Giving up 2012 / Remembering worth 2013

2012 was the year of giving up…and not in a I-will-no-longer-eat-fast-food sort of way. In a I-can’t-commit-to-anything sort of way. I was restless and unfocused and, overall, uninspired. At some point in the year I started then later gave up on scrapbooking, wearing makeup, photography, writing a memoir, cross stitch, knitting, crochet, blogging, sewing, running, watching the X-Files, embroidery. Only thing I really stuck to was reading (three cheers for the Kindle) and dying my hair (though partly because of the appointments made in advance).

I felt not good enough. My photos weren’t as great as those of others on Flickr or Instagram, especially because I wasn’t willing to dress up in a funny costume and never figured out how to clone myself with software. My current life had no excitement to blog about and my past was too boring to write about even within the confines of the notebooks that no one ever sees. My cross stitch was mundane; my attempts at a TARDIS embroidery untidy. My knitting (except socks, everyone always love their handknit socks) was unwanted. My attempts at cooking, bland. My attempts to mentor the students at FIRST, ineffective. My job search did go well at first because my suit didn’t fit properly (not because a great job was waiting for my within my own company – where I wore jeans to my interview). The only thing I could do correctly was eat, it seemed. Oh, and fall asleep reading. Totally mastered that this year.

So..what will be different in 2013? I’ll learn not to care. Okay, still care about important things like doing my absolute best at work and not dressing like a slob and making sure the bathrooms are clean when guests come over. But, not to care about things which are creative.

My friend Heather once told me that you can’t possibly fail at creativity. And, you know what, she’s right. No one dies if your embroidery is crooked or your photos is a bit blurry (call it “artsy”) or your mac-n-cheese is a bit runny.

Because, for the 100th time, all of my creative (and running, ’cause, you know, there’s that, too) efforts are worth it. Because, greater than that, I’m worth it. My time, my energy, my effort, my stash of craft supplies – all worth it.

Year in Review (2011 Edition)

I was going to make this a post about how I did or didn’t meet my goals for last year then realized I never made any. Sure, I wanted to graduate but, really, was that ever in doubt? (Oh, I hope not.) So, again this year, a year in review.

January: Attempted, yet again, to blog daily which became weekly which became only when I felt guilty that I hadn’t blogged in awhile. Visited the National Building Museum. Started working with the TJ FIRST team. Mostly focused on coding my senior design project. Started a new job.

February: FIRST season concluded and senior design continued. Tried skiing for the first time.

March: Attended the St. Patrick’s parade in Old Town. DC FIRST regional held. Midterms and a big senior design deadline consumed my life. Spring break was spent working and doing school work. Attended Steph’s baby shower.

April: Life consumed by school projects, tests. etc. Traveled to West Point to attend a design competition (and really wished they didn’t have a rule about no AC before 1 may).

May: Wrapped up my last undergraduate semester. Graduated Suma Cum Laude. Celebrated Matt’s grandmother’s 90th birthday. Went to a color theory workshop with Ms Babs.

June: Started first full-time job (and it’s not so fun commute). Started looking at houses. Got back into sewing by making a few handbags (and failed at making myself a skirt).

July: Brutally hot month. Went to more open houses and house tours. Attended the first annual Bontrager cousins reunion in DE. Started digital scrapbooking five years of marriage.

August: Put a bid on a house, counterbid accepted, home inspection, mortgage application, and everything else invovled with buying a house. Felt not nearly as poor as expected at the end of the process. Really started my new job (assignment received). Started a quilt for the first time in four years.

September: Moved into the new house. Held a housewarming party with friends, family, and neighbhors.

October: Spent two and a half week exploring Spain, France, and Italy. Spent the rest of the month starting a new project at work and recovering from being away for so long.

November: Had Thanksgiving at our place, this time with Matt’s parents, Jesse’s family, Alison, and Lucy. Attended the DE reception for Caleb and Karen. Finished making a sweater for myself that actually fit.

December: Enjoyed a realitively warm December. Parents and brother visit for Christmas. Had first year of decorating our own house for Christmas (but settled for just a tree and some lights on a front window).


No, this isn’t the sweater FO post I promised but another completed project. I finally finished up the quilt top I started in early August. I work on it on and off before we moved then put it away for a solid month before bringing it out again for a few days before we went to Europe. Then, today, I cut out the last five blocks and finished sewing it all up. I’m not sure what I’m going to do for the back but I’ve got 3/4 of a yard of each of the patterned fabrics and a 1/4 yard of the solid. Probably something simple. Here it is, in all of its slightly wonky glory (in a rather blurry photo, oops).

Finished Quilt Top!

Made using the tutorial from here.

Closer to Perfect (or, why quitling will save me from myself)

I’m a perfectionist to a point. I will demand aboslute perfection until a sudden moment when I arbetrarily decide that it’s never going to be perfect and therefore, why bother to continue trying. It’s a constantly struggle to not only keep myself from demanding perfection from others but also to force myself to work past the point where I would usually like to quit. The choices are not perfection or utter failure, there is a gray area in between where my work resides and, should I continue to allow things to fall down the failure hole, I’ll never be able to achieve anything even close to perfect. I have to learn to stop giving up, to stop saying “eh, good enough” and to really focus on achieving the level of quality that’s required. Nothing more, nothing less.

Thankfully, my particular brand of perfectionism doesn’t effect my work (or, previously, school work) because I’ve learned how to tune it in, so to speak. Where I know I am being “graded,” I can easily will myself to do more, to work harder, to push through barriers. I do first drafts of work products quickly but have learned to always double-check my work, ask superiors if I’m headed in the right direction, and always do one last revision before it heads out the door. I have found my perfectionist happy place, you could call it.

That said, I have never been a perfectionist when it comes to my crafting. In knitting, a stitch extra or short doesn’t cause me to rip back a row unless it’s obvious that the pattern is no longer lining up or is otherwise noticeable by a non-knitter. In sewing, a straight-ish line has been acceptible. I tell myself “You know what, it’s just your craft, it’ll be fine. No one will notice.” Yes, it’s healthy to not push yourself to the edge over craft, but sometimes quality control really is needed. All of those “only one sitch off” and “just a bit off 1/4″ seams” add up over time, often leading to a product that doesn’t fit or I won’t use or is already falling apart.

It’s all about the geometry of the thing. Everything is set up to require some level of precision and accuracy. In quilting, you’ll never get to that 12″ block if you cut your center the incorrect size or if your seams are all off. A few millimeters, that will probably be ok but any more and it just won’t work. A 3″ square needs to be 3″ and actually square, not square-ish. You’ll just waste fabric and time and be aggravated at the of the day.

Crafting is supposed to make you happy.  While the main reason I craft is to have a creative outlet that channels my stress, I cannot ignore the fact that I do it to show off. A giant pile of failures (true failures not “this doesn’t look quite right” failures) and I lose part of the reason I worked on those projects in the first place.

So, I think quilting will save me from myself. It will force me to try to be more precise in my craft and, eventually, lead me to be happier with the things I produce. No more spending weeks to make something I will never use, that I throw in a trunk in the basement, embarassed at its existance.

I’ve walked away from quitling twice in my life. Once from fear of being seen as the crazy fabric lady (jus before Matt and I got married) and the other because I was failing at it and couldn’t take being reminded of it anymore. There won’t be a third time.

That’s not to say I won’t walk away temporarily but deciding to quit, throwing out all of my WIPs, and selling/donating my supplies. I won’t let it happen. I have too much invested.

Yesterday, I picked up a couple of yards of fabric along with a new cutting mat, rotary cutter, and quilter’s square. I spent a full three hours slowly, carefully cutting the pieces for just a handful of quilt blocks then sewed up as much as I could. I took breaks, I checked my cuts, I even redid one seam three times so it was correct. I’m already feeling better about it.

 Getting ready to start

Bag Success

On my second attempt after my return to sewing, I was quite successful in making a lined bag. Of coruse, I still don’t have the instructions for the Amy Butler pattern so I switched it up and followed the tutorial I posted about earlier from Very Purple (tutorial is here and excellently written for even a beginner like me).

Getting Started

I cleared off the table, made myself a PB&J, put on some Barrry Manilow, and got to work on cutting out the pieces. I had two yards of the fabric but didn’t want to have to break into the second yard. This meant sewing two pieces together for each of the two “inside” pieces which I thought would be a disaster but actually worked out well.

Cutting Setup

I followed the directions almost exactly, except where it came to sewing up the straps and the part of the purse you leave un-sewn in order to have room to flip it out (for lack of a better term). Instead of overstitching, I just hand-stitched those seams, though I did sew the ends of the straps together using my machine.

Hand-sewn details

My favorite part is probably the darts, something I’ve never sewn before but somehow manged to figure out on my own.

Bag Darts

The finished bag is the perfect size to carry my DSLR, wallet, and phone around with me shopping and what not. It’s not super strong so no super heavy items will be carried in it but for that sort of daily use, it’s just about perfect.


(And the whole project cost less than $5 because the Crate and Barrel outlet here sells amazing Marimekko cotton fabrics like this for $5 a yard. This project used, I’d say, 2/3s of a yard in all, though the remaining pieces are more suited for small items like a zippered notions bag than another large bag like this.)

I used to know what I was doing

See, I used to sew. As in every single day. I started my second year of college, sewing by hand using fabric I got at Walmart. Then I moved on to better fabric and, when I first moved to California, I got a chance to borrow a machine from my landlord’s sister. I was in heaven! No more having to take all of that time. Just zip, zip, zip and it’s sewn! Despite having a giant fabric stash, I only ever completed a blanket (quilt would be an unfair name) and a little tool roll. When Matt and I got married, I gave all of my fabric and supplies away. Other than a brief stint with hand-sewing in 2007 (?) and the random purchase of  a machine with the rest of our wedding gift cards (still unspent, almost a year later), I haven’t gone back to it.

But, today, I’m back to sewing again. I got my machine all repaired – just some tension issues and a lot of cat hair inside, thankfully. I reread the manual. I found the pattern pieces for an Amy Butler bag and those two 3/4 yard fabric pices I had somehow convinced myself to hold onto and thought I was golden.

I would cut the pieces out and, somehow, they would become a bag.

But a few things went wrong..

I no longer own sewing pins. Sure, I own nearly a hundred t-pins for blocking shawls, but not a single sewing pin. (Only now do I realize Matt’s got a brand new shirt, still in the wrapping, which probably has a good dozen crappy but decent pins stuck in it.)

My ironing board can’t stand upright anymore if you put any weight at all on it. I have a fancy Rowenta iron we picked up at Costco and the poor $10 Target board just can’t handle the weight. So not a single piece or seam is flat.

I forgot how to the put the bag together. I did manage to remember how to line up the pieces of the lining and outer but putting it together otherwise did not go well at all. I forgot to sew in the straps. I sewed the first strap in the wrong place (but fixed it soon after).

The last thing I screwed up? You’re not supposed to sew the sides together all the way up. The two handles? They’re not required.

Let’s compare my bag to a properly made one..

Properly made (from here): The part right under the straps is not sewn “shut” but, rather, open, allowing 1) having two straps to make sense and 2) enough room to actually put things in the bag

Mine: Completely sewn sides. Some room to put things in. Extra, basically useless, handle.


But, I will try not to dwell. The machine-sewn seams are rather straight and even (despite lack of pins and ironing), I managed to make most of the bag correctly, and now I have an excuse to go buy more fabric. (My stash pact commitment only mentioned yarn, after all.)

On Sewing

Don’t get excited, I haven’t actually started sewing anything yet, just have started doing lots and lots of sewing research.

See, this is how I start a new craft or activity, I do a whole ton of reading beforehand about tools, techniques, and masters of the craft. Then, hestitantly, I buy one “set” of beginner’s supplies. With knitting, it was  knitting books from the library, basic bamboo size 9 needles, and some crappy acrylic. With running, it was running shoes, headphones that actually stayed in my ears, and non-cotton running clothing. With sewing, I already have a yard each of two organic cottons (bright turquoise and dark brown, imagine that) and some thread so I’ll likely only be picking up some hand sewing needles and dropping off my machine to get serviced / oiled.

Because I don’t actually have any of my own work to show you, I’ll stick to showing some of my favorite patterns/projects I’ve found in my research.

Then there’s the project ideas. Oh boy, do I have a long list of projects I want to make. I blame a combination of Pinterest and the sewing groups on Ravelry for these. So many pretty, simple projects! I could hand sew many of these but I like to prentend I’ll soon have a perfectly working machine that I know how to use.

Note: None of these are my photos, they belong to the authors of the linked pages. Don’t use without also linking to where they’re from.

Buttercup Bag: Cute bag of the perfect size for when I don’t need to haul everything I own around with me.

Awesome Bag: Very appropriately named. The buttons let you adjust the length of the strap on the fly. I love cross-body bags but would love having the option to switch it to a shoulder bag while out and about.

Verypurple’s Reversible Bag: Perfect shape and size for my knitting and journal to fit in while I’m shopping around town. And great instructions for a first time reversible bag maker. I made a few similar bags years ago and wish I’d had such a clear tutorial then. Alison already showed interest in one of these so the first one I make will be for her (I need color preferences, A).

Circle skirt: Much more tutorial than pattern but she explains the math for anyone who needs it. I would love this to be my first project but I don’t have quite enough fabric for it. (Also see Maggie’s description of her experience of making herself a circle skirt. Very enlightening.)

Party skirt: Probably a little too advanced to be a first project but it’s a classic shape (and one that I know looks amazing on my body type).

Jamie dress: Apparently one of the most popular dress patterns on Burda Style and I can see why. I’ll still have to wear a sweater over it (yeah, not too comfortable with exposed arms) but it’s very cute.