On Creation and Completion

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I’ve been thinking a lot about my creative processes and what I get out of them lately, in case the past few regular posts haven’t made that obvious.  My creative process looks a bit different for free-form things like writing than it does more concrete things like sewing or cross-stitch.  These are the three types of creation I’ve been doing the most of lately, so they’re what’s on my mind.

My writing processes are all over the place, but I take more joy in the drafting stage than most other parts of the process, including actually finishing something.  With cross-stitch and sewing it’s a bit different.  I enjoy the process.  The individual steps and seeing the project come together are enjoyable, but seeing the final finished project is a huge rush all by itself, even if the last thing I did was super easy and only took a few minutes.  That act of completion is just so amazing.

So, for my writing, I seem to enjoy the creation itself the most, but for most other crafts, the completion of the project is the most enjoyable part.  I find this interesting.  And I think it might have part to do with the fact that a writing project doesn’t always look or seem either complete or incomplete, especially when it’s just words on a screen, but you can tell with just a glance if a sewing or cross-stitch pattern is complete or not.  A little less so at the end stages when you’re doing finishing work, but certainly during the bulk of the project it’s either in pieces or has big gaping holes with no color or stitches.

All of this got me thinking about why I create.  Why do I want to make things or write stories?  Part of the answer is that I enjoy the act of creation.  I love making things.  Whether it’s new words, a new shirt, a teddy bear for someone, a cross-stitch that makes me smile when I look at it, or a cardboard creation to keep the cats from getting at the cords under my desk.  Believe it or not, that last one brought a lot of satisfaction with it.  I could get at my cords easily, but the cats could no longer walk on the power strip where there’s a switch they could accidentally flip to turn everything off.  It happened once, my cat was not amused by the yelling and cursing that ensued.  We’re both much happier with this new arrangement.

Sometimes I’m really proud of the final products I make, like the Regency gown and Spencer jacket I made so I could fit in with the bridal party at my friend’s Regency themed wedding.  Sometimes, it’s just the satisfaction of making a solution with no extra costs, like that cardboard cord protection.  Sometimes I’m writing a story just for me, and never plan to share it with anyone.  Sometimes I’m writing a story I want everyone to read.  But no matter what the motivation is, I enjoy the creation process.

Taking joy in the process as well as the finished product is one of the best things about making of any kind.  Yes, you have an awesome thing when you’re done, but you also spent time (sometimes a huge amount of it) doing something you enjoy.  Sometimes, when the editing is hard, or the ideas aren’t coming, I need that reminder that the creation isn’t all about the end product.  It’s about the process and the enjoyable time (and sometimes friendships) I make along the way.

I think what I’m trying to say, is don’t forget to take joy in the process, and if the joy is gone from the process, maybe it’s time for a break to make something else for a while.  My writing has been a bit of a struggle lately, but I’m finding a lot of joy (and some peacefulness in my own head) from working on cross-stitch projects (mostly gifts for others).  So, I’m trying not to stress the lack of writing progress right now.  Trying to force it can lead to stress, so doing my one or two sprints in the morning is enough.  And if every few weeks I miss a day entirely, that’s fine too.  There’s only so much creative energy and time, so at least I can spend it on the project that’s giving me joy.

With the state of the everything right now, it’s important to be compassionate with yourself, especially when it comes to your hobbies and the things you’re doing because you want to do them.  If it’s no longer enjoyable, a break might serve you better in the long run.

February Craft Goal Success (Mostly)

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I promised to report in about my February Creative Crafting Goals after the month was over.  I talked a little bit about progress in last week’s post, but this will be the full report with photos.

Project #1: Be the Light Cross Stitch

I’d started this project in January, so finishing it was my first goal for February.  I think it turned out pretty awesome all told, and looks great on my wall.

Cross stitch of a jar of fireflies with the words Be the light incorporated in the design.

Project #2: Teal Jeans to Teal Pencil Skirt

This pair of jeans originally belonged to my mother.  When she lost weight, they no longer fit, so she let me have them to do what I would.  I had to take them in at the waist in the conversion process, so there was enough material to make them into a pencil skirt.  I did this largely with basting and trial and error.

Let’s highlight the error:

They turned out pretty good when I got them completely done.  There’s a slit in the back up to the knee so that I can walk in them without being super constricted.  Part of the conversion plan was to preserve the decorative bits on the side seam at the bottom.  I may still do some additional work to add similar embellishments along the hem all the way around or maybe just around the edges of the back slit.  But these are now in wearable condition, so I’m calling them done.

Project #3: Light Blue Jeans to Light Blue & White Skirt

After the experience with the first pair of jeans my mother gave me (this pair was the same brand and size as the teal ones in project #2), I decided to do my more usual conversion style, which is a wider, more flowing skirt, with triangle inlays in the front and back.  I’ve made three or five versions of this adaptation before, so I knew what I needed to make it work beautifully.  So I started by taking out the inner leg seam so I’d have as much material to work with as possible, and then I did the pleats at the back to make the waist fit properly.  This let me bring in the waist while retaining all the belt loops and the original waistband with side elastic.  This worked out better than the darts I did in the other pair.

I decided white would be a good color for the triangular panels, so I ordered some white denim to use for this, as well as enough extra for another project as some point since it was fortuitously at a decent sale price when I ordered.  I think the panels and pleats method turned out much better in the back than the pencil skirt design, and I’m definitely going to be adding some embellishments to this one, but again, since it’s wearable as is, I’m counting the project as complete for the purposes of my February goals.

Project #4: New Dress Shirt

This is a pattern I picked up a while back when there was a really good sale on patterns (I think they were $1 each) but I hadn’t gotten around to making yet.  It’s Butterick B6563 if anyone’s interested.  The goal for this one was to at least make some substantial progress, not necessarily to finish it completely.  Step one was copying the pattern from the flimsy pattern paper onto muslin to make a mockup.  This fabric doesn’t have much stretch, so I could make something that was nicely fitted as my base, and then I could make it with both normal non-stretch fabrics or with slightly stretchy ones.

It took the better part of a Saturday to copy the pattern over and cut it all out because I had to take fairly frequent breaks.  I have the front and back shirt pieces, both collar options, and all three sleeve options.  That should let me test out each sleeve option to make sure the arm holes are right so I have the basic pattern pieces in muslin and the fitting adjustments figured out before I start working with the actual fabrics I want to use.

This process reminded me that cutting out patterns is one of the worst things I can do to my lower back though (hence the frequent breaks).  The best place I have for laying out, transferring, and cutting is my bed.  It’s on risers, so it’s closer to a standard dresser height than a standard desk height, but it’s still not ideal.  I’ve researched cutting tables and while they are expensive, it’s definitely something I want to figure out how to save up for.

Final Thoughts

So that was my February of sewing and needle craft projects.  Overall, I’m pretty proud of myself.  I followed through with my plan and got some substantial progress on things without breaking my streak of writing every day.  I may not have gotten as far on the new dress shirt as I’d wanted, but that’s okay.  I knew that a fourth project was probably ambitious when I set out my goals for the month.  And not getting much further on that one was as much about self-care as it was about sewing.  When I do something to aggravate my back, I need to be extra careful with it for a few days and not do anything else to make it worse.  It took a lot of years of physical therapy and following doctor’s orders to get myself back to a baseline that didn’t involve daily pain, and I don’t want to undo that work.  I love my hobbies, but it’s important to make sure that they don’t detract from my overall wellness, as that defeats the purpose most of the time.

Life in a Time of Pandemic: Diving into Hobbies

Cross stitch of a jar of fireflies with the words Be the light incorporated in the design.
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This one isn’t going to be talking too heavily about the pandemic itself, but I still wanted to tag it as such for those who just want a break from talking/thinking/reading about anything relating to it.

For the rest of you, this is going to be a lot more about crafting and writing and hobbying in general than anything else.  I was inspired to write about this because the university I work for started up a recuring series of stories on our staff/faculty newsletter/newspaper article site about all the hobbies people are picking up, or diving further into, because of the pandemic.

The stay-at-home to keep your exposure risk down mentality has had me fairly confined to my apartment.  Since March, I’ve only really left my apartment for groceries and other essentials, a few doctor and dentist appointments, and one week-long staycation at my in-laws (we all had a two-week quarantine prior to and right after).  It’s meant a lot of time that used to be devoted to things like my daily commute (about 2 hours total per workday) and driving to various social things (easily a recovery of another 2-3 hours each week) are now time I have for other things.

Not all of this time is going to a hobby.  About half an hour of my morning commute time is now devoted to more sleep, for example.  But the new daily routine I’ve worked out for pandemic conditions is helping with my commitments to my hobbies and my ability to follow through with them.

Prior to the pandemic, I took a regional express bus to work.  It’s about 30 minutes on the bus in low-traffic (my morning commute window) and 45-60 minutes in high traffic (my evening commute window, time highly dependent on driver and whether they take the shoulder when allowed).  This time has usually been writing time for me.  One NaNoWriMo, I started doing sprints with others on our online spaces during my commute, then the time between when I got to the office and when I had to start work at eight.  In Pandemic conditions, that has transitioned to being a 20-minute sprint called by chat bots every day at 7am, 7:30am, and 8am.  I usually make one or two of them every day, and there are a few other regular attendees who join me.  This has turned into an amazingly consistent morning writing habit.  I even get up that early on weekends now (though that’s more about consistent sleep times being better overall).  This regularity, started in October as NaNo Prep, has led to a daily writing streak over 130 days long already.  I’m a little amazed at myself.  And even if I’m only making one sprint a day, that’s 20 minutes, and I can rack up a significant amount of words or editing work over the course of a week or a month even with just 20 minutes a day.  It’s been pretty amazing how productive I’ve been so far this year.

My evening recovered commute time hasn’t been devoted to writing as much as my morning recovered commute time.  It’s allowed my partner and I to be a little more intentional with dinner timing.  I have a post-work routine set up where I’ll wash my face and do the other little hygiene things I do at night, and then help him finish up dinner prep.  It’s nice to have that time with him each night sharing a meal and enjoying a little time together.  After that is my time to either hang out with him longer, do a little online socializing, game, or engage in another hobby.  And of course weekends end up involving my hobbies now that out of the house socializing isn’t an option anymore.

So what else have I been getting up to?

Almost all of the hobbies I’ve dived back into or added to my hobby collection are needle crafts.  I’ve enjoyed sewing for years now and I’ve taken some of the recovered time during the pandemic to finish off some works in progress and things from my pending sewing projects pile, as well as starting a few completely new things.  I’ve also started trying my hand at cross-stitch.  I mentioned some of this in a recent post about crafting goals for this February, and I’ve posted about the memory bears project I finished for a friend.

One of the first projects was new flannel pants for me that fit properly, had pockets, and had the just enough to seal around the leg style elastic at the bottom.  I made one pair out of jersey too but the pattern didn’t translate quite as well to the stretchier material.  I’m most proud of this pair of rainbow heart pants.  I pattern matched the pocket and it just looks so lovely.

A pair of flannel pants made from a white fabric with a rainbow pattern of hearts featuring a patch pocket sewn on to match the pattern below it.

The biggest project since March was finishing up the memory bears I’d agreed to make for a friend.  With six of them to do and a decent amount of prep needed on the various fabric pieces, it took a lot of time, but I’m very proud of them.  Since I’ve covered this type of project on the blog before I’m not going to go too in depth about it here, but I’m very proud of the set I completed for her.

I’ve also been working on other little things, like mending that I’ve been putting off, converting a few old pairs of jeans into skirts, and I have some fabric that arrived in the mail this week to make a new button-front blouse for myself.  I’ve been wanting to make more of my own clothes for a while now because I can’t seem to find things that fit properly and are made well these days.  It ends up costing me time, and sometimes the fabric supplies are more expensive than just buying a new shirt, but being able to make the pattern exactly fit me so that it looks good and knowing that the construction and finishing will hold up to the test of time (and are all things I’m capable of fixing and repairing) is worth it.

In a completely different and more decorative direction, I’ve been trying my hand at cross-stitch.  I actually started because I had some old craft kits from my mom (copyright on the directions is from the 1970s).  I made a few of them a couple years ago that were coasters.  Basically, it was cross stitch with yarn, a big plastic needle, and the plastic grid stuff you can find at craft stores.  The last kit I had was crewel work.  It was a bookmark, so a material similar to what cross-stitch uses but with wider warp/weft threads with a picture printed on it.  I followed the directions to make free-hand embroidery stitches that followed the printed picture.  It was a ladybug on a stem with leaves, and it actually came out quite nicely.

It was really nice to get a physical thing out of it, so when I was spending down a gift card to a craft store, I included some cross-stitch kits.  This had mixed results.  The first two, which were very cheap in their defense, didn’t have enough embroidery floss included in the right colors.  I had some super close embroidery floss (mine was glossy while the kit came with matte, but the color was almost exact) so I was able to finish my first kit, which was a little baby dragon.

The next kit looked like it might have done a little better, but I also planned for what to do if I ran out of thread, so I was able to make an adaptation to the pattern to use more of colors I had and less of the color I ran out of.  This one is a Unicorn, and I’m quiet proud of my on the fly adaptation of it to accommodate the lack of thread I needed.  I’m gifting this one to my niece for her birthday.

The third kit was a much better kit (it was also more expensive).  It came with an actual hoop and more than enough of every thread I needed.  I even still have extra thread.  This one took longer, mostly because it was bigger and the stitch counting was a bit more complicated with all the gaps.  I’m pretty sure I did something slightly out of alignment with the pattern, but no one is likely to be able to tell, so it’s fine.  It was a nice project to work on while chatting with friends online or while watching a twitch stream or anything else that struck my fancy.  I also just love the message of this one, it resonates with me.

Cross stitch of a jar of fireflies with the words Be the light incorporated in the design.

I have a fourth kit from that initial order, which is a paisley cat design.  I’m looking forward to that one and may even try to incorporate it into something bigger like a throw pillow.  Or maybe it will just be another think I hang on my wall.  We’ll see.  Before I get back to that I’m trying to finish up the February sewing project goals.

I’ve completed one skirt and I’m down to the seam finishing on the second skirt.  After that I’m starting on the mockup of the shirt, which will then be recreated from both the new material I have on order and the material from a shirt that matches one of the pairs of jeans I’ve converting into a skirt.  I’m hoping the shirt turns out well in mockup, because then I can take the mockup apart and use it as a definitive pattern for a shirt that fits me the way I want.  Having a pattern made out of muslin will hold up better than one made out of pattern paper, which is only slightly more durable than tissue paper for those unfamiliar with it.

So that’s where my crafting and hobbying has been since March.  There’s been an incredible amount of writing, and a decent amount of sewing and other needle craft creation happening.  It’s another one of the silver linings that’s come out of the pandemic for me.  I’m devoting more time to the things that make me happy and give me joy and a sense of accomplishment.  I’m hoping I can carry some of these things (like the regular sleeping schedule) with me after pandemic conditions are over and make them part of my normal from now on.

If you’ve taken up (or dived deeper into) any new hobbies lately, I’d love to hear about them.

December Goals

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NaNoWriMo has officially come to a close.  I now have to remember what normal life is supposed to look like.  (I use the term normal very loosely here.)

Step One:

Continue writing every day.  I only missed one day in October, and I didn’t miss any days in November, so I’m going to write every day of December too and I’m joining an accountability buddies group for writing every day of 2021 in addition to signing up for GYWO again.  I’m looking forward to prioritizing my writing again in a more intentional way.

Step Two:

Get back into my normal routine.  Work during work hours on weekdays, goof off in the evenings, and change up the routine a bit on weekends.  Sunday write-ins will continue to be a thing in my life even if they have been virtual since March.  I’ll add some additional writing time Sunday nights with a writing Twitch stream my friend does.  I might try to set up a regular night for gaming with friends in whatever form that takes.

Step Three:

Goals.

I’d like to try to get enough of the story I’m working on strung together into something with a plot to move forward with the idea as a whole.  There are romance plots, intrigue plots, social tension plots, and maybe an overarching revolution of class structure in society plot, but I need to make sure enough scenes pull on the threads of a given plot to make it work developing.  That’s the part I want to spend time on in December that’s not just about drafting.  I need to do some reorganization and flagging of sections by character and timeline details.  The thing stretches across at least four years now and that’s a bit unwieldy.

I’d also like to work on a few other projects.  I have two sewing projects I’d like to at least start.  One is a pattern I cut out last December that I’d like to finish before the end of the year just so it doesn’t go into a second year.  I also have a project for my mother that’s years late that I should be working on.  Not necessarily in time for Christmas but I need to start working on the silver cloth covers for her various silver things.

I have the family’s collection of slides (the photo kind) and a scanner capable of very nice scans from slides, so I’m working on that and want to at least get the chunk with my sister’s first Christmas done before Christmas.  It’s been fun seeing all the pictures so far, so I’d like to continue chipping away at this project until it’s done (maybe by next Christmas).

What are your December goals?  Any writing, crafting, or productivity you plan to work on this month?

Making in All Its Variety

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So I recently attended a virtual event called CoCoVid, which was a quite amazing way to be introduced to the world of CosTube, which is apparently what they call the subsection of YouTube dedicated to costume creation.  If you are at all interested in cosplay or historical costuming, I would recommend a quick Google for either of those two things, and wish you a fun adventure falling down that rabbit hole.

A comment someone made on a Discord server I joined as a consequence of that experience got me thinking about “making” and what it means.  Someone mentioned being a writer but that not being a “craft.”  My argument was that they don’t say “practicing your craft” about writing for no reason.  (I’m not going to get into how craft/crafting and make/making are connected, as it’s intuitive to me.)

I ascribe to the definition of making that I’ve heard Adam Savage use (probably on a pod cast or a Tested video on YouTube, possibly both).  I’m paraphrasing, but the basic gist of it is that if you start with nothing but an idea and you then create a thing (a dress, an object, a book, a computer program) then you are a maker, because you made a thing that didn’t exist before.

I really love this way of thinking about making.

I am a maker.

I write stories and create characters, worlds, and books from nothing at all.

I use cardboard, scissors, tape, and whatever other supplies I can get a hold of to fashion custom storage solutions or whatever else strikes my fancy.

I take ingredients and the memory of a dish and I play around until I’ve made that delicious stir-fry I used to get back in college.

I fiddle around on a computer to get a design settled and then use the laser cutter at the university I work for to make the fanciest of fancy popsicle sticks with writing on them.

I follow recipes and adapt them and make the most amazing cheesecakes in cake, pie, and cupcake forms.

I take fabric and thread (and often follow instructions and patterns) and I create a dress, or a shirt, or a reusable mask.

There’s so much joy in creation, and I get that joy no matter what kind of creating I’m doing.  Whether you think of yourself as a maker or not, if you create things, go forth and create.  If that creation gives you joy, I hope you’ll share it as much as possible.  Being able to take joy in the things you do and share that joy is one of the best things in the world.