Sunday, February 27, 2011

Fabrics Anonymous, and People-Pleasing.

I love fabric. I can spend hours in a fabric store, wandering about, admiring some and wincing at others, dreaming of garments I could make with this or that, hunting for the perfect buttons for whatever it is I'm constructing at the time. I love the feel of it, the amazing possibilities inherent in those bolts of material.

I have the skill reqired to sew just about anything, and as a result, have great difficulty with paying the prices in ready-to-wear clothing stores. I know I could make it myself, for a fraction of the price. I buy clothing patterns only for the pattern pieces - I rarely need to read the instructions. When we moved down to the city, I was thrilled to have easy access to fabric stores again.

I was in one yesterday, to get lining and interfacing for a coat, and was laughing with the lady cutting my fabric, about "the stash." Most of us who sew on a regular basis, have a stash of fabric waiting to be sewn up into wonderful articles of clothing.

Some of us aren't sure what we'd do with a particular fabric, but have to have a piece of it. Others of us are more in control; we only buy material we can imagine using for something specific - "that would make a great shirt for that long-sleeved pattern."

Some of us do both - I'm in the last category. When we moved from the city to a small town, I gave most of my stash to friends who sewed, and the rest to the hospital auxillary. I was astounded to see how much material I actually had - far more than any one person could ever use, unless I sewed night and day for about 15 years. While we lived away from the city, I didn't accumulate a stash.

We've been living back in the city for just over a year, and I've already started to grow another one, and, I have a "frequent flyer" card at one store.  I've got a large tote, and I've decided that if it will still fit into that one tote, I can purchase it. When the tote becomes full, then no more purchasing of fabric until I've used everything within the tote. A sewing friend does this, and says it works well for her, so I'm willing to try it.

I'm a sucker for the remnant bin, too. Yesterday, waiting to have my interfacing and lining cut, I was hunting through this bin, and found an electric royal blue textured velvet, which I couldn't resist. I looked at it, tried to imagine what I could make with it, put it down, looked at other remnants, picked it up again, and knew I'd regret it if I left it there.

A non-sewing friend once asked why I didn't just get a square foot of fabric I loved, frame it, and hang it as abstract art on my walls? I could do that with this velvet, it's such a delicious color, and textured, so the light plays across the different facets of the very soft surface. I think it might make a good sweater-jacket, but I'm still not sure. I just know it gives me pleasure.

My husband doesn't understand my addiction to fabric, but he admires the end result - the clothing I make for myself, the duvet covers I've sewn for our bed, the curtains and dog sweaters I've made over our years together. I've made him denim and leather baseball caps, truck seat covers, all sorts of goodies.

He jokes that were I to have unlimited funds, and unlimited space, I might turn into a fabric hoarder. I reply that I am already a fabric hoarder, on a very small scale.
My "stash" is a tote full of possibilities waiting to be realised, but I need to have a realistic understanding of just what is attainable within my lifetime, and work within those constraints. Everything in moderation.

Because I didn't sew much in the way of garments while we lived away from the city, I'd forgotten that making my own clothing and wearing it, will place me into situations where my people-pleasing will be heavily triggered. It's an interesting fact of life, that our friends and acquaintances will ask those of us who sew, to "make me something." Everything from curtains, to jeans, to winter coats, to blouses. Not only to make something from scratch, but also to fix and repair - replace zippers, stitch holes in ripped pockets, hem new pants. I don't know why, but people who'd never dream of asking an electrician friend to re-wire their house for free, will ask a sewing friend to make them a winter coat for free. Sewing is work. It may be work I love, but it's time consuming, and detailed work.

I have learned to reply: "I don't like doing alterations, but I'm sure there are businesses here in town that will do it for you."If I then get the response, "Oh come on, can't you just do one pair of pants for me? How long could it take?" I use the technique of "broken record" (repeating my statement and refusing to be drawn into discussion) until the person hears me. I was talking to a program friend about this, and she laughingly replied, "Just say NO!" As I get more comfortable in Al-Anon, and inside my own skin, I become more at home with saying "No."

I've become more honest. Instead of saying that I'm very busy, and don't know when I could get to it, I'm truthful. I say, "I don't like doing alterations. I find them tedious and boring. Just because I have the skill to do it, doesn't mean it's enjoyable."

Non-program people can be quite forceful in their desire to get from me, something for nothing. I was dealing with one recently, and my polite refusals seemed not only to spur her on, but in her frustration at not receiving the response she desired, she was getting increasingly snarky. I finally became exasperated, and taking a moment to compose myself, and ask my Higher Power for courage, I stated flatly:

"I'm not going to sew anything for you, and I'm also not going to discuss it any further. This topic is now closed."
An expression of intense anger crossed her face - lips thinned, nostrils flared, eyes narrowed. She looked at me for a moment, then said in an icy tone, "I just thought you might be willing to something nice for me."

I smiled and replied cheerily, "How's your sister doing? She was ill last time we spoke."

There was a moment of silence, in which I could feel her desire to control me almost as a physical force in the room, before she sighed heavily, and responded that her sister was much better, thanks for asking. We went on to other topics, and as soon as I could do so politely, I excused myself, and crossed the room to talk to someone else. I felt as though I'd narrowly escaped a life of servitude behind my sewing machine, in which I'd never have gotten to a single piece of lovely fabric in my stash, only been able to gaze longingly in the direction of the tote, while I toiled to satisfy someone else's desires, not my own. I'm exaggerating, but my people-pleasing tendencies have put me into that servitude to the desires to others, for a large part of my life.

I don't know how much time I have left upon this earth, but I don't want to spend it that way. I sew for the pure pleasure of it, and that's my right. I've finally learned that I have the right to do something, for no other reason, than that it pleases me to do it.

As I heard in a meeting the other day: "I matter, too!"


  1. I've had similar experience as an artist/painter. I think that people think that since I love making art, I'd love to make something that they want just for the joy of it and for no $'s.

  2. I admire your straightforward honesty. Saying No can feel like a threat to power of another. But for those who don't really hear what I am saying, it is often the only way.

  3. Great post! I know that feeling, of someone's anger coming at you, and I appreciate your ability to stand your ground and not let it blow you over. :)