Maker Moment: Make Do and Mend

Throughout the late fall, winter, and early spring months, I live in Express Columnist pants and basic V-neck sweaters for work. Each year I’ve purchased one or two new colors of each, so that now I can go about a week and a half wearing nothing but that uniform before needing to do laundry. The constant wearing and washing eventually takes its toll, however, and over the years I’ve had to mend the occasional dropped hem or split seam.

At some point this past year, I started to let the mending slide. A hidden button came loose, and instead of immediately reattaching it, I put it in a safe place and set the pants aside, intending to deal with them before the next wash. Instead, as soon as I was at the bottom of the drawer and in need of something to wear, I pulled the pants back into rotation, deciding that the button wasn’t really needed anyway and I’d fix it after they’d gone through the wash.

You can see where this is going.

Soon, I found myself pinning up the dropped hem of a pair slacks every time I wore them, each time telling myself that I’d get to them just as soon as they were clean and pressed again. It was important to me that I didn’t look sloppy, but apparently not important enough to take the time to fix the problem properly. Meanwhile, more buttons popped off, pocket bags frayed open, and one by one my sweaters developed holes in the underarms. My pile of to-be-mended garments kept growing, until it started to feel like there were more items in it than out of it. (Not really true, but it certainly felt that way when that’s where all of my most-worn garments were living.)

During the winter’s first (and quite likely only) snowfall, I decided there was no better way to spend a house-bound afternoon than finally buckling down and doing the mending. And as soon as I settled in with needle and thread, I was reminded of how much I actually enjoy hand-sewing. Others may find it tedious, but I find the slow, meticulous, and repetitive nature of the work soothing, especially when accompanied with a hot mug of tea.

In a couple of hours, I was able to hem two pant legs, close up three pocket bags, and repair holes in five sweaters, including invisibly fixing a hole in the middle of a sleeve by grafting the edges closed. When I finally tied off the last thread and announced my success, Justin quipped, “It’s like you have a whole new wardrobe!” When I mentioned my project to a coworker, she had the exact same reaction.

A bit of a stretch? Sure. But they captured the spirit of the thing, which is that giving life back to your favorite garments—whether it’s by mending them or by some other trick, like upcycling—gives you the thrill of “having things to wear,” with the added bonus that you did it yourself.

Have you shown any of your favorite garments, me-made or otherwise, a little love lately? They’ll pay you back for the effort, I promise.

Maker Moment: Cross-Pollination

Justin and I are both creative people, but we have very different hobbies. Whereas I gravitate toward pursuits that produce tangible results like sewing, knitting, writing, painting, and building, he prefers activities that are more experiential. He especially loves games. He plays board, card, and video games with equal fervor. He’ll play solo, one-on-one, or in big groups; he’s equally comfortable playing with close friends and total strangers. He collects games, curates them, and shares them. He’s nostalgic for the games of his childhood, but also loves to keep up with what’s new. He has a soft spot for games that are historically or culturally significant, even if they’re bad.

I also enjoy games, but to a different degree than he does. He likes to help me with my DIY projects, but he doesn’t have the same dogged determination about them that I do. As you can imagine, we each sometimes struggle to appreciate what is so compelling about the other’s hobbies, since we’re attracted to such different kinds of experiences.

Nevertheless, he’s incredibly supportive of my crafts, even if he’s not particularly interested in doing them himself. So on Thursday when I told him that I got an email saying that Hancock was having a sale on McCall’s patterns for $1.49 each (seriously, go check it out—it’s almost as good at the 5-for-$5 Simplicity patterns they sometimes offer), he had his shoes on and his car keys in hand before I could look up from my phone to see if he’d go with me.

To make things fun, we decided to look through the patterns separately and then compare notes on which ones we liked. I was pretty sure that we’d pick at least a couple of the same patterns, but there was no overlap at all, despite the fact that I had pulled out about 20 and he’d grabbed 7.

With nearly 30 patterns on the table, I had to do some serious culling to stay within the 10-patterns-per-customer limit. Justin very helpfully offered to buy 10 as well, but once I started cutting contenders it got easier. First, I set aside anything that didn’t excite me or that felt aspirational: styles that I want to like because they’re popular or easy to wear, but don’t fit my lifestyle or my dressing habits. Next, I looked for duplicates: any patterns that were similar to others on the table or others I knew I had in my stash did not survive the chopping block. Finally, with a few patterns left to eliminate to get within the limit, I considered which patterns were the most efficient (for lack of a better word): ones that I would make or wear over and over again, ones that fill holes in my current wardrobe, ones with multiple styles options or the potential for pattern hacking. The inefficient patterns went back in the drawer to be found and loved by someone else.

As is usually the case when I’m working on a project and Justin is nearby, I narrated throughout the process, occasionally soliciting his opinion or advice. When I got to step two, where I was concentrating on weeding out duplicates, he said, “This is just like deck-building.”

In competitive card games like Pokémon or Magic: The Gathering, at least 50% of the game consists of assembling one’s deck of cards before playing. Players select an assortment of character, resource, or event cards that they can then play, individually or in combination, against their opponent in order to achieve the game’s objectives (which, in Pokémon and MTG, consists of “attacking” one’s opponent until their health counter reaches zero and they’re knocked out). Much of the discussion for these games revolves around different strategies to win and which cards work well together or can be played in more than one way. Once a player puts together a deck, they’re often encouraged to consider what the weakest or least effective card in the deck is, and how they might replace it with a more effective card or eliminate it entirely.

Watching me weigh various options, Justin saw someone who was building a “deck” of patterns, where the goal was to create a wardrobe of outfits that suit the kind of activities I do while looking and feeling good to wear. (Bonus if they’re also fun to sew.) Just like in deck-building, options that didn’t really fit in with the others I was looking at were bypassed in favor of ones that created a more cohesive set, and options with more than one use were preferred to ones that were more limited.

I had never thought of pattern shopping in this way, had never considered that our two apparently disparate hobbies could share a common language. It’s fascinating to think that a system so specifically crafted in one context could be so readily applicable to another context that it does not overlap in any way.

Of course, there are certainly elements of each context that have no analog. For instance, while many decks are built to win, there are also decks that exist simply because they’re fun to play, with little to no chance of success; in sewing, even just-for-fun pieces, like costumes, or impractical pieces, like a dress made entirely of fringe, would need to fit well enough for someone to wear.

But by finding this common language, I was able to communicate my goals more clearly, and Justin was able to offer more constructive advice. I have a new way of thinking about my own purchasing process—and who knows? Maybe next time it will make things even faster and easier. If nothing else, we both walked away with a better understanding of why the other is so intrigued by the complexities of our respective hobbies. 

Have you ever experienced a moment of cross-pollination like this? Do you have two unrelated hobbies that share an unexpected connection? Does your passion for something help you to better understand someone else’s passion when you otherwise just wouldn’t get it?

Maker Moment: Spread the Love

Last night, Justin and I decided to check out a new-to-use deli for dinner. The shopping center where it’s located, which is a mere five minutes from our neighborhood and full of local shops, is more of a warren than a plaza, with many narrow streets and alleys between clusters of buildings. Since it was nearly 8 PM when we finally settled on where we wanted to eat, it was already dark and difficult to figure out where the deli was amidst all the other cafés and boutiques.

While driving down one of the many one-way streets and peering up at the neon signs, Justin said something fantastical that was completely at odds with his level tone: “That’s a Disney princess.”

“Come again?”

“There’s a Disney princess on the sidewalk between those two buildings.”

Intrigued, we decided to park the car and investigate. (Rather serendipitously, we ended up walking by the deli, which we’d driven past.) Sure enough, there were three young women in full princess regalia being photographed under the streetlights in the covered walkway between two shops. They were perfect replicas Cinderella, Elsa, and Anna, from their hair and makeup down to their gloves and shoes.

I’m a huge enthusiast when it comes to costuming/cosplay, and I’ve been to a fair few Renaissance festivals, Halloween costume contests, and fancy dress parties (as I found out they’re called in England). I have no problems going out in public in garb, whether or not there’s an event, and I don’t mind when people ask questions—far from it!

But I can’t think of time when I’ve seen others in costume outside of event, and I don’t chat up random strangers about their clothes on a normal day. Actually, I don’t chat up random strangers at all, if I can help it. I avoid small talk more diligently people with sniffles and those salespeople at mall kiosks selling lotion. I will absolutely dodge down another aisle if I think someone in the grocery store might try to strike up a conversation.

As someone who loves costumes and likes to make things, though, I had to know: did they make their dresses?

So, bolstered by my curiosity, I walked up and said hello. We admitted to stopping because we caught sight of their photo session; were they dressed up for something in particular? The Cinderella premier at a nearby theater, it turns out. Cinderella herself said they were a huge hit with the kids going to see the movie.

“Did you make your own outfits?” I asked, all nervous anticipation.

Anna pointed to Elsa and said matter-of-factly, “She made everything herself.” Anna’s was a group effort; Cinderella’s was purchased.

While I would have loved to stay and get more details, it was clear that they’d planned the photography, and I didn’t want to interrupt them any further. I let them know that they all looked amazing and wished them a good time. I left feeling heartened that there are other sewists here, and that they’re some super-talented and warm ladies to boot. Even if we never run into each other again, I’m glad I stepped out of my comfort zone and shared my admiration for their work. I know if I were in their glass slippers, I would have been immensely flattered. I’m glad I could spread the love.

Maker Moment: Show-and-Tell

Today during my lunch break I decided to pry myself away from my desk and head into the break room to eat and knit. Although this break room is open for use by anyone in the company I work for, it’s across the hall from the two primary office spaces, so it’s seldom used by the larger departments. This afternoon, however, there was a young man that I hadn’t seen before eating lunch. He seemed engrossed in his phone, and I had my headphones and my knitting, so I hunkered down without introduction.

Pulling out my yarn and needles got his attention. He introduced himself, then asked what I was working on, if it might be a hat. It was a good guess given his vantage point, but I lifted the work off the table to show that it’s actually a bandanna-style cowl (the free Purl Soho Bandana Cowl, for those interested). He asked how long it would take to finish. I counted out the days that I’d worked on it already, added the one or two evenings left to finish up, and estimated that it will have taken a total of four or five days. Before he could become too impressed by my speed, I pointed out that the yarn and the needles are both quite large, which makes it easy to whip up something quickly.

Now, I know some people would find this kind of interaction bothersome—it’s their lunch break; they have precious little time to themselves, let alone to knit; and they don’t like to be peppered with questions. I’ve heard stories ranging from the anecdotes of mildly irritating folks who insist that crochet is knitting or that they don’t have the time to learn a craft themselves, to the horror tales of rude ne’er-do-wells who will snatch the work from the hands of its owner, threatening to send stitches leaping from the needles whilst demanding to know what the stitcher is making or frostily informing them that they’re “doing it wrong.” Even the well-meaning out there tend to interrupt us when we’re counting or give praise that makes us want to cringe a little. It’s enough to make many a crafter keep their knitting safely at home, venturing out only to the sanctuary of a local yarn store, if at all.

Despite being loath to engage in small talk, I am not one to shy away from knitting in public, and the unexpectedly happy ending to this story has reinforced to me why it’s so wonderful to be seen doing something I love.

See, after I showed off my cowl, my coworker surprised me by saying that he’d only ever stitched up one project, a wallet. I asked whether he had sewn it on a machine or by hand; in answer, he pulled it out of his back pocket. It was very worn, making it hard to tell if it was leather, vinyl, or cloth. Around the edge was an uneven blanket stitch worked in faded and slightly dingy orange thread.

“It’s not very good,” he admitted, but I said, “No, it’s great.”

“It’s almost falling apart. I need to make another one, but I guess I should work on getting better first,” he said sheepishly.

“It’s well-loved,” I countered. He grinned, and it was clear that even though it wasn’t the tidiest piece of work, and it was definitely on its last legs, he’d enjoyed the making and using of it.

It’s not often that I spot handmade goodness in the wild, so it was really heartening to not only see something someone made, but to know that my own handiwork is what encouraged them to pull it out in the first place. I consider myself lucky to have gotten that little peek into someone else’s creative life. I hope it’s not the last time, either.

Do you craft in public? What do you do when others ask about what you’re working on? I’d love to hear other uplifting stories, but if you’ve got a campfire tale of mayhem and madness, bring it on!