Thoughts On Practice and Passion

“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”
― Malcolm Gladwell

One of the reasons I am sharing about my process on this jacket on Facebook (okay okay, I’ll post it here too) is that I want to show you what my process looks like out loud. When I was teaching medieval clothing reproduction and embroidery classes so many students said things like:

  • “I could never do what you do…”
  • “How did you get so good?”
  • “That’s lovely but I’m not good at anything I try…”
  • “I’ve tried before but I wasn’t any good.”

OMG. Oh. My. GOD.

It was like they thought I sprung straight out of my mother’s womb ready to stitch. They sure seemed to think that was what they needed to do. Since my birth mother was also an artist I’m sure that’s part of the DNA makeup of who I am as an artist but it’s not everything by any means. We dabbled in the same mediums without ever knowing each other but I was no skilled embroiderer or seamstress or illustrator at birth.

I would tell them that I started young and had been practicing for well over 40 years. Now I can honestly say I’ve been doing this work for 55 years.  Holy Schnikes!!! 55 years! My first embroidery was done when I was 5 with a kit from Woolworth’s. It was ok. Pretty straight forward. And yet still adorable. Considering I did this in 1964 (!) I’m surprised it’s actually on real linen.

No matter what I told them, their own self esteem seemed to taunt them and haunt them. Sabotage them. Every once in a while I would get someone who would take what I shared with them and run with it and create their own beautiful garments and embellishments. That was such a win! I wanted them to find their stride, to find their passion, to see potential for themselves and their works.

What did I tell them?

  • Practice practice practice
  • Make trial pieces, prototypes, mock ups
  • Experiment, dare, fly outside the box but with a solid foundation
  • Make mistakes, learn how to fix them through necessity
  • Read about the art, as many different books as you can
  • Practice practice practice
  • Measure thrice, cut once
  • Find your passion, the thing you can’t wait to work on the first moment of me time you get
  • Remember that I’ve been working on this stuff for DECADES.

So often that was the last I ever heard from them. They quit before they even got started. Guess it wasn’t really their passion. I hope they found out what that is.

I wanted to be a writer for years. My ex-husband told me once that I’d never write and I’d never quit smoking, he was such a Debbie Downer. He was trying to hurt me but he just made me mad and I left him for the last time that summer. I quit smoking in 1997 but before that I sold my violin and got a certificate in fiction writing from the UW. It wasn’t until I found the SCA and was sewing a beaded, polyester tunic with a zipper and breast darts (!!) and I couldn’t put it down, I anticipated the work all day while at work and couldn’t wait to get home, that I realized that if writing was TRULY my main passion I’d be doing it every day. Every. Day. I did eventually start writing every day but the point is we do every day what we are most passionate about. Turns out costumes and clothing and all things textile are my true passion.

You may be most passionate about embroidery or car engines or bass playing or reading. What is your passion? Do it every day. If you aren’t doing it every day (or almost every day, life is life), it probably isn’t your PASSION. It’s just something you like a lot but aren’t dedicated to.


Try something else. Or keep at it. Maybe it’s your lack of skill and technique that is holding you back. What do you do about that? You PRACTICE. As I said, I didn’t come out of the womb knowing any of this. I was a beginner just like you. I still make mistakes, sometimes ruinous mistakes. I can still be afraid to cut into a luscious bit of yardage. You can do this if it’s what you want. I do some kind of art work, be it embroidery or knitting or drawing, every day. I no longer have to focus on just one thing because I’ve been doing all of it long enough to be able to go with the flow.

I thought writing, music, reading, drinking, fashion, drawing, designing houses, were all my passions. Turns out I like them an awful lot (except the drinking) but textiles are my passion. If it has to do with textiles, I can’t help myself. I must create something. I do it fairly often and except for the occasional dry spells (I’m trying to get out of one right now), I do some kind of textile work every day. The dry spells are necessary. It can be exhausting to keep at a passion for a long time without a rest to let things flow again and coalesce.

When people think what I do is sew I laugh. This jacket is a perfect example. I can tailor the heck out of something and it will fit perfectly etc. This jacket used to fit well once. With a linen pirate shirt and a velvet corset and 36D breasts under it. It doesn’t fit any more. It never will. The embroidery makes it almost impossible to alter because it covers seams and areas that need cutting. I don’t really care for sewing, I consider it a necessary evil, but alterations? I frikking hate alterations. They must happen if you want something to continue in your life but Sewing Is Not My Passion. I will put alterations in the Punishment Pile and there they will languish until I’m in the mood. I just happen to be in the mood right now. Sort of. The navy wool jacket does fit and doesn’t have all the embroidery I had planned for it getting in the way. So it’s going to be the work in progess, not the turquoise. Embroidery and velvet ribbons and metal are in its future. Yum!

So why am I writing about the jackets right now? I want you to hear me thinking out loud. I’m not asking for input or praise or solutions from you. I’m trying to show you how the thought process of a piece happens. It’s very organic. You must listen for the whispers. That it’s full of twists and plot turns. That there will be mistakes, sometimes major mistakes. I’m not even kidding. I’m not looking for you to tell me my work is beautiful although praise is always welcome. Who doesn’t like praise? Who’s a Good Girl? I’m not looking for support to finish although support in general is very healthy. I want you to see that the finished piece that I show you didn’t just manifest perfectly. It was a process, sometimes a long process fraught with angst. It’s like giving birth. The end result is usually fabulous but the process is messy and full of blood, sweat, and tears. Literally. There were times I had to rip stuff out, sometimes many times. Times I had to erase. Or in some rare cases, throw away. You don’t usually get to see all the work in the background that I had to do to get it to a place where I could show it off. I’m letting you into my world.

So. I’m not upset about the jacket not turning out the way I envisioned. It is what it is. It’s been sitting in my closet for a decade, for a reason, sadly being ignored, not sparking joy. All will be well even if it ends up in pieces for something else. I don’t need help. What I would love is for you to see my process one day at a time and think to yourself, “man, I saw that coming” or “maybe I *could* do that too.” I would love it if you said to yourself, “If this woman can make that mistake and continue on to the end, maybe I can make mistakes too and still succeed” or “maybe not finishing isn’t the worst thing, maybe wasting my time is worse.”  I’d like you to see how I think myself out of a mistake, how I can be so pleased when it works out but not dismayed when it doesn’t. I’d like you to see the real hard work and think to yourself that maybe you too can get past that to the final beauty.

If you haven’t found your passion yet, keep looking, it’s there. Don’t give up. Keep practicing. If something turns out not to be what you want (I will never play bass), try something else on your Wouldn’t That Be Cool List. You should have a list. Lots of lists.  Never give up. Keep trudging. We all have creative desire in us. The one thing we are all born with is potential and a creative spark. If I believed in God and the concept that we are all divine, I’d say that we are all gods with the ability to create. You just have to find out what you want to give birth to. Sometimes that is literal and your passion is being a fabulous mommy or daddy. It’s ok if you are someone who loves to clean a house and gets great satisfaction out of creating a warm and loving home. A warm and loving home is one of the most important things we can have in life. It matters. Some people totally can’t do that nor do they want to. Thank goodness for YOU. You’d be surprised how diverse the field is for passion. It’s all good. Life is short, do what you love, and don’t let anyone tell you it should be something else. Remember, the only person you truly need to please is you. When it flows over into the lives of others, there’s nothing like it, even if it’s just a perfect grilled tuna on rye. If you’ve had one, you know that’s no small thing.

We can all have passion and creativity and contentment in a job well done. Practice brings that out in you. Every. Day.

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