Weekly review: Week ending May 8, 2015

Lots of sewing last week, experimenting with zippered pouches, leggings, and cotton lawn. I prepared a quick Quantified Self talk sharing some of the numbers from my sewing, too.

More thoughts on fuzziness and sharpness, and how to make the most of the cycle between them.

Oh, and biking, yay!

output

2015-05-11g Week ending 2015-05-08 -- index card #journal #weekly

Blog posts

Sketches

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (19.6h – 11%)
    • Earn (2.9h – 14% of Business)
      • Earn: E1: 1-2 days of consulting
    • Build (15.7h – 80% of Business)
      • Drawing (12.0h)
      • Paperwork (0.0h)
    • Connect (1.0h – 5% of Business)
      • Attend meetup
      • Research Quantified Self
      • Process Quantified Self Toronto videos
  • Relationships (4.3h – 2%)
    • Holiday get-together with W-‘s family
    • Check out cherry blossoms
    • [-] Call tomorrow to see if Sunday morning is okay for cat grooming
  • Discretionary – Productive (27.0h – 16%)
    • Emacs (0.2h – 0% of all)
      • Announce Emacs Hangout 2015-05-13
      • Work on menu planning in Emacs
      • Reschedule Emacs Lisp Development Tips episode with jwiegley
      • Host Emacs Hangout
    • Sewing
      • Modify pattern for tops to cut out bias
      • Iron and prepare cotton lawn top
    • Writing (8.0h)
  • Discretionary – Play (6.7h – 4%)
  • Personal routines (35.8h – 21%)
  • Unpaid work (13.5h – 8%)
  • Sleep (61.0h – 36% – average of 8.7 per day)

Quantified Self: The numbers on sewing

Some people love shopping. That’s why “retail therapy” is a thing. Other people hate shopping, and try to do it as little as possible. It’s hard to find anything I like, even after I talk myself into being okay with buying things at full retail price, and even after adjusting my price range higher and higher.

I tried desensitizing myself by going out shopping without a particular goal in mind, just familiarizing myself with the colours and styles, and being open to buying something if it appealed to me. Several weekends of this turned up a few pairs of pants and T-shirts, but no epiphanies.

I started looking into alternatives. It seems wardrobe stylists work on commission, so you should plan to spend a good chunk of money – maybe $500 or $1000, which was more than I wanted to do at that moment. The custom dressmakers I asked quoted me rates around $250 for a single garment (although I didn’t ask if they’d reduce it for a super-simple pattern). Online tailors had very mixed reviews.

I figured it would be worth giving sewing a try. I didn’t need anything fancy, after all. I spent a few hours looking around for the simplest free pattern for a top, and I settled on the Colette Sorbetto pattern. I sewed a few, and then simplified the pattern further by removing the pleat. I sewed a few more. When I learned how to use the laser cutter, I used the laser to quickly and accurately cut even more pieces for sewing.

Let’s talk numbers.

The typical shirts I like cost between $40 and $120 at the store, but take hours and hours to shop for. It’s also a tiring and frustrating experience.

Broadcloth costs $2 a yard. Quilting fabric and cotton shirting tend to be around $12 to $14 a yard. The fanciest cotton I can get (in terms of fabric, not just design) seems to be Liberty cotton lawn, at $24 a yard. I wasn’t sure if it would be worth it, but it is nicely breathable, so maybe. I typically buy 1.5 yards per top, although this leaves me with lots of excess fabric. I could probably fit a top in 1 yard.

I’ve spent about $130 for the 16 tops I’ve made so far, or an average of $8 per top. I expect future tops to cost between $15 to $40, depending on fabric quality and whether the design is one-way.

The bulk of the cost is really time. Since I started in February, I’ve spent 105 hours sewing: picking out fabric, cutting, sewing, thinking about patterns and plans. This is an average of 7 hours per top, which feels a bit on the high side. I think most of it is indecisiveness about fabric. =) Prepping and cutting the fabric on the laser takes maybe 20 minutes total, and once that’s done, I can sew a top in about 2 hours.

You can analyze time trade-offs by assigning an arbitrary value to them. You might use minimum wage, or the replacement cost of hiring someone to take on some of your lower-value activities for you. For example, you might use $15/hour as a replacement cost, since that seems to be the going rate for a housekeeper in Toronto. If so, then my tops have cost an average of $110 or so. I expect future tops to use nicer fabric but require less time, so the estimated cost will likely be $75-100 per top.

Alternatively, you could use a higher rate – say, my consulting rate – since I could theoretically be working instead of sewing. But I don’t particularly feel like working more. If I did, there would be other activities I would cut back on first, like playing video games, or reading fiction.

Where did the time come from? It’s hard to say, since I was changing some of my other routines too. Anyway, I analyzed a weekly summary of my time records, correlating different categories with the time I tracked under sewing.

Category Correlational coefficient
Business – Build – Learn -0.94
Business – Build – Quantified Awesome -0.92
Discretionary – Productive – Japanese -0.82
Business – Build – Drawing -0.64
Discretionary – Play – Read – Fiction -0.61

I shifted away from learning, coding, and Japanese review, and I reduced my drawing and reading time. They’re all discretionary activities, so it’s not like I was working less or sleeping less in order to sew. (I actually worked a little more than I did before.)

I’ve come to think of sewing as fun, so I might consider the time as “free.” In fact, it might even have a positive effect. Making things myself helps me develop skills and enables imagination, so it’s like education. Cost-wise, it feels like spending on fabric and time is a definite win compared to, say, buying fast fashion tops that may or may not be ethically sourced.

What did I learn?

I learned that it takes surprisingly little time and money to develop a comfortable level of skill when repeating the same sewing pattern. I started sewing on Feb 11. On Feb 23, after about six hours total, I wore my first top. Here you can see DIY taking over the clothes I wear:

Week starting Sat Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri
Feb 7 x x x x x x x
Feb 14 x x x x x x x
Feb 21 x x mine x x mine x
Feb 28 x x x mine x x x
Mar 7 x x x mine mine mine mine
Mar 14 mine x mine mine mine mine mine
Mar 21 mine mine mine mine mine mine mine
Mar 28 x mine mine mine x mine mine
Apr 4 x x mine mine x mine mine
Apr 11 x mine mine mine mine mine mine
Apr 18 mine mine mine mine mine mine mine
Apr 25 mine mine mine mine mine mine mine
May 2 x x mine mine mine mine mine

I learned that I really enjoy the things you can’t buy with money. There’s this feeling of freedom that comes with knowing that I don’t have to rely on manufacturers and retailers to make things I like. I might even be able to come up with things that I wouldn’t be able to find in stores. If things wear out, I can repair or replace them.

I have two more tops on the go, so that should bring me to a total of eleven cotton/polyester tops and seven 100% cotton ones. I think I’ll hold off on sewing more tops after that. Maybe I’ll sew containers and bags to use up my scraps, and then I’ll think about sewing other things I wear. I’m not interested in sewing things for anyone else (aside from family, maybe), so don’t bother asking me. <laugh>

Anyway, it was a pleasant surprise to find out that it was easy to reduce the high-stress, low-value activity of shopping with something I enjoy much more. =)

Quiet afternoons and weeks

I work about one day a week, sometimes less: enough to keep interesting things on the go at my consulting client, and with plenty of space for other things in my life.

2015-04-23e Working once a week -- index card #consulting #pace #experiment

2015-04-23e Working once a week – index card #consulting #pace #experiment

It’s been a little tricky working once a week, since the communication gaps are much wider than they were with a twice-a-week schedule. I could probably not work, but I like the team and the work we do. My client would be happy to have me work more hours, but I like the rest of my week, too.

2015-04-14c Work vs Explore -- index card #self-direction #experiment

2015-04-14c Work vs Explore – index card #self-direction #experiment

Still, it’s not quite like the extra-long weekend that W- sometimes jokes about. At home, I’m not sure if I’m using my day the best I could, but I’m also not keen on cramming it just because I can. There’s something to be said about being patient and working through my mediocrity as I learn the skills for self-direction. Exploring is not as clear-cut as working, but I hope it will still be useful.

2015-05-03b Shifting visions of success -- index card #experiment #success

2015-05-03b Shifting visions of success – index card #experiment #success

It’s hard to want anything too different from what I have now. My quiet, flexible life is more tempting than, say, entrepreneurial success.

2015-05-03c Tracing evolution of wild success -- index card #experiment #success

2015-05-03c Tracing evolution of wild success – index card #experiment #success

I know that I hadn’t always wanted this, but I think that was mostly because I hadn’t even considered it a possibility. In university and grad school, I wanted to teach, catalyzing students’ enthusiasm and learning. As a consultant, I enjoyed working with great people on awesome things. Work-life balance and happiness was already on my radar, though. And now that this is here, and this is a possibility… I like it. I would like it to continue. I would like to figure out how to get really good at it, although I’m not quite sure what “good” and “it” and “really” are in this case.

2015-05-04a More than quiet afternoons -- index card #experiment #pace

2015-05-04a More than quiet afternoons – index card #experiment #pace

But there’s still a little bit of restlessness, especially when I feel fuzzy. There’s still that urge to check something off a list, the desire to feel momentum, that feeling of wanting validation, even after three years of trying to get used to self-direction. I think it would be good for me to keep getting used to this, relaxing into it. There might be something interesting there, in between ambition and a narrowly-circumscribed life…

Planning the next things I want to sew

I spent an hour at Designer Fabrics thinking about patterns and what I might want to sew next. I didn’t see anything I particularly wanted there, but I did pick up a yard and a half of Kaufman London Calling Lawn Abstract Stripe (like this) from The Workroom just so that I have something to work on. =)

2015-05-05a What kinds of patterns do I want to play with -- index card #sewing #patterns

2015-05-05a What kinds of patterns do I want to play with – index card #sewing #patterns

Anyway, top-wise, it might be interesting to break out of my comfort zone: not just florals, but also more black-and-white patterns and more geometric prints.

2015-05-04b Thoughts on fabric for summer -- index card #sewing #fabric

2015-05-04b Thoughts on fabric for summer – index card #sewing #fabric

The cotton lawn feels nice, but I think the shirting cottons are okay too, and the quilting cotton is actually pretty okay once you wash the sizing out of it.

2015-04-23d Imagining my sewing, a year from now -- index card #sewing #future #imagining

2015-04-23d Imagining my sewing, a year from now – index card #sewing #future #imagining

I might actually have sewn enough tops now, though, especially after I finish the four I have in progress. That’s enough to spend a week in 100% cotton, which will be better than the cotton/poly broadcloth blends I started with, and maybe 2-3 weeks in between delicate laundry batches.

So, time to figure out: what next? There’s a little temptation to complete things I’m tempted to try to take on more types of garments. (Get to the point, perhaps, where every stitch I wear is mine? Shoes might be tough, though. Moccasins?) On the other hand, when I started this sewing thing again this year, I said I’d pace myself by trying to replace only one category of things per year. That way, I could reduce the risk of burnout.

2015-04-30e Sewing plans -- index card #sewing

2015-04-30e Sewing plans – index card #sewing

2015-05-05b Rethinking next steps for sewing -- index card #sewing

2015-05-05b Rethinking next steps for sewing – index card #sewing

I considered upgrading the broadcloth tops to the nicest cottons I can find – probably Liberty fabric, or some of the other cotton lawns. On the other hand, that might be well in the neighbourhood of diminishing returns, so maybe it’s better to wait.

I looked into sewing with stretch knits too, making a pair of leggings. I might make yoga pants at some point, but I don’t feel a pressing need for them, so I might wait too.

Stash-clearing, then. Ideally, making various containers and household things. Maybe I can make a patchwork garment bag to use up some of my scraps and protect my winter coats. Maybe I can make bags and zippered pouches. Maybe I can make things neater and more organized.

2015-05-02b Lined pouch -- index card #sewing

2015-05-02b Lined pouch – index card #sewing

I made a lined pouch with some of my scraps: the Marvel fabric on the outside, a yellow broadcloth inside, and a red zipper. It was fun. I haven’t figured out what to put into it, though. I’m sure something will come up.

2015-05-02c Containers -- index card #sewing

2015-05-02c Containers – index card #sewing

There are all sorts of containers I can learn how to make, and so many things that I can contain within them.

2015-05-02d Rough edges I could smooth -- index card #sewing

2015-05-02d Rough edges I could smooth – index card #sewing

2015-05-05c Containers and organizers - pain points -- index card #sewing

2015-05-05c Containers and organizers – pain points – index card #sewing

It might be good to start with the things that annoy me the most, like my disorganized sewing drawer. Mmm. Yes. Skills that improve themselves.

2015-04-28e Scrap ideas -- index card #sewing #scraps #repurposing

2015-04-28e Scrap ideas – index card #sewing #scraps #repurposing

Besides, it would be nice to get through more of those scraps. The boot shaper I made took a surprising volume of scraps for stuffing, so I’m looking forward to collecting more and making the one for the other boot. Then more little projects…

Embracing the fuzziness

I’m feeling a little more clear-headed at the moment — not as fuzzy-brained as before. Well, there’s the slight matter of my ongoing cough and congestion, so I’m not quite all the way there, but I can think more easily than I did last week.

Cycling through different mental states (normal, squirrel, fuzzy, etc.) in quick succession has been helping me get better at differentiating among them, and I’ve been thinking about how I can make the most of them. In particular, I’ve been thinking about the consequences of considering one or the other as my “default” state, or of getting rid of the notion of a default state altogether.

2015-05-03e Default or majority state and fuzziness -- index card #fuzzy

2015-05-03e Default or majority state and fuzziness – index card #fuzzy

If I think of clarity as my normal state and fuzziness as a short interruption, then when I’m sharp, it makes sense to make the most of it, and when I’m fuzzy, it makes sense to do the background work that will help me make the most of my next sharp period.

If I think of fuzziness as my normal state and clarity as a gift, then when I’m clear, it makes sense to invest a lot into building the systems, habits, and skills that would make fuzzy times even better. I’m not sure how probable this is, but I’m leaning towards it being likely, even though I tend to remember my past as clear. I’m basing this on the fact that many people around me have reported being relatively slower compared to their younger selves, possibly due to age and circumstances. On the other hand, I know a few people who are older than I am and who seem to be accelerating, so there’s something to be said for that.

A mix of both strategies seems to make sense. I can spend some time putting the infrastructure in place to do well during fuzzy times, and I can also take advantage of quick sprints to make things happen when I have a clear idea.

So that might translate into the following:

2015-05-02e When I'm sharp, when I'm fuzzy -- index card #fuzzy

2015-05-02e When I’m sharp, when I’m fuzzy – index card #fuzzy

When I’m sharp, that’s the time to lean in on health and systems and skills, the time to act on ideas and explore questions, the time to come up with lots of ideas and define tasks that I can do while fuzzy. It’s important to write, too, so that I can remember what it’s like to be sharp.

When I’m fuzzy and don’t feel particularly like pushing, that’s a good time to focus on self-care and close relationships. It’s okay to relax, to observe, to explore.

One of the nice things about being fuzzy is that it’s easier to explore alternatives and develop skills; it’s all right to do something you’re mediocre at when you feel mediocre at everything, or too fuzzy to do things you’re normally excellent at. <laugh>

And there’s always the philosophical practice at being patient and dealing with challenges… It’s good.

Hmm. What’s a good way for me to tell whether I’m under-preparing, over-preparing, or getting the balance right?

2015-05-05f Balancing preparation and action in different mental states -- index card #fuzzy #sharp

2015-05-05f Balancing preparation and action in different mental states – index card #fuzzy #sharp

  • If I under-prepare for fuzziness while I’m sharp, then when I’m fuzzy, I’m stuck with low-value activities like video games. This is okay, but with some thought, I might be able to tweak it to get more value.
  • If I over-prepare for fuzziness while I’m sharp, then I’m missing the opportunity to build momentum and get stuff done.
  • If I under-prepare for sharpness while I’m fuzzy, then when I’m sharp, I end up spinning my wheels or doing things that I could have done when I was fuzzy anyway.
  • If I over-prepare for sharpness while I’m fuzzy, I might prolong my fuzziness or feel bleah.

Hmm. It might be interesting to revisit my notes on the kinds of things I can do when I’m sharp and when I’m fuzzy (High energy and low energy activities). That might help me detect if I’m using my sharp time well.

Also, it’s okay not to totally optimize this. =) I can be a little inefficient.

There’s definitely more fuzziness in my future. It might be interesting to graph this to see when I’m majority-sharp and when I’m majority-fuzzy, but even without those patterns, it can help to start slowly thinking about how I can make this better. Hmm…

Monthly review: April 2015

2015-05-04g April 2015 -- index card #monthly

Level up! I learned how to use Hacklab’s laser cutter this month. I’ve been giving it quite a workout with all these tops. It’s a lot of fun working with the laser cutter, since precisely-cut pieces are much easier to sew. Besides, it’s much better than cutting at home, where I often have to shoo the cats away from my fabric. =)

The weather has finally warmed up enough to start gardening and biking again. Whee! I’m not too positive about our chances of growing bitter melon – I think our garden has a disease – but maybe the other plants will be fine. The peas are starting to come up. The strawberry, basil, and tomato seedlings I planted seem to be doing fine too.

This month was a good opportunity to take a close look at my sub-optimal states. <laugh> Between squirrel-brain and fuzzy-brain, it’s a wonder I got anything done. Still, I managed to do the usual consulting bits, broaden my sewing experience, and collect ideas for things I might want to build someday and people I might want to work with. Anyway, the month provided plenty of practice in patience, persistence, and philosophizing, so I got some good out of it.

I’m not entirely sure what next month will be like. Still – onward!

output

Blog posts

Sketches

Daily: 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Time

Category Last month (%) This month (%) Avg h per week Delta (h/wk)
Discretionary – Play 3.1 6.1 10 5.0
Business – Connect 6.2 7.1 12 1.5
Business – Build 4.5 5.1 9 1.0
Discretionary – Productive 8.8 9.0 15 0.3
Discretionary – Social 1.7 1.7 3 0.0
Discretionary – Family 3.7 3.6 6 -0.2
Business – Earn 5.8 5.5 9 -0.5
Sleep 38.5 37.5 63 -1.7
Unpaid work 9.3 8.0 13 -2.2
Personal 18.4 16.4 28 -3.4

That’s odd. Given all the fuzziness, I expected that I slept more this month, but it turns out that I slept less. Well, maybe some of that sleep got moved to playing Persona 3 (4.8% of the time, which is almost as much as I spent consulting!), since I was taking it easy. I spent a little more time at Hacklab, too. But yeah, interesting…

I expect May to be a little less sleepy. =) More biking (counted under Personal) and gardening (counted under Discretionary – Productive) too, I hope. And cooking, and sewing…