hand stitched notebook / hand stitched on custom made slippers

While watching the documentary titled "The Story of the Coast Salish Knitters" early this week, I heard one of the knitters say that her grandmother did not teach her to knit.  She said that her grandmother told her to watch because that is how people learn.  So, she would sit by her grandmother, and would spend time just watching her grandmother knit sweaters.

That statement really resonated with me, because now I realize that that is how I learned to hand stitch; by watching my mom and grandmother.  Both of them also used sewing machines so quite early in life, I was presented with what felt like weekly visual tutorials.  My mom used sewing patterns quite often and I had the opportunity to watch her reading patterns, editing them, cutting the fabrics with the patterns, and on and on.  I remember telling her using patterns and pieces of fabric was like playing with Legos because later on she was going to put the pieces together to build something.

Admittedly, I did not want to learn to sew.  To me, it was one of those things expected of women and I did not want to be part of that stereotype.  However, I learned later on to appreciate the usefulness of the stitch... and of knowing even the basics of mending.  Sewing was an extra source of income for my grandmother and my mom did sew some of my clothes in order to save  some money.  Learning how to sew, mend and stitch, translated unconsciously into a step forward towards self-reliance.

my first hand stitched pouch

So one day self-reliance became my new approach... a practical approach separate from gender role debates!  All of a sudden I found myself playing with pieces of textiles as if they were pieces of Legos and the way to affix them was by stitching them together.  That is how I think about all projects, especially the ones that involve sewing.  To me they are like a game in which I plan,  build, and take apart, plan some more, and build again.  Perhaps that is where my fondness for upcycling comes into play.  My mom says that it is quite evident,  looking at the stuff that I sew and how I think, that I spent a lot of time playing with Legos.  Leave it to my mom to know better.

I am not really into sewing clothes, not yet at least.  So far my emphasis seems to be on sewing bags, binding books (a new adventure for me), and to sew random things that I need/want like my slippers.  The first bag that I hand sewed was a small pouch for a set of RPG dice that my friend Stephen gave me as a present.  From there, several years later, I went full speed ahead on a pretty elaborate project.  I decided to hand sew a bag for my yoga mat.  Of course, it had to be more than just a cylindrical bag for the mat.  The final product was a canvas bad with three outside pockets, a shoulder strap and so much "awesome."  I finished the bag in two weeks about seven years ago and it is still serving its purpose with out having required any mending.

yoga mat bag / messenger bag prototype

The projects continue and so do my stitching adventures.  There are a hand full of bags (messenger bars and some other styles) in the to do list and as I hand stitch parts of them and machine sew the rest, I cannot help but to smile while thinking about my mom.  It is always funny when I hear myself cursing out loud just like mom when I accidentally drop a bobbin and it starts to unwind while it rolls across the floor.  It seems like I have even learned the fun and common responses to the usual sewing-related mishaps.  Those I learned not just by watching but also by listening.


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