Somehow, I made it through all of my formal education without ever enrolling or sitting in on a home economics course. So this made it kind of surprising when last year I suddenly wanted to learn how to sew! Where this domestic hankering came from I have no clue. Not a one. But there it was and though I couldn’t tell you the first thing about a stitch or a bobbin, I did understand that the whole process requires some equipment. So after I decided that this sewing thing was a go, I was given a Singer Heavy Duty as a gift and let me tell you, I loved this thing so much that I let it stay in its pretty little box until two weeks ago. A week and a half ago if I’m being completely honest…
With some coaxing and the support of a friend who has been sewing longer than I’ve been alive, I started up my machine and began learning the basics. And after a few test runs on some scrap fabric I launched into my first project: a tiny front yard flag. With my trusty Singer and the spirit of Betsy Ross guiding me, I would make the GREATEST tiny flag of all time.
I wasn’t just excited about my little flag. I was really thrilled about what this first step would lead to: (cue dream sequence) dish towels, silk curtains, elaborate quilts, wedding gowns!
And then I actually sat down to sew my first flag seam and forgot to lower the presser foot.
For those of you who know how to sew…well, I’m not sure why I’m addressing you since you’re probably busy banging your head against something hard in exasperation.
For those who do not sew, failing to lower the presser foot is probably the easiest mistake to avoid. It’s a close second to “not turning the machine on.” From what I’ve learned so far, it is also a costly slip up that will give you a really painful looking seam.
So there I sat with my messy flag (and broken dreams), not even sure how to fix the problem and in total disbelief that I could be so dumb as to forget such a basic step. I thought about how many times I had been reminded by my friend to lower the presser foot and remembering this quickly turned into thinking about how bad I am at sewing which then morphed into how I shouldn’t really be taking on new hobbies. I mean, it’s not like I’m a kid anymore!
And then I remembered that this was the third time in my life I had actually sat down at this machine.
That this IS a new hobby and that makes me…
Suddenly, I didn’t feel so dumb. I felt a little freer to learn and I started to laugh rather than continuing to berate myself for being so absent-minded and unskilled. I thought about how there are so many areas where we can play this shaming game in our lives- in relationships, parenting, our professions- and how great it might feel to have even one part of our lives and our days where we don’t have to be the expert of everything.
When we find ways to practice being a beginner, we create some distance between our minds and the shame. In doing this, we make room for curiosity and deeper learning. We allow ourselves to try different things, find something that works, find something that works even better. We follow the trail of excitement rather than continuing on out of fear of failure. By beginning again (and again) we also start to fight back against the myths and messages that instruct us to know everything about everything and fast!
I once heard someone say, “if I’m not going to be great at it I’m not going to try it.”. Not “if I’m not going to enjoy it.” Not “if I’m not going to be good at it.” No. “If I’m not going to be great…” It seems like we fear being OK or average or good even more than failing at something. We believe we only get one shot to get it right or we’re out. So we don’t even try. We leave our possibilities and our sewing machines in the box for six (fine, seven!) months. We have eliminated the rest of the podium positions and nothing outside of total expertise is valued.
But let’s remember that these are the rules of Master Chef, not real life…
In real life, having a wedding or a child or the corner office does not make anyone the expert of partnership, parenting, or a profession. All the roles we inhabit are ever-evolving, in obvious and subtle ways, and they require continued education through trial and error, dialogue, and support. I’m not advocating for the use of novice status as an excuse: “How did I know the dirty diaper needed changing? This is only my first child. Let me glean some of your wisdom as you change her…”
I am encouraging all of us to find areas where we can be perpetual beginners, the kind that stay curious, are a little kinder with ourselves, and leave room for surprise! (God willing) One day I won’t be a beginner sewer and I’ll seek out a new area of non-expertise! Maybe it will be cooking or driving a stick shift. Maybe it will be archery or building houses. The future is full of possibilities! However, for the time being I’m going to keep my eye on the presser foot.