Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Too Much of a Good Thing

Sorry for the long absence.  Part of the reason was because of a bunch of doctors appointments.  A few weeks ago, I had a medical procedure and was under doctor's orders to spend 24 hours recovering at home.  No work, no responsibilities, nothing.  The post-care instructions warned that I shouldn't even "make important decisions or sign anything."  Naturally, I was overjoyed that I had 24 hours in which nothing could separate me from knitting and embroidery except some drowsiness in the beginning.  The next day, I spent several hours crafting to my heart's content.  I made so much progress on my "in-between" project, which I have been working on in between releases of the Once Upon a Time squares and Mysterious Halloween Town clues.  I ended the day happy that I made so much progress.

The day after, I got on the bus to work and brought my knitting bag.  I've been dabbling with knitting on the bus so that I have more time at home to embroider.  I took out the scarf I am making for the public library's craft bazaar and started knitting a row.


Pain shot through my back, neck, and upper arm.  I was having a muscle spasm again, one that made it painful for me to ride the bus.  I ended up not getting any work done that day because the pain was so debilitating.  The pain lasted for several days.  So much for progress.

It was entirely my fault.  That's what happens when I sit and craft for long periods of time without breaks to stretch or stand.  I haven't found a way to fix the ergonomics of how I sit to avoid it, but I should still remember to take a break about every 20 minutes.

During this time, I had to fight the urge to pick up a project.  My annoyance and anger at not being able to do my hobbies was almost as bad as the muscle pain itself.  I just want to knit a scarf--is that too much to ask?  This was one of those times when I feel like working on craft projects crossed over from pleasant hobby to obsession.  I threw myself into it so thoroughly that it actually resulted in bad physical consequences (other than the occasional pricked finger.)

I had an epiphany related to this over the summer.  While I have a lot to be thankful for, there are also areas of my life that are disappointing.  My progress has stalled.  There are times when I put in so much work, only to receive no positive results.

When I learned embroidery, it felt like a beacon of hope in the midst of all that disappointment.  I realized that it is the only area of my life where I have complete control.  I decide the materials that go into it, and what the final outcome will be.  The progression of my skills is obvious, and gives me pride in my improvement.  When I complete a project, I feel a sense of satisfaction that is not reliant on having other people approve my work.  And yet, people love my work!  Through this new interest, I have tapped into a wonderful community of friends that accept me as I am while encouraging me to set new goals.

With so many positives, it is easy to see why I have thrown myself into crafting--why I now consider it to be a part of my identity instead of one hobby among many.  And yet, I also realize that there can be too much of a good thing.  During a frustrating meeting, it's easy for my mind to wander into "I'd rather be stitching" territory, but I can't give in to the urge to withdraw to my craft corner.

I can embroider to relax after a busy day, but not to retreat from a challenging day.
I can embroider for enjoyment, but not to avoid trying new endeavors--even if those endeavors end up not turning out the way I want.
I can embroider to sooth my anxiety, but not to distract myself when I genuinely need to see a therapist.

I need to maintain a sense of balance.  One area that I can start work on is in my crafting supplies.  I realized that part of the reason I feel so much pressure to craft long hours is because I have amassed a large number of patterns.  I felt guilty about the number of patterns I have in my "craft queue" and thought that I needed to work as much as I could in order to get through them all.

Next week, I will talk about my plan to eliminate this source of pressure--by going on a "supply diet."

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Torah Mantle (Part 2)

It was a long journey, but this weekend I finally completed the Torah mantle.

I worked on the final patch over the weekend during brunch at Home Ec.  As I worked the final appliqué stitches, I actually felt myself getting choked up--because I was nearing the end of my largest and most significant project to date, and because I wished that Auntie was here to see it.

Over the several months I worked on this project, I learned a lot of important lessons that I will carry with me as I continue to hone my skills.

1.  Ingenuity
With its polyester (?) woven fabric and construction, I had to figure out entirely new strategies for stitching compared with what I had done in the past.  My solution was to embroider designs onto cotton fabric patches, then sew the patches onto the fabric.  The result was a design that was easier to stitch while adding more color, which is what my customer wanted.  You can see the individual patches in my Flickr album.  If I am open to new ideas, I can stitch with more unusual materials.

2.  Entrepreneurship
This was my first commission, and I have a much better sense of how I will deal with paid work if I choose to do it again in the future.  I learned to get as many details as I can, and to advocate for myself while also listening to the customer's needs.

During this time, I was reading a thread on "Ravelry" in which knitters and crocheters gave ideas on how to respond if someone says "you could sell those!"  Many people would answer, "I do this as a hobby.  If I sold them, that would be work, and work isn't fun."  That is a real concern when considering whether to turn a hobby into a business. Suddenly, you can't just make anything you want because you need to devote some time to the project that you are selling.  I discovered some tricks that helped me balance my crafting time.

For example, while I was in the final stages of sewing on the patches I did all of my work at Home Ec.  It was easier to sew there because I could lay the cover flat on a table and avoid distractions.  (Note:  I don't consider chai tea and mocha-frosted cookies to be distractions.)  The cover was bulky, so I began keeping it at my day job's office to avoid lugging it back and forth on the bus.  I discovered that when I kept my commission work in a separate physical location from my house, I was much happier and relaxed at home.  If it wasn't in my house, I did not feel the pressure to work on it 24/7.  Lots of artists and crafters rent out studio space in which to work.  That won't be possible for a long time, but I now understand the psychological value of maintaining separate work and home spaces.

3.  Perseverance
There were times when the project felt overwhelming, and I was so close to giving up.  After waiting for the panic to subside, I would come upon an answer that made the job easier.  My customer was depending on me, and believed that I could do a great job.  Sticking to it was worth it, and I feel like now I can accomplish anything!

As I held the finished project, I said a prayer known as the Shechecheyanu.  It is an all-purpose prayer to thank G-d for bringing us to this moment in time, and it seemed appropriate to say on a new work of creation.  May I continue to create beautiful objects and grow as an artist!