Judging from some of the emails I’ve received lately, some people think I’m a master weaver/couturier. Nothing could be further from the truth. While I’ve learned a lot in three and a half years of weaving, enough to get past the rank beginner stage, my skills are journeyman at best – there are many more years of learning before I master the art (if anyone can be said to master the art of something as diverse and complicated as weaving). And I made some colossal mistakes in my weaving of the dress, errors only a beginner would make.
My sewing skills are similar. I’ve done some evening wear, but my technique is “home sewer” at best, and I have only a basic idea of fitting. I’ve learned some couture sewing techniques out of a book, but sewing is a complex art, one that really needs teachers to learn.
How, then, did I manage to make this dress, which (I think) really approaches a masterpiece? The answer, as for most big projects, is quite simple: start with something extremely ambitious, and then pursue it with humility, resourcefulness, and determination. And a lot of hard work.
Ambition in itself gets you nothing. If you aim for the stars and haven’t a clue how to get there, it nets you nothing but frustration. You need the humility to know when you need help, the resourcefulness to find that help, and the determination to keep going in the face of setbacks. THEN you will reach the stars.
Humility is essential when working towards an ambitious goal. People often confuse humility with low self-esteem. Humility, to me, doesn’t mean thinking you’re the lowest of the low: it means accepting yourself, wherever you are in your journey, and accepting that everyone, whatever their status in society, or their abilities, has a contribution to make, and wisdom to give. More prosaically, having humility means knowing the limits of your skill and strength, and being willing to admit those limits, to yourself and others. And being willing to ask for help.
As I’ve said, I’m not a master weaver, or a master couturier. Many of the elements were beyond my skill and knowledge. So I asked for help. Repeatedly. Help from more experienced weavers, from couturiers, from people with information I needed – anyone who could help, or might know someone who could help. Dozens and dozens of people. With that help, I was able to move beyond my own (limited) skills and create something greater. I could not have accomplished what I did without that assistance, and I could not have achieved it if I had proudly stuck to what I could do on my own. Really big accomplishments require so much help from so many people that they are practically a community effort, IMO.
Which brings me to resourcefulness. Help does not materialize on its own. And if the goal is lofty enough, chances are you’ll lack the skills, the material, or the time to accomplish everything you need. Resourcefulness means identifying what you are missing, and going to the ends of the earth if you need to in order to get it. In the case of the dress, that meant weeks of networking through weaving and sewing guilds AND “trying out” four seamstresses before I found someone who could teach me couture. Or searching 100+ websites to find the pearl farm who sold me my pearls. Or repeatedly asking for advice and help from the weaving community, when I needed assistance in solving a problem I didn’t have the experience to tackle on my own. Resourcefulness is useful – no, critical – when working on large projects.
The last ingredient is, simply, hard work. Lots of it. And the determination to let nothing stop you, the commitment to yourself to make the work the best that it can be. This project represents nearly 1000 hours of work, from beginning samples to finished garment. Along the way, there were many ups and downs – false starts, things that didn’t quite work out, and one or two disastrous setbacks – including having to throw away an entire month’s work, 10 yards of finely-woven fabric, because I had wound the warp incorrectly. Without determination, it’s too easy to give up in the face of obstacles. Take a deep breath, clear them away (ask for help if you need it!), and move on.
This dress is not the work of a master weaver, or a master couturier. Instead, it represents the triumph of determination over inexperience and lack of skill. It represents community: the assistance of many more experienced minds (and hands!). Lastly, it represents something that anyone can aspire to – you don’t have to be a master weaver or a master couturier to create something beautiful and impressive. You just need the ambition, resourcefulness, and determination to reach past your own skills, the humility to ask for help, and the willingness to put in a lot of hard work. Then you can create almost anything.