Can You Learn Patience?

Details of Construction

I am deep back into my Craftsy Couture Dress course with Susan Khalje. (Stop Press – she sews over pins!) It took some time to get my head back round the pieces I’d abandoned when my Pyjama Party tutorials kicked in. I don’t advise putting projects to one side. As ever – do as I say, not as I do!

Anyway, I’m now really excited by this make, but I know it’s not going to be a quick one. Above is a detail from the hand basting with silk thread to attach silk organza underlining to every piece  – and there are 22 pieces in the Vogue 8648. (Let’s not forget that this pattern is ranked ‘Easy’ by Vogue.)

After this is done, the whole dress is basted together by hand and assessed for potential adjustments. I am already pretty confident there will be adjustments, even though there’s been a toile. This is uber-sewing and uber-fitting! And none of it happens quickly.

Which brings me to my question. Can you learn patience? My answer is ‘yes’, but that it’s hard won. You only learn patience by having to be patient and that can be a cruel, painful lesson. I’ve learnt patience through gardening, owning a puppy, writing manuscripts that disappear into bottom drawers, by beating my fists against my temples and sometimes weeping and wailing. I’m definitely learning patience with this dress.

What about you? Do you think patience is a skill or a talent? Can you learn it or are you born with it? And what sewing project is teaching you patience – the hard way?!

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57 Responses to Can You Learn Patience?

  1. Miriam says:

    i think patience and many other ‘character virtues’ are only won by hard work… painful and slow… maybe that’s why I have so few!

  2. Anne-Marie says:

    Hi there, just a quick thought on your couture project. Instead of attaching the lining to the individual pieces, why not first make a dress from the lining only, see if it fits, adjust, adjust to your real fabric as well, and then put it all together. Not sure whether that would work in the project you are working on, but it might make things easier 🙂 and maybe in les need of patience 😉 good luck! Looking forward to seeing the final dress!

    Xx Anne-Marie

    • The organza is an interlining, so it needs to be as one with the outer layer. It is there to support the fabric, and if it was a separate shell, it would not do that at all.

  3. FabricKate says:

    My old sewing teacher used to say “Patience is a Virtue: Seldom found in Women, and Never found in Men”.

  4. I was going to say that, in my opinion and experience, it’s only learnable if it’s a card game (and sometimes not then). 🙂 I’m looking forward to seeing that finished make, it’s going to be fab.

    I think we can learn to BE patient – taking time and care with our makes, as you are with this one – but given half a chance, if we’re not innately patient, out comes our innermost sewist. In my case, that’s one who sews over pins and does all sorts of supposedly terrible things tha can’t really be so terrible after all. I mean, the world is still turning, isn’t it?

    And finally, perhaps women are better at it than men because it’s the nature of things: waiting for a baby to arrive, for instance. Not much you can do to hurry it or change it, so you just deal with it. But I’m not sure that that’s real patience or just gritting your teeth and accepting the inevitable. in the end, maybe that IS patience?

  5. mrszandstra says:

    I think having time helps – I can relax and do everything properly if I know I have plenty of time to focus on sewing – if I am rushing to finish something before making dinner or whatever I am more likely to cut corners – and mess it up


    • I so agree with this. So often anything crafty I’m making is fitted in to half hours grabbed here or there around all the stuff that you actually have to do every day. So I don’t want to spend 30 minutes making a perfect half of something, I want to make an imperfect WHOLE something!

      Whenever I have put aside time to go and learn something new, at a sewing class or whatever, I am always amazed at how much better that item is: but I’m sure it’s just having the time set aside to do each piece properly…

  6. Chris says:

    I wonder whether patience is ONE virtue or whether it is possible to be patient with some things while being impatient with others. I guess if it’s really worth your while (like the lovely dress you are making) then learning patience might be possible. But do you think you will be patient-with-everything after completion of the dress 😉 ?

  7. Julie Taylor says:

    I found by having my daughter now ten years old has helped me learn patience. I feel I am a better person because of it and I couldn’t have coped with the demands of sewing before. So it is all down to you Niamh x

  8. This is a lovely post. I think patience can be learnt, but what stops a lot of people is the belief that you can’t! I think this is the part of the brain that wants to be like and old dog, and not have to get out of its comfort zone. I just had my mum bring my sewing machine from her house, now that I’ve finally finished converting the shed in the garden into a kitting sitting room for my hobbies. I’ve not sewn for a while, but I know how much it calms me…in the end!

  9. Philipppa says:

    Hmmm, I think you can learn patience, but it’s really uncomfortable while you are learning!

  10. Ilona says:

    Great Post! I’m going to do the couture dress too – waiting for the pattern to arrive, and still have to choose the fabric – so I’ll be following you closely…
    I’ve definitely learnt to be more patient over time – having kids was the biggest lesson. I find that sewing does demand a lot of patience and I’ve learnt to just slow down a bit and over time learn that some things just take longer than I think they will to do, so I try and pace myself.

  11. Ruth says:

    I think that you can’t help your feelings, so you may FEEL frustration or impatience at different events but you can help your actions and what you express. In other words you can have self control. And self control is surely what makes people able to live together and cooperate. There is plenty of evidence (contrary to those who like to “rant” or “vent” as a way of “relieving” their feelings), that expressing emotions like anger, frustration, impatience, etc very openly and vigorously just reinforces them, rather than relieving them or bringing calm. For example, swearing increases our feelings of anger, it doesn’t reduce them. So for our own sakes, for our own peace of mind, mental health, etc, it may be better to use old techniques like counting to ten, going and washing your face with cold water, taking a break for a cup of tea, etc (not alcohol – loosens inhibitions and makes things worse). These are more likely to bring the positive outcomes we want. I always end up feeling ashamed and humiliated if I lose control of myself, which seems to set me up for things getting worse, not better. So, can you learn patience? Yes. How can you do it? At moments of stress, pause and remember a time when you DID show patience. This makes you know that you CAN do it, and it’s worth doing it again, now.

    As an aside, if you argue that people CANNOT change character traits like impatience and anger, how you can you argue that people are responsible when they, say, beat their spouses or children?

    • Brilliant thoughts! Yes, the few times that I have totally lost my rag have left me distraught for days after – never good. And yes, when I found this morning that Ella had chewed/destroyed yet another belonging I definitely had to find a way of channelling my frustration that didn’t involve shouting at a puppy! Great input, thank you.

      • Ah but did you hear about the experiment involving swearing as a method of dealing with pain? People were asked to hold their hands in buckets of ice to see how long they could tolerate it; some were allowed to swear and shout as much as they wanted and others had to be silent. Those who swore and ranted could stand the pain for significantly longer than those who had to keep it together. Maybe a good old shout and swearing session is good for you in a venting capacity, before you go back in calmly and get on with it. I cannot think of any achievement in my life that I haven’t completely without having a little bit of a swear – I think it’s therapeutic as long as its not directed at other people or animals. Think of making the dress as being like giving birth – I don’t know many women who have managed to do that silently!

  12. Clare says:

    I think you learn it through experience, in the sense that once you have made something very complicated and time-consuming, which has required patience, you will then learn that patience is the one thing that gets the project completed to a high standard. My wedding dress took months. I could have made several short cuts but I stuck at it (following Susan Khalje’s Bride Couture book) and it really paid off. Great post! My sewing teacher always told me you need patience to sew, if you don’t have patience, don’t bother. Ha!

  13. eumoronorio says:

    patience is an ever-moving target. I am patient sometimes but always being patient is out of my league. I love Susan’s craftsy class but that pattern is really off-putting. I remember looking at the waistband and thinking, why do we need this many pieces? I’ve used her techniques on other projects but have never cut this pattern from fabric. I am excited to see how your dress turns out!

  14. Lyndle says:

    I’m sure it can be learnt. I’m a slow learner, but I’m working on it. I am patient with things but have to watch myself with people. My partner, the exact opposite.

  15. Prawn says:

    I think you can learn that you need to have it. And then force yourself to be it sometimes. But i don’t think you ever really learn patience as an intrinsic skill if you didn’t have it to start with.

    Even when I’ve worked really hard to do things slowly and properly and it’s all looking good I still have to work really hard to rein myself in at the end instead of doing shortcuts just to finish because the end is in sight (thinking ruefully of a dress I was working on last night….).


  16. sarah davies says:

    I’ve had a few goes at this pattern. I hope you have a fitting buddy standing by for that bodice. Or do you manage with the dressmaker’s dummy? I have never had one of those but crave one desperately if they actually replicate one’s form. Do they?

    • I have a colleague who helps me! No, the dressmaker’s dummy allows me to approximate waist and hips fitting – but that’s about it. It’s a glorified clothes hanger.

      • sarah davies says:

        That’s what I was wondering about. It’s the distances from shoulder to bust and then bust to waist that I find so difficult and I imagine dress forms are based on fabulous Amazonian warrior women with no mechanism for adjusting height.

    • Sewer From Across The Pond says:

      An excellent form, padded out to mirror your measurements, is very helpful. I don’t have one, but I’ve used professional forms in standard sizes. I hope to buy a good form some day. Every time I need to fit something I have to hire someone because I don’t have a fitting buddy and because to fit a real person requires a lot of experience and judgment.

      • sarah davies says:

        If I bought a professional form in a standard size (stocked by John Lewis, say) would I be able to replicate myself or would that be unachievable? A glorified coathanger, as Karen says

  17. Charlotte Wensley says:

    Ha, patience! It has taken having a stroppy two year old and a new baby for me to finally learn to have patience. I used to race through projects and never finish anything properly but now as I have to do things in ten minute bursts here and there I’m bizarrely taking the time to do things properly. Although i am very impatient to get started with the massive list of projects I have.

  18. lovelucie1 says:

    I am far more patient when I am fresh and not tired. I have learnt not too pick up a complicated make too late on in the day as then it becomes a chore, not an enriching experience. Far better to pick up something relatively mindless to do and relax at those times.

  19. Learned or earned? A hell of a lot of both sweet writer! I Love your posts and I hope “sweet” does not offend. I do think some of us are born with a genetic dose of patience, which unfortunately makes us easily impatient in other ways and places.* And self critical.* People in my work and friend life almost always hail me as unbelivably patient, while my family gets the crappy exhausted side when I don’t counter balance with routines and such to deal with stress and that ole’ self critical thing. Keep up the great writng and fabric making!

  20. ClaireE says:

    I think it comes naturally to some, and can depend on the situation. I always want to finish my sewing quickly but recently I have been taking my time. This has led to feeling frustration and restraint in the same hour. Heck, I have a dress that I’m working on for the last 8 weeks. Admittedly it was on a course but it stayed in pieces for 6 weeks while everyone else was sewing! I think experience can help with this – remember Ann on the Great British Sewing Bee who did sooo much preparation but look at her results.

  21. Sewer From Across The Pond says:

    The Vogue pattern comes free with the class, but I don’t think it’s a bargain.

    I developed patience, or an extreme attention to detail, from my work experience. I’m patient and anal on sewing projects because if I’m going to put in that much time I want to maximize my chance of a good result.

  22. LinB says:

    Patience is a learned thing. Just watch a room full of toddlers to see the natural state of humanity before civilization is successfully ingrained … you have to start early, apply often, reinforce with “booster shots” for your entire life to achieve patience. Even then, it is often difficult to practice patience gracefully.

  23. Patience is indeed a skill.

    I’m told I’m a very patient teacher. Really, it makes the entire process easier. If one gets impatient, it just slows down whatever process you’re doing; in teaching, getting impatient with one student makes the rest reluctant to ask questions, then the entire experience is sullied and I haven’t done my job. When sewing, getting impatient makes one do things like rip stitches less carefully, and then you end up with a hole in the fabric. (DONE THAT.)

    So, one learns the skill of patience, one isn’t born with it.

  24. Patience can be learned…that’s what I tell myself when I try to pretend nobody is around me in my hyper-busy and utterly noisy supermarket 🙂 or when I still find flaws in my bodice block after months of trying to perfect it!

  25. Judy Galligan says:

    I have this class purchased, but just haven’t taken tithe time to start it….sounds intense. I believe patience also comes with age and life’s lessons. The older I become the more patience I find I

  26. Elizabeth says:

    I think patience is situational. I have tons of patience for sewing, puzzles, mosaics, reading. Things I find enjoyable. But I have absolutely no patience when it comes to whining, waiting for things to arrive or happen, and unpleasant things lasting way too long. Completely situational.

  27. Julie Cruickshank says:

    My grandmother had 15 children. One of my memories of her was watching her dry a fork and running the tea towel through each prong. I could not believe that after all the hundreds of thousands of dishes she must of have washed over her lifetime she had the patienceto do that at almost ninety . Her genes have definitely rubbed off on my Mum and to a lesser extent on me. I think the pace of life we tend to live nowadays does not help us to have patience. In my job we are always target- setting,’moving things on’ and no one has time to just enjoy their achievements. I.T. does not promote patience either, we want information now, e-mails need to be replied to now, texts sent etc. Any form of activity which takes time to achieve a result must be good for the soul. In my opinion patience is not a virtue it is a slow learning process.

  28. Portia says:

    **Sigh**…..patience, huh? I seem to start off meticulous and then the closer I get to finishing the more impatient I am to finish. It’s like I start out having a pleasant stroll, admiring the scenery, smelling the flowers….then I see the light at the end of the tunnel jump in the car and floor the accelerator. Consequently all my seams are where they should be and I take the time to get the fit right; but my finishing touches are sorely lacking. (Plus, I still don’t have an overlocker! Sniff!)
    I think I’m one of those people who, if a project takes too long I get impatient to start the next one. If I feel myself getting that way I try and walk away from my project and come back to it fresh the next day when my patience has been replenished.
    You’re right though. Never put a project aside and start another. I’ve done that with my coat toile; and now I haven’t a clue where to start again with it!
    Hand basting organza underlining to 20 pattern pieces though? Now THAT’s patience I can only stand back and admire from afar!

    • That’s so funny! What I remember from my afternoon waxing furniture with you was how meticulous you were – way more than I’d ever have been, left to my own devices.

  29. gingermakes says:

    I think that, while some folks are naturally more patient than others, anyone can train themselves to be more patient. It’s like running– it comes easier to some than to others, but anyone can do it, and while for most people, it probably doesn’t feel good while you’re practicing it, the results are great and you feel better having done it. I’m naturally very, very impatient and my first instinct is to throw a tantrum or drop a project if it frustrates me, but it’s been so good for me to train myself to use patience and perseverance. I didn’t find sewing very rewarding at the get-go, but I kept at it intentionally because I wanted to practice and develop patience and determination in an area that wasn’t as personal as my writing. Now, I’m not sure if that has worked, but at least I know that I can be more patient, as much as I hate it! 😀

  30. Jen (NY) says:

    Patience, I think, is like being in the moment. Impatience comes from desiring the goal, rather than focusing upon the task at hand. That said, I am not the most patient person in the world (working on that), but enjoy the small steps in sewing as a method of cultivating “presence” (or patience). Also, I am in a situation where I don’t have a lot of time and so I have to be realistic–projects are long term. By not being in denial of the time I actually have, I can focus on the small tasks without an expectation.

  31. I agree with you Ginger! When I first started sewing, I wanted the end result and didn’t really enjoy the process, and I would rush things and then later be sorry that I had. As I did more, I learned to love the journey of the actual making, and that helped me go slower and be more careful. Now, I really look forward to my sewing time, even if it’s just a bit in a day, and I let things take the time they take. I also think that with experience I have a better idea of what kind of finishing, etc. I need to do in order to be happy with the final garment, and cutting any of that out just doesn’t make sense to me now. Although I am happy to skip fussy details on projects that don’t need them! Even if I’m trying to finish something by a deadline, at this point I’d rather stay up late than rush or cut corners, I’ve made too many mistakes that way! And maybe finally learned my lesson?

  32. Gjeometry says:

    I know what you mean about Vogue patterns. I have attempted a few (Very Easy, Very Vogue) and, so far, they have not been very easy at all!!! I don’t know what it is, there are always so many markings to transfer and then often you can’t figure out which markings so with which, and there are often fairly advanced techniques for a Very Easy pattern. But, I still have several more Vogues that I’m going to attempt.

    I definitely think patience can be learned. Actually, anything can be learned, (provided you are not a psychopath). But, it will take dedication and commitment. Something many people in a fast paced, instant gratification world, don’t practice very much.

  33. primulades says:

    Nothing to do with patience, sorry but recently I made a skirt and added silk organza in the same way as you do to prevent the linnen fabric too much from wrinkling. But when wearing it I found out that after sitting a while, the wrinkles around your waist were much deeper in the silk organza then in the linnen, with the effect that the silk organza creeps up and pulls the outer skirt with it. So I think I should not have hemmed the silk organza together with the linnen to prevent this. may be a hint for you also?

  34. When I was 11, the dresses and skirts I made had unfinished seams, crooked stitching and just about everything else wrong with them that could come about through wanting a dress ASAP!! As I got older, I found I took more time over things. I learned to slow down, and in doing so, I got better results. So yes, I learned patience as I learned sewing. Now, I will pull a garment apart and recut it, or hand stitch metres of hem or basically do what it takes to get a result I love. Five hours to cut a mans shirt out because of all the pattern matching.
    This kind of couture detail is the ZEN of sewing. I love it and I can tell that you do too. It is such a celebration of craftswomanship and turns the process into a joy as much as the result.
    I show virtually no patience in any other part of my life however! 😉

  35. Working with chiffon is an exercise in patience for me…because if I rush it and my cutting looks jagged, the sewing is puckered, and/or the hemming is sloppy, it’s not worth even starting.

    Color me curious, since you basted the lining to the self, with the seams be visible inside the dress? If so, how does she suggest to finish them (I didn’t see bias tape in her list of materials)?

  36. K2 says:

    This reminds me of something my Mother always said, “Never pray for patience.” She explained it as thus; you are never given patience. You earn patience through practice. If you pray for patience, you will be given lots of opportunities to practice. Perhaps more than you feel you can handle.

    I learned patience around 13 or 14 years old and I have been practicing ever since. I started doing cross stitch around that age. Being ever so slightly OCD, I wanted my projects to be perfect. For them to be perfect, I had to slow down and make sure I was doing it right so I wouldn’t have to tear it back out.

  37. So many of the comments echo my own experience. I am by nature impatient. I couldn’t teach to save my life. But I love to garden. When I was (much) younger and sewed my kids clothes getting them finished was the thing. I started sewing again two years ago and have found that what I want is the best fit and a fabulous finish. So I have learnt to slow down and take my time. No instant gratification but what a sense of pride.

    Am I still impatient. Yes of course. You don’t change but you do learn skills for when you need them.

  38. marcyhmakes says:

    I agree with previous commenters who note that sometimes it’s not patience we need but perspective – we sew because we enjoy it, so sometimes we have to remind ourselves to enjoy *all* the steps.

    I read somewhere that Vogue rates the difficulty of their patterns by the comprehensiveness of the instructions, not by the difficulty of the techniques or the complexity / number of pieces.

    The step I’m having the hardest time learning to enjoy is cutting out the pattern. I struggle with getting it perfect – the fabric never seems to want to lay the same way twice, let alone on-grain – so when I pick out patterns now, a large part of the decision is based on the number of pieces I’ll have to cut out, lol. I signed up for this class but didn’t pay enough attention to how many seam lines were on the pattern. Not sure how long it will take me to be brave enough to start.

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