Working on the book every morning, as soon as I get up, is paying off ! It allows me to come to the book with a clear mind, not cluttered with the day’s worries and plans. I have committed myself to writing for half an hour every morning, though it’s usually more like an hour.
I wrote this section this morning, and it seems like a sufficiently self-contained gem to share, so I’m passing it along. The topic is “learning how to think in a medium” – developing a wordless, intuitive understanding of how to work with a medium.
There are, however, a few things that will make learning to think somewhat easier. The first and quickest is to find yourself a mentor or mentors, someone who already understands your medium. Try to understand how they think, what questions they ask when troubleshooting or designing. When you ask them your inevitable questions, don’t just take down the answer; ask them how they knew that, how they reached that conclusion. Imagine you’re a two-year-old again, constantly asking “Why?” You don’t just want the answers, you want to know the principles behind the answers.
For example, when I was learning to sew a couture hem, my mentor (Sharon Bell) told me to bind the raw edge of the fabric, then catchstitch a bias-cut strip of china silk to the body of the garment and attach the bound edge of the fabric to the china silk, not directly to the fabric itself as is done in home sewing. I asked her why the edge of the fabric shouldn’t be applied directly to the fabric itself, and she said, “Because using the china silk will distribute the strain evenly across the garment fabric. If you applied the bound edge directly to the hem, the strain would show and you would get a visible line on the outside of the garment.”
Then I asked her why china silk, and why cut it on the bias. She replied, “You get more stretch, flexibility, and drape on the bias, and you want that flexibility in the hem. And it doesn’t have to be china silk – it can be any fabric that produces the results you want. For a heavier fabric, you can use china silk or even something heavier. For a lighter fabric, silk organza works well.”
Then she explained to me why you use a catchstitch (as opposed to another stitch), why and how to bind the raw edge of the fabric, etc.
My copious notes included (among many other things) these observations:
- Fabric stretches on the bias; useful when you want a more flexible, stretchy, or drapy fabric.
- Don’t be afraid to use different fabrics in the hem- there is no one right fabric for the job, it depends on the characteristics of your outer fabric.
- When I want to attach two layers of fabric together invisibly, add a bias-cut strip of lightweight fabric between my two layers of fabric, catchstitching the bias-cut strip to the top fabric and attaching the edge of the bottom fabric to the strip, not directly to the first fabric.
Notice that I extracted as many principles as possible, as opposed to simply following instructions. I have also generalized the principles as much as possible, so I can apply them anywhere they’re useful – not just in hemming. So by asking lots of “why” questions, I’ve learned some useful principles, rather than just blindly following one way to do a couture hem.