You are so talented! These words meant as a compliment sometimes make me cringe. What is talent? It is defined as a “A natural aptitude or skill.” Does a “talented” sewer arrive blessed with a super power? When we pronounce that someone has talent, does it imply that no “normal” person can reach a degree of proficiency in a skill that a “talented” person can? Does it also skip right over the years (decades perhaps) of work, of practice, and of learning that the practitioner has poured into their art?
In college, I was an art major for a year and took a class on color from a professor who told the class that while several of us may be more naturally inclined, learn more quickly or been told that we were “talented”, those who became successful artists were just as likely to be the “less talented” of our number. His point was that those of us who embraced hard work, setbacks and kept motivated and worked diligently would accomplish more than the merely “talented”.
There is a popular conception, put forth by author Malcom Gladwell in his bestseller Outliers: The Story of Success, that 10,000 of practice will bring mastery to any skill. This “rule” is based on a study of violin students at a music academy in Berlin. The study found that the most accomplished of the students had put in 10,000 hours by the time they turned 20. Voila! The 10,000 hour rule was born: put in your 10,000 hours of practice, and become an expert in a given field. Simple? Not really, as subsequent studies have shown, and even the author of the study says that is not a “real” number, but an estimate.
I started hand sewing at 5 yrs old making items for dolls and mending items as I was not allowed to touch mother’s Featherweight machine. Mother produced dresses for me and my three sisters, Halloween costumes for all of us and beautiful ball gowns. At 10, I snuck into her room and thoroughly messed up her machine, requiring a trip to get it professionally serviced. At 14, I was thrilled to take Home Ec and use a proper sewing machine. I then leaped headlong into making dresses and skirts to wear to school and collaborating with my mother on prom dresses.
In the early 70’s I spent two years doing piecework deconstructing vintage denim jeans and remaking them into wide flared, patchwork jeans with gussets and stars satin stitched to them for a local shop. I made outfits for a country western band. My machine was an old Brother that I found in a second hand shop for $20.
When my children arrived, I made clothing for them…dresses, pants, tops, Halloween costumes, prom dresses, wedding dresses. I also rented myself out as a seamstress when my children were young. I made primitive, hand tied quilts for my babies.
Proper quilt making came along a few decades later.
To me, sewing is life itself. When I am happy, sad, bored or frustrated with other aspects of life, I sew. It is the cure for whatever ails me. For about 35 years, I did all my sewing on a single White domestic machine bought in the early 70’s. At one point, my “sewing area” was a closet with a slopped roof. Now, in retirement, I am very grateful to have a large sewing room, with vintage and modern machines at my beck and call.
Am I talented? I am not convinced, but I am certainly obsessed.
I will sew here, I will sew there, I will sew almost anywhere.
In a closet or on table, wherever I am able. With a treadle or a plug in, by hand or mechanized. After great loss or in celebration, you will find me at my station!
Up sized or down sized, I will find a way.
There are singers, artists and performers who were told they had “no talent”, but they persisted and we enjoy their creativity. Do you love your art? That is all the “talent” you need.
Where ever and however you sew, regardless of how much time you have to sew, and the amount of money you can spend on our gracious hobby, believe that you are “talented”. Every act of creation adds beauty to life, touches others and brings us joy.
Happy sewing to all my wonderfully talented sewing sisters and brothers!