Tuesday, November 19, 2013


I should be 20 years younger and live in Brooklyn. Such is my devotion to DIY, or do-it-yourself. And, I should note, I was DIY before DIY was cool and before I knew there was a name for it.

Here is the latest addition to my ever-increasing collection of "hobbies":

beginner sewing machine

The motivation for this acquisition was, primarily, jeans. My petite daughter can never find jeans pants that don't need shortening. I've attempted alterations with a needle and thread, but my work is sloppy and often comes undone, and there she is again, walking on the unraveled hems of her jeans.

Yes, I know I could pay someone to take care of this, and if jeans were the only issue, I probably would find a seamstress. But there were also napkins.

I have a sad assortment of cloth napkins, most of which were given to me as wedding gifts. The wedding was almost 25 years ago, and nearly all of the napkins are white, so I'm sure you can imagine their current condition without photographic evidence. I would like to get new napkins, but I haven't seen any I love, and most new napkins seem extraordinarily overpriced for what is essentially just a square piece of cloth. I could make those if I had a sewing machine.

But ultimately it came down to the sweaters. A project in my long-standing textile hobby of knitting is nearly completion. This sweater will require finishing with a machine stitch before cutting the front piece. I could pay someone to stitch the seam, as I've done in the past, but I already wanted to make the napkins and hem the jeans, so I bought the sewing machine.

Since Friday, I've hemmed one pair of jeans and stitched a neat seam around a square piece of linen. I feel like I can manage the most basic elements of machine sewing on my own. But I think about how much better I could be, and the truly exciting things I could make, if perhaps I took a class. And then I start thinking about the cloth, and how I may not be able to find affordable fabrics I love, but of course, I could make my own fabric if I had a loom.

And that's where I metaphorically slap myself and come to my senses. I don't need a loom. I already have a spinning wheel gathering dust, and my knitting needles haven't been getting much of a workout lately. I'm baking bread, making yogurt, and now roasting my own coffee. I have plans to make wine and brew beer.

All of these things are fun to do, but a line must be drawn somewhere. Human societies have organized around divisions of labor for good reason. Specialization leads to mastery and efficiency, and few persons (with notable exceptions, such as Leonardo da Vinci) are able to achieve competence, let alone mastery, in more than one skilled craft.

Long ago I accepted the consequences of my decision to forego mastery on a professional level. I graduated from college and began my work in journalism with dreams of Pulitzers and other glories, but after a few years of 80-hour work weeks, I realized I wanted to experience other aspects of life more fully. So I jumped off the fast track. Well, to be more truthful, I ran so far from the tracks that I can't see one anymore.

Shortly before that jump, I had an opportunity to pursue a more specialized path. Due to some fairly strange circumstances considering I had no training or education in the area, I was offered a computer programming job, which would've paid more and, on the surface, seemed to have more potential in the booming tech environment. But my boss urged me to stay put, to be a generalist, an amalgamator. He predicted that if I did so, within a few years the guy who offered me the programming job would be reporting to me. Based on the eventual departmental reorganizations, I suspect if I hadn't jumped the track, his prophecy would have come true.

Generalists are the glue and the grease in a highly-specialized world. We need STEM majors, but we also need humanities graduates to craft the quilt that holds the pieces together.

Back to the sewing machine. I don't anticipate ever getting beyond the rank of beginner at sewing; however, I'm eager to acquire a basic skill to support my other interests. Some competence with sewn fabrics could improve my ability to create better knitted fabrics. I may find a thread to unite all of my hobbies and interests in a unique way. Regardless of outcome, learning to sew a little will be fun.

But I have to draw the DIY line somewhere, and I draw it with a loom on the other side. At least for now.

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