If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might remember that every summer my children and I embark on The Big Cleanup project: a thorough cleanup and reorganization of every single room in the house. Well, we haven’t quite gotten to it this summer, yet (!!). I did, however, briefly step into my sewing room, which, once again, became overwhelmingly messy during those last few weeks of school. I started removing some of the layers, and, as part of my archaeological digs, unearthed a few items which led to a few realizations.
Under a mound of fabrics I found this half-sewn purse. I started making it at the very beginning of my sewing frenzy. It must have been my fifth or sixth handbag, and I abandoned it midway:
The reason I never finished it was that once it reached this stage I realized that I didn’t really like it at all. I couldn’t get myself to finish it, yet was unable to throw it away, either. By this stage, you see, I had already put quite a lot of work and time into it. Tossing it felt wrong.
Now, however, with hindsight brought about by additional months of sewing and many more bags, I could look at it more objectively. I could frankly admit that it is quite unattractive (hideous even!), a design mistake. These days, I probably wouldn’t have even purchased the fabrics of which this purse is made. I would never have started working on it, and even if I had, I wouldn’t have gotten that far along.
Additionally, I discovered a pile of cut-and-ready-to-sew bags. If I remember correctly, I cut them shortly before house guests arrived last year. Since my sewing room is also our guest room, I have to clear out of it whenever overnight visitors come. By the time our guests left, though, I had already moved on to other projects. Time went by, and I never returned to these unfinished purses.
Looking over them I realized that I still liked some (that summer travel bag I was about to sew for myself, for example!). Yet, I no longer liked others.
All of this was a mini revelation. I knew, of course, that creativity is a dynamic, evolving process, and that I, as an artist, constantly change. I just didn’t realize that things evolve that quickly. Yet, those unfinished bags in different stages of making proved that what appealed to me a mere year ago was no longer doing so now.
I often work on small batches of similar pieces. I dedicate three or four weeks to work on a series of six of seven handbags, for example. Or a week to sew several journal covers. Within each batch, every individual item is unique. I always believed that what dictated the one-of-a-kindness of my pieces was the physical limitation of my raw materials: for environmental reasons, I try to use mostly rescued, repurposed and upcycled fabrics. These often come in small pieces, and are not big enough for more than one, or–at most–two items. I actually like working on one-of-a-kind pieces, since their uniqueness requires constant designing and keeps me excited about creating.
Now, however, I understand that what makes each piece unique is not only the physical limitations of my materials (i.e.–the size and nature of the fabrics I’m working with), but also the nature of passing time and evolving taste. A purse I make today, for example, will, by necessity, be different than a bag I will design a year from now. By next year I will have experienced new adventures and processed life (and art!) in new ways. I will not be the exact same person I am now, therefore the art I will make cannot but be different than the art I make at the moment. Each and every item I create, it seems, is a reflection of a fleeting, specific moment in time and in my life.
You might want to know what I did with the unfinished purses I found. Well, I didn’t want to complete the olive-colored monstrosity shown above. The distance of time meant I no longer felt attached to whatever efforts I invested in it long ago. So I calmly took it apart. I saved the parts I can still use (the button, for example, is beautiful!). The rest I deposited in a fabric-recycling collection bin. As for the pre-cut bags, I only kept those that I still want to work on. I will finish my travel bag, sooner or later! The other pieces went back into my fabric piles, to be used for future projects.
I realize that although I never finished some of these bags, working on them wasn’t a complete waste of time. I like telling my kids that making mistakes is not only human and normal, but also necessary. We all learn from mistakes. Like all mistakes, these failed handbags probably taught me a few important lessons. For one, they made it more clear to me what I don’t like in addition to what I do. That, I think, is something worth knowing!