Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Advice from a Singer Sewing Manual

If we're friends on facebook, then chances are you've seen this, as multiple friends have come across it and thought I would appreciate it (which, of course, I do!)

I think it's circulating with a sort of "hey, listen how ridiculous this is" sort of mentality, but I think there's a few lessons in it for the modern seamstress (and, more broadly, for the modern woman):

Take, of course, all comments with a grain of salt, since it's not uncommon for my sewing table to look like this - or worse

Lesson 1: Society is changing, fast.  In 65 years, we went from this sort of advice to a culture where women rarely "put on a clean dress" or "have [their] hair in order, powder and lipstick put on" (literally or figuratively) even to go in public or to go to church. I continue to be shocked at how quickly these norms have shifted.

Lesson 2: Looking good makes a difference. I'm sure that plenty of people think it's good all of the requirements of formalities in dress have loosened - after all isn't it just an external and artificial construct?  Yes, the clothes are external, but what they represent affects our attitude - who hasn't experienced that fresh outlook after a long-overdue shower and change into clean clothes?  Feeling put together makes you feel more confident and capable and makes the task at hand seem more important (read, worthy of your time) and valuable.  I've certainly found this to be true in the daily grind, so it makes sense to me that it would be advised for someone undertaking a new hobby wrought with potential careless mistakes and frustrations.

Lesson 3: Your environment matters, too.  Just like our attire, I feel confident that we are subconsciously affected by our surroundings.  Whether or not we allow ourselves to recognize it, sitting in a messy room starts to make us feel stressed, overwhelmed, and unfocused.  It's so easy to slip into that state as the norm, but I notice I'm so much more relaxed when things are tidy - an inner calm mirrors the outer calm.  I took the extra 10 minutes to clean up all of Anna's toys and other miscellaneous items she'd strewn here today before sitting down to write this post (of course I'd have felt far too hypocritical not to), but it proved my point.  I'm relaxed, and more mentally focused than I would be on the evenings when I just plop onto the couch amid toys and discarded baby socks.

Lesson 4: We've lost the delineation between work and play.  "When there are urgent housekeeping chores, do those first..."  Of course, I'm not sure we socially recognize anything as "urgent housekeeping chores" these days, but perhaps that's part of the problem.  I think one of the biggest challenges of being a stay-at-home-mom is that the line is always blurred: if you work at home, you also live at work.  Focusing on the task at hand isn't difficult just because the toddler climbs and needs rescued at the exact moment you've stuck your hands in the bowl of meat to form meatballs, or because they have a sixth sense that causes them to wake as soon as you sit down for your lunch during nap time.  There's all sorts of distractions and temptations at home (actually, most of them - namely, the Internet - are distractions for the employed, too) that make it difficult to just focus on working when it's time to work*.  So naturally, when it comes time to play, we're less able to enjoy it because we've been stealing snippets of it throughout the day, and those snippets have taken away from the amount of time we have to do work, and there's therefore work undone that is hanging over our heads.  I'm convinced that the discipline of having a time for everything - and actually doing each thing when it's time - makes each experience more rich and meaningful, and both playtime and work time more peaceful because they're purely one and not a harried mix of both.

(*As a side note, I'll add here a very insightful blog post that I've saved in my email inbox for some time, waiting to share it because I think it's so telling: Matthew Warner, "What's Your Idle?")

As I've thought through all of this, it makes more sense that I enjoy my Sunday afternoon sewing time much more than any late-night sessions I happen to sneak in after Anna's bedtime.  I've set the time apart from chores (and for the most part have significant things completed during the week, so there's not a nagging feeling).  I'm often still in my Sunday best, and - because it's not after 9 pm, I'm mentally more sharp and focused.  No surprise, then, that my seams are straighter and my finished products more satisfying.  The whole sewing example is just an allegory for home life in general - taking time to do things properly when it's time for them to be done always has better results.

I'm sure you'll continue to find me from time to time with sewing table a mess (a representation of my full day's housekeeping, I'm sure), burning the midnight oil to finish some project - in my pajamas and with a messy hairdo - but there is something compelling about these lessons and their results, and a growing part of me craves that as the better way.

So, what do you think, am I the crazy one who should just start looking for a time machine to take me back?  Anyone else see the wisdom in these old tips?

P.S. Speaking of sewing, I dusted off Part 3 of my sewing lessons posts (which has been neglected as a draft for several months now).  It's getting pretty close to finished - please bug me if it's not up in the next week (hey, public expectations worked well with the whale dress!)

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