The Clothing is the Destination

I’m sitting here with a lot of work to do, some pretty tight deadlines, and I’m drinking coffee and reading The Last Psychiatrist blog posts–each one promising myself this will be the last, then prolonging it by reading all the comments. Why? Because I’m all caught up on Regretsy posts. (Alas.)

As I try to analyze why am I so [lazy, unwise, etc.], I stop that train(wreck) in its tracks. As I know I am not a lazy person (and who/what IS a lazy person, anyway? How did they get like that? Is it inherent, learned, or something else?), what is it that is causing me to behave in the manner of a lazy person? What are the descriptions that spring to mind first as I try to MAKE myself do tasks involved in a business that started out as a HOBBY, as something I ENJOY? How much of this is an unconscious association of “work” as “unenjoyable,” as drudgery, as a means to an end?

The mental mix tape that gets new recordings with every job defines what it means to work, reprinted here with the tune taken out and bulletpoints for your convenience:

*Everything I get is last minute with tight deadlines; everyone wants their stuff back fast

*Everyone wants a piece of me at the same time and all the work piles up fast and sudden

*I’m not getting paid enough for this

*It’s hard

*It’s unrewarding

*I’m under appreciated

*If I were making __________, then I’d be excited about it


As far as freelance sewing goes, yes to the first two. No one thinks to buy a winter coat in the summer. They think of it in the winter. They think of it when it gets cold, and then they want one right away. No one thinks about the seam that’s ripping out in their favorite bathing suit when it’s freezing outside; they remember it 3 days before their Caribbean cruise. It takes a strange and orderly customer to think of having new garments started a season or more before they are necessary. And yes everyone thinks of what they want, after they needed to already have it, at the same time that everyone else thought of it. You can witness this phenomenon in every retail establishment by standing near the checkstands for a couple rounds. It’s a little uncannier when not in a physical establishment where you can cite visual cues or what-have-you, but it is the way things work. And a lot of those people, even if they don’t have any rush for their needs, still don’t want to have to wait in line, especially not an invisible one. As Vonnegut would point out, so it goes.

This is the nature of the beast, you don’t like it, find a desk job where you have one boss. Or perhaps stop being the exact same as that situation yourself–did I start D.’s winter coat before winter? No. Is it even done now? No. I’ve started working on the pattern, but apparently in the Asian coat-pattern books I got, XL, while it looks numerically to be big enough for him, isn’t even big enough for me. So it’s January and D.’s coat might be finished for next winter. Ah, well, the shoemaker’s children and the clothing designer’s significant other . . .

Notice the obligatory XXL sizing; this would still not be big enough. (Don’t tell D.)


You can’t change the external factors, like when clients call, or even what item you are working on. Yippee, another hem on something. The ONLY thing you can change is your perception. Why are hems unexciting? Why is menswear less rewarding than womenswear? Why did I decide this? Did I really get into sewing for the glamor?

Sewing is a behind-the-scenes thing and NOBODY knows how long it takes to do most things, even someone else who sews as a hobby. Like writing, it’s somewhat glamor-ish to people who like the idea of somebody writing or sewing or painting. Or sitting drunk at a typewriter in the kind of physical and mental condition that could cause a grown man to fall asleep on a radiator and injure himself. That’s only glamorous when you hear about it, but not when you’re there.

When you’re there, it’s a lot of work, and when I say I’m busy, I really am busy–even if I’m clipping my toenails to try to distance myself from how busy I am: gross national columnist,  which is just another fabulous part of the glamor.

The idea that there is an intrinsic difference between pant hems and wedding dresses is the kind of college idealist, English Department garbage up with which I will not put. It’s the thing that caused the Professional Writing Department I graduated in to flee to the Journalism School to escape the English major’s crap about popular writing being intrinsically bad writing, or at least not as important as the rubbish he’s got at home soaking in its own Importance, Relevance, and Human Condition Defining juices in an anonymous filing cabinet. #end rant

The thing that is the SAME about pant hems and wedding dresses is how the people wearing the finished product feel about them.

In this Wal-Mart market of clothes too cheap to be made by non-starving Americans, the clients I get clothes-wise are generally people who can’t just go to a chain store and pick up something that either fits perfectly or is at least close enough. Aside from the very wealthy, whom I’ve seen get garments adjusted down to the quarter inch, almost pathologically, the people who go to the trouble and expense of getting their pants hemmed really need them to be hemmed. So when a pair of pants finally Fits, the person putting them on can be really freaking excited. Especially if it was some kind of specialty hem that not every alterations place can/will do. Then they’re pretty much as excited as if they got their wedding dress back fitting perfectly. I’ve even got one client who texts me periodically to tell me how happy he is in the clothes I fitted–my favorite text was when he was at an art show and “the best art here is these pants!”

Everything I’ve got on line right now will make someone happy or help someone in some way or solve some problem. It’s easy to look at the down side (these panels could have been done with a different material, this deadline didn’t need to be this short, the change in this garment from Before to After is too undramatic to bother with a before picture even if I remember to take one before cutting into it), and it’s easy to blame myself for being the kind of person who does that. But the problem started with changes in definitions that were too subtle. Do you remember when you stopped playing at washing clothes or doing the dishes and these activities became chores? Or when pushing around that popping-ball toy lawnmower turned into “Oh God, I have to mow the lawn again this weekend”? Why is “work” inherently un-fun? What makes it “work”? What is your unconscious definition of “work”? Like an infant who witnesses two adults fighting about something stupid and is told “Aww, that’s love” and who grows up to pick stupid fights with everybody it cares about, the older you get, the more definitions of what “work” is you add to your invisible mental dictionary.

Work is drudgery; work is underpaid; work is under appreciated; work is ___negative adjective___. Am I under appreciated? Hell no! One of my regular employers, when I let him know I hadn’t gone in to a different job that day, as originally planned, asked if I had called in because I was too awesome to work. And I could go on. And I’m not mentioning this to increase my accolades via internet audience approval, but to point out that the absurdity of the little voice in my head that believes it is under appreciated isn’t just wrong because I am a special snowflake, but because in objective reality I am rarely under appreciated.

Yet this is an internal definition of work. The problem is the gap between the work done and the appreciation; it’s also the greater importance put on external vs. internal appreciation. The working part is unappreciated, the finished item is appreciated; I’m being appreciated not for what I did, but the end product–not the doing, but the thing, which makes the doing hard, and makes the doer frustrated at the thing for getting all the accolades.

You can’t change the temporal gap between work toward a goal and the completion of the goal. Zen anecdotes about the climb up the mountain being more important than the destination (try telling that to a customer) aside, the question is how to make your personal, internal perception of the journey AND the destination of equivalent value. How to make the DEFINITION of the journey/ work something other than what it has currently, accidentally become.

The idea that the journey is as important or more so than the destination and for the same reasons is the kind of thing you see reposted on people’s facebook pages on those blurry photos of pretty girls or mountains or pretty girls on mountains, with some sort of trite text printed in a script-y font on top of it.

No it’s not! I didn’t go to Wisconsin to fly on a plane or to have trouble at the rental car desk; I went there to see the House on the Rock. Everything in the middle was nice and all, but the destination was the thing. Otherwise I could fly on a plane to an airport, look around the gift shop, and hop back on a plane home. Don’t tell me the journey is the POINT. There’s something more to it than that; that’s the kind of new-agey rubbish that confuses people who want to be new-agey but can’t quite put their finger on why it’s not working.

The point of making clothes is to have clothes at the end of the project; it is not to sew. Again, try telling the opposite to a customer. The existential trouble is the part where you have to sew to get to the clothes, a thing which is sometimes/always/never fun, and how to change the definition of THAT to like THAT.

The trick is to change the definition of “sewing” as “work” and/or (probably and) to change the definition of work from all the things you’ve accumulated over time at all your crap jobs working as a waitress/ store clerk/ assistant to a dragon lady/ cashier/ office monkey/ etc.

Why was washing toy dishes fun when you were a kid?


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