lessons from a tedious day …
… that finally turned lovely … phew!
Today I embarked upon a project that’s been wandering around the back of my mind for seventeen years. Mmmhmm! That seems like such a long time ago but the older I get, the more aware I am that it is but a blink :-)
Seventeen years ago I was working in the school of psychology at the University of Queensland – I was lucky to be part of a gorgeous team of women who were all so interesting and funny and lovely – there was a Sri Lankan law graduate, an American masters student in creative writing, a gorgeous Jain mum to two little boys, and a mad Zimbabwean woman who was dedicated to the politics of justice and women’s rights . It was also when we first discovered the internet – we each had our passions and would spend our morning teas and lunch hours sharing what we had discovered that day.
Several of us became members of the Folio Society (an English publisher specialising in beautiful editions of wonderful literature), we regularly sent away to Past Times (an English shop that sold lovely clothes and homewares based on historical artefacts) for group purchases – all of which we had delivered to work so we could unpack everything on the tea table in the main office and enjoy a group swoon – and had marvellous dinner parties which were filled with excellent food and heated debates. Well, the heated debates were the result of bringing our husbands along – we were all on the same wave length – “they” included a constitutional law academic who wrote for ultra-right wing think tanks in the US (oh my! the combination of him and the Zimbabwean activist was something else!), an English army officer and my chaotic Dutch anarchist.
After meeting a Canadian linguist who was into Medieval costumes at one such party, I was introduced to Folkwear Patterns. Swoon! My psychology friends and I quickly decided – all being fans and graduates of the 1970s and its love of hippy, folky gorgeousness – that the Afghan Nomad’s dress was our favourite. But at that time, you couldn’t order the patterns over the internet – you had to phone and it all seemed just a bit too hard. Then I had Abby, left my job and only thought about the nomad’s dress every few years – including a moment in the early 2000s when I made up a vogue pattern that looked reasonably similar but was so hideously unflattering and awkward that it became known to the family as the Mongolian wet nurse’s sack and quickly found its way into a bag for the Salvos.
Then, a couple of weeks or so ago, Alicia over at Rosy Little Things posted her version (and just today, another one!). It was one of those light bulb moments – oh look! it’s the Afghan nomad’s dress! Made by a woman who usually hates the clothes she makes for herself and she LIKES it and says it is flattering and lovely to wear! No further encouragement was needed (and the memories of the Mongolian wet nurse’s sack were dismissed). I hopped on the net and found that yes indeed, I could order it from their website. Easy peasy! In just over a week it arrived. It was like Christmas morning. I had waited so long for this pattern.
I pulled it all out of its envelope and pored over every detail – sigh! So exciting. Then visited Spotty this week for some fabric – they have the lovely Reprodepot range and it is on special – perfect.
And yet … when I gathered my pattern, fabric, pins and scissors this morning … it all seemed a little daunting. I was almost tempted to shove it all back in a bag and wait for the “right moment” to tackle it. But no! I’d spent all this money on the fabric and had the pattern I had coveted for seventeen years. I would plough on.
First, I discovered that the largest size was not my size. No, the pattern’s updated notes informed me that I was a 3x extra large. Oh my. That was more than a little dispiriting. I know I’ve become rather pudgy (oh! listen to the denial – I mean, overweight!) but 3x extra large – that sounds more like the size polo shirt my Uncle Kevin, who’s 6’5″ and an ex-navy footballer, would wear! (no offence Uncle Kevin :-)
So there were a lot of extra inches added to the bodice and waist band. Then it took almost three hours to cut out! This cannot be true – it is all made up of rectangles – three hours!? I think I must have spent a lot of time dithering. Three hours!
Finally, I had my pieces ready. I ventured into the spare ‘oom where the sewing machine has been set up over winter (don’t like my sewing shed in winter – too dark and cold). Chaos. Pure chaos. Let me tell you how much quality was added to the sewing experience by having to climb over spare computer monitors to get to the sewing machine, and having to stand with one foot resting on the printer whilst trying to iron the bias binding flat around the neck. Ugh!
The day was disappearing into a muddle of crankiness, frustration and disappointment. It took 3 attempts to construct the sleeves – finally, one was finished. As for the neckline and front V!?!? After two hours of spitting my teeth across the room, the unfinished, never going to turn out bodice was pettily hurled onto the kitchen table and I stomped off for my shower (at 2.50pm) before collecting one of the girlies for babysitting. Man was I cross.
I cursed the dress. I cursed Folkwear. I cursed babysitting. I cursed the spare ‘oom. I cursed my uselessness. I cursed the “lost” day. After all these years of looking forward to an Afghan nomad’s dress, I had patently failed.
As I set off for school, the sky grew so dark and the wind that had been roaring around the house, shaking every window pane and sending branches from our oak crashing to the ground, grew even stronger. By the time I pulled up, it was raining and freezing. The perfect weather to match my mood.
And there was the little girlie waiting for me. A big grin on her face. Jiggling from one foot to the other with cold. She knew nothing of chaotic spare ‘ooms or non-existent waist lines or hideous bias binding. All she was looking forward to was a relaxing and fun afternoon with her nanny – me.
I took a deep breath and stepped out of the car. At once the cheery chatter began. We settled on a quick trip to the fruit and veg store followed by afternoon tea at a very posh bakery and then home for stories and homework. The frustration and anger began to slide away.
We ate nougat and drank warming tea. Bought vegies – and a pomegranate which she had neither seen nor eaten before. By the time we were ready to head back to the car the wind had all but disappeared, the rain had dried up, and in true Melbourne style, the sun was out and the sky was blue.
Once home, we cracked open that pomegranate – it was such joy to share it with her. She was utterly delighted, pulling apart the soft creamy membranes to find yet another cluster of ruby red arils and then gobbling them up – her fingers quickly becoming a lovely, sticky rich pink. She wrote the word pomegranate up on the kitchen white board so she could tell her parents about it, and we gathered up the leftover arils and put them in a bowl for her to scatter on her icecream for dessert. We hoped on the computer and read about the history of pomegranates and Iran – the pomegranate’s birthplace. Then we flopped onto the sofa and read the picture book version of the Anne Frank story I had brought with me (her class have been reading Morris Gleitzman’s wonderful story “Once”) which prompted a long and thoughtful conversation about what it must have been like to lose so much when you are still so little.
By the time I left at 6pm, the sky was still beautifully blue, the sun still shining, and the drama of that silly dress had not only completely subsided, but I had realised how easily I could change the construction and fix that bloody bodice (hm! just zoomed in on Alicia’s photo of her Bloomsbury version and I think she may have ditched the bias binding too!)
I drove home, delighting in all the flowering fruit trees that line our streets at the moment, cooked my family a lovely dinner and got to sit in MY cosy kitchen, listening to MY girlie’s stories of the day, crochet on my lap, the hook flying.
:: sigh:: Sometimes, I become so immersed in what is happening at that very moment, that I am incapable of standing back and working out how best to go forward. With hindsight, I should have counted the one finished sleeve as the day’s success and reminded myself that the goal of life is not to start and finish everything in one frenzied blitz.
This dress – which is truly symbolic of almost everything else I do – can and will be made – but one stitch at a time. Today a sleeve. Tomorrow another sleeve. Eventually the bodice will come together and one day soon, I will be wearing that Afghan Nomad’s dress and hopefully I won’t look like a wet nurse :-)
If I don’t finish something within the first few hours of starting it, I have a tendency to consider it a fail, and it is pushed back into the stash, only sometimes making its way back out. That’s the fail. Not allowing the unfinished item to become PART of my days, not the sole focus of one day. Instead, allowing myself to take on just the right sized bites, here and there, until it is finished. And to remember that there is so much more to a day than a finished sewing project – there are people to enjoy, experiences as simple as eating a piece of fruit to find success and happiness in, making the most of the opportunities we get to sit down together as a family with no other demands on our time.
Hmmm …. perhaps I need to print out this long and wordy post and before I start something new, have another read and remember that the creative process is but one aspect of who I am and how my days are filled. ’Cause when I remember that, when I allow that to happen, oh the days are so much lovelier.