The Humility Of Making


This summer, I’m determined to wrestle my garden into order. This means getting down on my hands and knees, shoving my hands deep into the dirt and stretching so far that my muscles ache.

I feel embarrassed. My body groans. I wipe a hand across my face and hope that the neighbours aren’t watching.

I feel humiliated. I also feel alive.

hand stitched sleeve hem

Once my hands are washed, I return to my latest sewing project. It’s a simple make, yet it doesn’t feel easy. I can see that the best way of finishing my sleeve hem is to hand sew, so I settle to it.

I take a length of thread, run it through wax, lick the end and squint to thread the needle. I bend over the work, and gather enough humility to devote – 30? 60 minutes? – to finishing my sleeves.

I understand not to pull too taut. Sigh quietly when the thread pops from the needle’s eye and needs running through again. (Think that maybe I need reading glasses.) Sink the point of the needle into the cloth and see if I can pick up a single thread in the weft. Fail. Try again…

sewing and white rose

I am not sure that everyone is capable of what we do. It’s not that the tasks are overwhelming, but they demand humility. The humility to be nothing more than a link in a chain.

When I knit, I remember my grandmothers. When I dig my hands into the soil, I think of my mother who helped me in the first garden I ever owned. (As though anyone owns a garden.) As I work, I plan a blog post in my imagination, for the friends who go on this journey with me. Some of them I know; some I’ll never meet.

All of this takes humility. To sew the seeds that will grow and die or the stitches that no one will ever see. Unless I blog about them. Or don’t blog about them. And even if I do blog about them, how long shall blogs exist? But the stitches and the plants continue to exist, even when no one is looking.

Especially when no one is looking.

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31 Responses to The Humility Of Making

  1. Pat King says:

    Poetry. I love the fabric and buttons.

  2. Caroline says:

    A lovely blog post Karen. Some lovely sentiments behind it!

  3. sewneedy says:

    That’s so beautifully thought out

  4. Erika says:

    Love it. Just the opportunity to slow down and feel the humility is so awesome.

  5. mumokio says:

    I couldn’t have put it better myself. Spot on.

  6. Catherine says:

    I’ve thought for a long time that sewing and gardening are kindred activities. For me, too, both connect me in significant ways with parents and grandparents. There’s a healing rhythm and repetition about threading a needle, and weeding a patch. Really enjoyed reading this.

  7. Arletta says:

    What a poetic post! Love it! Good luck with your garden!

  8. Lucy Regan says:

    You have such a beautiful way with words! What a lovely way to think about our wonderful craft.

  9. Elaine says:

    Beautiful thoughts! As a sewer and a gardener this really made sense to me. I think May is the loveliest time of year in our gardens. Best wishes Karen.

  10. What lovely poetic sentiments. I agree with you, we never own a garden, only borrow it from Mother Nature and then curate it for a while. I think that sewing is the same. I am only curating my vintage machines and patterns until the next person comes along. Maybe even the things that we make will be a treasured piece of “vintage” one day. Xx

  11. Natasha says:

    Thanks for posting this. I have been feeling a tiny bit frustrated with sewing lately. (It’s mostly because of fit issues that I am working out as a new sewist.) I love sewing, and I want to keep loving it, so I need to remember to be patient with myself.

  12. Judy says:

    Beautiful post, thank you.

  13. Patient labouring is healthy and rewarding, I totally agree. Slow down and enjoy life in plenitude. That is meditation, and pretty flowers o clothes are and added gift to its benefits.

  14. Cornelia says:

    I knit, garden and sew compulsively, by turns. The only problem is gardening roughens the hands and pulls yarn and fine fabrics. (Moisturise Karen!) I think the exertion of gardening justifies the prolonged sitting during the other activities. And all three are an exercise in function vrs beauty and product vrs process. Enjoy.

  15. Cathryn Harjung says:

    This post hit home with me. Yes to all. Yes, yes, yes!

  16. Kelly says:

    I actually needed these words today, about my garden. Seeds just aren’t coming up and it got me pretty discouraged and defeated this weekend. But, like sewing, gardening is a humble, slow, learning process. The garden will get there, eventually, if I keep nurturing it. I hope so, anyway!

  17. Beautifully written. Gardening helps me slow down and ruminate on these thoughts too.

  18. ellegeemakes says:

    Lovely post, an ode to the process we’re all a part of.

  19. Taja says:

    Ahhh! It’s a good thing so many people garden! I am a complete failure in that department. Amending the soil, figuring out the growing calendar (low desert–completely different than most places) and what actually will grow with low to moderate water use. Far too much for this brain to comprehend and body to execute! lol

    Karen, when hand stitching with a single thread, try this: Thread needle as usual. Then loop the thread around and through the eye of the needle a second time. Adjust your thread length (and tail), then close the loop. That thread isn’t going anywhere until you move it! 🙂


    • Joanne Cook says:

      O don’t know where in the world you are but maybe try looking at Beth Chatto books for information on how to garden without watering? I guess it depends quite how desert your conditions are. Best wishes x

      • Taja says:

        Thanks for the thought, Joanne! I have books and books and books. I’ve taken classes from master gardeners and the local botanical gardens. I’m in the low Sonoran Desert, southwestern U.S.

        It’s one of those zero talent areas for me. I can design and maintain xeriscape (plants native to or acclimated to the climate) landscaping reasonably well, but just do not have the time, energy or sufficient interest to attempt anything requiring massive soil amendment or replacement, consistent fertilizing and such. I have learned to guard my limited free time and focus on the things I really enjoy, such as designing and sewing!

        I certainly appreciate the work and results of others in the garden, though!

  20. megan says:

    I guess it equates to the satisfaction of a job well done, you have the satisfaction… sometimes I get something out of the wardrobe or a piece of embroidery that I have done and I think, “wow, I made that?” I look at the finish and am quite often impressed, I guess you get into the zone and just do it. I do like to hand finish things, it’s more about getting something done quickly most of the time. Sometimes the effort to finish something with the sewing machine is just too much, too fiddly. Glad to hear you are enjoying the garden. How lucky to own a garden in London! I think about London as very expensive real-estate and not many private gardens. I have just put in my winter crops here in Australia. The weather is glorious, sunny and bright, would love some rain, it is turning cool though with days in the mid teens, still t-shirt weather when walking the dog in the middle of the day. Good luck with your spring gardening.

  21. Debbie says:

    Loved this blog, made me think and last night when I was hand sewing I took my time and learnt a little patience… thank you

  22. Graca says:

    Wow, beautiful thoughts and words pieced together, I’m humbled by your writing.

  23. Lovely post! The connection between sewing and gardening is spot on….using our hands to create, nurture, maintain, repair. Patience is necessary, and a little self-forgiveness, too, I feel, when things don’t go just right.

  24. What a beautiful post. I feel the same way about knitting; I am always aware that I am continuing a tradition that human beings have learned all over the world for centuries. What we are doing is both important and inconsequential. And I love how it is not something that can be downloaded or bought; if you want to knit (or see, it garden(, you have to out the hours in manually!

  25. shellystorey says:

    What a lovely and well articulated post!

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