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To Write and to Sew

With creative practice, nothing comes out perfectly at first, by Riley Smith.

Cut, seam, rip. Over and up my body—creating and molting new skins for myself out of fabric and thread. Sewing lets me discover and grow myself over and over again. I found sewing during the point in my life when I felt an overwhelming urge to discover and define myself. Naturally, I was a 3rd year English major staring down the barrel of the “Real World.” For years, I defined myself as a reader and writer—someone whose creativity was supposed to be filled entirely by this medium. I was beginning to see the end of the road from the encapsulating atmosphere of my liberal arts university and part-time barista job. At the same time, I began to doubt myself, my creativity, talent and worthiness to be deemed a writer. In the midst of research papers, pouring cappuccinos and the quagmire of being in my early 20s, I crashed up against a seemingly insurmountable barricade of writer’s block. My inner critic lashed out. I felt uninspired, exhausted and hopeless. Without writing, without a creative outlet, I didn’t know what I wanted to do or who I wanted to be. The only thing I knew was that I needed another creative outlet to help mend the wounds that writing had inflicted.

On October 30, 2016, I received my first sewing machine, and as soon as the needle pierced my remnant-bin muslin, the rush of unadulterated creativity and inspiration I had been missing surged through me. Shortly thereafter, I gave myself the goal of sewing gifts for close friends and family, with Christmas looming just a few weeks away. I managed to finish all those projects, working up until 2 am on Christmas Eve. They were riddled with mistakes that were covered up with pom pom trim or extra side panels for pajama pants that didn’t fit, but they were finished and wearable. I was absolutely enthralled by the new creative avenue that sewing opened up for me.

After completing my first big sewing challenge, my university’s literary magazine put requests out for submissions in January of 2017. For the first time, I accepted the challenge to find a poem to submit. I read my poem over and over again, making edits, reading it aloud and dissecting each and every word. I submitted the poem and tried to forget about the review process I knew it would go through. Two months later, I opened my email to discover that not only was my poem accepted for publication, but it was accepted without needing any edits! Sewing gave me the creative energy I had been missing and helped me to flourish in all of my creative pursuits.

No one writes a New York Times Best Seller without edits and rewrites, just as no one sews a perfectly fitted pair of jeans without ripping apart seams and adjusting over and over again. Novels, poems, pants, dresses and tops come together by accepting that no one oozes perfection out of their fingertips. Being stuck and frustrated is part of the process.

Suffice to say, my favorite thing about sewing is the creativity that I am able to bring into every project. With every stitch, every success and even the failures, I have been able to foster the creativity I so desperately needed. With sewing, I was able to teach myself that with creative practice, nothing comes out perfectly at first. No one writes a New York Times Best Seller without edits and rewrites, just as no one sews a perfectly fitted pair of jeans without ripping apart seams and adjusting over and over again. Novels, poems, pants, dresses and tops come together by accepting that no one oozes perfection out of their fingertips. Being stuck and frustrated is part of the process.

I had never failed a writing assignment, but I absolutely failed at the first garment I ever tried to sew for myself: a knit pencil skirt that I couldn’t even slide past my calves. I chose the wrong fabric for the pattern, used the wrong stitch for the seams and cut the panels too narrow. This skirt, if we can call it that, could hardly fit a lamppost, let alone a moving body. But for the first time, I was able to dissect my errors in a humble and logical manner. I did not equate mistakes stemming from a lack of knowledge to personal faults in my intellect or creative ability. I took the skirt apart and set it in my bin to be reused later. Since then, I’ve used bits and pieces from that skirt in other successful garments. The skirt that once made me laugh at its sorry state now lives on in garments that I enjoy to this day. Sewing shepherded me through a more holistic creative process. It taught me how to slow down and appreciate both my successes and failures. I learned that perfection can be a goal, but it is not a realistic measure to compare yourself to. To fall short of perfection gives both my sewing and writing the unique character that only I can give.

To this day, I’ve never come back up from my nosedive into sewing. I am utterly obsessed with sewing, even when I’m away from my machine.

To this day, I’ve never come back up from my nosedive into sewing. I am utterly obsessed with sewing, even when I’m away from my machine. I plan my makes, shop for patterns and fabrics, journal about my recent makes and try to troubleshoot fit adjustments. From the fun of fabric shopping to the minutiae of researching sewing techniques, sewing is constantly on my mind. Sewing has given me the creative energy and confidence that is a deep-rooted requirement for my fulfillment and happiness. Few things feel as amazing as when I’m able to create a garment from yards of fabric or write a beautiful poem. Taking raw material and turning it into something new is nothing short of an act of magic.

Blake
Micah
Dorian

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