Suppose it’s the case that you’re going to a dress-up party tonight for Halloween season, and you’re playing a pirate.
But you don’t have a hat. And it’s becoming an issue that you don’t have a hat to go with the rest of your costume. You need a hat.
How do you solve that problem?
Well, you could go to a Halloween Spirit store, and buy one. But the chances are pretty good that whatever hat you find isn’t going to be as good as the rest of your costume. You have a shirt that was professionally made, and a pirate coat-thing you made yourself, and a pair of pants, and a pair of boots, that are all wonderfully pirate-like… But you don’t have a hat, and any sort of hat you buy elsewhere is going to be cruddy or crummy or expensive. What do you do?
You look through your collection of
spells sewing patterns. You find the hat pattern that’s part of Butterick 3072. And you make one in a few hours.
It’s not a particularly difficult pattern. I did mess up a little bit on the inside, of course; the red lining is supposed to be attached in a slightly different order than I actually did it, and the result is a lining that isn’t quite as clean or clever as I’d like. But this is not a durable, heavy-duty hat for the rain — it’s a costume piece. And like any costume piece, it’s a relatively simple pattern that can be modified and adapted — a wider brim, a stiffer interior hat-band, a pointier crown… none of these things are impossible to add or modify from the original pattern.
There’s some debate about which coat to wear it with. I think it’s a better match for the “poet’s coat” I finished up recently that goes with this bag that I had to repair; my girlfriend thinks its a better match for the Scarlet Doublet.
No matter. I can build a hat. And if I can sew a hat, there’s a pretty good chance that I can sew anything at all.
There is, if you will, an underlying logic. Further up in this post, I crossed out the word
‘spell’ because I think there’s a relevance here. The average pattern in a pattern package that you buy from the fabric store is a set of guidelines; there are recommended fabrics, trim, and materials — but those are essentially guidelines. Those patterns have a grammar, if you will, of language to help you understand what it is that you’re doing. There’s an underlying order and methodology; alter the methodology, and you alter the results; stick with the methodology, and you’ll get exactly what the pattern-maker intended for you to get. But each time you go through this process — each time you make a hat or a coat or a cheese or a tool chest or a book or a bookshelf — you’ll discover that you have a new set of tools for solving problems and building and creating things: food, clothing, furniture, even houses. This touches on what I said to Will Richardson — that a school’s purpose is to teach measurement, in part so that the questions of what to make, and how to make it, become easier and simpler as we grow older.
That teaching, that knowledge of how, is never undone. It stays with us forever, this side of dementia or death. The underlying thought processes remain eternal, and grow deeper with each project completed. Even if the first hat is slightly too small… you know how to make it again.