When you use a sewing…

When you use a sewing machine, two threads are woven together to form the stitch. One thread comes from the main spool, on top of the machine. The other comes from a smaller spool, called a bobbin, that rests under the needle. When you first start using a machine, you can't just dive into sewing. First you take the main spool and an empty bobbin, and wind some thread onto the bobbin. Then you insert the bobbin, correctly. Then you thread the main spool onto the machine. Then you raise the bobbin thread. Only after doing those four things (which involves about twenty smaller steps), can you start sewing. When I first started sewing again, I was really intimidated by the whole process and especially knitting machines which had all kinds of settings I knew nothing about. I couldn't find my Singer manual, so I looked it up on the web. (The whole manual's in PDF on their website, along with a lovely searchable basic sewing tutorial (how to sew a buttonhole / how to sew darts / etc). Good company! They get a biscuit.) The first time took me at least fifteen minutes and much fumbling. But now, a few tries later, it takes me perhaps two minutes for the whole process, and I hardly have to think about it at all. I'm astonished by how quickly we learn things, and by how many complex activities are made up of many small and simple steps. I really enjoy applying that process to activities like using a sewing machine, because it makes me feel like a more competent human being. There are times when I've romanticized "the old days", when mothers taught their daughters to cook and spin and weave and sew, to make herbal possets in the stillroom, to grow cutting gardens and know both the art of arranging flowers, and what you can say with them. A time when a farmer in the fields knew how to build a barn, or feed his family with his own two hands. There are still plenty of people who know how to do these things, of course, who do them every day. And if I want to, I can go learn them -- there's a certain delight in learning how to hand-sew the binding on a book, for example. I love them so, and even though I'll choose mass-production for most of my needs in the end, there's a pleasure to knowing how books started, how they were made by a pair of hands, to know that I can take a book apart and put it together again, even if this isn't a skill I use often. But that's still romanticizing, in some sense, and what I was realizing as I threaded the machine this morning was that my use of my sewing machine is just as delightful in its own way, as a girl learning to sew with needle and thimble and thread. It may be slightly mechanical, but it's still a skill, a skill of the mind but most especially of the hands. And the more I do it, the better I get. That pleases me. Perhaps the glory of machines is that they can do things exactly the same way, over and over and over again, without getting tired for a very long time. That's valuable. Without that, we wouldn't have much of this digital world that I adore. But perhaps the glory of animals is that we don't just do it precisely the same, over and over. We get a little better every time -- and because we would get bored doing the same thing over and over, we also make variations; we try to make it more interesting, more fun, more beautiful. And so we advance, with pleasure and delight.

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