For the last few years, as I’ve got deeper and deeper into my thought hole about what sustainable making looks like for me, I’ve been wondering a lot about how to keep making, while acknowledging the fact that I have enough. Enough clothes, enough options for nearly all situations. So how do I make, for my well-being and my heart in a meaningful way, while knowing that making too much is just excess?
In one way I’m lucky in that I have three growing kids all of whom wear their clothes till they are actually rags. They love what I make them, and they wear them really hard, and I repair and repair until it is actually pointless to keep repairing as the fabric is so thin. Or they lose brand new knitted hoodies on public transport, and then beg for a replacement.…..so there is that.
And then I give myself some leeway to make things for replacement and a little for the sheer joy of it. A few things a year, and replacing things that have worn out, means that some of my making feels necessary and good.
Then there is the making I do for others – presents, gifts, and community projects.
All of which mean that I can make regularly.
But I’ve been wondering what else I can do. How else can I change my making to ensure it is in line with my thinking and my values?
Since October, I’ve made constantly. We have some other life stuff going on that means I haven’t been posting my makes as regularly so I haven’t shared the half of it - so here is a list so you can see just how manic it’s been.
- For the kids I’ve made six pairs of shorts, a birthday jumpsuit for a kid, two kid tops for Xmas, a kid tee shirt, a birthday dress for another kid.
- Plus I’ve fixed nine pairs of leggings, at least four shirts and three pairs of shorts, and a sleeping bag. And a bunch of other stuff – like a bag for our camping cutlery - that I can’t even remember.
- Plus knitting – a sweater for my SIL, one for my niece, socks for a friend, ….
- And….a bunch of other stuff I can’t remember.
Much of this making has been to a deadline and has involved late nights and giving up some sleep. And it’s not quite over. I still have three pairs of shorts to make for the biggest kid as he has just outgrown everything. And the mending is something that is constant in our house as my family are get down in the dirt lovers.
But in the background of all the manic making I’ve been making my kid her quilt which has given me pause. It’s been a different kind of making to the rest. It’s been slow and it’s been hard. But it’s also been ongoing and meaningful and uplifting…. and took a looong time.
Which got me thinking. Now that the Xmas/Birthday rush is over and the mending is done and the quilt is gifted, maybe now is the time to go hard and go slow. Maybe having an ongoing project that is hard and slow is part of the answer to less? Part of the answer to making while having enough?
Most of the things I’ve made over the last few months have just been a matter of following a set of instructions or a known process that doesn’t feel like much of a stretch. But her quilt? Her quilt was a physical and emotional stretch. It involved blisters and an ongoingness that held within it a different kind of reward.
Long, slow, hard projects have their own set of skills, qualities and feelings that are unlike most craft I do. At their most basic, they take time, but they also take me out of my comfort zone by their level of difficulty. They are challenging, either in terms of the technical skills I’ll need to use, or the mental skills I’ll need to engage with in order to get it done. These types of projects require me to sit with the discomfort of boredom, to engage with persistence, to not allow my head to get to focused on the outcome, and instead to intentionally find joy in the process.
This kind of project supports me in my everyday because it reminds me of all the things I’m capable of when I try. It deeply connects me to my values as it is such a conscious choice to re-engage with the project again and again – and often I do so only because of my values. In the quilts case it was because I valued my relationship with my kid and I knew what it meant to her. But every time my hands reached for the project I was also reminded of my consciousness, my willingness to act, my capacity to do hard things.
Slow hard making is a way of practicing the skills and qualities I want to use in my wider life.
In my wider life I’m human. I often try and fail to do the right thing. Sometimes I make decisions not based on my values, but simply because I’m tired, or the kids are fighting. Engaging with a slow project actively reminds me of who I am, and what I am capable of when I try by allowing me to practice micro-skills of courage and persistence.
When I heard the poet David Whyte speak recently he said we are practicing in this moment who we will be in the next. He asked us to think about who we are practicing to be.
Our craft – but particularly our hard slow craft - gives us the opportunity to practice with a low risk and high reward. Projects that are hard and slow allow us to get better in our real lives at sitting with boredom and uncertainty. By sitting with uncertainty in our craft, our bodies learn and practice the feeling, and so when when it arises in real life, our heads and our hearts recognise it for what it is; a feeling that tells us something important but will pass.
And this is only what I’m aware of as I’m sure that some of the lessons we learn are things that are not even visible to us.
Living with the objects created - the artifacts - of using this part of my making practice makes me feel strong and capable, persistent and thoughtful. They remind me always that I have agency in my life to create change, even if that change is on the micro-level of me.
This practice – the practice of hard slow projects - is a gift to me from me. And I believe it is something I want to engage with more. To choose more projects that meet this criteria, to push myself a bit harder to sit with the lessons to be learn in hard and slow. To continue to do my day to day making, for myself, my kids and others, but in the background to have a main project, my main squeeze if you will, that is a bit of a stretch.
For some of you this won’t be a part of our craft practice that you will want to engage with regularly or even at all. Your craft might be more comfort focused – in that craft is where you go to seek comfort and solace in your everyday. And the idea of doing something hard and slow and process driven won’t sit well with you and where you are in your lives at this moment. Obviously this is totally valid. But one of the beautiful things about making is that the option is there when you need it or desire it.
Slow craft for me is some of the most meaningful of my making. It is the part of my craft that I engage with to remind me of who I am, and who I’m practicing to be. And it’s a part of my craft that I want to explore more.
This blog post came about because I’m thinking about what my next slow project is…. The Twigs anyone? Do you engage with hard and slow projects… and what do you get out of it?
PS. I’m on holiday with the family this week but can’t wait to read about your slow projects early next week.