the birds are upside down

Merchant & Mills - The Dress Shirt #2

There is something intoxicating about buying crafting paraphernalia- the virgin promise of unchartered and as yet unspoiled territory. But as my sister pointed out to me recently, there is a world of difference between a mind stimulated by the rush of acquisition and the mindfulness of being single pointedly absorbed in an activity. And whilst making things with my hands has had a hugely positive affect on my mental well-being, the syringe model bypasses the huge range of emotions that accompany my creative endeavours.

My aspiration is always impossibly high – to attain the perfection that has previously alluded me. And this desire is my downfall, as I inevitably make mistakes in the process of learning new skills and honing my craft. In retrospect, I can survey the back catalogue of my handmade wardrobe and embrace each item – its flaws mapping my journey from novice to competent seamstress. Time has distanced me from the pain triggered by each imperfection and my attention is forward-focused on the ever elusive prize of a make perfectly executed.

Which brings me to my second attempt at The Dress Shirt from Merchant and Mills. My first iteration is on constant rotation and I was keen for the revisit programme with refined techniques. Due care and attention resulted in a finely executed front pleat and I also took my time easing in the bulk around the bib to good effect. Instead of butchering the finish on the inside with my overlocker, I dug out my pinking shears for the bib edging and the side seams are neatly enclosed French style. It was all going so swimmingly until I focused in a little more closely on that subtle fabric motif and noticed that THE FRICKIN BIRDS ARE UPSIDE DOWN.

You think I would learned by now and ditched this quest for perfection. It’s been almost three years since I started this blog and began to document my adventures in stitch. That’s a serious amount of time to be oscillating on the same emotional rollercoaster.  But some of our behaviours and responses are so hardwired, I’m not sure it’s possible to radically change them in one short lifetime. Outwardly I’ve changed dramatically and shed habitual behaviours that were dampening my sprit. However at my core, my default setting remains the same and I propel myself into most days from a starting block of dis-ease.

I’d love to live in a world where people ask ‘How are you?’ and are open to the whole myriad of responses this question could engender. And where replies other than ‘ok’ are welcomed with curiosity rather than recoil.  If happiness is the end goal then I’m always going to suck at this living lark and I’ve come to appreciate that denying the depths of my feelings is akin to annihilation. But bleeding over everyone I meet isn’t the answer either, so sometimes I think it’s useful to employ a bit of shorthand so we all know the score, without having to plummet the depths.

In the past, I’ve referred to the dial of my emotional compass being set at ‘Father John’ – homage to the gig I couldn’t bring myself to attend for fear of actually having to interact with other humans. I’ve also been quite fond of scoring out of ten, which can serve to distance myself and others from the horrors of actually describing how we feel. The birds are upside down is my newfound euphemism of choice and interestingly wearing this dress throws the whole statement on its head, as it all depends on your perspective.

Don’t get me wrong – the reframe was far from instant and a swift boomerang from the brink is never my style. Emotions linger around me like perfume and there’s no fast forward button to escalate the process. But as I tried the dress on for the hundredth time, I looked down at the birds and began to view them through a different lens – as a metaphor for a life lived out of kilter and a celebration of swimming against the tide. When I shift my vantage point and relieve myself of the pressure to conform, the birds that face me are perfectly aligned.

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pocket love

What is it about pockets?

And I know I’m not alone in this – every time some kick ass receptacles appear on Instagram, my people emerge. As I was finishing off my second Marcy Tilton Vogue 8813, it occurred to me, that my pocket love might stem from a subconscious desire to climb into their gargantuan folds and hide from the world.

My first attempt at this pattern was documented in a guest blog for Minerva Crafts and I’ve not much to add, except to say that I still hate gathering and will be avoiding any garment that involves this technique for the foreseeable. I’m particularly happy with the finish around the v-neck, as I used a strip of lightweight fusible interfacing to prevent any stretch from mishandling. If I were to make a third, I’d interface the areas which call for reinforcement too, as the notches weakened the fabric and got me reaching for some fray check.

It’s been a week where I haven’t been able to shy away from the fragility of existence and the reality that bad things happen to good people. I’ve been on the receiving end of glowing praise and harsh criticism, observing their opposing effects on my mental state. And I’ve sought comfort in wisdoms gleaned from Buddhist teachings – that everything is dependant related and lacks its own permanent, fixed identify. I’ve sat with uncomfortable feelings and when they’ve got too big to countenance, I’ve grabbed my trainers, took to the streets and worn them down.

At 43 I’m ripe for a mid life crises but thankfully I’m ahead of my time and got that emotional unravelling out of the way in my 20’s and 30’s. There’s been a radical shift in how I relate to myself and others but it’s one I embrace. However, change does not happen in a vacuum and comes with internal and external resistance. I’m concerned some of my relationships won’t weather the metamorphosis and I falter, triggered by old wounds and the fear of rejection fuelled self-annihilation.

Looking back, I was forever lost and sought solid ground through my interactions with others. In adulthood I’m appreciating a seismic shift in my functioning. Through anchoring myself inwards, I’ve learnt I can do hard things. And on the days where I can’t, I’ll retreat awhile and seek solace in the comfort afforded by these cocoon-like pockets.