I have in my hot little hands the contract for Bitterwood, from Amber Quill Press. It will be published under their LGBT impress, Amber Allure. I am FedExing the signed version back today. With luck, and speedy editing, it will be released in ebook format in September, and in paperback in October—hopefully before GayRomLit in New Orleans. I would love to show up there with three books under my belt. We’ll see.
In the meantime, Pennsic looms, and I am sewing. This happens every year before Pennsic, when I drag out my garb and say “OMG—I need new clothes!!!” Pennsic garb has very specific parameters. It has to be cool, because temperatures shoot into the 90’s, sometimes. It has to be layerable, because they also drop into the 50’s sometimes. And it has to be washable, because above all, Pennsic is dirty. It’s in the foothills of the Alleghenies, and the area is rich in a peculiar red clay which, when it turns to mud (as it frequently does at Pennsic), gets into your clothes and dyes them funky colors.
Fortunately, the two Irish style dresses (lace up the front, sleeveless) still fit, as do the linen shirts I bought last year to wear under them (because I SO do not go sleeveless). But two linen shirts will not do for ten days worth of sweltering heat. And I am very much afraid that it will be sweltering.
So this past weekend, I used one of the old shirts to design a pattern for a simple shirt, and cut out enough white linen for two more shirts (one handkerchief weight, which is very light and sheer, and one of light weight, which is not so sheer. I made bloomers out of it for last Pennsic). Today on the train I started sewing.
I love hand sewing. I love embroidery, cross-stitch, needlepoint—practically anything done with thread or yarn and a needle. While I like crochet and do that very well, I suck at knitting, am ambivalent about spinning, and have never learned weaving, so those things aren’t very zen for me. But hand sewing… for me, that’s zen.
The funny thing is that people tend to HATE hand sewing. Even if they embroider or do other needle arts, they resist hand sewing, complaining that’s slow, difficult, aggravating and frustrating. Me, I hate to use a sewing machine. They’re noisy, you’re stuck in one spot, you have to pay attention to it, a machine is involved so of course things are going to go wrong—and when you screw up and sew the wrong sides together or something, you have to pull out acres of stitching and the stitches are teensy-tiny. Hand sewing is portable, you can pause and look at something or carry on a conversation, it’s slow and it’s in your hands, so if you’re doing something wrong, you catch on a lot faster.
The thing is that you have to understand what you’re doing when you hand sew. You have to become one with the fabric, one with the thread. (Okay, that’s me being silly, but in a sense it’s true. If you understand your materials, you’re halfway there. And that goes for a lot more than sewing, but that’s a post for another time.)
Hand sewing and machine sewing, for one thing, are nothing alike, except for the fact that you are attaching one layer to another. The same thing might be said about hand sewing and stapling (which I’ve also used in garment construction. Works great instead of basting for matching plaids). For one thing, machine sewing isn’t really sewing. It’s something called “couching,” which is when you lay a thread down and hook another thread over it to hold it down. That’s the purpose of the bobbin thread: to hold down the top thread. The thread only goes through the fabric once, and therefore doesn’t build up any friction.
In hand sewing the thread goes through the fabric over and over again. This creates friction. If you have a thread that’s rough, or multiple fibers, the wear will roughen it even more. This is when you get knots. So for hand sewing, I either use a good silk thread, or a waxed linen or cotton thread (waxing it with beeswax, or, my favorite, a thread conditioner called Thread Heaven). Waxing the thread keeps the fibers from unraveling and reduces the friction. This helps if you use polyester thread, too.
Friction causes the problems. But then again–doesn’t friction ALWAYS cause the problems? No, not really–consider sex. But in sewing, it definitely does.
My favorite time is when I’m sewing linen with silk thread. The peaceful little stitch: the little twist of the needle to straighten the thread, the smooth slide of the thread through the loose soft weave of the linen, the gentle tug to set the stitch—it’s very zen. Yes, you can carry on a conversation, yes, you can pause and look out the train window, yes, you can think about the scene that you should be writing this lunch hour instead of this blog post… but you don’t have to. You can just think about the sewing instead. Even if the thread does make a knot, it’s easy to fix, and if it’s on linen, you may not even need to, since the weave is so forgiving. And when you finish a seam or a hem or a whatever, you can look at the neat row of stitches and feel a sense of accomplishment. It’s restful.
It requires patience. It requires serenity. It requires a willingness not to rush, not to hurry, not to get frantic meeting an arbitrary deadline. It requires good materials, or cheap materials properly prepared. It’s like the fabric version of cooking—sometimes the beauty is in the task and not in the results, whether it’s a cassoulet or a plain white shirt. The journey, not the destination.