Slow — What it Means to me Now

 

How I think about slowness, and about my life list of things I’d like to make, has changed pretty dramatically lately. I’ve been wanting to talk about it here, and Slow Fashion October has given me the perfect reason.

It started when I learned to spin. Then a little later, I realized how much I really could make, and how little I really needed. That feeling built, fed by the other things I was doing and reading, until the vast universe of possibilities suddenly felt expansive instead of overwhelming.

 

indigo handspunThis is apparently the only picture of my second batch of handspun before knitting.

 

You wouldn’t think that learning to spin would speed up my knitting, but it kind of did. The two batches of handspun I’ve made so far have gone pretty much straight to the needles, partly because I was so curious to see what I would learn by making something from my own yarn. So one thing was obvious from the start: I can spin all the yarn I need to knit with. In fact, if I spun even a little bit every day, I would end up with much more yarn than I usually consume.

 

tasha's quaker yarn stretcher 3It became a Quaker Yarn Stretcher Boomerang, a fantastic fit for the yarn.  I’ll post Details are now on Ravelry, but for now I want to focus on the thoughts.

 

I already have a pair of fingerless gloves, and a pair of dreamy mittens, and that’s really all my hands need. Between (ahem) making them and the ones my grandma wove, I’m approaching more fantastic scarves/shawls than I can actually wear. And then, I can’t imagine I need more than four good sweaters. Actually, my ideal would probably be three sweaters I absolutely love, and one to throw on when the going might get rough. Right now I have the rough one, a thrifted one I think is OK (but Bryan is not a fan of), and some other kind of makeshift stuff. But those got me through all last winter just fine. And my SFO goal is to re-finish one that will hopefully become one of the loved ones. I could make another one next winter or the winter after, and that would be more than fine. There’s actually plenty of time for me to find the perfect fleece, wash it, comb it, spin it …

So need, or maybe it would be more accurate to say lack of need, is a big part of this shift in my head. I find it incredibly helpful and freeing, and it goes something like this: if I already have most of what I really need for this winter, I’m free to spend my time making something really special (no matter how long it takes) or trying something new (ditto).

What I don’t know how to explain (in fact I’m not sure I’m explaining any of this very well) is why spinning in particular set me free from the desire to make all the things, but here I am. Of course, if I didn’t spin it would still be perfectly valid (maybe even more so) to say, “I have the capacity to make so much more than I will ever need.” In fact I think maybe every maker should say this, and see how they feel about it.

I know that time always seems short. I have struggled and struggled with that myself. But I’m coming closer to peace with it, and for me anyway, it doesn’t really have anything to do with productivity, with figuring out how much I can “fit” into a given time, how much I can accomplish or make. Ultimately, a good life isn’t about how much we do. It’s about what we do, what’s memorable, how we shape and enjoy our experiences.

 

tasha's quaker yarn stretcher 2

 

In theory when we decide to sew or knit something instead of buying it, we’re taking more time about it and being more thoughtful. But somehow pursuing a craft can also pull us into a spiral of wanting to make more and more, of making something just to finish it and go on to making something else, because we have so many ideas. Thinking about everything I’d like to make leaves me perpetually unsatisfied, as it always must, since I can think of about a dozen new ideas per day. Framing my making around what I need allows most of those ideas to pop up, get admired, and then just float away. Lovely though ideas are, they should not all be added to a perpetually growing list of things I “must” make.

Ironically, giving up on making all my ideas for the realms I usually work in (mainly clothing) may leave me time to take on things in my wildest crafting dreams. Try making shoes? How about a quilt from those passed-down handwoven scraps? Well if I’m content with what I have to wear for the moment, why the f#^k not?!

 

tasha's quaker yarn stretcher 4

 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all kinds of ideas around slowness. I listened to an interview with William Powers and I’m convinced I need to read his new book New Slow City. One thing he talks about is taking time to fully have an experience, just focusing on what you’re doing instead of already planning the next thing you’re going to do after it. I want to do craft like that. This week, I’ve been in the final stages of refinishing a treadle sewing machine cabinet, a project I have probably a months’ worth of total work hours sunk into. Just doing that, and thinking about nothing but that, running my hands over the velvety smooth wood and mulling over all the steps that got me there, it was so incredibly satisfying. Much more so than finishing four little projects and for each one just thinking “oh good, that’s done,” and moving on.

Letting go of a lot of my ideas does feel like somewhat of a surrender, but it feels like the kind when the heat of the day won’t let up, insects drone on, and finally there is nothing for it but to peel off whatever clothes are handy and throw yourself into the nearest body of cool water. Or the end of a long winter day, when nothing feels better than to pull warm cozy blankets all around you, and let your whole body relax.

 

tasha's quaker yarn stretcher

 

So here’s what slow fashion means to me right now: it means I will make just a few things at a time, and I will make them with my whole heart. It means I will allow ideas for things that I don’t need to float away, and concentrate on the projects that mean the most to me and those that will be the most useful. It means I will give myself space to enjoy the processes, the parts that bring me the most joy (like spinning) without worrying about what’s next on the list. And I think it will mean that the more I make in this slow way, the more I will wear my heart on the outside, all over my body.

Anybody else want in? The water’s fine …

 

Time, Productivity, and All the Things I’d Love to Do

Or, how I discovered the mindfulness of the infinite list.

This post is illustrated throughout with projects we made at our annual family and friends craft retreat a few weeks ago.  I’ll tie that in later in the post.

 

I'm kind of obsessed with the hand as a symbol of the ideas I hold dear.  This was my design in a reductive printing process we tried.

I’m kind of obsessed with the hand as a symbol of the ideals I hold dear. This was my design in a reductive printing process we tried.

 

I’ve struggled on and off my whole adult life with a problem that boils down to this: there will never be enough time in my lifetime to make everything I want to.  Much less will there be enough time to learn nearly enough new skills, or to read everything that’s so good, it might change my life.

 

Speaking of new skills, we got to try wood carving this year thanks to my dad.  I made this new and improved wood version of the giant plastic hair pins I use all the time.

Speaking of new skills, we got to try wood carving this year thanks to my dad. I made this new and improved wood version of the giant plastic hair pins I use all the time.

 

I used to have a fantasy that if I could cut out all time-wasting activities, I’d have time for everything I on my love-to-want-to-do list.  I really, really hate to break it to any of you who may be still thinking about this, but it won’t work.  I got rid of the low-lying fruit a long time ago: I haven’t had TV since college, and one of the few benefits of being one of the millions of Americans paying too much for bad internet is that our connection is way too slow to spend hours watching video, or even reading content-heavy pages online.  I fully support giving up time-sucks, but it’s sad and true that no matter how much you cut out, all the good stuff still won’t fit in.

So sad, right?  Although, I do agree, as elegantly put in this article from the NPR blog, that it would be so much sadder if humans hadn’t produced more beautiful ideas than I can take in in one lifetime throughout all of our history so far.

After I figured out that no matter what, there would still be more lovely projects to make and music to listen to and books to read on my list than I could ever get to, the idea simmered on the back burner of my brain, sometimes seeming as if I had things under control & was making good progress, and other times like my available time was a thing with wings, or fangs, chasing me, or flying away at warp speed.

 

I led a refashioning session for everyone to remake & mend as they saw fit.  I'm awful at taking any pictures while I'm teaching, but even the pile of scraps from this session was lovely.

I led a refashioning session for everyone to remake & mend as they saw fit. I’m awful at taking any pictures while I’m teaching, but even the pile of scraps from this session was lovely.

 

Then, just a few weeks ago, we had our annual craft retreat of family and friends, hosted at my house for the first time.  I had a classic moment of semi-panic as I suddenly saw through the eyes of these people who I wanted to think well of me, some people who had never seen my house before, and my yard looked like a redneck junkyard in-the-making … I consider myself a decent housekeeper, and I did make an effort to get some stuff out of the yard on our last trip home … but there was this moment, about two days before the first arrivals, when I looked around and realized I could clean the house non-stop, without sleeping, until everyone got there, and still be seeing deeper levels of dirt, areas I had missed.

That’s when I got it.  It’s not that the list is longer than I can ever hope to finish, it’s that the list is infinite.  There’s a freeing, meditative aspect of mindfulness to the infinite list.  Since it’s not just unlikely, but actually impossible, to do everything on an infinite list, any infinite list, a certain amount of letting go is perhaps an inevitable next step.

 

My aunt Barb Miller made this truly lovely pillow from a unwanted garment, using my grandmother Dottie Miller's handwoven fabric.

My aunt Barbara Miller made this lovely pillow from a unwanted garment, which used my grandmother Dottie Miller’s beautiful handwoven fabric.

 

I’m still looking around in this infinite-list paradigm, getting my bearings. A few consequences that seem important have occurred to me so far.  Priorities, for one.  Since I can spend an infinite amount of time cleaning the house, I have to choose to stop at some point, even though of course I want things to look nice.  As a guest, if I could arrive at either a house with sparkling windows, or one containing delicious homemade ice cream, I’m wouldn’t hesitate to pick the latter option.  Your choices might be different from mine, but we all get to choose which of the current available options is the most important to us.

 

She was so right about putting the label on the outside.

She was so right about putting the label on the outside.

 

Since my to-do list is infinite, it makes more sense than ever to block out time for the things I love, which would otherwise get immediately buried under the small mountain of tasks I “should” do every day.  Back around the time I gave up TV, I decided to pencil in an hour a day for myself to sew, and I was fairly astonished at how quickly I finished projects.  I have more to-dos now than I could have imagined in college, but I’ve also realized that if I work on only one thing all day, even something I like, my brain slowly turns to mush over the days and weeks.  Plus, the feeling of getting further behind on my personal goals really starts to drag me down.

I need a little “fun” creative time, and a chance to explore new ideas, to keep me happy.  I reinstated the practice of giving myself an hour a day to work on whatever I want, regardless of whether it’s likely to ever make me any money, a few years ago.  It’s a huge and immediate boost to my life satisfaction.  If you can’t spare a whole hour, even 15 minutes a day can give you enough time to make progress on anything you’d like to fit in (Mark Frauenfelder of Make magazine says so, and I’ve seen a lot of sewing bloggers trying it out in the last couple of years, particularly after this post appeared on The Coletterie).

Mark Frauenfelder

The infinite list only beefs up my justifications for scheduling my “free time”, since it makes clear that the time when I “don’t have anything else pressing to do” won’t ever come.  I must choose to make time for the things I love, rather than waiting for the time to appear.

 

My dear aunt Barb also made this wonderful spoon.

My dear aunt Barb also made this wonderful spoon.

 

Perhaps the most freeing thing about meditating on the infinite list so far, is that since there’s no pressure to finish the list, it’s easier to give myself permission to to pay attention to what’s happening in the here and now, and to take care of some things right away.  Or just to appreciate a lovely moment, rather than always focusing on the tasks already stacked up from yesterday.

Overall, I’m feeling pretty stoked about this mental shift from the incredibly long list to the infinite list.  I’m hoping that it will help me focus on the things that are most important, leave some room for spontaneity, and let go of some of the unreasonable expectations I tend to hold over my own head.  Sounds pretty good, right?  What about you, any thoughts to add from your own experience?