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I’ve just reread Jim Collins’s thought-provoking article “Best New Year’s Resolution? A ‘Stop Doing’ List.” You may know Jim Collins from his books such as Good to Great that examine successful companies. Well, what he says about the value of deliberately choosing to stop doing certain things is very pertinent to getting things sewn.

It's time to stop expecting myself to understand this.

It’s time to stop expecting myself to understand this.

Recently, I’ve been looking back at my evolution as a sewer. Not as in “In 1986 I bought my sewing machine” or “In 1991 I took that great tailoring class.” No, I’ve been thinking about the attitudes I took with me as a sewer and how each shift in attitude moved me into a new phase with different–and better–results.

This idea of stopping doing is arriving just in time to usher in a much-needed next phase.

Here, in a nutshell, is my career as an avocational sewer and the attitude that shaped each phase:

Phase 1, 1986-2003

Attitude: “I have to do it myself.”

I was a brand new sewer.

I took beginner classes with just one other classmate from a sewing teacher in her home-based studio. (After teaching the two of us she moved into a more lucrative line of work: real estate.)

Moving to Minneapolis in 1989, I joined the country’s largest American Sewing Guild chapter, took classes, participated in fashion shows, even wrote for the newsletter for four years and edited it for two.

My learning in this phase was more a matter of luck than of intention. I gleaned knowledge from hands-on classes and tips-and-tricks talks in a scattershot manner. I followed directions in class. If I was lucky, I attracted the attention of the teacher and got my individual question answered. If not, I suffered in silence.

I succeeded often enough to keep going.  (Plus, the petite fashions in the stores were awful, so I was motivated to sew for myself.)

Phase 2, 2003-2013

Attitude: “I can hire my own teacher!”

In 2003 I finally recognized that garden variety sewing classes would never help me understand the unprinted vintage patterns I longed to sew.  I needed to find a teacher willing to work with my projects, abilities, schedule and  learning style.

Having a private teacher had always seemed like a luxury beyond my reach. But in the end, what costs more–lessons that build skills and produce results, or classes and talks that touch only tangentially on what I need?

Hiring my very own teacher yielded much more than learning construction techniques to produce beautiful jackets. I absorbed an approach to learning that has served me well beyond my sewing space.

I was beginning to see what it takes to aspire to mastery.

Phase 3: early to mid-2013

Attitude: “I can hire people to do the parts I can’t do.”

This year I recognized the importance of having a workspace. In the past I’d had a space, but I didn’t make it work for me. I had defaulted to using it for storage.

In the spring I began identifying the activities I wanted to perform in my sewing space such as writing, planning sewing projects, and serging, and planning zones for them. I needed to do this planning myself.

But to execute some of the plans I needed an expert. I hired our builder-handyman to put in great lighting and transform a spiderweb-filled adjacent space into a clean, dry, bright cedar closet.

I was never hampered by the thought I had to know how to install lights or finish a closet myself, so hiring a builder didn’t require an attitude adjustment. Just cash.

Also during this period I hired my web designer to do all the worrying about keeping my blog up and running. Thanks, Toby!

 Phase 4: late 2013

Attitude: “I can hire (or collaborate with) people to do the parts I don’t want to do.”

And now I’m entering my new phase, where my “stop doing” list enters.

There are things I possibly could do, with enough time and persistence. But the return on my investment of effort so far–and I really have tried–has been so low that I’d rather turn the work over to the experts who were born to crack these kinds of puzzles.

I’m speaking, readers, of

  • draping
  • drafting patterns
  • fitting patterns
  • altering patterns

    Support your local fitting genius!

    Support your local fitting genius!

The aptitude tests I took at the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation confirm that I struggle with structural visualization, and excellent teachers haven’t been able to make up for my deficit. I have stared uncomprehendingly at Edith, Steve, and Michele as they have patiently explained the simplest pattern-drafting concept.

It’s not for lack of discipline or desire on either side that this knowledge gap remains stubbornly wide. It’s the fact that my brain doesn’t love thinking about space and structure the way a patternmaker does.

My brain also doesn’t love thinking about light the way my photographer does.

And it certainly doesn’t love thinking about designing websites like my web designer does.

I don’t have the ability, and I don’t have the desire.

The desire I had, I see now, was to please my teachers by mastering at least the basics of their craft.

Readers, here’s something else to add to my “stop doing” list: trying to please my teachers in this mistaken fashion.

Instead, I’ll concentrate on the desire that springs from what my brain loves to do.

And when I put my energy in that direction, there will be no stopping me.