Making the Most of It

August adventure day at Rakaia Gorge

August is always a month of frustration for me. On the one hand, I’m excited, because spring planting starts, and though the weather might not be the best, there is the promise of spring on its way.

But with the promise of spring on its way is the threat of winter being over. I look at the gardening tasks ahead, feeling overwhelmed and wanting to get cracking on them. But I look back at winter and feel I haven’t accomplished nearly enough while the cold weather lasted. All those sewing projects that I meant to get to, that extra writing I had hoped to do in the long dark evenings, the photographs I meant to print and put into the family photo album…August reminds me that the time for finishing indoor projects is running short.

It’s not that I didn’t do anything over winter. I was busy sewing, knitting, and writing. But there simply aren’t enough winter days for me to accomplish everything on the to-do list. When August comes round, I have to resign myself to not getting things done. I have to prioritise. That photo album? It’s been three years since I’ve put a picture in it. Looks like it’ll have to wait one more year. The jacket I wanted to make for myself will take backseat to the one my son has asked for–he needs it more. The pair of socks I started knitting last winter…well, I still have hope I’ll finish that project.

Half of me is ready for spring. Eager for warm sunny days to whip the garden into shape. The other half of me wants a succession of rainy weekends so I can finish all those winter projects.

The only reasonable thing I can do is make the most of whatever the weather gives me in August. If it rains, I’ll dive into the sewing with gusto. And as soon as the sun comes out, I’ll don gardening gloves and head outside. And if the weather is so fine, it begs for an adventure, I’ll leave everything on the to-do lists for another day.

Knitting Socks

You could call me stubborn.

It would probably be more accurate than the more polite persistent.

But sometimes stubbornness pays off.

I hate knitting.

I’m lousy at it. Really. I was first taught how to knit before the age of ten.

I’m now 47.

I still couldn’t knit my way out of a wet paper bag.

But I’m also stubborn.

I will knit.

Specifically, I will knit socks.

I know, I know. Socks are not the sort of project a non-knitter should attempt. They’re bound to end in tears. And they have, over and over again.

But I’m so close to being able to make all my clothes. I make shirts, trousers, jackets, underwear…

The only thing missing is socks.

Once all your other clothes are custom-made and fit perfectly, the ‘one size fits most’ socks they sell in the stores feel like they were made for aliens.

I need socks that fit.

Which means I need to learn to knit socks. Not just any old socks, but socks that are perfect for my feet.

So, how many socks have I knitted in the past 37 years since my first knitting lesson?

Um…none.

But, as I say, I’m stubborn.

I’ve never been able to knit in the round (which, of course, dashes my chances of making socks), but with fresh stubbornness this winter I had another go.

After several blood-pressure-raising sessions, I have knitted SEVEN CENTIMETRES of sock!

I’m so excited.

Think of it. SEVEN CENTIMETRES! Give me another 37 years and I might make it to the heel of my first sock!

Slowing it Down

When I tell people I enjoy quilting, they assume I mean I enjoy choosing fabrics and colours, and piecing quilt blocks. They’re usually surprised to find that it’s actually the quilting that I enjoy, and that I do it by hand.

People are also often surprised to know how much hand sewing goes into the clothing I make. Buttonholes, zips, linings…even my t-shirts often have hand-stitched hems or neckbands.

Partly, I do a lot of hand stitching because I prefer the way it looks, or it’s the only way to handle something my machine can’t do.

But mostly, it’s a way to take my time and focus on both product and process. A machine stitches quickly, but if I sew something by hand, I can place each stitch exactly where it want it. I can shape an edge or an awkward corner. I can make hand stitches invisible or use them to add subtle embellishment. By sewing slowly, by hand, I have greater control over the stitches themselves.

Sewing by hand also forces me to take more time with each project. I rarely make anything purely for fun–when I sew a pair of jeans, it’s because I need a new pair of jeans–but I also enjoy sewing. It is tempting, sometimes, to whip out a project quickly, just to get it done and have the final product to wear. By sewing parts of a project by hand, I am able to slow down and enjoy the process, not just the product.

While I am sewing by hand, I have time to think–about the project, about the person it’s for (if it’s a gift), about the ways in which it might be used, about how the process is going (and whether I need to rip a hastily done seam and do it over, or add a feature I hadn’t planned on). There is something meditative about hand sewing that sewing by machine doesn’t provide. And I think it has to do with speed.

It’s like walking versus driving. You might not get there as quickly walking, but you will experience more along the way.

 

Traditional Easter Jack-o-lantern

The traditional Northern Hemisphere holidays make absolutely no sense here. Easter falls at the Northern Hemisphere seasonal equivalent of mid-October. So a celebration of spring flowers, new-season’s growth, resurrection, etc. just doesn’t work.

We’ve just brought in the last of the harvest–pumpkins, apples, popcorn. The only summer crops left are those in the greenhouse, and they won’t be around much longer, either. Trees are losing their leaves. We’ve brought out the candles, and dream of sitting by a crackling fire in the coming months. Clearly, painted eggs, bunnies, and spring flowers are inappropriate.

So I introduce the traditional Easter Jack-o-lantern. Carved while snacking on roasted pumpkin seeds.

Great fun for the kids, and better for them than chocolate bunnies!

Failure

2017-01-21-09-23-03smI’ve been in a veritable frenzy of pickling the past couple of weeks. Before that, there was a good stint of jam-making. I’ve had a brilliant run. I’ve been able to run a full canner-load almost every time, every jar has sealed, and the jam has been the perfect consistency.

Until two days ago, when a jar of dill pickles exploded when it was lowered into the canner. Then yesterday, I ran fifteen jars through the canner, and FIVE of them didn’t seal. What? FIVE? I never have that sort of failure rate. I did what I always do though, upon reflection, maybe my lids or jars weren’t quite as hot as they should have been, because I was doing two batches at once, and my attention was divided.

Today I reran the five unsealed jars, making sure they were nice and hot, and they all dutifully sealed.

But it made me think about failure and my response to it.

I fail a lot. I have hundreds of rejections of my writing from agents and publishers. I’ve thrown away entire rounds of cheese that just didn’t work properly. I’ve made loaves of bread that could be deadly projectiles. I’ve made birthday cakes that didn’t look anything like what they were meant to be. I’ve taught lessons that have flopped completely. I’ve made clothes that have gone immediately into the rubbish upon completion. The list of my failures goes on and on.

When we fail, we have a number of options.

Option 1: We can pout, blaming our failure on the weather, the phase of the moon, the person next to us, the wrong tools, millions of illegal immigrants, or whatever. This might make us feel good, because it allows us to pretend our failure was not our own fault. But it doesn’t make us likely to succeed next time.

Option 2: We can get angry, blaming our failure on our own stupidity, clumsiness, incompetence, or lack of innate ability. We can believe that, because we failed, we are a failure. This is an easy response, because it allows us to justify not trying again. “I’ve tried that, and I can’t do it.”

Option 3: We can critically analyse what went wrong. Maybe it was poor tools–I’ve had cheese fail when a thermometer was inaccurate. Maybe we got sloppy–I’ve ruined garments by rushing to finish them. Maybe we didn’t understand enough about what we were doing–the first time I taught preschoolers, they chewed me up and spit me out, because I had no idea how they related to the world. Analysing our failures takes time. It requires a willingness to critique ourselves in an honest and constructive manner. It requires us learn new things. It requires us to get back on that bicycle and try again.

It’s hard.

But it’s the only option that leads to success.

Homemade Gifts

100_2135smMy daughter’s birthday is fast approaching, and I still felt I hadn’t come up with a gift idea that was truly from me. I have often made special things for the kids for their birthdays, but they don’t always go over as I’d wish. Three years ago, I made her this awesome jeans jacket. I found an okay commercial pattern and modified it to fit my daughter’s tastes and frame. I spent ages searching for the perfect cool hardware bits to decorate the front. Then I had to order a zip from overseas, because I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted in country (because it had to match the hardware, of course). In the end, I was quite pleased with the results.

She has never worn the jacket. Not once. Not even for a few minutes.

The same thing happened with the skirt I made her four years ago (because the girl needed something other than shorts and T-shirts to wear). She’s worn the skirt…once or twice when I forced her to wear it to a formal occasion, and every time it’s led to tears.

That’s okay. It really doesn’t bother me. I had a blast making every homemade gift I’ve given the kids. If the kids don’t like them, I know that I’ll be able to give them to someone else who will. And some of them have gone over extremely well (all the stuffed animals, the jerseys and parkas, the zip-off pants, the slippers, the fuzzy bathrobes, the wizard costumes…).

I’ve received my fair share of awkward and excellent homemade gifts from the kids too. Because we all give and receive homemade gifts, we all understand and appreciate the time and love that went into each item, even if we wouldn’t be caught dead wearing it. It makes each gift special, regardless of what the item actually is.

And we learn from past mistakes.

This year, the homemade gift my daughter will receive is something I’m pretty certain she’ll appreciate and use–a list of 500 writing prompts, written just for her and categorised by genre. As usual, I’m having a fabulous time making it, and if she doesn’t end up using it, I expect to find it handy, myself.

Christmas Aspirations

2016-12-25-17-10-50-smAnother Christmas down. Another Christmas in which I feel like I received far better than I gave.

It’s a double-edged sword, at this time of year, to have a husband who is so good at gifts. He puts me to shame every year.

This year it was the two hand-made wooden vegetable baskets (the ones he whipped out in the last couple of days since he finished work for the year) that made me feel wholly inadequate as a gift giver. Add to that the lovely and thoughtful garden tools and kitchen equipment he bought, and I feel like I need to go back and try again on my gifts for him.

I’m not really complaining—how could I possibly complain about a husband who makes gorgeous baskets for me? But I think I need to start preparing for Christmas a whole lot earlier in order to even come close to matching his gift-giving. It is truly something to aspire to.