(NOTE: I write from time-to-time about Little Theories, which I see as our assumptions of how the world works: sometimes we’re right and sometimes we’re wrong. But it makes for good conversation.)


Art by Elisa Riva for pixabay

 Poodle skirts and persistence

 I wrote recently about how something as simple as sewing can make us a bit more mindful, stitch-by-stitch.

The gift of a hand-made item when our personal time has become so meagre increases the value of a present that results from our own labor.

While writing, I was struck by how much the act of sewing enriched my growth.

Here’s what I’ve gained:

  • Engineering skills
  • Planning
  • Persistence

It all started in elementary school.

When I was a lass, all the kids in first grade—girls and boys—learned how to make a wooden tugboat.

The teacher brought us boat-parts: a pentagon-like shape for the hull, a square for the deck, another square for the upper deck (wheelhouse), and a roundish peg for the smokestack.

We learned to hammer and glue the parts together (I was impressed that six year-olds were entrusted with hammers) and then painted our boats with bright tempera colors.

While I don’t build boats any more, I find that sewing flexes the same muscles.

When I’m getting ready to cut pattern pieces for a garment, I first imagine what all the shapes will look like once they are sewn together, just like an engineer building a boat.

Sewing requires planning: some parts get stitched together before others, so you have to be able to envision each step and imagine—or draw on paper—each stage.

The thing about projects like sewing and boat-building is that they take time.

Typically I spend a few hours on a project one day, and then resume the following day, and the day after that, and the day after that.

The task may take several days, or even weeks, so sewing requires persistence and a leap of faith that your labor will result in a completed creation.

Pity that sewing seems to have gone the way of poodle-skirts and eight-track players.

I discovered schools in California (where I learned my tugboat skills before moving overseas at age 10) no longer offer classes where students learn sewing, mechanics, building and cooking.

Learning the skills to create something—whether it is changing the oil in your car or hemming a skirt—lasts a lifetime with surprising payoffs.

Sewing helped me become a better writer because I know if I keep at the task of refining and pruning and polishing that I will (eventually) have a completed project.

I see college students struggle with their writing and I’m convinced one reason is they lack persistence: they don’t have the patience to chip away at a task that may require hours, days or weeks.

Maybe we should require that college students first take sewing instead of statistics, or carpentry before calculus, so they can flex their muscles and learn persistence.

5 February 2019


Today’s blog is for my pal, Jen, who is always looking for ways to be a better teacher





















About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in gifting, home economics, nativescience, persistence theory, sewing, theory and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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