Sewing-n-Sawdust

Although anyone reading my author blog would much prefer to see me making announcements about the Renewal universe, a hard fact remains. I have to make enough of a living to stay afloat. I have spent far too much time doing things that are completely antithetical to the goal of writing, but thanks to a few changes, I am redefining the system as we speak – so to speak.

Anything I write as an independent author has a significant time lag from publication to actually making money. If you are still out there, waiting for the sequel to Renewal, and the sequel to that, then my best case scenario is that I publish and roughly 120 days later, I get paid enough to stop doing all the things I do to keep my pirate ship afloat. If you are not there, if you have moved on, understandably so given the amount of time it has taken, then my chance of being able to focus on fiction full-time is slim to none. If you would chime in at this point, and let me know how you feel, it definitely helps my decision process.

Meanwhile, I need a system that pays for my time in the short term. Paycheck to paycheck. This could be a normal job, which I suck at doing (since most bosses are idiots) or even landing, since I am a profound generalist, jack-of-all-trades, Renaissance man kind of guy with an earnings history that weeds me out before I get started. We all know that companies look for specialists who have spent 7 years doing a very specific thing, using a very specific technology. Frankly, I disagree with this entire approach. Broad expertise that can be focused is far more valuable than a life spent in the side pocket of a pool table, but the stats don’t lie. Companies continue to look for cogs in the machine rather than broad-based problem solvers, and there is nothing I can do about it. Except…

There are things that matter in terms of making a living, and things that matter in terms of making a life. Obviously if we could all solve both at once we would. That’s a rare gift indeed. In my case, I strive for it. I’ve had enough significant health issues that I regard life as too short to spend on things that don’t matter to me.

So, what matters? People, obviously, and what they do, how they cope and interact with each other. How they communicate in world where communication seems to be broken across ideological lines. Animals, and giving them a refund for their total dedication to us, which includes dog rescue in a major way, spoiling cats in a significant way, and acknowledging the glory of beef, pork, chicken, and eggs on my table. The fish, well… I’m not sure they give a crap. Survival is survival.

I dove into sewing for one primary reason. I wanted to make dog clothing for our current ODH foster, Hagar. Hagar came to us as a captured stray. He had no fur, but he was clearly loved and spoiled at some point in his life. I imagine that his people succumbed to Alzheimers and forgot he was in the yard. His remaining person probably got picked up and moved to a nursing home without anyone knowing that a tiny dog was waiting patiently in the backyard. Eventually, Hagar realized that he would have to fend for himself and escaped, and some time later, he was picked up as a stray, wearing a grimy sweater and without his proud mantle of Pomeranian fur. As ODH fosters, we were presented with this dog as the worst of the current crop. The shelter had decided that he may not be in his right mind, and that we may have an impossible task on or hands. Of course this was what we wanted. As my wife said, “If Jim can’t connect with him…” It’s true. I can read dogs very well. The end result was that Hagar was emotionally wounded, yes. But he was not gone. Our connection with him is now is as solid as dogs we have raised from puppies. He trusts us and is excited to be near us. I can’t really express how gratifying it is to gain his trust, but that trust is true. Just like it is with all dog relationships.

So, I decide to tackle sewing to make Hagar more comfortable. For me, every moment of an old rescue dog’s life has become important.  I do my usual massive, generalist data crunch, like I do on every new skill, and I discover a few remarkable things. First is that sewing is massive and highly refined. In sewing terms, every basic sewing problem has been solved to a high degree, and information is raining out of the sky like a Tennessee Summer storm. Second is that it speaks an entirely different language than a man with a lifetime of crafting skills. If I want to make dog clothes, there is plenty of information, but it all falls in the realm of costumes for dogs rather than practical solutions. If I want to make a bed for dogs, I can find tons of good information on how to make an old sweater into a dog bed, which is great, but I can’t find anything on how to make a dog bed from scratch. If I want to compensate for a dog’s behavior in design of a harness, or a grab handle, or flotation, products exist, but they are expensive and they can never cover every case, such as dog that is blind, deaf, old, and happens to like running out into the street for kicks.

I extend this into other problems, such as the 100 times I have tried to design a trade show both and been stymied by the fact that I needed some sewing done, but I was speaking a different language than the sewist in question and I realized… there is giant man-shaped hole in sewing. Go ahead and look. There is no book on sewing for men. This is for two reasons, I suspect. One is that the men who actually sew for a living defend their territory (as men do) for competitive advantage. Two is that sewing is a grand feminine tradition. I do not mean to imply that this is a bad thing. It is a cultural tradition of sharing that probably reaches back to the dawn of civilization. Women are more than happy to share their knowledge and experience in sewing. That’s not the problem. The problem is that men are no more ready to ask the dumb questions than they are inclined to stop and ask directions when they are lost.

That being the case, I have studied the crap out of sewing and reached out to machine manufacturers in an effort to bridge the gap between a grand feminine tradition and the male tendency to avoid a language barrier that equates to asking for directions, even when we know full-well that we are lost. I’m bridging a predominantly female tradition with a male tradition of making things that can shear off hands and shoot flames out of tanks full of volatile gas. As my editor Connie says, “Tailoring requires the same kind of mind that would build a trebuchet.” I think she’s right.

As such, I have created a YouTube channel called Sewing-n-Sawdust, where we will build shop-sewing projects, from a male list of motivations, and see if we end up with something useful. Lest you think it’s a sexist screed, let me paraphrase my friend Miranda, who will always be able to sew circles around me. ” I agree that the sewing world is full of frilly nonsense. Unless I am going to a formal event, I would just as soon burn a dress as to wear it.”

As man facing the women’s world of sewing, we are just trying to catch up, but we probably never will.

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