a philosophy of sewing

 

DSC_0082

Or, why I took a break from sewing, and why I'm back at it.

I worked myself raw in the years after Lachlan's birth and first two heart surgeries. I filmed my Craftsy course, came out with a ton of new patterns, and attended my first Quilt Market. Sew Liberated was our primary source of income while Patrick was in grad school, and since we had such high medical bills, it needed to grow. Sewing became work - something that took me away from my little family. But Sew Liberated wasn't cutting it. We made the decision for Patrick to teach himself programming so he could jump off the history PhD ship that was sailing to oblivion. We needed to be able to stay near Duke for Lachlan's cardiology needs, and we needed a more stable income. When he landed a programming job, I became a full-time mom, and no longer had the time to work on Sew Liberated, even if I had wanted to.

We hired Danica to run the show, and I took a deep breath. Lachlan's third open heart surgery was on the horizon, and I did a ton of mental work to prepare myself for that sickening moment when I handed my baby off to scrubbed and masked strangers. I meditated. I did yoga.  I tried to get us out into nature as much as possible. Tried to create a nurturing cocoon of a home. Tried to do anything in my power to equip my little ones with love, attention, and good memories. I birthed a sweet baby girl. I felt my ability to focus on anything other than my family slipping away into a pleasant, homey blur. My family became my creative outlet. Months went by, and I didn't touch my sewing machine. Then a year passed. I didn't miss it. It was work. I didn't want anything to do with it.

Lakishorts

I didn't miss that rushed feeling of trying to sew "just one more seam" before the baby awoke. I didn't miss feeling frustrated when I didn't finish a project in the allotted time frame. I didn't miss the constant stream of project ideas that would hound my thoughts when I could have been enjoying the present moment with my kids. I didn't miss the creative to-do list. I didn't miss the stacks of yet-to-be-used fabric, beckoning me from the shelf. They used to cast a shadow of resentment over my children for their incessant needs that took me away from being a more productive creative person. 

The surgery day dawned. If I hadn't focused on Sew Liberated since before Sadie was born, now I didn't even give it one thought. Facing the tender, fleeting, mortal nature of being human gives you tunnel vision. This little boy of mine had his heart mended and fit by a tailor far more skilled than I. His surgeon's skilled hands touched Lachlan's heart, stitching pieces of previously-used human cloth onto my baby's own fresh tissue. Weaving gortex with muscle, he re-designed a circulatory system that would, for the first time, provide Lachlan with near-normal blood oxygenation levels and the energy of a typical three year-old. Lachlan's heart is re-purposed. Fully functional, yet beautifully flawed, like sashiko mending. 

DSC_0090

Nearly six weeks later, after battling with accumulating fluid on his lungs and the subsequent dehydration of his treatment, Lachlan's little mended heart slowed and stopped. I was at home, nursing a stuffy-nosed baby and five year-old. Patrick was with him as they rushed him to the pediatric cardiac ICU, soon starting chest compressions. When I got the call, I was eating a veggie quesadilla, which I spit out while I screamed and fell to the floor. I thought he was dead. I guess, in a way, he was. Had he been at home, 30 minutes from the hospital, he wouldn't have survived. (Hence our eventual move downtown. Covering bases, you know.) 

Lachlan recovered. But what does it mean to recover? To cover again. To mend. The mending is visible. Like his heart, life for our family would never be quite the same. There is a patch that covers our physical and psychological wounds. There is stitching that holds it together. Sometimes the stitching is pristine, in other places it is knotted with fear and anger. But we are functional. And achingly, imperfectly beautiful. 

We are still mending. A well-rubbed piece of cloth will, eventually, break down. When it does, we take up a needle and thread and piece it together any way we can. In my family, the cloth is often made threadbare by sibling bickering, hidden scary medical memories, and parental stress. But it can always be mended. Re-covered. Made functional. Unique.

DSC_0043

At some point, perhaps when that subtle shift occurred and my toddler started to spend long stretches playing with her dollhouse, a few minutes opened up in my days. I wanted to make her clothes as a gift of love. I cut into some soft cloth. She sat on my lap and removed the pins as I sewed. It was slow. But it brought me so much joy. I didn't take pictures of it. I didn't have to market the design. It was just that, a physical manifestation of love. An expression of my creativity and a happy investment of my time. I never want to sew for any other reasons.

Sewing has an important place in my life again, along with writing. But I have a personal manifesto that I now follow.

  1. Begin each project with the intention of expressing love and gratitude for the intended recipient, be it my own body or the vibrant bodies of my children.  
  2. Breathe deeply while cutting. Breathe deeply while sewing. Sewing is slow, and the act of slowing down is a gift of mindfulness. Accept any interruption in the process as a gift to be present. Find joy in the process, and appreciation for the amount of time it takes.
  3. Buy less. Make what you need, but not more.  When clothing wears down, mend it. Bring a mindset of minimalism to the fiber arts.
  4. Sewing is an act of self-care. It is not selfish. It is practice of mindfulness mendfulness. I sew because it helps me on my journey to be a more aware, loving mother and creative person. 

If I returned to my old way of sewing - the resentment, the oppressive to-make list, the feeling of being squeezed for creative time, I would need to stop and reassess. My time with these three little children is too short. With this healthier creative mindset, I hope to mend together my creative nature with parenthood.  

DSC_0097

I made these Rainbow Shorts for Lachlan using the Basic Pocket Pants pattern in my book, using Kaffe Fasset's Exotic Stripe in the Earth colorway.  It took me two weeks to sew them - a seam here, a seam there. He helped me. So did Sadie. He is clothed with love. 


poetry and the class picnic blouse

 

DSC_0125

Sadie took me for a walk the other day.  Fortunately, we didn't have a disagreement about the destination - a newly-opened donut shop. Before we left, we picked out poetry books for our weekly Poetry Tea Donut Time and packed them in the stroller. I must have a good excuse to head to a donut shop. This one was mildly homeschoolish. The smaller crew gathered up all of the Shel Silverstein they could find, while I brought my favorite

DSC_0016 (2)

I didn't need to provide directions. Sadie and her brothers knew just how to get there. They have hound's noses for donuts, my kids. Which is good, because it freed me up to take pictures of this dang cute blouse. 

It's the Class Picnic Blouse from Oliver and S that I made for Sadie about six months ago. I loved this one so much that I cut out three more. I should know myself better. Whenever I cut out several garments at once, the first one is a delight to sew. The subsequent projects start to feel like an obligation, which drains the joy out of sewing for me. I granted myself permission to relegate the un-sewn pieces to the scrap collection, a decision helped along by a growing toddler, who was quickly sizing out of the original cuts.  Ahhhh. Creative freedom! 

You've seen the fabric before, both on the Clara Dress pattern front, me, and - if you have visited my home - on a handful of curtains. I purchased an entire bolt of this Nani Iro double gauze a handful of years ago. (The crazy things you get to do when you're a sewing pattern designer!)

DSC_0072 (1)

Sadie is pushing along her galimoto. The galimoto is imbued with a kind of magic that can make a toddler walk for miles without complaint.  Twelve dollars well-spent, plus it's lasted through all three of my kids. 

DSC_0152

DSC_0184

Destination reached. Poetry was read, and pages were made sticky with donut detritus. Bodies were moved, urban wildlife was noticed, and real-life math discussions were had. I'd call that a successful day of homeschooling.

Below is what happens when you ask her to smile! Spunky, this one. Super spunky. 

DSC_0172


a reintroduction

McElwee-206

 

Hello, friends. It's been a long time. You know the fluttery nerves you feel when meeting face to face with an old high school friend after ten years of mere commenting on each other's Facebook posts? I wonder - will you notice that my stomach looks like a well-lived-in baby house? Will you sense, through my strained wit, that my sleep was disturbed at least four times last night by one or another of my sweet babies? Will you notice the rivulets of years of sorrow and immense joy etched onto the landscape of my forehead and cheeks?

That's how I feel now, writing something more substantial than a short Instagram blurb for the first time in nearly two years. I feel exposed. Raw. Real. Imperfect. Vulnerable. And that feels remarkably good.

 

McElwee-229

For a long time, I was waiting for the perfect moment to return to blogging. I was waiting for my life to align to my values. I was waiting to heal. I was waiting until the sibling squabbles were few and far between, until I'd implemented the most nourishing self-care regimen. Until I started waking up at five in the morning to write in silence, before the baby needed to nurse. No wonder it has been so long since I'd visited this space. The perfect, of course, never arrives.

A beautiful thing is never perfect.

 

McElwee-227

Perfectionism. I have an intimate rapport with it; from my own (often disappointing!) quest to be the perfect parent, to my embarrassingly self-centered drive to have my home looking well put-together when hosting guests. And then there's the obvious run-in with perfection – this whole blogging thing. I feel like I've intuitively avoided this space in the past few years because of it's link to my own perfection problem. The beautiful pictures, the brilliant and flawless kids' activity. The expectation that I have mastered this parenting thing. Let it be on the record: I have most definitely NOT mastered this parenting thing.

Despite my years of Montessori training, despite my experience in the classroom, despite surviving and sometimes thriving during Lachlan's three-month hospital stay a while back, despite practicing mindfulness both formally and informally, despite having learned innumerable “lessons,” I still wake up every morning and face what I used to call “imperfection.” Imperfection in my own will power, imperfection in my circumstances, and imperfection in my kids.

McElwee-020

Here's the difference between then and now – I no longer call it imperfection. I call it Reality. Now I try, to the best of my ability, (which highly depends upon how much uninterrupted sleep I got the night before!) to see the moment and my reaction to it with new eyes – eyes which gaze upon it with compassion and humor, knowing that, when next they blink, the moment will have already changed.

The moment has changed. I am no longer just a sewing pattern designer. I am no longer an early childhood expert. I am simply a mother, a woman, on a life-long spiritual journey. I make things - sewn things, mostly - as a form of self-care. I take projects one seam at a time, and am always interrupted. I consider each interruption an invitation to be present with my children. Spurred on by my three beautifully imperfect kids, I am learning the art of mothering myself so I can mother them. I am finding out how to love myself unconditionally so I can pass on that love to them. It's time for a fresh start, so here I am, in a new space, honoring where I am now. If you feel called to journey along with me as friends, fellow mothers, and creative beings, I welcome you with all my heart.  

McElwee-155 (1)


season of joy

Christmas 2013

Remember this? Two years have passed since I took that photo, and, thanks to a small Christmas miracle, the boys were pleased to reenact the scene. Mmmm. Love me some smilin' boys in their Snow Pixie Hats

Our advent season was one of waiting, in a different sense. Waiting for the stomach flu to work its way through all of our systems. Nothing like a family illness to keep the holidays simple! We're mostly better now, and hoping that we are out of the woods for the rest of the cold season.

Christmas 2013

And here they are with their baby sister, who is just waiting patiently for the holiday crazies to mellow out before making her appearance. Right, baby girl? No being-born-business before the guests leave? :) 

I hear little feet upstairs. I've been downstairs, (dark) and early, starting to put away some Christmas decorations. As much as I love the festive season, and would love to honor the twelve days of Christmas, that's just not in the cards this year. Because when your baby is due shortly after Christmas, if you don't put things away, the house will still be decorated come April. So here we are, moving on to the next big thing. We'll let you know when she's here!

Wishing you much peace and relaxation as we usher in the New Year!