This month, we're so pleased to welcome Storyteller Asmita Hulyalkar to the Twig + Tale blog. Every year, Asmita's family embarks on a summer vacation in Pune. While there are many positive things about vacation time, it does cause disruption to routine, including sewing. Here, Asmita reflects on adapting her sewing practice - and her mindset - to allow for productive and fulfilling creative time while away from home.
For me, June usually begins with some kind of disgruntlement. At the end of May, after school breaks for summer vacation, we travel to spend the next five weeks or so in my hometown, Pune (a city close to Bombay). Over these weeks, I spend time with my extended family, some friends who are also visiting at the same time of year and do things that people usually do in summer vacations: read, eat, sleep, relax, and in my case, also sew.
You will ask then, what is the reason for the disgruntlement? So then, let me start the story a little earlier. Summer is the time when I do a fair bit of sewing for my kids. One big reason for this is that their birthdays fall at the end of our time in Pune. Even though they are growing up quickly, I am lucky that part of the birthday gift is always something handmade. Since we live in Delhi for most of the year (save summer and part of winter vacation), my sewing set-up, my fabric stash and all the little things that I need are set up there, allotted their proper spaces. While I do not have a separate sewing room, over the years I have carved out a space for myself which is sacrosanct and clearly demarcated, albeit by boundaries that only me and my kids and husband are aware of. One of the most important aspects of this "sewing space" is my machine, and while it is probably not as fancy as some of the newer machines, I love it dearly. It makes buttonholes, sews zippers the way I want them to be, most of the time at least. And pretty much, therein begins the trouble!
When we travel to Pune, our "home" for those weeks is our vacation home. This is a house we are lucky to have: it is in one of the nicest parts of town, close to green spaces and family members. As luck should have it, I have a sewing machine here too (!) albeit a very old model of the Singer Merritt which was given to me by an aunt whose mother used it. At this point it must be at least seventy years old and it is quite a beauty, although some parts (the unimportant ones) like its cover are falling apart. The main difference between the two is that unlike my newer, fancier Delhi machine, it can only do one stitch and that's it, no more.
As for a "sewing space", there is none. I use a very small table which also doubles up as a table used for everything else. Even the dining table, which comes originally from my grandmother, is lovely but too small for any real sewing related work. Notions, fabric, and work(s) in progress all share one small shelf in my cupboard, and therein ends the idea of any space that I could call as mine, relegated specifically for "my sewing".
All this would perhaps not matter as much if sewing was simply for me a hobby or something I indulge in occasionally. That, however, is not the case. Over the last few years, sewing, be it by hand or machine, is what has come to both orient me and play a huge role in what my identity is. It is what also constitutes my work and play and that which I take time to do away from time spent with my family. In planning my days, I make sure that there is always time to do a little bit of sewing because it tethers me to the ground and provides the framework for me for the everydayness of a life that we live. Come June, I feel thrown off - having to get used to and establish myself (even if it is for a few weeks) in a new place with a different machine, one that stitches beautifully, but one which cannot do much more than that. To make matters more complicated, I am not a person who does a great deal of planning in terms of what would be a summer wardrobe etc. and so my deciding on a pattern, planning on the fabric, cutting it out and finally sewing happens in a sequence before I repeat the same thing again when starting the next new project.
To be sure, not every garment I make is a complicated one. Nor is it that I have no cutting space available here. I also only print out what I need. So, my sewing patterns live on my computer and hence are easily accessible anywhere. Clearly, I feel that the problem is in my head. I feel that unless I have access to my regular machine, my regular notions, and my space, my sewing practice is somehow going to fall apart. If you feel that you hear a lot of "my" in the above few sentences, you are not hearing wrong! While it may seem obvious to most that I need to take a different approach to my creative life and appreciate what I do have, it has taken me a few years to realise that perhaps there is another way of doing this. And it begins with taking a huge breath (first!) and then accepting that a few weeks of sewing at a different pace, or only certain kids of garments, is not going to throw me off as much as I think it is going to.
And so, this year, I decided to do things a bit differently. For one, I actually sat down with both my kids to check what is it that they really needed in terms of clothing. It soon became obvious that while the older kid would "like" some new clothes in a certain style, the younger one needed pants, having worn out all the ones made last year. A few months earlier, I had tried out the Scout Pants pattern. My son liked and approved of the fit. It seemed like a good place to start would be by making a few summer basics: primarily pants and shorts.
The second question was of fabric. I wanted to use as many scraps as I could, in part because his pants still require smaller pieces of fabric than what adult garments require and I have many small cuts. Plus, he is incredibly fond of mixing and matching different fabrics, not to mention using already mended patches. Unlike my usual method of putting together only enough fabric for one pair, we put together all the fabric that we would need for all the pants and shorts. I cut his long pants from an old futon cover and then decided that we would leave the rest of our fabric choices to whimsy.
The result is that he has now three pairs of brand “new” pants and shorts from fabrics here and there and each of them is one of a kind. If he were to choose a favourite, it would be the already patched up knee patches on the Scout full length pants (these come from a pant leg that tore and was un-mendable having already been repaired at various places close to five times). Since all pockets are lined it goes without saying that the insides of the pockets are all different bits of fabric. My son loves colourful fabric and more the colour the better. Thus, the blue futon trousers with the waistband in one colour, the pockets in another and the knee patches in yet another fabric are the ones he adores. My favourite would be the shorts with pockets in two different fabrics. I wonder why I have not done that ever before!
I think the important thing for me this year has been simply that I have let go, and thus adapted, or at least tried, to the pace of life here in a different house and a different city. I have made my complicated projects wait a bit or am working on them at a slow pace, savouring every stitch that they may not even be finished in the month that I am here. Then always, there is embroidery that can be carried wherever I am and does not take up a whole lot of space. Usually, it requires nothing more than enough light and some good hand eye coordination.
The truth is that we all adapt constantly and change as our environment that we live in and love in changes. The question really is then how willingly we do it, without putting up a fight to give in to these changes. Sure, it is sometimes good to put up a fight, necessary even, but in a situation such as the one I write about I am finding that creativity can sprout anywhere, particularly in places where there is a little bit of a limit to my freedom in terms of what I can do, specifically what I can sew. I try to make my work as sustainable as possible, choosing a way to use resources that already exist, materials that I already have, but I am only beginning to now realise that to be truly sustainable one must adapt and change one’s vision as one goes along, without which there is too much frustration, and yes even disgruntlement!