Sew Fine apprenticeship, lesson 1

Quarter-inch seam: once,
twice, ready. Align fabric—
burrito method.

Through the years I’ve taught numerous friends to knit or crochet, but although I’ve received many requests for sewing lessons, I’ve tended to demur. Knitting basics you can teach in one session and the tools are so few. With sewing there’s the machine, thread, pins, needles, bobbins, fabric, pattern, fabric cutters (shears or otherwise), seam ripper, fabric marking implements, iron, good lighting … And then there’s just so much to teach. Prepping the fabric and setting up the machine can take more than half of the first lesson, depending on what you’re doing. The effort-to-reward ratio is way off in the beginning, and I suppose I worry about patience wearing thin, people growing bored.

One of my friends, though, has brought up the topic casually in conversation for about two years now. And at some point she was asking for an apprenticeship, and then at some point we were looking at machines together and then she was paying for one and, well, there we were. So last night she came over, we shut the blinds and windows and blasted the fans (another 96* day), and started.

It turns out the online sewing community has crowdsourced a decent sewing curriculum for absolute beginners; so many of us are self-taught or mostly self-taught, and so many have come to this in adulthood, which means they know how to stack projects so that you’re learning new skills with every new finished object, which also means that you can start making things from day one, even while you’re mastering the basics. Making things. The reason people come to sewing in the first place.

For my part, I came to machine sewing via handsewing doll quilts and doll clothing, learning the basics in a high school Fiber Arts class (the sewing half of home ec; my brother was the one who took Foods). So last night was a nice reminder that you can only have one skill under your belt and still take home a customized pillow case using high-end sewing techniques.

She’ll be practicing on her second pillowcase at home, and we haven’t scheduled our next session yet, but it was a good reminder that I (unwittingly) tend to approach everything in my life with an “I’ll make this as complex as possible” attitude, a tendency I should keep working to notice, even if I can’t curb it entirely. We’re not trying to change ourselves overnight, my old therapist once told me. Just give ourselves enough of a mental pause that we have the option of choosing differently from our habitual responses. That’s all we want. To create a pause to give ourselves that choice.


The start of the next heat wave

Glowering sun,
Rosy haze. A nude couple
embraces. Sunset.

Yesterday my partner mentioned our planet is 1 degree away from all sorts of self-reinforcing feedback loops occurring (permafrost melts, trapped methane escapes into the atmosphere) that will make life increasingly uncomfortable. “For awhile,” he said. “Not forever?” I said. His reasoning is that, as life has so often taught me and yet as I continually forget, action leads to reaction, and humans have a tendency to cling to destructive behaviors until the pain from not changing becomes so great that we are finally willing to change.

And this clinging can be subtle. The narratives we tell ourselves. Sometimes, the narratives we tell ourselves about ourselves. I was recently talking to a friend who was wondering why, in her romantic relationships, she has been with men who do not show her much consideration, and why she has been OK with it. It’s the type of pattern I’ve recognized in myself, although the specifics may differ. Sometimes the action is driven by a self-identity that no longer serves us. The need to see ourselves as strong and capable leading us to seek out partners who don’t have their shit together. The need to be independent leading us to believe we should never ask our partners to meet our needs, because we feel we should be able to take care of our own needs. Etc. etc. And so I wonder, with humans, do we have something in our psyche that prevents us from acknowledging the earth’s changing temperatures? What stories do we tell ourselves about ourselves that seem indispensible, but which no longer fit today’s reality?

One degree. It really doesn’t seem like a lot, does it? Part of me wants to drop everything and spend the next year planting trees, even as another part of me knows that won’t be enough. It’s this weird thing to hold in your head, the simultaneous knowledge that everybody must contribute, yet no individual’s actions will hold the solution. So much of this lies with industry, with systems, with corporations. And yet, each of us has our role.

Yesterday my partner and I took off work early to head to a clothing optional beach. As with many people in the region, we don’t have AC. For most people I think these 90-plus temperatures are inconvenient when they step out of their air conditioned offices. I work from home, which means the heat is with me constantly (even when heading to a coffee shop as soon as it hits 90, I remain aware the choices I make are driven by access to AC). Yesterday, sick of sweltering and longing for a break, we drove out into the gorge, set up a tent, opened some books, dozed, waded in and out of the sand bar (the waters were really quite shallow), and stared into space. And once afternoon crested into evening, it was perfect.

It’s funny. This morning I sat down intending to write about the atmosphere at the clothing optional beach. The older couple that held hands as they waded about. The professional sunbathers, identifiable by the reddish-brown tint to their skin, their butt cheeks only one or two shades lighter than the rest of their body. The giggling teenagers sitting where the water runs ankle deep over the sand bar. The line of spindly trees someone planted to highlight the dropoff. The friends, hands clasped, gasping at the chilly water, laughing rolling from one to the next, as one ventures in topless for the first time. But I guess the planet was on my mind.

What does one do in the face of horrific planetary changes as we now face? I trained in public health, a small segment of which is interested in climate change, yet part of me wants to do a complete 180 from the field, because what are health inequities in the face of our entire context changing? Yet another part of me knows this work matters and it will continue to matter. Last weekend’s trip to the coast was, in part, to meet the safety net clinic I’ve written grants for over the last couple years, and where I picked up an annual report that reminded me our grants created at least 3 new positions, if not more, in a rural community that needs jobs and has too few primary care providers.

And so, onward. Keep paddling upstream, even as I try to be more intentional about my ecological footprint. My partner and I recently created an ongoing mini-competition over who bicycles more (in the spirit of chasing micro rewards, but with the planet in mind). We live in an apartment complex (multi-unit buildings are more energy efficient than single-family homes). We participate in the green energy purchasing program. I know there’s more we could do, but despair? Despair is not an energizing emotion for me. I realize many people are catalyzed by anger and despair, but I also know I am a person driven by optimism and possibility. So, keep the focus on what I can do, even as I keep learning and changing based on that knowledge, which are the best ways I know to move myself forward in this world.

Fall semester conundrums (my dad has been auditing college classes)

We talk strategy:
Scope what intrigues, choose fav’rite.
New field; keeping busy.

As a child Dad loved history, a field he gave up on when he moved to the US from Taiwan and realized his language skills were insufficient for a college deep dive. Instead, he chose physics. Then, he gave up his dream of a PhD in physics when he graduated into a heavy recession (early ‘70s) and all the physics PhDs he knew were struggling to find jobs. One even opened a food cart (then a literal cart) near the Berkeley campus. (Many eventually made their way into computers)

So Dad went on into medicine, a very practical choice, where he stayed until he retired. (I think he still works very part-time for a medical group today). The first year of his retirement, I may or may not have badgered him into auditing an introductory Literary Chinese Literature class at UC Berkeley (both our alma maters), in part because, having taken that sequence myself, I knew how difficult it would be to teach himself literary Chinese, yet literary Chinese was what he would need for what he really wanted to do in retirement: read ancient philosophical, medicinal, historical etc. texts.

Dad has been a real trooper, taking public transit across the bay and up to Berkeley 3 times per week (no small feat in the bay area’s inefficient transit system). “Some of my classmates cried in class,” he told me once. “That was me!” I said. “I never knew what the fuck was going on. But I knew you’d be fine. You have a much better foundation in Chinese.”

This year he’s exploring upper division and graduate seminars. Do I take the course on Zhuangzi or the one on medieval texts? he says into the phone. It’s fun to see him coming full circle to his childhood passion after a series of deferred dreams, making the best of his choices in the way immigrants do.