Guest series :: The ultimate compliment

by contributor on 12/06/2012

in Community + Creativity, Guest series 2012

Guest series 2012: I asked fellow bloggers, makers and creators to write on their creativity and focus their essay on one of four topics: creativity and health, creativity and business, creativity and parenting or creativity and process. I am very excited to have a wonderful lot of fellow creative folk guest posting here at whipup.net over the next couple of months. Please welcome…

Sophie and her little family live in Edinburgh. At roubidou she keeps track of her creative endeavors. 

Becoming a mother seven months ago has changed why I sew. Originally, working through the manual of my first sewing machine three years ago, sewing was meant to be a welcomed juxtaposition to the abstract and often elusive nature of my real-world work. At the end of an evening spent sewing I would hold something tangible in my hands, at the end of a project something would be finished and I could see exactly what I had accomplished; a dress, a pot holder, pajama pants. Most of all, I enjoyed the unambiguity of  things created; the specificity of sewing a flat-fell seam, the intricacy of a curved piped hem, or the fragility of a button hole on thin fabric.

This has changed. 16 months ago I started nurturing another being, first inside me, now outside of my womb. Seeing this new person becoming herself, observing every little change, no matter how minute and mundane, often as a direct response of what I’m doing, is the most real and tangible thing I’ve been a part of. There is no mediacy in motherhood. With my daughter in my life, I no longer need to create things to ground me.

So why continue to sew, why create things in a world of clothes that come with every price tag and taste level imaginable? I now have a little side-kick who at any given day will probably wear something Mama-made, sewn or knitted. It’s almost like I was carrying a little advertisement board in my sling, self-promoting my efforts. Which, honestly, is sometimes a little bit embarrassing because people do notice the home-made quality regularly and the most frequent reaction leaves me indifferent. Time and again my confession ‘yes, I made this’ will be countered by an exclamation of ‘Oh, you could totally sell this’. I believe it is meant to be the ultimate compliment.

Apparently, the prospect of commercial success is regarded an indicator of quality. If there are people out there who would pay for something, surely it must be good. Don’t understand me wrong, I admire any entrepreneurial seamstress, painter, writer, chef, blogger, … you name it. But do just as well believe that complimenting their work by pointing out that ‘it sells’ would be equally misleading, although for slightly different reasons. Already at a conceptual level there is much to argue with this understanding of appraisal. Leaving aside questions of individual value and monetary worth, I am simply left cold by this often heard compliment because it misses the very essence of why I create.

I love to sew for myself, friends, and above all for my daughter. I came to believe that mothers must surely be their children’s best seamstresses because nobody knows their little growing figures so well. In fact it is almost uncanny to know this small body of my daughter better than my own. Everything she wears is bound to fit her much more than anything one could buy in a store, no matter how wobbly a hem, uneven the sleeves, or messy the stitches are. Because it was made for her. Every item already comes with a history even before she wears it for the first time; the hood that fits her just right because it was widened considerably to make room for her big ginger head, her new cardigan that used to be my brother’s ragged sweater, red yarn that reminds of the speed of the machine while M. Ward kept the two of us entertained. All of these things from which I derive pleasure will be lost to anybody buying a me-made item in a shop. My joy in making something and seeing my daughter wear it is not transferable. It is different from the pleasure one can derive from a store bought, albeit well-made, beautiful and comfortable item of clothing. And that’s why (apart from all the numerous practicalities), No, I could not totally sell this.

Of course I love getting a good compliment as much as most people, and luckily for me having a blog has provided a home for all sorts of exchanges over sewing techniques, tips, patterns, fabric and ‘making’ in general. Here, sometimes thousands of miles away from my sewing space in Edinburgh, I meet like-minded folks who love to create (sometimes for the same, sometimes for more varied, and sometimes for better reasons than I harbor myself). People who would doubtlessly have no difficulties selling their creations – although this is not meant as a compliment, just as a matter of fact.
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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 iHanna June 12, 2012 at 9:08 am

Sophie, how beautifully written, and quite philosophical even, illustrated by super sweet photos! Making unique items for your own baby must be very different from selling; then you would mass-produce, and the whole idea would be altered. Love that you write that the clothes you make are perfect because you made them for your baby! I agree!

2 iHanna June 12, 2012 at 9:09 am

Where did my comment go?

3 Fabric Wench June 12, 2012 at 9:28 pm

Yes, yes, YES! Sewing is my hobby, not my job, and I want to keep it that way. I create for love of family and love of the art of sewing.

Equally frustrating is the related view that because someone has an etsy store, they MUST know more about sewing and sew better than I do. After all, they sell what they sew, so it has worth and validation. I don’t know why it is a competition in the first place.

Beautiful baby. :)

4 Rae June 12, 2012 at 10:50 pm

Sophie, what a BEAUTIFUL article!! I love HOW you write and WHAT you have written here — it gets straight to the most important reason for sewing. Well said!!

5 Deepa June 13, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Lovely post. I too, make clothes and accessories for my kids (knit and crochet) and you said it so well- they’re custom-made for them, often tried on with a circular needle sticking out, and adjusted and refined. I couldn’t imagine selling them.

And I too would hear the “You should sell that” constantly, when I knit on the bus. I had a set response for those people- “I knit only for friends and family. I’ll also knit for any random baby. Besides, nobody could afford my knits.” This is not to disparage people who sell their creations. Not at all. It’s just that in our Walmart world people don’t realize how much time it takes to knit a pair of socks or a sweater! And skill. And how that skein of sock yarn cost $32.

I love the photo of your daughter sleeping in a sling as you sew.

6 Catherine June 15, 2012 at 4:03 pm

You’ve articulated something I’ve often felt – thank you! ‘You could totally sell that’ sometimes leaves me a little down cast as I mentally calculate the price that the item would need to be to make it commercially viable, and think how shocked the commenter would be. On the other hand we need to give people a break because they’re just trying to be nice, and it’s great that they like my stuff!

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