Friday, September 7, 2012

Textile Friday: The Tipping Point To Becoming A Master

                    " Is it better to be a jack of all trades, or to pursue mastery?" ~Jeff Goins

           What is mastery? This week, I thought I would share a wonderful writer I've been reading recently Jeff Goins. He's got a great blog that has really solidified a lot of things I've been turning over in my mind this year on what it means to be master in the crafts.
           In the trades, no one hands you a diploma when you become a master. It's not a title or a test you can take. It's a title earned over time by word of mouth by your peers. It's not a sort of imperfect perfection or an inability to be wrong. Experts are wrong ALL the time. Especially in fashion which is a marriage of art and commerce. You don't understand what a designer wants. What a customer wants. What the limits of a particular design or material are. You miss the season. Or fall in love with a concept that no one else gets. You practice every day. Being a master will not make you skinny, hot, popular, or well-loved.
            In textiles, they say that it takes 10 years to get established and 20 to 25 years to become a master is typical. It's a long game business where being over 50 is considered an asset, not a liability for a designer/manufacturer. Gaining mastery in this business is also something that involves A LOT of failure. I'm not talking about once or twice or even a hundred times. It's said that to master a particular motion or stroke takes 10,000 times of doing it. That's a lot of sewing and a lot of not right. It's one of the things that got me into production sewing, the average production sewer will do a particular process 600 to 1600 times a DAY, that means every few weeks you can master a particular element that I've seen local boutique sewers struggle with or develop workarounds instead of the actual skill necessary to pull off the ideal result. Being a home sewer most of my life and getting into this business late as an adult, making a few bags or shirts a week, I figured I'd never get there unless I got serious. This wasn't my first thought, or my first year's thought, but it's a thought that I wish I had realized a lot sooner. Perhaps it was more when I realized there was no way to avoid this level of commitment to pain.
            Because failing sucks. Your fingers bleed. Rip. You get scars from iron burns. And callouses in weird places. Your back hurts. And your right leg and knee cramp from the unfamiliar twists and turns of operating a knee-lift and foot petal at the same time. Your arms and shoulders distort themselves in thin ropes of fire. The first three months of working an assembly line in Charlotte were the type of hell I would never wish on anyone. The first three weeks, I didn't know if I would survive to the next day. I mean throw up in a trash can, get off and plow your way into a couch bone tired exhausted asleep. Food forgotten. I was homeless that summer, living out of my car and crashing at the studio in this odd state of confusion my family has left me in most of my life having burnt through my savings the past 6 months on a failed store front on 7th Street and helping my folks not lose their home that had all the right earmarks of success, but none of the actual measures of it.
           My mother's parting gift before she jetted off to "write her book" was the fact that she had me as a last ditch attempt to save her marriage. I'd always known she didn't want kids early on, that I wasn't her favorite. Hell, sometimes she hated me, but hearing you were created as a last minute bandaid for a failing relationship and coming to grips with the fact that 29, love and acceptance are something that are ever going to come from a flighty artist writer mother was both devastating and also stripped away any breaks on balance.
             I still have the dog from that summer, but not much else. I gave or sold away almost everything I owned. Burned through relationships and resources like candy. Unable to walk away from sewing. I have never in all my life met anything that rivaled the feeling of peace I get working with my hands creating tangible goods. It's like finding a zen moment suddenly in the middle of a noisy street. And I needed it desperately. Sometimes, you find what you need at the end of your rope. Sewing was that for me at that point.
             I've always been told I have good hands. I've been hunted by surgeons for medical procedures. Had a boss tell me that if he had my hands he could rule the world. The sad part, is most of the time, the praise didn't last beyond the moment. It never brought the peace that sewing and designing textiles has. Sometimes, I still can't believe people will actually pay me for what I make, that what I make changes the world. Some days I hate the machine and my crippled hands for not creating my vision fast enough or clean enough to truly serve those around me.
              There's moments that mark us, that we can't unsee or unlive. In many ways, finding my version of the family tailor trade has been incredibly healing. It has also included a lot of suffering. Most of it, my own doing. My name Dara means dwelling place of wisdom and compassion. Compassion is one of those nasty little words that means "with suffering." Yes, that's right....wisdom with suffering. Living with it. You give up a lot to master a trade. To learn a skill. And it's something that I think everyone struggles to decide if they truly want to do or not. There's plenty of things I wish I was better at or had more time for, but you only have so much time in the day and so many things you can do.
              But, if you want to be a master, then it's a deal you make. There's this point about a year or two in where you see people decide to throw in the towel or double-down and I've decided it's the early tipping point between success and failure. People may throw away that mastery or decide to pursue other things, but there's a moment you decide to go all in that really seems to make the difference between success and failure. Well, this post was a bit rambling...just my thoughts on masters in the trades. I wish you success in your travels too. And a warm thanks to Nash for putting up with all my single-minded determination and absentmindedness. Love you. Happy Friday everyone!

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