Actually, she probably did, because my mother pretty much tells it like it is. But I probably wasn’t listening because I’m a bit of a Pollyanna.
But here’s what I’ve figured out in the 19 days since my dear daughter’s birth: having two kids (spaced two years apart) is really, really, REALLY hard. The two-year-old is reaching a new level of mischief and naughtiness and the baby is, well, a newborn, which means she is an unending ball of need. Oh, there are moments where I look at the two of them, so sweet, and wonder how I am so lucky, like this rare moment of bliss! .
But those moments are few and far between on a day like today, when getting anything done seems impossible and all three of us have spent half the morning crying! My husband is a stay-at-home-dad, which is an awesome situation (we realize how lucky we are). But nonetheless, it’s challenging, especially since I’m trying to transition back to work (but realize I can’t very well leave him to tend to Max, plus a screaming infant).
So, I’m taking a few minutes to turn to patchwork. I want to make a tiny patchworked iPod holder (I’ll put up the tutorial when I’m finished), but it’s hard to get inspired to sit at the sewing machine today, even amidst all of this lovely pink and black fabric.
I guess it’s just one day at a time, right? Right? Sigh.
In case you don’t know, sewing is what all the cool girls are doing now. This was most certainly not the case when I was 16, but sewing has made a transformation from dying art to hipster hobby. Today’s fabric is gorgeous, the patterns are fabulous, and the web sites and blogs devoted to sewing are crazy with inspiration and talent. To see other women (and young girls) embracing this activity I’ve always loved so much thrills me. But as I started to research my book, Sew Retro: A Stylish History of the Sewing Revolution + 25 Vintage-Inspired Projects for the Modern Girl, I realized sewing’s history has been a bumpy one—full of shady characters, narrow and problematic assumptions about women’s roles, and incredible flashes of talent. Let’s just say the needle and thread have been around the block a few times, and been rejected and embraced many times over in the last few centuries.
A good place to start is the invention of the modern sewing machine by Isaac Singer in the early 1850s. Other inventors had tried, but Singer was the first to make it work. The descriptions I’ve read of Singer characterize him as a bit of a ladies’ man, out for a quick buck and a cheap thrill (I’m guessing people locked up their liquor and their daughters when he came to town). Nonetheless, his engineering know-how made women’s lives so much easier. Of course, is it fair that women were stuck doing all the sewing, as well as taking care of the house and the kids, with no real say in the matter? Of course not. Nineteenth-century domesticity—for all its beautiful artifacts—was no picnic. But at least a sewing machine meant women didn’t have to take every stitch by hand. Commercial sewing patterns were introduced in the 1850s (Butterick produced the first sized patterns in 1863), and by the 1890s, patterns looked similar to how they look today (directions and pattern pieces inside an envelope).
By the 1920s, sewing was starting to wane because the ready-made garment industry was growing like crazy. A whole generation of swanky flappers realized that perhaps they didn’t have to sew anymore. Organizations like the Women’s Domestic Institute (led for many years by the amazing Mary Brooks Picken) tried to show women that their sewing skills had great commercial appeal. The Institute taught women to sew (via correspondence course) and helped thousands of women start small sewing-based businesses (if only Etsy were around then!).
As an industry, sewing wasn’t in danger of folding in the 1920s and 30s, but it was limping somewhat. We have this idea that everyone must have started sewing again during The Great Depression, which isn’t exactly true. People actually just made-do with less (and mended more). It was World War II that truly rejuvenated sewing. Women sewed for the war effort (coining the phrase “Sew for Victory!”), and they also learned the amazing art of repurposing old clothes into new things (since fabric was heavily rationed). By the mid 1940s, sewing was booming again; sales were way up, and Singer Sewing Centers popped up everywhere, wooing thousands of eager teenage girls (and on that note, thank goodness Singer himself wasn’t around anymore).
We like to think the 1950s were the golden age of sewing in America, and it was definitely the height of couture sewing (because pattern companies started partnering with famous designers to offer high-end style to middle-class women). But in reality, the numbers had already started to drop. It took until the 1960s for women to really rediscover sewing again. The hippy handcraft fad of the 1970s (think macramé) kept the momentum going.
But the 1980s? Forget about it. The “me” generation wasn’t interested. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that young women started digging out their grandmothers’ machines and bright young designers pushed fabric and pattern design into the 21st century. There were about 30 million home sewers in 1997, and by 2006, the number had jumped again: the last number I was able to find was 35 million American women sewing, as reported by the Home Sewing Association (an organization that doesn’t exist anymore).
What’s great about today is that women are free to sew or not sew, and to shape their own creative identities in any way they see fit. It’s that simple choice about our destiny that has made sewing more appealing than ever.
In the two years since I had my last baby, I've forgotten a lot. Like how utterly exhausting those cute little blobs are! I had this idea that I would just have all kinds of time to catch up on everything after she was born.
You'd think I'd know better! But it is easy to forget how much time and attention they need. I'm such a routine-craving person that I am desperately trying to get Georgia on a schedule, but I know it's pretty much futile at this point (she's only 12 days old, after all). So free time seems elusive these days!
However, I did manage to make this cute bib! We've gotten some super cute girl clothes, but are still loaded down with lots and lots of boy-themed bibs. I don't mind--I'll put a bib with a football on her since it's just going to get spit up on in two seconds. But I wanted a few girly bibs for company and outings. I embroidered this "sweet peach" bib in between (very frequent) nursings. I repurposed an old pink maternity top that I never wanted to see again.
My little Georgia peach
I had never embroidered on knit before, and it's a little trickier than I thought. I used some interfacing as a stabilizer, but I probably didn't use the right kind (I just grabbed whatever I had in my stash). My stitches certainly aren't perfect. And my top-stitching is crooked too. But it was nice to just steal away to my sewing room for a few minutes while she was napping to get it finished! As I wrote about a few weeks ago, I have a whole catalog of projects I want to make, but all in good time.
Speaking of projects, I'm loving this gorgeous blanket my friend, Andrea, knitted for Georgia. As I said, we're overrun with blue, green, yellow and boy-themed stuff, so it's nice to have something girly, but still with a sort of mod feel.
Georgia Claire arrived on September 9 at 4:48 a.m.! My water broke around 2:00 in the afternoon, and we headed to the hospital a few hours later. After a slow start to labor, things finally got moving later that night. The big surprise? Georgia was 10.5 pounds! I had no idea she was that big (I guess my doc didn't either). Delivery went fine though. We're all resting at home now.
Now that I’m in the final days of the baby countdown (I’m due Friday!), I’m dreaming of all the things I want to make after the baby comes. Of course, I’ve got a ton of things I want to make for the baby, but have been holding off just in case it’s not a girl (a foot was hiding some stuff in the ultrasound, so the tech was only 90% sure it was a girl). And selfishly, I can’t wait to have my body back so that I can make things for myself.
So, what’s on my list?
First is a little slip dress, front-tie sweater, and bonnet from this Advance pattern from the 1940s. I like the pleated dress too, but I’m not crazy about the neckline (looks uncomfy for baby) and I don’t know that I want to go to the trouble to modify it.
I’m thinking of using this sweet pink striped shirting I got at Mood last time I was in NYC for the dress and bonnet, and maybe doing another dress from the great yellow flowered feedsack I picked up on eBay.
Feedsacks go super cheap on eBay!
I also can’t wait to make this circa 1970s Simplicity romper for next summer.
I picked up this adorable pink and green retro-looking floral at Purl Patchwork earlier this year in NYC after I found out it was probably a girl, and have been waiting for inspiration.
As for mama sewing, I’m drafting a pattern for simple shirt I can wear to nurse, made from knit with a crossed bodice and empire waist. I don’t know if it will work or not, but I have a yard or so of this pretty knit that I got for a steal, so I thought I’d give it a try. I’m only in the muslin stage, but I’ll share once I’m further along (and able to actually measure myself accurately). Ideally, I’ll be able to use this piece of vintage-looking ribbon that’s been in my stash forever to accent the front, but we’ll see.
Next, I can’t wait to try making this vintage Simplicity sheath dress! I’ll probably modify the neckline because I like a slightly lower one, but I love the overall silhouette!
I've also had this lovely blouse pattern for a while—I picked it up after Amy Karol blogged about it. I’m a total sucker for ruffles lately. I’m leaning toward option D, or maybe E without the bow.
I actually bought the fabric at Purl earlier this year (this awesome Anna Maria Horner print). I think it will drape lovely on those ruffles. Speaking of Anna Maria, I just ordered her Roudabout Dress pattern too, so add that to the list!
Continuing with my ruffle fascination, I saw this super cute cardigan in Banana Republic’s ad in the September InStyle issue. I feel certain I could make a version of this—it’s a super simple silhouette with rows of raw edge ruffles, gathered in the middle. I’m still sorting that one out in my head. A soft knit for the cardigan and then a cotton woven for the ruffles? I definitely want frayed-edge ruffles.
And lastly, I’m dropping hints all over the place to my husband to buy Kay Whitt’s new book, Sew Serendipity, for my birthday next week. I have oogled this book like crazy. She’s got tons of beautiful dresses, skirts, and tunics. And yes, ruffles!
Of course, I know I’ll be sleep-deprived for a while, and sewing may not be #1 on my list at first. But I also know that I can’t stay away, not when I’ve got all these patterns and fabrics shouting my name!
Assuming I don't go into labor (my standard caveat these days), I'll be at Creativities in Madeira this Saturday to sign books at 4:00 p.m. Even if you're not interested in buying Sew Retro, come anyway, because this is an awesome new space and resource for sewers! It's great to have one more independent fabric store here in Cincinnati!
I am a completely reasonable person. I love free speech and debate. I love forums where people can express opinions.
But I suck at taking criticism.
Actually, I think I should phrase that the other way around: I’m far too efficient at taking criticism and take it to heart way too much—that is, when I have poured my heart into something. I want to play Smiths songs all day long and curl up in the fetal position.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m pretty confident in my abilities. After all, I support my family by writing (my husband is a stay-at-home dad). But I think that particular kind of “career” confidence comes from learning to distance myself from most of what I write about. It isn’t that I don’t care about the topics. In fact, I love to write about things like running and good nutrition and beautiful gardens. I enjoy researching, interviewing experts and pulling stories together, and I want to make sure that I do the best job I can on every assignment. I have no problem with edits, and when it comes to service-based stories or corporate copywriting projects, I don’t get married to the language of anything. If an editor tells me I missed the mark, I’m not going to cry and stress (too much); I’m going to take a deep breath and fix it. That’s because these pieces-for-hire rarely reflect the essence of me. They’re my job. They’re not who I am. (Personal essays are the exception to this, of course, and I have one coming out that is keeping me up at night, if you want to know the truth.) A reader doesn’t like my story on interval training? As long as my editor likes it, the reporting is sound, and I’ve done my job, I don’t so much care. The reader’s opinion is valuable, but I don’t take it personally.
But writing Sew Retro has been a whole other matter, where every single reader comment feels intensely personal! Having it out there is absolutely terrifying, because the book is a huge piece of me. It’s my (other) baby: it was this little seed of an idea, and I nurtured it and stayed up with it and listened to it have tantrums, and finally, it was ready to leave the nest (pardon the gooey, overly sentimental metaphor: I’m pregnant and hormonal!). As the reviews come in on blogs and on Amazon, I hold my breath every single time I start reading. Good comments make me smile (and thank you for all those good comments!), but then I’m on to the next thing.
It’s the biting comments that I can’t shake, and I find myself reading over and over again. I read a negative comment and think, “That’s it. I’ve failed. I’m terrible.” Of course, that feeling goes away eventually, but man, it’s crushing for those minutes or hours or days. For me, dealing with the negative criticism is an exhausting cycle: first, I’m mad at the reviewer (“you freaking idiot, you don’t know what you’re talking about”); then, I’m worried what others will think (“everyone will think my book is terrible and it will wind up in the sad 1/2-price bin!”); then starts the second-guessing (“what was I thinking, writing a book? Who am I to write a book? I’m ridiculous!”), and finally, finally, finally comes the acceptance (“hmm, okay, so this person didn’t like it. No big deal. You can’t please everyone.”)
I need a way to get to the final stage of acceptance and moving on much more quickly! I wonder if other authors go through this too, and if it’s more exacerbated with craft books, where the essence of your creativity is really out there, completely up for discussion and debate? I’d love to know how other authors/designers deal with this!
Until then, cue Morrissey (“please, please, please, let me get what I want this time . . .”).