This recent BurdaStyle interview with Susan Wasinger gave me a lot of pause.
Wasinger has a new book out called “Sewn By Hand: Two Dozen Projects Sewn with Needle and Thread.” The book advocates a “slow craft” (sewing-machine-free) movement and upcycling materials. I wanted to peruse a copy of the book and eyeball its projects at my local mega book store, but it was not in stock.
The appeal of hand sewing is not entirely lost on me. I do envy my sisters and brothers who so easily transport their knitting projects from home to coffee shop to bus commute. Knitting’s portability almost makes me want to take it up again. (Knitting and I broke up about a year ago.) Plus, the repetition is relaxing.
These cross-stitch projects from a recent Martha Stewart Living issue also tempted me to step away from the sewing machine. (I thought it would be cute to stitch a chubby stripey cat and a skinny black cat.)
In the BurdaStyle interview, however, I did take issue with Wasinger’s characterization of sewing with a machine. Following is an excerpt:
It’s true that these days our eyes and our brains can run far ahead of our hands. … But until we actually put our hands on something, and let them get to work, we really don’t know what anything can truly be. Our hands have knowledge, and skill, and even aesthetic sensibility that our brains just plain don’t know about. … Our hands are the tinkerers. … I just can’t say enough about the wisdom of hands.
When I’m in the throes of a sewing project, I spend the least amount of time at my machine. It sounds crazy, but it’s true. I spend more time cutting fabric, using the iron, and pinning than with my foot on the pedal. Even at the start of a project, I use my hands to pick the best material. Wasinger implies that your hands are not active participants in machine sewing, but they’re constantly smoothing and making minute adjustments.
To some degree, I agree with her “tinkerers” assessment — hands-on learning absolutely is legit. But thinking through a project’s steps (using your — gasp! — brain and experience (say — isn’t that wisdom?)) saves time and frustration in the long run. The counterargument is, of course, that a sewist should take errors in stride and allow the project to unfold at its own pace. Point taken. But why not head off headaches when you can? Isn’t that, too, cutting yourself some slack and making the process as enjoyable as possible?
Wasinger does make some points with which I heartily agree. Read on:
More than anything, there is a sense of well-being in hands that are engaged. The nice thing about hand-stitching is that it is so human scaled. It proceeds at a comfortable pace, and allows our minds to wander into the land of contented musing.
Working with my hands never feels like busy work. I feel more present in an activity if it involves my hands. Her point about the human scale of hand stitching relates directly to why I find the portability of knitting so appealing. You can’t go any faster than YOUR (physical) fastest, and there’s something comforting in that fact — unlike when your foot slips and the needle takes off.
I don’t think I’ll buy this book unless I get a chance to thumb through it. I don’t feel as though my reliance on a sewing machine is obstructing my enjoyment of the craft. I could, however, see the book being good therapy for me (patience, Erin-san!) and an impetus to learn hand stitching techniques.
What do you think? Are we crafting too fast? Have we lost touch with the true nature of sewing? Wouldn’t give up your gadgets for the world? Tell me about it.
Interesting. I'm the first to admit that my sewing machine causes me more grief than enjoyment. I prefer knitting to anything. However I do my scrapbooking on my computer, which is also a craft. Her book intrigues me though. Maybe I'll pick it up…on my KINDLE!!! 😉
Oh, Melissa! You're so subversive! Love it.
I think it's dangerous to tell novices to "trust their hands," because if they make mistakes (which they will), they're more prone to think there's something wrong with them and get discouraged. I think it's self-defeating.