15 August 2013

Another New Book

Well, my work with that sewing book is going nowhere fast. I've done some sewing, and I've learned some things, but not from that book. Time to try something else. The book I picked is actually a homeschool book we got that's too old for Hero (it's *so* hard to judge this stuff when you buy stuff without looking at it, which is typically how it works, since the stuff isn't available locally), but looking at it, not only do I love the concept for my own writing, but I think I'll teach it better for having done the exercises myself. Plus, I'd like to finish my novel, and this will make my writing better so that maybe I can actually sell it.

The book is The Writer's Workshop: Imitating Your Way to Better Writing, by Gregory L. Roper. He says that writing can very effectively be learned in the same way that art or music is: my studying and imitating the masters' works. In the introduction he sketches out a scene where an aspiring artist and musician study the greats and expand into their own style from there and then goes on to say:

I give you these two vignettes because in them is bound up the central method of this book: imitation of the great artists as a way to learn an art and develop into an accomplished artist oneself. It is, in fact, the way almost all crafts, all arts, have been learned throughout history, from blacksmithing to shoemaking to jazz to, yes, writing. Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, and countless others learned the art of writing in a school system that, in teaching Latin, forced these students to translate and imitate the great classical writers of antiquity, over and over again. ...

Now, few writing books on the market today teach you to write by making this method an important step in learning. Some of them suggest that if you just express your inner self enough, through free-writing and such, you'll figure out how to write well just by constantly saying what's inside you. Others explore writing as politics (usually from the left), and encourage you to see writing as a negotiation between your situation and the power struggles around you. Still others tell you about the basic forms - of assembling an essay (intros, bodies, conclusions), and of argument (definitional, casual, evaluative, etc.) - and have you try your hand at assembling the writing through working on mastering those forms. All of them have a grasp on a piece of the truth, but all of them, as G.K. Chesterton says of heretics, think their piece of the truth is the whole truth. (Pages xiv-xv)

This classical style of instruction makes a ton of sense to me. In fact, it's the philosophy that I'm already trying to use in our homeschool. (Incidentally, the commentary on this particular reason to study Latin is just one of a fistful of persuasive reasons that has me seriously considering adding it to our line-up at some point.) When I have Hero practice his handwriting I will typically choose a sentence from our read-aloud and have him write it out. Not only does he get to practice the nuts and bolts of letter formation and usage rules, but he is also (I hope) internalizing what great writers do. The way they build their sentences, the pace and rhythm of it, the vocabulary and style. Some of that will happen just in the process of reading the classics, but with the copywork, and later with exercises like the ones in this book, I hope to help my kids grasp at least the basics of what made the great writers so great. And I want that for myself, so I'm going to do it as well.

21 April 2013

Finally Getting To It

October 2011 was a long time ago. I've been reading since then, but haven't blogged any of it. And my sewing machine was very frustrating; it was so old I that I struggled to get the feet that I needed to do the Shirtmaking techniques, and it was starting to not sew very well. Now I have a new machine, so I'm coming back to the book that I'd previously selected. I'm still getting to know my new machine, and the projects in Stitch By Stitch are considerably simpler than trying to make a mens' dress shirt, so that's where I'm starting. Plus, I now have a baby daughter to sew for, and that's just fun. With the additional benefit that baby clothes are so small as to almost be sampler projects.

The first project in Stitch By Stitch is a simple sampler. Just make a row of all your stitches. I've been sewing for long enough not to get excited about that. Plus, my sewing time is precious, and I want to be working on a real project. I skipped the sampler. But I do want to see what my various decorative stitches look like, so I keep an eye peeled for an opportunity to try them out. Like here, where I hemmed this dress I'm making with a flower, rather than a plain straight stitch. Turned out cute!

The second project is to make a "thread drawing." That's machine appliqué, and it turns out that I'm finding it relatively challenging. First, I made my canvas. This will be a little onsie-dress when it's finished, and I put a butterfly near the hem on the front. Just getting to this point had me trying new things. I've already played with the satin stitch on my machine some. This time, I didn't set the stitches quite as tight as I have on other things. I think I'll keep them just a bit more tight in the future; I like a denser outline. I also used a little Wonder-Under to attach my butterfly. That' cool stuff. I now have Plans.

Next, I traced my stencil onto a scrap and tried the machine embroidery. That's trickier than it sounds! My book says to just grab some thread, lower the feed-dogs, and go. But it didn't turn out so hot. I think the technique has potential. There's some really beautiful "thread painting" out there. But my fabric kept puckering. I suspected that the tension was too much, but didn't know exactly what was going on. Whatever it was, I'm clearly not ready to do the Real Thing just yet.

I turned to Pinterest, and found a couple tutorials, which I saved for future reference. I got some good pointers, including that I may need to adjust my tension to make the embroidery turn out. However. All the online tutorials I looked at agreed: I need a hoop to hold my cloth taut for me. I dug around, but I couldn't find one, so before I can go further I need to go get one. I'm thinking that it shouldn't need to be anything simple, so long as it holds the fabric nicely. We'll see. I'll do another sample to make sure that I can actually do this before I mess with the cute skirt that I've got started. I want that to actually turn out useable. If I can make this work, in spite of it being a first project (I don't hold myself to a very high standard on my first project; there's generally too much learning going on to get super hung up if it doesn't turn out perfect.), it'll turn out cute. Hopefully by doing my experimenting on scrap fabric I can get that learning out of the way and have a nice first project. I'd like that.
If all goes well I'll have this dress done and on my little Tigress here in the next couple of days!