Ambition and Making Things

Ambition and Making Things


Anyone who has followed this blog for a while knows I like to make things. The first decade or so, I seemed mostly making food and a garden and renovating the house in various ways, and this last year, since turning 50, I’ve been sewing.

I wrote a few pieces on Tumblr about sewing this year. This one, about rethinking clothes in my 50s, and there’s a roundup of what I made this summer, and my foray into Japanese Pattern books in the spring.

The dress in the photo above is Dress E from the Stylish Dress Book by Yoshiko Tsukiori. Google it or search for it on Pinterest and you’ll discover it’s wildly popular — and for good reason. It’s a cinch to make, and if you take out some of the excess ease (I cut nearly 2 inches out of each side of the front piece, and about an inch out of the back), you get this cute, swingy, comfortable dress to wear with leggings or jeans. I did one this spring without sleeves, and I think I like it much better with them — I’ll probably make a couple in lighter fabrics for summer.

This is what has happened to my brain. I should be writing, but lately, what I think about is making clothes. Pinterest makes sense at last — you can see what popular patterns look like on actual people. If there’s a technique you want to learn, you can find tutorials. And don’t even get me started on knitting — I’ve discovered Fair Isle/stranded knitting. I’m about to start a pair of socks. On these teeny tiny double-pointed needles.

It makes me feel slightly insane.

And yet, it’s the farthest thing from insane. When faced with a choice between working on my novel, a project I like (unlike the memoir, where the agent I queried rightly noted that the parts I didn’t want to write were really showing), or making a new dress, the dress is so appealing. I can cut out and finish a dress in two days, and then wear it right off. It’s such instant gratification.

My novel. Oy. I’ve been working on it for years. And I’m not terribly good at holding it in mind in the face of a workweek. It takes a day of noodling around the house and several days of making no plans with anyone before I can find the thread again. There’s a reason it’s been 15 years between books.

And one of them is that while it’s true I wanted to be a writer, it’s more true that I just wanted a life I like. I have my house and my sweetheart and my pets and the garden and now I’m figuring out how to make cute clothes. There was a lot I didn’t love about publishing a book — the tour, the questions from strangers, the sense of personal exposure and feeling obliged to do the Dancing Bear. I never really wanted to go to book parties or teach at conferences. Pretty much all I want to do is to stay home, write some, putter in my garden, have dinner with my Person, hike, play with the dogs, meet friends for drinks.

So I’m trying to treat this book project like learning to make clothes — this one is a new genre, so I’m reading a bunch of old and new theory (I know, doesn’t sound fun, but is). I’m spending time doing exercises with minor characters. I’m finding smaller goals so it feels like perhaps I’m making progress.

And I’m trying to let myself off the hook a little bit. All things considered, that I have a home and a Person and pets and a level of financial security is such a bloody fucking miracle that really, even if I only ever publish that one novel, I made a success of my life. And if I can find my way through this new one, well, as Ray Carver once famously said, then “it’s all gravy.”


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