All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Making it Happen
Ten years ago I had a dream: a dream of making a beautiful quilt for a friend. Something warm and cosy; something to curl up under while watching classic movies and sipping cocoa on a winter afternoon.
I went for it.
Did I make a perfect little lap quilt? I did not. Did I make a comfortably-sized one-person wrap quilt? I did not. Did I make a freakishly over-ambitious monster crazy quilt with emphasis on the crazy?
Well, no. I started one.
I chugged away at it, but it was not long before I realized it was not going to be finished in time for the intended birthday. It’s been bundled in and out of boxes and bags and wardrobes ever since, worked on here and there, added to in fits and starts, but mostly just taking up space and making me feel guilty.
If I’m honest, this one project was a big part of my decision to make 2015 my Year of Finishing Things. Over the years it had become symbolic of my lack of self-discipline, my good intentions never followed through, and my failure to finish anything I started.
Not surprisingly, all the feelings bundled up with this UFO (Unfinished Fabric Object) made me reluctant to go near the thing, let alone commit to the many, many hours it would take to finish it. But it was still there, a big fat purple plug between me and moving on. So this year, I decided, I was going to get it out of the way. I was going to finish it, and thus become a Person Who Finishes Things.
I had the best of intentions, and when those failed, I made a rough plan. That made a bit of progress, which then fizzled out, so I made a more detailed plan. Which I didn’t keep. Then I made an even more detailed plan, which led to more progress, which also fizzled out. I even made a place for it in my schedule.
What I didn’t make was a commitment. If I was already doing something else, if I didn’t feel up to it, if I just didn’t want to, I didn’t. I still wanted it done, I just didn’t want to do it. No – that’s not quite right. I wished it were done – but I didn’t want to do it.
I did do bits here and there, but the small amount of progress I made was swallowed up by the magnitude of the undertaking. The quilt top is 155cm wide and 200cm long (about 5ft by 6 1/2), and has perhaps a hundred pieces, each with multiple edges to sew, embroider and embellish. Not quite big enough for the Great Bed of Ware, but it’s felt like it at times.
But the only way out is through, and there were some things I did that helped.
First, I sat down and asked myself what the obstacles were that prevented me working on it. A big one was the amount of time and effort involved just to get it out, spread it out, figure out where to work next, and put it away again at the end – if I could only find half an hour at a time, just handling it would eat most of that.
So I found somewhere where I could leave it folded and rolled, with the active part spread out in the middle. I made it easy for myself to just sit down and do a bit. I worked on one area at a time, so I could see and gauge my progress. I also borrowed and downloaded audiobooks (legally) to listen to as I stitched away.
I haven’t finished it yet – there’s still the centre section to embellish, as well as the attaching of the backing fabric to the front. I may not finish it by the end of the liturgical year (28th November, this year) but I will have it finished by the end of the calendar year.
I don’t know if the intended recipient will even want it – or indeed if she ever wanted it – but I’m not doing it just for her any more, I’m doing it for me. She can use it, regift it, or donate it to the SPCA for dog bedding; I won’t mind.
It will be finished, and I will be a person who finishes things. It has long been a failing of mine to launch straight into an over-ambitious project without working my way up via smaller, more manageable projects.
I think I’m cured now.
I’ve been posting a lot lately about purging, decluttering, getting rid of things, seeking the essentials and hacking back everything else.
I don’t want to be one of those irritating people who give everyone else good advice but never follow it themselves; and I think what I’ve been trying to do with all these posts is to shift the balance of my thinking. It is not easy, as I’m sure you know. Mental habits are ruts that are hard to break out of.
The good is often the enemy of the best, I wrote. This is a lovely aphoristic saying, full of insight and meaning. But it isn’t anything more unless you apply it, put it into practice.
There are a number of elements I consider as essential to my life: the love of God, my husband, family and friends. Writing, reading, and handwork. Those are my core activities and priorities. Then there are the necessary ancillary activities like cleaning, eating etc.
There are a lot of other things I would like to do – often, being all excited about a new shiny idea, I start doing them straight away – which there isn’t room for in my life, not without filching time from the more important activities.
Where this really lands me in trouble is with the sunk cost fallacy – having enthusiastically launched into a project or activity, I feel I can’t call it quits, because that would be wasting the resources I have put into it.
Does anyone else know the dragging guilt and wearying heaviness induced by too many unfinished projects? Are you in over your head too?
Here’s the truth I have to face: if it wasn’t a good idea to start giving your time to something, it isn’t a good idea to keep giving your time to it.
The sensible thing – nay, the wise thing to do is to admit that there isn’t room in your life for this right now, and let it go.
That being the case, I am regretfully withdrawing from the Historical Sew Monthly. I made a shift and a balaclava, both of which are useful, and I am pleased that I did.
I also made half of an Edwardian maid’s apron – my first attempt at pleating – which I may use as a half apron, or finish with bib, straps etc in the fullness of time, either with the frou-frou Edwardian bib, or with a fuller, more practical one.
But as much as I enjoy historical sewing (or at least, the results thereof), it isn’t a high enough priority in my life for me to be devoting as much time to it as the HSM’15 requires. So, I shall take my final bow (that’s me in the back row) and retire to the audience where I can sit and applaud the efforts of others.
I do feel disappointed, I admit. But the disappointment is tinged with relief, knowing this was the right decision to make, and nervousness, knowing that this is very likely only the first of many such decisions.