Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Has Sewing Changed Your Life?

Be warned that this is a rambling post.  This is sort of a response to Tilly's question, "Has sewing changed your life?"  I say sort of because I'm not really sure this is what Tilly was asking.   I've been trying to figure out where sewing fits in my life as an artist for a while now.  It has made me view art and art making in a different light.   I haven't been able to put it in exact words, but this is my attempt.

Let me start by saying I've had the urge to make stuff for as long as I can remember.  My mom jokes about how anytime she needed a pair of scissors or some scotch tape she knew where to look-- in my room.  I have an early memory of getting in big trouble because I was up at my desk cutting paper chains instead of in bed sleeping.  I must have been four or five.  I was lucky to have an artist mom and family that encouraged my desire to make stuff.  I had weaving looms, paper, art supplies, and jewelry making kits galore.  In high school, I decided to pursue art seriously.  I took every art class they offered (which was a lot at my high school).  High school art was great.  I had incredibly supportive and inspiring teachers and I feel like some of my best artworks were made during this time.

Mixed media piece done in high school.  It's a story quilt about my grandfather, inspired by Faith Ringgold.  I wasn't sewing then.  All the fabric is crudely stitched together by hand.  There's some xerox transfers and painting in there as well.

College art was a little different.  I still had great art classes and have some works I'm very proud of.  But it wasn't as accommodating as high school art.  In college, I felt the pressure to be a fine artist.  Fine art, imo, is supposed to be academic.   It's about technical skill as well as expression.  My artwork needed to be refined, polished but also conceptually slick.  That's a lot of pressure.  That's a lot to expect from every artwork and makes it really hard to get started.  There also seems to be a competitive nature to being a fine artist.   I should say that I didn't feel this kind of pressure in every class I took, but a lot of them I did.  I noticed it the most when I was studying abroad, surprisingly.  I should also point out that I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting to be a serious artist.  In fact, I have the utmost respect for people who try.  But for me, I felt like some of that pressure was taking away from the fun of just making art.

Sagrada Familia Study
Oil on paper, done in grad school

Fast forward a few years and I am teaching art to five hundred elementary students every week, ages five through eleven.  It's fun.  Very fun and entertaining, but also exhausting.  Kids have that desire to just want to make art.  They don't really care whether or not it's a masterpiece.  At least not the little ones.  I can see that in my students and it is refreshing.  Two years ago, though, I was not making any sort of art at all.  Yes, I was an art teacher.  But not an artist.  I wasn't even making examples for art lessons except when I absolutely had to.   Part of it was time.  Being an art teacher requires so much time and energy.  Especially now with increased class sizes and almost no planning time.  But part of it was the pressure to be an artist.

Then sewing came along in the form of giant 16 foot tipi.   I was hooked the first time I threaded the machine for J.  All of sudden, I was making things again.  I was making things and not feeling the pressure.   I was enjoying the creative process for just what it was-- creating something.  At first, I separated sewing as a craft-- not really related to making art.  In fact, the first time I wore a handmade item out, a friend commented that I was "crafty."   I was kind of offended.  I didn't want to be crafty, I wanted to be artsy.   But over the last year I've realized that is a misunderstanding I've had about art for a long time.  It's not about having this tangible, intellectual end-product.  It's about the means that gets you there.  Process over product.

Sewing has changed my teaching style.   I focus much more on the development of an artwork than I used to.  I like to think it's made me a better art teacher.  I try to make my students aware of the higher order thinking skills they are using when they are making art.  It's all about decision-making and thinking for yourself, something kids don't do a lot of in school nowadays.  Information is not handed to you in art.  Your ability to recall that information is not what is important, but how you use it is.  The heart and soul of making art, expression, is something intangible.  There's no right or wrong in art.  I try to remember that for a child,  sometimes just the joy of making something is enough reason to do it.  Something to remind myself of, too.

And you know what?  I've started making some art again here lately.  Not anything too involved.  Mainly I draw and doodle at school.  I forgot how much I love to draw.   I take the time to make an example before I teach a lesson.   Sometimes I make something along with students.  I think it's nice for them to see me doing it, too.   I haven't started anything big like a painting (in the "academic" sense of the word), but I'm close to trying again.  I'd love to illustrate a kid's book one day.

A drawing I did of little kitty.  You remember her from this post?  I did it when the kids were doing a drawing exercise on point of view and was really tickled with it when I finished.

So, what in the world does this post have to do with the question, "Has sewing changed your life?I just sort of talked about art, didn't I?  Well, I know it's kind of all over the place but that's just where I'm at right now.  I feel like sewing is changing my life.  In the process.  I have all these dots out there right now- art making, art teaching, sewing, kid art and design- and I'm just trying to connect them all.  (I feel like furniture should be one of those dots, too.)  Maybe I'll wrangle all the dots in and figure out something really awesome to do one day, maybe not.  I'm content where I am but it's fun to think about anyway.  Fun to write about it, too.

Alright, enough of my scattered thoughts.  I enjoyed putting this down on (digital?) paper.  Feel free to comment.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on sewing vs. art, or just on the creative process in general.   Something I'm very interested in as an art teacher.  I still haven't totally resolved my feelings on art vs. craft, but it seems silly to totally differentiate between the two.  Also worth mentioning that I find it way harder to post pictures of my art opposed to pictures of things I've sewn :)


  1. I'm going to talk about art because my sewing is limited, but artistically I can comment. I agreed on so many of your thoughts. The moment I realised I was no longer happy as a fine artist or as I now call it 'the business of selling paintings' was when I would much rather colour in children's colouring books with my 17 month old rather then finish paintings for an upcoming exhibition. I hadn't worked for months for just pleasures sake. I'd also started to call art 'work' which immediately killed the fun factor. So I took a really large step back out of that world and decided to stop being an Artist and become a Creative. I created my blog entirely to follow and enforce that process. It's been the most productive, creatively pleasant time of my life. I feel no pressure, no question is too small, I'm learning, I'm ENJOYING it, I'm curious. Its effected the rest of my life too. I'm more organised. I'm more sociable. Even though I'm doing more it's like time is bending to fit it all in and I no longer feel smothered or rushed. I have a constantly stimulating and thrilling todo list which I keep adding too and keep checking things off my list. Has art changed my life? Yes, well, creativity has changed my life. Art stunted it a bit. I'm hoping sewing- which I have a strong interest in and one I intend to learn about intensely, will just become part of my creative life. I see it making me more decisive. More experimental. And it will help me get to know myself more then ever. And it will all boost my confidence which always changes people.

  2. Lianne- You just articulated perfectly so many things I was trying to say. Sewing has made me more of a Creative. Totally interesting, I love the idea of the Artist vs. the Creative. Thanks so much for sharing. And do start sewing- it's an exhilarating feeling to create something you can wear.

  3. Ha I have lots of thoughts on the Art vs Craft issue. I too started school as a fine artist but as with you it was taking all the fun out so I decided to teach as well. Teaching does take most of your energy so it is difficult to make art when you teach it. I teach a bit older kids than you grades 9 thru 12. For me sewing got me being creative again although I still struggle to find the time and energy since I also now have two children of my own. As far as are vs craft I think it is the job of the artist to blur those lines good art needs good craftsmen, good craft needs good artist.

  4. That is an awesome post, and I think it hits exactly what Tilly was going for.

    I could probably do a rant on "fine" anything, but I shan't. I'll just say that I'm so glad that sewing has helped you re-connect with your art. I don't really think it matters what you're making as long as you're making something---the procedure may be different but the process is the same, if that's not totally nonsensical.

    I would love to have a breakthrough like that in my own art. At this point I hate 90% of what I draw, if for no other reason than it looks like something drawn by me. Basically it needs a lot more time than I have to give it right now... /sigh.

  5. With sewing I try to remind myself that the process is more important than the end result, but the expense of materials and the fact that I actually can't buy RTW where I live sometimes makes that a hard pill to swallow.

    I love learning new things and sewing is a doorway to additional adventures. I also find that sewing helps me with my other creative endeavors-somehow the brainpower or connections that I use in sewing feels directly related to my ability to hear patterns or "make things fit" in the musical realm ( I play in a band that writes/records original music). Sewing helps hone my senses to details.

    nice post!

  6. I think the process of making and creating is paramount in having a fulfilled life. I think it gives the individual so much - a sense of purpose, an outlet for creative expression, a feeling of personal accomplishment & success, happiness and so much more. I tend to be a 'jack of all trades' - I sew, I draw, I paint, I carve, I cook, I garden, I craft...the two common denominators in all these activities is that they all allow me to make and create. I think the skills that I get from each of the 'hobbies' overlaps and flows into the others (aesthetics, practicality, functionality, creativity etc) and therefore I believe that they can all exist side-by-side, constantly feeding each other.

  7. I was kind of the same as you as a child, but my mom was exasperated with my attempts to make something out of any yarn and fabric so I was kind of an underground artist (I gotta put this joke in my bio!) ... now i really enjoy the artsy part of sewing as a means of expression, not so much replicating the same design...

  8. Living Vintage- I like the idea of the line being blurred.

    Tanitisis- Just remember that you are always more critical of your own work. I happiest when I'm drawing or making something "kid"-like but I still struggle with other works.

    Big in Japan- True, there is a cost to sewing. I think it's really cool how sewing helps you with your music. Funny how all the arts seem to overlap...

    Bernice- I love all the reasons for making and creating that you listed. So true.

    Magda- Sometimes I get frustrated with trying make things technically perfect when I sew but I try to remember that it's the artsy side of sewing that I enjoy so much. Of course, when your skills get better is when you can do so much more creatively...

  9. It's wonderful that you are getting back to drawing and enjoying it, since you certainly have a talent for it! When you wrote about feeling offended for a friend calling you "crafty"; I had the same reaction when one of my friends commented that I was crafty. I didn't think of myself in that vein at all, I want to be considered a serious dressmaker making useful garments that I could wear day to day, whereas I associated "crafty" with someone who was dabbling aimlessly and not making anything useful...
    But when I look at all that I do, I can see I've done my fair share of non-sewing-related dabbling in creating that I've enjoyed too; activities like gardening, cooking, making greeting cards and drawing and painting too, and these forms of creating have been just as fulfilling. So I guess that an important ingredient of a happy life is to experiment with different ways of transforming our dreams and visions into some concrete form.
    Hmmm, I've just read that through and I don't know if that actually describes how sewing has "changed my life" at all. Since I have been sewing all of my life then it is impossible for me to judge how something that has been a constant has "changed" my life!

  10. Thanks for responding! This is such a fascinating read. I've been mulling over the difference between art and craft too (in particular why craft is so neglected in the cultural/arts sector). Your point about the process, the decision making is really interesting. Something to mull over...

  11. Carolyn and Valerie- Thanks! I was feeling a little self-conscious about showing artwork...

    Tilly- I'm glad you came over to visit. I'm sure you have lots to mull over!