All the women on both sides of my family are highly competent with a sewing machine, and many can knit, crochet, quilt, do cross-stitch, garden and can produce, etc. I can do all those things, and more. (Change a fuel filter, use shop tools, build furniture, etc). For about 15 years, I had a closet full of fabric, yarn, and almost every possible notion or craft tool on the market. I was saving up for a knitting machine. I also had a pretty deep pile of ongoing projects. Almost all of that stuff is gone now, and I’ll tell you why.
First of all, I still have all my crafting skills, and I’m proud of that. I could get up right now and drive to a fabric store and start a new project. I could draft a pattern for next year’s Halloween costume (the sexy anteater, warm and practical), and I could sew it and stand a good chance of winning a prize. I’ve won several prizes in costume contests over the years. I could start in on an afghan, quilt, or lace tablecloth. I could knit some socks or a hat or a sweater or a sweater dress. I could make the sort of children’s toy that will be worn to rags. If you’ve ever received a report that your chosen child refuses to go to sleep without the toy you made, you know that is a warm feeling. Recently I was tagged in a photo showing a rag doll I made about 15 years ago, still with her original dress, although the recipient is now nearly a grown woman. Stuff I made is still banging around in this world.
No project is as good as a finished project. Nothing in my oversized work basket was ever going to do anyone any good until it was completed. Not kidding about the work basket: I could easily have sat in it, even at my top weight. It was piled nearly to the handle, and I could barely carry it from one room to another, especially since things wanted to fall out. It typically had multiple knitting and crochet projects, some cut-out pattern pieces for a costume that wasn’t going to fit by the time I was done, a lucet, something new I was struggling to learn, several pattern books, and a few cross stitch pieces, started or not yet started. This laundry-basket sized enormity was only the outwardly visible part of my crafting. I also had two tubs of fabric and fabric scraps, plus a bag of yarn that had calved off the larger glacier. The tools themselves filled another plastic tote, until they outgrew that and I started needing separate containers for each craft. (The calligraphy pens and inks and paints, the tablet-weaving cards and threads, the table loom, the third sewing machine… ) It got to where I needed a separate closet just for my crafts. I knew where that led. I’ve seen what should have remained in one work basket explode out of an entire bedroom. It’s standard. It’s what happens.
Part of what happened was that I decided I was no longer going to have a crafting to-do list. I was going to finish each project I had started before I took on any new ones. I was going to throw away anything that I knew I no longer wanted to finish. If I was stuck for some reason, I was going to figure out why and I was going to learn what to do. After I was done, I was going to use up all my stockpile of materials in every medium. Then, when I was at PROJECT ZERO, I could decide on one project at a time, get the materials, and start working that same day.
You can probably guess that this never happened.
It wound up taking ten years to finish my current projects. One of them was a knitted Eeyore that was meant for a particular child, then for her sister when she got too old. I was stuck in a funny place in the pattern that I had frog-stitched (rip it, rip it) and reknit at least three times, only to find the same problem. I Googled the pattern to see if there was a correction; there wasn’t. Finally I started going to a knitting night at a local bookstore, thinking I could ask a more experienced knitter to help. I knitted the troublesome row again, and that time it counted out correctly. I still have no idea what mistake I was making that led me to think the pattern was off. I finished the toy and gave it to yet a third child who was conceived several years after I first bought the yarn.
I finished a cross stitch project that had been ongoing for a decade. It took a couple hundred hours. It then sat in the frame for a couple of years, until finally I sold it on eBay. It went for $30. I finished the afghan my grandma’s neighbor had in her workbasket when she died. I threw away what was intended to be a tablet-woven belt one day, but really amounted to an hour’s work and about $3 worth of materials. I threw away the partial body of what was going to be another rag doll but was really a tiny portion of free scrap muslin. I made and gave away a really awesome Mr. Hat puppet. I can’t even remember everything else that was in that basket. I got rid of the basket itself, as it was a gift from my first wedding and it had divorce cooties on it.
My fabric collection began with scraps and unwanted fabric I got free from someone else. I have learned over the years that FREE STUFF is the hardest to get rid of. It’s true for me and it’s true for most of my clients as well. I crocheted a king-sized afghan (known as the Ugly Blanket) out of scrap acrylic yarn compiled from all my yarny friends. I made what was intended as a lace-making pillow out of my bag labeled “scraps too small to use.” Not a single 1/16” snippet of thread or embroidery floss got thrown into my wastebasket, let me tell you! I had measured intentions for every 1”x2” oddly-shaped fabric scrap that ever came my way. I had a history of occasionally making dolls and puppets and dollhouse furniture and pouches and couching and various other things. I sincerely believed I could (and more importantly, should) use every piece of cabbage that was ever generated by me or anyone I knew. I could throw away actual food that I bought and let spoil, but I couldn’t throw away fabric scraps that would fit in the top of an aspirin bottle. It wasn’t until a lot of that stuff got too musty and mildewed to handle that I finally gave it up.
I used to go to fabric stores and buy anything I liked. Usually I had a specific project in mind, but not always. I never got out the door without spending at least $30, even if all I “needed” was a single skein of DMC floss. My stash grew and grew. I accumulated materials at least five times faster than I used them. I spent more time than I could afford on craft projects, while neglecting my health, my career, and my stagnant finances. I started finding that even two hours of work left my shoulder spasming for two days afterward. I had constant pain in my neck, my shoulders, my back, my elbow, my wrist, my hands. One day, during my annual strategic life review, I looked at myself and realized I needed a radical change. I made that change.
I still have unused fabric. I brought it with me on my last move, two years ago, and it’s been in the box ever since. I still feel an emotional attachment to making sure it “goes to the right person.” I feel stupid about this, because I work with this issue every day. I share because I know how common this problem is. IT’S JUST STUFF. New fabric is constantly being made (usually in sweatshop conditions) and it’s going to continue to be more beautiful (and tainted) every year. The new releases are always going to make our oldest stuff look hokey and dated in comparison. I got off that treadmill of UNREALIZED POTENTIAL. I traded in my crafting time for writing and for exercise. I now have orders of magnitude more readers than I could ever reach through hand-made crafted gifts. I also ran a marathon and became athletically fit. The chronic pain that was exacerbated by hunching over a needle is now mostly gone. I could go back any time, but the time never seems to happen. I used to buy fabric, and then one day I quit. I’m still working on putting that behind me and doing things I like better.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.