blog post, where he says,

I like the bag okay, I guess, but I would have to have a specific use in mind before going through the effort. I would not want to just put it aside after making it and try to invent a reason for using it.

(I hope you don't mind me quoting you.)

That resonated with me, especially the part about "going through the effort." Have you heard the saying that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become proficient at something? I am at that point in my life where I have put those 10,000 hours in and then some. I can sit down at the piano and sight-read most things I am asked to play, or be given a lead sheet with nothing but chords written on it and come up with an accompaniment part. I can take a bunch of string and two pointy sticks and create an original sweater design. I can assess the ingredients I have available and come up with a nourishing meal without having to follow a recipe. I know the difference between "ilium" and "ileum" and "perineal" and "peroneal" and I can make an accurate and coherent medical report out of what sounds like gibberish to most people. 

I don't think I have yet put in 10,000 hours with sewing, but a lot of those skills transfer laterally from other fiber arts. In my more optimistic moments (ha!), I expect that I should be able to get by with about half the effort. Of course, that mastery is not linear; it's not 10,000 hours of perfect effort that leads to proficiency. It's 10,000 hours of trying and failing and trying and failing again and finally failing less and succeeding more. I've made my share of meals that even the dogs wouldn't eat. I have had some failed knitting projects. The older I get, though, the less tolerance I have for that failing part. I don't have as much time left now as I did when I was eight and learning to play the piano. If I am going to put forth the effort on something, I want something tangible and useful to show for it. 

And therein is the problem. I feel like I spent more than a few hours of my precious free time on something I don't really like and probably won't use. I may not even go through the effort of finishing that Hayden bag. I could cut the D-rings and zipper out and repurpose them. I can chalk that project up as a learning experince, because I did learn some things, and those things will go into the body of knowledge that gets carried forward to the next project. At this point, though, I am not into making just for the sake of making. I am not into effort just for the sake of building up my set of skills. Is that a function of age? Lack of patience? Both? 

I am trying to be honest in my assessment of that project (this is the "thinking too much" part). Maybe I could have made better design choices. I really do like that poplin, but maybe I should have used a more subtle print for the lining. I don't think the lining is awful, but perhaps the bag wouldn't have looked quite so cheesy with a navy blue zipper instead of a yellow one. However, the navy blue zipper I was instructed to purchase by the pattern was the wrong size and I didn't have a navy blue nylon one on hand. I am also trying to be charitable, because I have been on the other side of this equation as the designer, but that pattern wasn't ready for prime time. It needed a good technical editing at the very least. 

I wasn't kidding when I said I might have to make another Noodlehead bag just to make myself feel better. I think I am going to knock out a couple of Wool + Wax Totes. I do love working with that waxed canvas on my industrial machine and there are a few people I haven't yet gifted tote bags to. Or I could do a blog giveaway. We'll see. At least I feel like sewing again. At some point the pendulum is going to swing in the direction of something else, like back to quilts or—more likely—making some T-shirts for this summer, but for now I still want to make bags. 


We have another eighteen pints of beans for the pantry. This time, I did white beans:

I am going to have to do more black beans in the next couple of weeks, but we have a few pints left. 


The Week of Blah Sewing

The Hayden bag is done except for binding the seams on the inside and making the strap. The binding should only take a few minutes but I just didn't have it in me last night. And I haven't decided if I want navy blue webbing or if I want to make a fabric strap:

I am so ambivalent about this bag. The navy blue poplin was a delight to sew with. I did most of the assembly of this bag—all but the last couple of bulky seams—on Vittorio, my Necchi BF.  (The poplin would also work beautifully without interfacing as the lining of a bag.) The rest of the bag I am just "meh" about, which is odd given how excited I was about the overall design. I would change some things in the next iteration. That front pocket gets its volume from a gusset. The gusset is a strip of fabric about 1-3/4" wide. By the time the two 3/8" seams are sewn—the seam sewing the gusset to the front of the pocket and the seam sewing the pocket and lining together—the gusset is really only about 5/8" wide with a whole lot of bulk inside from those two seams, even with trimming. I could never get away with that in a thicker material. If I ever do this in waxed canvas, I am going to try making the front pocket out of one piece of fabric with mitered corners at the bottom to give it the volume it needs. I might also enlarge the whole design by about 50% and perhaps put two pockets on the front instead of one. I don't know. I am not sure I want to spend a lot of time re-engineering this when there are other things I want to make. 

Also, I wasn't planning to use that yellow zipper. The pattern called for a 14" zipper, so I purchased a navy blue and metal Tim Holtz zipper at Jo-Anns the other day. It said "14 inches" on the label. The convention is that zipper length is the measurement from "component to component," or from the end stop to the end stop. The zipper length is not the length of the zipper tape. The 14" Tim Holtz zipper was more than an inch too long for this bag. The length of the zipper gusset pieces in the pattern was only 13.5". I can only assume that the designer therefore meant the zipper TAPE should be 14" long to allow for a quarter of an inch of overhang at each end (which was what the picture showed). The actual zipper length needed for the bag was shorter than 14". I didn't realize that when I was buying the zipper, because I thought I was purchasing the 14" zipper called for in the pattern.  I had the yellow nylon zipper in my stash and it matched the lining fabric. In the interest of getting this bag done, I used it, but I think the Tim Holtz zipper would have been a nicer choice. 

Despite my annoyances with the pattern, I am not quite ready to give up on this designer. She's got some great ideas and I did learn some new techniques with this bag. I got an e-mail notice today that she has three more pattern releases. (Friday seems to be the day that bag patterns get released, which makes sense as most people do their sewing and making on the weekends.) I've also got her Margaret T-shirt pattern. Maybe I'll work on that this weekend as a break from bag-making. 

In other news, the waxed canvas cross-body bag finally has a strap:

I have discovered an appalling lack of consistency when it comes to hardware from big box stores. Dritz, for example, makes a combination hook and D-ring, which would have been perfect for this bag except for the fact that the diameter of the D-ring is 1" and the diameter of the bracket for the hook is 7/8". Who thought that would be a good idea? Most webbing comes in one-inch widths, so a hook with a 7/8" bracket is practically useless. Why not make it 1" to match the width of the D-ring? I used these D-rings because I liked them, but after the bag was done and I tried to put on a 1" webbing strap, I discovered that the hooks with brackets that are 1" wide really didn't fit with these D-rings. I ended up ordering webbing in the 1-1/2" width so I could use the beefier hooks with 1-1/2" wide brackets. 

Stupid stuff like that makes me nuts. The Creative Bag Making list on Facebook has scheduled February as the month to discuss hardware. I guess I am not the only one with these issues. 

Perhaps I'll make another Noodlehead design just so I can feel like I've been successful with something this week. Or I could straighten up the upstairs. I've taken almost everything in my stash out to rummage through it and it looks like a bomb went off up there.


I am doing a little informal test to see how long I can go without having to make a trip to town. The weather has been so yucky all week—alternating rain and snow, melting and freezing—that I am quite content to stay put. I know I can go a week without a trip to town. Two weeks might be pushing it, although we certainly have enough supplies here to hunker down. And heaven knows I don't need much social interaction beyond what I get with the shiny toy husband. He isn't doing any concrete jobs right now. This is the time of year when he stays home and does maintenance and other stuff around the house and the shop and distracts me while I am working. 

I did talk to my friend Tommy about using his Singer 78-1 with the needle feed for some projects that need a machine with a bit more ooomph. He works from home as a mechanic and said he wouldn't mind if I popped in to use the machine for a bit. His daughter is the one who bought the Singer 185J that I provided the cabinet for a few months ago. He said she is having a lot of fun sewing on it—another convert to the world of vintage sewing machines. 


Interfacing Games

I know I have been writing a lot in the blog lately, but this is just as much a creative outlet for me as sewing is. Blogging about my projects helps clarify a lot of the process for me. 

I am still kind of stuck at the moment—hoping that the bottomless well of energy and creativity that I had last week will resurface at some point—but I forced myself to go upstairs after dinner last night and get started on the Hayden bag. This is where I was when I stopped:

I got all of the pieces cut and interfaced. I went with SF101 on the back of the poplin (that's the black that you see) as well as on the back of the yellow lining pieces (in white), even though the pattern did not call for interfacing on the lining pieces. That yellow print was lightweight enough that it definitely needed something. The jury is still out on whether or not one layer of SF101 is enough for the poplin. I am trying to keep in mind something that I read from one of the bag designers, that interfacing bags isn't a science. Sometimes it requires experimentation to get it right. Just because the standard is one layer of SF101 doesn't mean that I am limited to one layer of SF101. It might be that this particular fabric requires two layers of SF101. Or a layer of SF101 and a layer of fleece. Or a layer of something slightly heavier than SF101 but lighter than Decor-Bond. (Pellon has a whole line of interfacings and I've only scratched the surface.) I won't really know until I get a bit further into the process. 

You can see that I also added a magnetic snap to the pocket in lieu of the Velcro that was specified in the pattern. I dislike Velcro almost as much as I dislike spandex. I think the magnetic snap is classier. 

I'll finish this bag and see what I think. I bought a yard of the navy blue, which is enough for at least two more bags. I'm also setting up a second Necchi—probably the BU Mira—so that I don't have to keep changing thread colors. Multiple sewing machines is a luxury I am going to exploit, trust me. 

The husband very patiently sits and listens to me talk about bag construction over breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There are some similarities to housing construction. He got a set of plans last year for a house on which he was bidding the foundation—except that the plans didn't include the foundation blueprints. We really scratched our heads over that one. (He has his own opinions about architects and engineers.) I doubt that I will ever have the level of spatial perception ability that he does, but I am getting better. The brain is plastic enough that it can learn things that are difficult. It just takes some discipline. I had a really, really hard time with knitting charts when they first started showing up in knitting patterns. I forced myself to learn to use them to the point where they became my preferred method of reading stitch patterns. Bags are the same way. With each project, it gets easier for me to "see" in my head where things are going. 

I am also trying to rely more on my ear when I play the piano, although I am not applying myself to honing that particular skill with the same dedication. I have figured out that if I start with an easier piece of music, I can "fill in" and add embellishments and chord substitutions by ear. I do that mostly with familiar hymns. (I took piano lessons at a music school where embellishment and improvisation were frowned upon. If Beethoven hadn't written it that way, who was I to mess with the notes on the page? Playing by ear is not a skill I ever developed but it sure is handy in church.) 

My poor brain. I am sure that some days it wishes I would just leave it alone and let it veg out in front of the television. 

Yesterday was the mumbling doctor's last day at the clinic. I did an extra 20 minutes of audio (not his) in celebration.  


Busted at Hobby Lobby

I mentioned in one of last week's posts that I ran into my friend Arlene at Hobby Lobby and chatted with her for a bit in the fabric section. I stopped there again yesterday and who should I run into but Arlene! (This time I was in the leatherworking section.) We had a good laugh. 

I went to Hobby Lobby to try to find some fabric to make this Hayden bag. As much as possible, I do try to shop from my stash. This bag has me stumped, though (more on that in a moment). The materials list for the bag simply says "Linen, denim, home dec, quilting cotton." I don't know about you, but that seems to me to be a pretty varied list of fabric weights. Quilting cotton is way lighter than home dec. That's like telling a knitter he or she could make an Aran out of anything from finger weight to bulky yarn. Technically, it's true, but not everything is easily interchangeable. No differentiation is made as to where the different fabrics might be used, as in "Suggested fabrics for exterior: Linen, denim, home dec. Suggested fabrics for lining: Quilting cotton." 

Furthermore, the instructions are vague when it comes to interfacing. All they say is to interface the exterior fabric. That's odd. The exterior fabric might get some fusible fleece, but the lining—which is often a light quilting cotton—usually also gets interfacing to give it some heft. If there is some reason for interfacing only the exterior and not the lining, it might be good to put a note about why in the pattern. 

I asked about this pattern on the Creative Bag Making list. It's new enough that I doubted a lot of people had made it, but one woman was getting ready to work on it Sunday night and she and I had a conversation about these issues. She posted her finished bag yesterday. It turned out beautifully, but she said there were several spots along the way that I might want to watch out for. This bag doesn't have a drop-in lining. Rather, the exterior and lining are treated as one piece and the inside seams are finished with bias binding. I am not opposed to bias binding—quilts use binding, after all—but it will be a bit fussier than a simple drop-in lining. 

I noticed, too, as I was reading through the pattern the other night, that the instructions for attaching the loops to the completed zipper gusset (the loops are where the strap attaches) are given before the instructions for making the gusset. I've picked up on enough inconsistencies just through a simple reading of the pattern that I wonder if this designer bothered to have it tech edited or had anyone make test bags from her instructions. She shows two views of the bag in two different fabrics (one of which looks like a poplin and one of which looks like a quilting cotton.) It may be that she made both of them. I purchased two other bag patterns from this same designer and now I am wondering if they are going to have issues as well. 

[I've written patterns, and I've written patterns where mistakes sneaked past both my tech editor and me, so I have to be careful about casting stones. It's one thing to find mistakes in an pattern for a complicated Aran sweater, though, and another to find mistakes in a relatively simple bag pattern. Sweater patterns aren't generally test-knitted by anyone other than the designer before a pattern release, as sweaters sometimes take months to make. The pattern for a bag that can be made in one evening, though, should definitely be put out to testers before final release. Most bag designers will have a dozen people test-make a new design in order to ferret out problems ahead of time.]

In any case, back to the fabric. I think that ultimately, this bag would be fabulous in waxed canvas. I want to make it in something slightly easier to work with, first. I don't have any more of that embossed denim (and couldn't find it again at Jo-Anns). I have a bunch of duck cloth, but that just seems too coarse to me. I kept envisioning some kind of twill or poplin, but a bit lighter than denim or duck. Jo-Anns only had stretch poplin (let's revisit again how much Janet hates spandex). I also get really frustrated looking through the fabric at our Jo-Anns. The shelves are messy. The lighting is miserable. Disparate fabrics are often grouped by "collections," so I have to search through all the collections and all the round racks and hope that I stumble upon what I am looking for. 

Hobby Lobby, by contrast, has a well-lit, open space with all the fabric displayed on simple racks. The selection isn't as broad, but I found a whole rack of (non-stretch!) poplin in black, khaki, navy blue, red, and teal. The navy blue was exactly what I had been envisioning for this bag. Now I need to work through the interfacing issues. The poplin is going to need some interfacing. I'll need to figure out whether fusible fleece or SF101 is going to be better. SF101 is the standard interfacing used on lining fabrics like quilting cottons. However, on these smaller bags, I think it makes the lining too stiff and bulky. (I ran into that with the waxed canvas cross-body bag.) I picked up some lighter-weight Pellon P44 at Jo-Anns and I plan to try that for the lining on this bag. (I asked about that, too, on the Creative Bag Making list, but no one seems to have used it for linings.) 

I'll keep you posted. This may end up being a completely different bag from the original design by the time I get it finished. 

While I am being curmudgeonly*, I will note that I found a couple of Klum House video tutorials on YouTube last night. I watched them and was horrified. In one, the sewist put pins into her waxed canvas bag. She also used Wonder Clips, which left me wondering why she used pins at all if she knew what Wonder Clips were for. Pins leave holes in waxed canvas. In another, she showed how to box the corners on a canvas tote bag. The first thing I noticed was that she had made French seams on the tote bag. French seams in canvas (not waxed). I get that she probably wanted to finish off the seams so they would not ravel. How about a serged edge? How about a simple zig-zag stitch over the edge with a regular sewing machine? How about seam binding? I can think of a lot of ways to finish off seams in a canvas tote bag that don't involve creating a seam with four layers of fabric. When she went to box the corners, then, she had to sew OVER those four layers plus the additional layer of bottom fabric. I thought for sure she would sew it on an industrial, but she went to a Singer Heavy Duty, which is a gray-colored machine that can be bought at Wal-Mart or Amazon for about $150. The only thing "heavy duty" about that machine is the label on it. Sure enough, she started sewing through all this bulk and I could hear the motor grinding in protest. She even stopped and showed how to "walk" the machine over the bulk of the seam because there was no way that machine was going to do it on its own. 

These are the kinds of videos that just make me cringe. Yes, she is probably self-taught. But hey, I'm self-taught—I managed to graduate from high school without ever taking a single Home Ec class. I'll have to look at the dates of these videos—maybe they were made a couple of years ago and this person has picked up some better habits since then. Let's hope. 

* The husband found me a blog called the Adaptive Curmudgeon. The language is explicit, so you've been warned. It's pretty funny, though. 


Kidney Beans Will Fix It

Eighteen pints of kidney beans later and I am ready to get back to sewing:

I spend maybe $50 a week at the grocery store, and it's usually on things like wine, cheese, and beer (stuff we don't produce here). I go to Costco maybe once every two months. When the kids were home, I did a grocery run for food for them and the total came to $182. (They eat things like cereal and milk that the husband and I don't eat.) If I had the time, I'd keep a more formal accounting of how much money we save by doing some of this stuff ourselves, not to mention that home-canned organic kidney beans taste better and are better for us than the commercial ones. 

We grew some dried white beans in the garden last year and they did surprisingly well. We just didn't get very many. I'd like to try more of them this year and see if we can grow enough for our own use. The seed catalog arrived Saturday from Victory Seeds in Oregon, where we purchase all our seeds each year, so it's about time for the annual farm meeting. 

When I don't feel like sewing, I do research, instead, and over the weekend I ran across the website of Klum House Workshop, a maker's cooperative in Portland, Oregon. They have classes! On sewing with waxed canvas! I especially want to take the class on making the waxed canvas Frontier Backpack. They are offering it next Sunday, which won't work, obviously, but if they offer it later in the year, I am going to make a point of going over and taking it. Perhaps I can even schedule a class at the Portland Meat Cooperative on the same weekend. 

There is just to much I want to learn. Klum House offers patterns and kits, too, for some of their bags, but they don't have one yet for the backpack. I *could* teach myself, but taking a class would be a real treat. 

Taking a break from active sewing lets my brain work on things subconsciously, too. I was stumped by a couple of technical obstacles for some bags I want to try. My industrials are not heavy industrials. They are light industrials and the same rule for not pushing a machine past its capabilities applies to industrials as well as domestics. I may need a machine with a walking foot. It occurred to me that I could call up my friend Tommy and borrow some sewing time on his Singer 78-1. That was the machine that came with the industrial treadle that is now powering the Necchi industrial. At the time, I foresaw no need for a machine like the 78-1 (silly me) so I sold it to Tommy. He uses it a lot in his upholstery business. I am sure he would be glad to let me use it. I think he would also be intrigued by the waxed canvas. I am going to call him up later today and visit with him. 


I found out last week that one of the doctors I transcribe for is leaving the clinic. People have told me that he is a really nice guy in person, but he is the absolute worst dictator I have ever had the misfortune of having to transcribe. He mumbles his entire dictation. I dreaded the days when I would log in and see a whole queue full of his voice files. They would always take me much longer than other doctors' reports because I would have to listen to them over and over to try to figure out what he was saying. I have ESL doctors with thick accents who are easier to transcribe. 

I can't say I am too busted up about his leaving, nice guy or not. I don't get paid enough to put in the kind of extra effort I was having to on his reports. 

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