Assorted sewing-related sketches and thoughts

I’ve settled into a routine of wearing something home-made every day. I’m looking forward to gradually adding higher-end fabric, and learning how to sew new pieces. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way.

2015-03-22b Decision review - Sewing -- index card #review #sewing #decision

2015-03-22b Decision review – Sewing – index card #review #sewing #decision

Sewing adds a new layer of satisfaction to my everyday life. I enjoy having a background reminder that I can learn how to make things.

2015-03-22c What was different about sewing this time -- index card #delta #sewing #review

2015-03-22c What was different about sewing this time – index card #delta #sewing #review

What was different about sewing this time? I set myself up for happiness and success by picking a super-simple pattern. It turns out that I like the bias binding technique much more than I like the facing technique, since I haven’t figured out how to stop facings from flapping around, and it’s actually pretty fun to use the bias tape maker. New pins made a surprising difference, too – it’s so much easier and less frustrating when your pins just glide through the fabric.

2015-03-13c Improving my sewing experience -- index card #sewing

2015-03-13c Improving my sewing experience – index card #sewing

The sewing machine and the serger are now on the desk full-time, instead of tucked in a closet. My sewing things are in a drawer. I still haven’t set up a system for listening to music or podcasts while I sew, since I use it as quiet time for thinking.

2015-03-13e What would managing my stash well look like -- index card #sewing

2015-03-13e What would managing my stash well look like – index card #sewing

2015-03-13d What are a few useful things I can do with my fabric stash -- index card #sewing

2015-03-13d What are a few useful things I can do with my fabric stash – index card #sewing

I found some stash-busting projects I like. They’re great ways to use up scraps while creating practical things, like little wrappers and liners. I’ve also pieced together larger scraps to create prototypes, which is nice. Maybe I’ll get into quilting or patchwork later on.

2015-03-12c Sewing pre-mortem -- index card #sewing #premortem

2015-03-12c Sewing pre-mortem – index card #sewing #premortem

None of the pre-mortem factors I planned for have kicked in yet. That’s because I’ve been learning deliberately slowly instead of trying to rush my way through things. =) I might spend a little more time getting used to the laser cutter and all that it can do for me; there’s so much to explore.

2015-02-25b What's next for sewing -- index card #sewing

2015-02-25b What’s next for sewing – index card #sewing

I have a bamboo stretch knit just waiting to be turned into loungewear, so I’m looking forward to learning how to self-draft a pattern for that. Extra points if I can do it digitally and then laser-cut the cloth, even if that means figuring out how to register long knits. =)

2015-02-24d Improving my sewing experience -- index card #sewing

2015-02-24d Improving my sewing experience – index card #sewing

Actually, the pipeline probably goes like this:

  • Tuesday at Hacklab:
    • Buy fabric for the next project
    • Cut washed fabric for the current project
  • Wednesday at home, possibly Friday or Saturday as well:
    • Sew and press the current project
  • Sunday at home:
    • Wash fabric for the next project
    • Plan the next next project

I think it would be good to have two (and exactly two) projects on the go at any given time. That way, I don’t end up stashing lots of fabric, and I can make the most of the resources available to me.

2015-02-24a New pattern, or several of one -- index card #sewing

2015-02-24a New pattern, or several of one – index card #sewing

Making many instances of the same pattern has been lots of fun. I still don’t feel an urge to learn about closures or sleeves, so the basic top is fine. I can gradually add more colours and fabrics, though. As for new patterns, I might look into making a few pairs of comfortable pants.

Yep, I think this skill might make its way into my identity… Neat!

Learning from a diversity of ways to live a significant life

I have plenty of role models in terms of people who’ve done wonderful things as part of regular careers and entrepreneurs who’ve created products or services. I even have a few role models who’ve explored alternative paths: simple living, writing, arts, crafts, trades… I love having such a diversity of life paths illuminated for me, with so many examples of people doing well.

I’ve been thinking about the path that I might take. The path of growing outwards – self, household, close relationships, and beyond – seems unusual, or at least harder to find information on. It feels a little feminine, I think, skewed towards domesticity. I think that’s part of the appeal for me. I want to take the skills I’ve learned in the mostly-male world of the technologies I’ve learned, and apply those skills in areas that might not be gender-balanced for a long time. This way I can maximize learning and difference-making.

2015-04-10b Reflecting on paths for living a meaningful life -- index card #experiment #evil-plans

2015-04-10b Reflecting on paths for living a meaningful life – index card #experiment #evil-plans

The impression I sometimes get from stories of startup founders is that they jump so quickly to imagining and building a service or product instead of developing deep understanding of needs, people, systems, opportunities… I know that doing things is a great way to learn things – fail fast and fail often – but I’m also curious about developing my understanding by other ways. I imagine that if I do this well, I’ll gradually develop the relationships and insights that would help me make a good difference. In the meantime, I can focus on improving myself, helping and connecting with people, and taking and sharing my notes.

2015-04-20e At peace with a small life -- index card #experiment

2015-04-20e At peace with a small life – index card #experiment

It’s getting easier and easier to not be tempted to shortcut this process. At a recent party, I was talking to a serial entrepreneur who was looking for a successor he could mentor. He seemed to derive a great deal of pride from having created a wonderful product, and it was well-deserved.

He asked me if I had created any products that could be identified with me, and if I wanted to. Reflecting on the conversation, I realized that no, I don’t particularly need to work toward that kind of significance right now. I’m happy to continue my experiment to at least the 5-year mark that I had initially set for myself, and possibly longer.

2015-04-19c 5-year plan vs 5-year experiment -- index card #experiment

2015-04-19c 5-year plan vs 5-year experiment – index card #experiment

The 5-year experiment thing boggled him too. I think he was thinking of it more as a 5-year plan: have a certain goal, get there with actions and the occasional workaround. I think of this 5-year experiment as creating a safe space for me to explore and learn, and the timeframe is there to prevent me from running back into my comfort zone too early.

I guess I could describe my aims this way: I work towards cultivating happiness/equanimity and producing understanding as my first two priorities. At this point, I’m not working towards wide impact, fame, influence, or money. I might get to that someday, but I’d like those first two things well-covered first.

2015-04-20f Experiment timeline -- index card #experiment

2015-04-20f Experiment timeline – index card #experiment

When might I move on from this phase? It’s not that I don’t think I’m ready, that I’m waiting for the stars to line up, or that I feel constrained to do this right now. I’m stacking the deck, and I’m collecting people and ideas.

2015-04-20h Conditions for considering a startup -- index card #experiment #startup

2015-04-20h Conditions for considering a startup – index card #experiment #startup

What will likely happen is that, after I figure out a little more about life, I’ll have these relationships with people I strongly want to help as a business partner or as a provider (preferably both). For example, if W- wants to start a business, or if I resonate strongly with a friend’s idea, I might dig into it more deeply. But I’d still want to see if we could build a company without making the personal health or relationship sacrifices that you often hear about in entrepreneurship circles. I’d want people to still get good sleep and spend time with other people who are important to them.

So that’s how my Evil Plans might unfold…

Cultivating coping mechanisms

2015-04-20b Cultivating coping mechanisms -- index card #self-care #coping

2015-04-20b Cultivating coping mechanisms – index card #self-care #coping

I’m not sure if other people do this, but I figured I’d write about how I deliberately cultivate certain coping or self-soothing behaviour, in case it resonates with anyone.

Whenever I come across a mildly stressful situation, I use that as an opportunity to practice and reinforce ways to deal with it. For example, I like getting hugs, so I’ve learned to create that feeling for myself and I’ve learned to ask people for hugs when I need it. I associate hot chocolate with comfort and self-care instead of having it as a regular luxury, so it’s there as a treat when I really need it. I tell myself that it’s impossible for me to stay sad when I’m eating ice cream, and that becomes the case. I practise elucidating what I’m feeling, accept it, and experiment with ways to improve the situation. I give myself permission to stop trying to do things that require a lot of thinking and energy, and to instead focus on cooking and other easy ways to create value for myself and others. I figure out good walks and relaxing forms of exercise. I guiltlessly spend time cuddling the cats.

Sometimes I’ll focus on remembering what it feels like to be comforted and happy and safe while, say, mind-mapping thorny feelings, and eventually it becomes easier and easier to do so.

When more stressful situations come, I have some idea of what works for me, and I have positive associations around those techniques. I wonder if it’s a little like clicker-training yourself… =) Anyway, I’ve been finding it easier and easier to deal with life’s little curveballs. I don’t know the magnitude at which things will start to overwhelm me again, but it’s nice to know that I can handle more and more. In the meantime, even obstacles can be fuel for greater happiness and equanimity. =)

What Stoicism means to me

One of my friends told me that he couldn’t quite square Stoicism and what he knew about me. The general impression of Stoicism is, well, the “stiff upper lip” sort of stoicism, and quite a few people have told me that I’m one of the happiest and most optimistic people that they know. So I figured I’d write about it a little.

2015-04-20d What does Stoicism mean to me -- index card #stoicism

2015-04-20d What does Stoicism mean to me – index card #stoicism

I get my understanding of Stoicism from people like Epictetus, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, the people who translated their books, and more recent authors like William Irvine. The philosophy was pretty similar to how I saw the world growing up, and reading about the ancient Stoics (and similar schools of thought) helped me flesh out those thoughts further because I could take advantage of other people’s insights.

I really appreciated having inspiring role models, time-tested tools, and a wider vocabulary for recognizing and working with my thoughts. I liked the validation of equanimity as a goal in itself (not just pleasure or happiness). I found negative visualization and other Stoic practices to be really good at helping you develop appreciation and deepen your joy. I liked the sharp delineation between things you can control and things you can’t, and the radical freedom and responsibility this helps you realize.

More about equanimity:

2015-04-03d Equanimity -- index card #philosophy #equanimity

2015-04-03d Equanimity – index card #philosophy #equanimity

On a related note, this might explain a little bit about the wonder that fills my universe:

2015-04-20c The glass is amazing -- index card #philosophy #perspective

2015-04-20c The glass is amazing – index card #philosophy #perspective

Anyway, so that’s how that works for me!

More ideas for tech and the home

There’s an upcoming wearable tech / Internet of Things hackathon (Toronto: May 8-10, 2015; other dates elsewhere). Since hackathons are great ways to collect interesting ideas and people, I thought about whether I wanted to join and what I might do. It’s easier to generate ideas when you have a particular focus, so I reflected some more on what I’d started thinking about tech and the home.

Hackathons are handy ways to get access to hardware (sometimes even before they’re released to the general public) and to mentors who can help get past odd hurdles. I looked up the hardware that will be featured at the event:

  • Thalmic Myo: gestures
  • Intel Edison: low-power, small-form-factor computing
  • Nod Ring: gestures
  • Estimote Beacon: location tracking, sensors
  • Xbox Kinect: gestures, computer vision
  • Muse: biofeedback, brain waves
  • Arduino: electronics, shields, interfacing with the real world, small-form-factor computing
  • Xadow: various connected components for wearables

Then I made a brainstorming grid and started matching up various interests and technologies. I filled in some ideas and researched past hackathon winners or existing companies for others. Here are those thoughts:

2015-04-20i Tech and the home -- index card #tech-and-home

2015-04-20i Tech and the home – index card #tech-and-home

2015-04-20j Wearables, IoT, and the home -- index card #tech-and-home

2015-04-20j Wearables, IoT, and the home – index card #tech-and-home

I probably won’t go because I have some other personal projects to work on around that time. There are lots of opportunities to do things like this in Toronto, so maybe next time. =) In the meantime, I have a quick braindump of ideas that might be interesting to play with. I might start with gardening, since that’s the season for that. (Whee!) A 3D-printed seed dibbler doesn’t count as wearable tech or Internet of Things, but it would be handy right around this time, so I can use that to learn more about printing. I’ll also look into making those fabric aeration pots out of felt, laser-cutting markers, and possibly having some sensors for microclimate monitoring. Possibilities…

What I’m learning about small talk

After RJ’s recent party, I realized that my perception of and approach to small talk had shifted quite a bit from what it was a few years ago. In the past, I used to feel annoyed with how small talk conversations tend to cover the same ground repeatedly (“So, what do you do?”) and how they didn’t often result in follow-up actions or connections. Now I see small talk as a way to explore and appreciate other people’s stories (especially since few people blog) and discover which aspects of myself might resonate with other people (and vice versa). It’s also a lot of fun to play with the mental models that other people build up, which is why I’ve been experimenting with introducing myself as a housewife and then letting the conversations bring out other weird aspects. ;)

2015-04-19f Small talk shifts -- index card #small-talk #growth

2015-04-19f Small talk shifts – index card #small-talk #growth

It’s also fun building up little chains of stories with the kinds of hooks that make people say, “Wait, what?” Some examples of things that are incongruous or that provoke curiosity: semi-retirement, step-parenting a 17-year-old, combining laser-cutting and sewing, disassembling a washer/dryer, wearing a vest with an unusual number of pockets.

Weirdness is useful. Ideally, this weirdness brings out disclosures of other people’s weirdness, or prompts them to connect me with someone else they know, or demystifies something and encourages them to explore it. As for me, I like finding out if someone is the kind of person I might want to get to know further – perhaps collaborate with or mentally model. I look for people with shared values, interesting experiments, and a sense of growth.

2015-04-19e Different worldviews -- index card #small-talk

2015-04-19e Different worldviews – index card #small-talk

Experiments are good because we learn from the divergences. That said, sometimes I can be too weird – when something I do or something I experiment with is just too far from someone’s worldview to relate to or understand. For example, sometimes I talk to people who just don’t get Stoicism, simple living, homebody-ness, tech customization (especially Emacs), quantified/experimental thinking, or blogging.

That’s cool. I don’t need other people to validate me and I don’t need to convert other people to my perspective, so it’s really more of an opportunity to explore.

When people ask questions about one of my experiments, I’ve been leaving it up to them to drive the conversation since I’m happy to answer questions. Sometimes these end up in unproductive loops. It occurred to me that it might be fun to take a more sociological/anthropological approach to this: to deliberately explore other people’s perspectives and dig into why they think the way they do, possibly from the position that I make perfect sense to myself and it’s other people who are odd and deserving of study. ;)

2015-04-19d On talking to non-Stoics about preferences and value judgments -- index card #stoicism

2015-04-19d On talking to non-Stoics about preferences and value judgments – index card #stoicism

Here’s a more detailed example. I talk about value judgments surprisingly often because people often press for information on whether I’d like to have kids, which I suppose is a standard small-talk question for women around this age. Harumph. They usually have strong opinions one way or the other. This is one of the things that I’m careful to not have strong value judgments around or be attached to specific outcomes for. Sometimes I use this as an opportunity to prod people to be more considerate about things by considering a wider range of scenarios. Sometimes I frame my response in terms of being happy either way. It’s pretty rare to find people for whom this position makes sense. Many people are quite boggled by it. But I talk about equanimity anyway in case that resonates with someone who’s been looking for that concept, and even if it doesn’t sink in, I can rest in the knowledge that it makes sense to me.

On the other hand, my favourite kinds of conversations are with people who have deliberately cultivated their own differences from the mainstream and who can reflect on those experiments. Then our conversations become a high-bandwidth sort of brainstorming and swapping of notes. =) We might be doing different experiments, but we can understand and learn from each other’s perspectives.

So, small talk. It’s an opportunity to discover interesting things about people (captured in quick notes after the party, because who knows), play with sharing aspects of myself and messing up people’s mental models, and learn more about things I do differently. Even when I’m talking to people who find it difficult to understand external perspectives or whose conversational skills are somewhat impaired by alcohol, I can pick up useful information about other people and myself. As I meet more interesting people and as those people grow through their own experiences, I trust that small talk will become even more fun. =)