Things learned 1

I finally went to a workshop with India Flint: Second Skin, at Beautiful Silks in Melbourne.  It’s an extravagant thing to go to another city and spend three days doing things you enjoy for the sheer pleasure of doing them and learning more–and what a treat it was!

India began each day with a stretch and a lovely metaphorical invitation to focus on the here and now of our time together.  Each time we did it, I thought some more about how I don’t do this at the beginning of my days, but that they would probably go a lot better if I did.  I loved spending that little piece of time with my mind on an image, before leaping into the excitement or the sheer tasks of the day.  I managed to remember to do it again at work once this week so far…


I thought a lot about being a teacher at this workshop.  I make my living teaching.  One of the reasons I spend a lot of time learning is that I love learning and I think human beings are one of the few creatures who must, of necessity, learn for the entirety of our lives.  I think it is a skill for life as well as a delight.  But another reason is that as a teacher, it is immensely helpful to be a learner over and over again and be reminded constantly of the joys, frustrations, excitements and fears that attend learning for most of us.  To be confronted by places you thought you understood and suddenly realise you didn’t.  To see the bigger picture open up.  To feel fear of failure.  To find some things work for you and some don’t.  To notice you learn differently than others.


I always find it very interesting to be in the presence of a teacher whose approach is really different to mine.  I think that great teaching draws on the whole of who you are as a person, and it is only right and appropriate that there are many great teachers whose styles and approaches are exquisitely different.  India is unquestionably a deeply different teacher than I am. I have often thought that Eco-Colour and Second Skin are more inspirational than instructional.  That they invite experimentation rather than providing a step by step guide to anything.  I don’t mean there are no instructions in these books.  Of course, there are.  But I think the weight of India’s teaching strategy is on inspiring and challenging people to make techniques their own and to discover what is local and useful to them in their own lives and environments.  I am much more of an instructor, and this is, in part, because I’m a structured and linear thinker, comparatively speaking.  Freeform creativity… not so much!  I have spent quite a bit of time in the last few years honing my capacity to deliver a short, inspirational speech, because I notice that while I see usefulness in a technique or skill and set about practicing it until I’ve mastered enough of it to satisfy myself, many others do not feel moved in this way (at least, in my current context).  I love to be inspired, but I can accept less and still feel motivated and act on that motivation.  I notice a lot of other people can’t.


I was so impressed by India’s capacity to inspire.  Understand that I don’t wear frocks and went to a class where you make (among other things, but principally) a dress.  Understand that when I make a garment I usually start from a pattern or draft one from a garment because I don’t believe I have much capacity for design.  Also, understand that the expression “measure twice and cut once” was liberally applied in my childhood.  This is the base from which I watched India demonstrate zero waste drafting of a dress and then freehand cutting the design, with many examples of how this might be adapted or modified or experimented with.  I eventually found myself thinking that this was so exciting it was a shame I couldn’t just play with these ideas every day for the foreseeable future… I could picture all manner of things taking shape in my mind.  Curiosity, play, particular fabrics I have at home, shapes… then, a short while later, I was standing in front of a length of rather expensive and lovely fabric, with a pair of scissors and a hand-twined string.  Terrified!


It was pretty funny, and partly because I have watched people I teach having that sense of possibility and capacity, and then watched them attempt something new and feel their fear return and their doubts re-enter.  If you’re lucky, courage and inspiration win out until the first hurdle has been mounted, a sense of possibility begins to solidify and the hard work begins…




Filed under Natural dyeing, Sewing

13 responses to “Things learned 1

  1. I think it is funny that you could be terrified !


    • Fear and I are old friends 🙂 I admit, part of it was being utterly perplexed about what kind of dress might work for me. Others were making all kinds of intriguing and amazing. I was wondering whether keeping it simple might be the best strategy… or just a way of avoiding experimenting!


  2. I think that I would find myself ‘terrified’ too!
    I too have found the need to buy or make patterns….. I can’t just jump in and play (my middle daughter Lilly can! She just snips and gathers and pleats and sews….. and it turns out amazingly well. Of course she could wear a burlap bag and look chic!)
    I have a few yards of milky merino that I ordered from Australia, it is such a lovely fabric! And I just look at it…. and am fearful. I’m so afraid to make a cut. What if I ruin it!? It was such a lot of money to spend. I’ve never sewn knit fabric before. Should I sew it with a machine, or try my hand at hand sewing it?
    The fabric turns my spine to jelly 😦
    And thank you so much for writing of your experience…. it makes me feel a bit more normal!


    • Ohhh… I am sure we’re not the only fearful ones. I love that milky merino, but when it came in the mail I sat on it for months before I touched it, and I haven’t blogged about it because of what happened next. Well, perhaps I will soon! India clearly feels (and has a wealth of experience behind her, of course) that hand sewing is the thing to do with knit fabrics, and I have to say it was really pleasurable to do, faster than I had imagined and it made adjusting as you went very simple. That said, I sewed milky merino on my machine, with a stretch knit needle and a suitable (stretch) stitch, and that part all went well. The part where I managed to shrink it, not so classy! On the other hand, this was not my first attempt at sewing a stretch knit. You could try refashioning old T shirts first, or something like that…


      • I have already pre-washed and dried the fabric….. so am not too worried about shrinkage (or maybe I should be?).
        But experimenting with refashioning some old tee-shirts sounds like a great idea, to get some experience with sewing knit fabric! Thanks!!
        Maybe I’ll have a skirt made out of it by the end of summer! 😉


      • Go for it! It is a gorgeous fabric. Take your courage in both hands, read up on sewing stretch knits, and go for it! After all, I made a dress…


  3. SubmarineBells

    I love this post. You’re completely right that there are so many ways to learn new skills. But I’ve come across a lot of folk trying to share their hard-earned skills and experience with others who haven’t seemed to realise this… and often the end result of the process winds up being frustration, at least for some.

    I tend to think of “learning new skills” as being one of my favourite hobbies, myself. It takes a long time to truly master a skill, and I find it hard to really put that long slog in because I find the earlier stages of learning so much more enthralling that my attention tends to be drawn to the next shiny new skill to be learned and away from putting in the effort to really *master* that other thing I just learned how to do! It’s a flaw, I know. But I find the “a-ha!” moments where a new skill starts coming together utterly captivating… those moments of “hey, *this* is how it’s supposed to go!” and “look, I can do this!” are addictive for me. I rarely seem to manage to find that same level of enthusiasm for the slower, more incremental learning that leads to true mastery. I haven’t really worked out a good answer for that conundrum.


    • Thanks so much for that reflection! I think it’s a pretty common conundrum. It seems that some people feel a deep sense of vocation in relation to certain domains of knowledge or certain skills, and they commit to going deeper… but there are far worse things than treating learning as a hobby IMHO! I rather admire that in you, personally.


  4. “I love learning and I think human beings are one of the few creatures who must, of necessity, learn for the entirety of our lives.”

    So true. I often fall into the “fearful for lack of expertise” category. And it’s funny how fearful we become in the face of freefalling into creative endeavors. I was reading the comments above about the beautiful milky merino. I get that same terror in the face of the perfect yarn. Such a tremendous responsibility to give it just the right pattern, just the right stitch, just the right gauge… I have yarn that I love that is still sitting on the shelf staring at me, waiting. And I want to kick myself, because while there is a certain respect that we want to honour the tools of our craft with, there is a point where we have to remember that it’s just string, you know? Or that it’s ok to mess up and then to learn by fixing.


    • I have to say one of the most freeing things I ever learned in knitting was how to pick up a dropped stitch with a crochet hook, which is the skill needed to turn a knit to a purl or vice versa, and as I now discover, the skill needed to swap from colour A to colour B when oopsies occur in colour knitting (inevitable, in my case).

      I love to watch small children try, and try, and try at fundamental skills like walking and communication. Their dedication to the task exceeds that of the vast majority of adults. I am sure part of the reason is that they have not yet acquired the judgment implicit in “failure”, and no one has told them it’s boring or shameful to fail. They seem to take the task as fun in its own right, and suitably cry their eyes out when the frustration is too much. It makes me immensely sad to see how scared the students I teach often are to try something that they have not already mastered. How can they learn with this orientation? I share their struggle, but the senselessness of it is so evident when you watch other people do it 🙂


  5. I feel I have much in common with you and with what you wrote. But I must admit I don’t feel bad or guilty for doing things in a structural, planned or linear way. I have met other artists who work very freeform and while I very often and very much admire what they make, I wouldn’t wear it or have it in my home.


    • Thanks for your comments. I don’t feel bad about it either. But I do like to notice that it’s only one of the ways to be, do and think. And I do enjoy learning from people who do very differently than I would. I am still wondering whether the best thing I could do in the direction of clothing self-sufficiency would be to learn to make jeans and t shirts really well 🙂


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