Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Stockings

My daughter thought of a wonderful thing to do with fabric scraps -- she made these cute Christmas stockings. She has promised to provide a step-by-step tutorial.

My seemingly interminable batman top project is finally coming to an end. After all that work, I'm not thrilled with the results, but I learned a considerable amount. The jacket is made of poly moleskin on the outside and poly satin on the inside. It is meant to be reversible, but I don't think that's realistic with the fabrics I used, since the front edge is meant to fold over and expose the lining. Neither of the fabrics fold easily, so I had to steam the edge to get it to fold over.  Both fabrics feel smooth and soft against the skin. The jacket covers up the batman godet in the back of the top, so to that extent, I succeeded at what I set out to do. But the outfit as a whole seems sort of dull and depressing.

Maybe some beads would help ...

I dunno ... I'm sure I'll wear the jacket, and I'll probably wear the top too, but not often. So here's what I learned from this project:

-- when making a new pattern that involves transitioning through several sizes (eg from size 14 bust to size 18 hips, which pretty much describes my pear-shaped torso), it will save time in the long run to make a muslin.

-- if a garment has a finished edge that goes around the corner from front to bottom, hand baste first, to make sure the facing and hem will mesh properly.

-- when sewing two slippery fabrics together (such as the poly moleskin and satin), hand baste critical-fit areas such as the arm openings on the jacket. It saves time in the long run, because you don't have to rip out and re-do seams, and the basting thread is very easy to remove.

-- when a project isn't turning out well, sometimes it may be best to quit sooner rather than later.

Aside from these specific things I can list, I became more skilled at sewing in a way that's difficult to describe. In the past, I've never paid too much attention to the learning process. When I was first learning to fly single engine aircraft as a kid, I noticed that practicing landings in my mind had a positive effect on my actual performance; and when I studied for school exams I found that writing things helped me to remember them better than just reading them; and the only way I could really learn the stuff for engineering, physics, and math classes was to understand it and work it our for myself, rather than just memorizing formulas. That's about the extent of my prior analysis of the learning process. I'd never before paid attention to unconscious processes that go on when one is learning a skill such as sewing or carpentry. I still have no idea how it works, in the sense of the mechanics; but I notice that specific tasks get easier each time I do them. Threading a needle, for example, or holding the fabric exactly the right way as I feed it through the sewing machine or serger. I'm amazed and delighted to observe these new skills developing, without any particular effort on my part, other than to go through the motions of doing the tasks.

Likewise, I'm improving my understanding of the Spanish language without any conscious effort in the sense of saying "Now I'm going to sit down and study this." I had to replace my computer a few months ago, and when I set up the new one, I chose Spanish as the language, rather than English, which is my mother tongue. Since the computer's set up to use Spanish, all the "help" pages are in Spanish. When I go to my home page, the news is in Spanish. I can get most of the news stories in English if I want to, but if I just want to read the headlines, it's easier to just read them in Spanish than to go searching for English versions. I was amazed one day recently to notice, while reading a news article in Spanish (the headline was interesting, so I clicked on  it to learn more), that I was halfway through the article before it occurred to me I was reading Spanish.

Here's something even more interesting: when you stimulate your brain to learn one new thing, it's as though you've given it a shot of growth hormone or something. Shifting the brain into learning mode seems to make it easier to learn anything, not just whatever is it you're concentrating on. I'm not sure if there are certain things that are, as it were, taboo for the elderly brain. Certainly I would have major problems if I tried to learn, say, ballet, because my knees are shot. So there are clearly limits imposed on physical learning by the condition of the body (but if one had a sophisticated enough avatar, could one learn to be a virtual ballet artist?). But are there intellectual limits? I don't feel especially motivated to study math-related topics at the moment, although my undergraduate degree was in math. But I think I could probably get into learning to play a musical instrument. Is this because I'm afraid I can't do math anymore? I almost feel compelled to do it just to see if I can. If only I could live to be 150 or 200! Then I might have time to do everything I want to do.

Last year I studied Hebrew just to see if I could. I signed up for online classes with It was really cool. The instructors were in Israel, and the students were from the U.S. and Australia and France and the Phillipines -- really all over the world. We used AT&T meeting software. I noticed that after working on Hebrew lessons, Spanish seemed very, very easy. I reluctantly made the decision to work on Spanish rather than Hebrew, since Spanish is a language I need to know every day, living in San Antonio.


  1. Those Christmas stockings are really cute, and a wonderfully thrifty idea... well done to your daughter!

  2. great stockings. Interesting observations about learning - the saying use it or lose it really is true. But gosh, flying a plane, spanish and sewing is amazing. I started learning spanish because I know a Mexican who immigrated to Australia but sadly there is really no need for Spanish here so stopped - perhaps I should start again.

  3. My husband is Australian. We're living in Texas now, but one time when I was in Melbourne I heard a couple of people speaking Spanish on a tram. It made me feel homesick. A friend who moved to South Carolina from Texas told me she used to hang around a convenience store near her home to listen to a cashier who spoke English with a Spanish accent. The Spanish is so much a part of our culture, but it's funny. As a mostly English-speaker, I never notice how important the Spanish language and culture are to me until I leave it for a while.