“We all need to maybe finish a couple things that have been with us for so long, that we can’t remember not having them. So that we can have space. Not even so we can add something new to the list. Just to have space.”

We all, each of us, have a lot of balls in the air. How do we create the space for ourselves to know which ones to keep and which ones to let fall? Sometimes, picking a project to finish can help create that space. Especially when we don’t put pressure ourselves to finish, and just take it one step at a time. Leela Sinha talks about picking up a project that has been in “time out” for a year, and finding spaciousness in completion.


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The Bernadette Banner video that launched a thousand pirate shirts:


Transcript and notes:


Recorded 7 January 2024.


Hey everyone, thanks for tuning in.

I want to tell you today about this finishing kick I'm on. I have for about the last year been really struggling. Since I moved to Portland. There are a lot of reasons for that. Mostly personal, mostly emotional.

But the result has been that I haven't been able to bring myself to finish things. And when I do, I get no dopamine reward. No thrill, no satisfaction, my brain immediately moves on to something else. Figuring out what I can do next has become this persistent climb for a place for my brain to be that isn't this. It's been tricky.

So one of the things I had, that was like that, was this dress form. This tailor's mannequin. As most of you know, I sew. As many of you know, I did not expect to become a sewist in my mid 40s. Much less a sewist with a historical costuming bent. Although, in retrospect, that's less surprising than one might think. But here we are.

Early on in the pandemic, I saw a video that inspired me to try drafting my own patterns. And that made all the difference because my body doesn't even remotely fit into patterns from the so called Big Four pattern makers. And so what I discovered is that I had to make my own in order for anything to fit. Because even the modifications, the traditional alterations, were not sufficient. Plus, I didn't really like most of what was out there in the pattern books.

I would search for hours and hours for a pattern I liked and then take a closer look at it and realize that it wasn't- it wasn't me. It was pretty, but it wasn't me. Some of that is gender. Some of that is design. Some of that is just me.

But I had been stuck for a long time with basic sewing skills, but no desire to go any further. And then I saw this video of someone making what we colloquially call a pirate shirt. An 18th century men's shirt. And in the 18th century, they were still selling shirts from rectangles and squares. There were a few reasons for that one, most fabric was still hand woven, which meant that it was very precious. And rectangles and squares don't waste fabric.

But the other reason was that we simply, in the West, had not developed the technology of curved clothing assembly. We didn't know about curved seams, for making stuff fit the body better. We just like- it just hadn't been a thing we had had enough time to work with. And so instead of curved seams, mostly we had a lot of straight seams.

There had been some curved seams in women's clothes in the medieval period. They weren't entirely unheard of. But especially in- specifically set-in, sleeves sleeves with a curved sleeve head that fit into a round armscye; the whole way your sleeve fits is called the armscye. That particular one flat curve going into a different kind of curve a different direction of curve, like fitting two gears together to change the direction of motion- that thing, that thing hadn't really come in to shirts.

And so shirts were just made as a rectangle with a rectangle and a square. The square goes in the armpit. It gives you much better freedom of movement. And the rectangle that's the sleeve and the rectangle that's the body are joined together with a straight seam. Except where the square goes into the seam of one and then the other.

But what was remarkable about this was that it was a standard set of measurements. Even though this creator Bernadette Banner was extremely thin, relative to me, much smaller. I knew that those measurements would fit on my body and that if they didn't, I could modify them easily. And the cuff and the collar and everything was just "well hold up your arm, figure out how long that is and then make it a little bit longer so you get some poof. Make this a little bit wider. So you get some gathers."

The poof and the gathers being the way that you get freedom of motion in these garments. The extra has a purpose. It's also just fun.

And so in 2020, I started making up clothes for myself. I started with one of those, and then I did a few more so I could really understand how they worked. And by the time I understood how they worked, I had four, which was probably enough for now.

And so I moved on to some other things, things that I did need patterns for, but things that I could find patterns for that fit. Partially because lacing. Because lacing makes everything better. It makes everything customizable.

And then I started to think about all the ways that things fit together with things. And then I started to get to the point of construction where things got complicated. And so I stopped for a while. I stopped because it does get pretty complicated. And I didn't have the skill, and I didn't have the time to figure out the complications.

But just as I was coming to realize that there was a huge leveling up; there's a huge step up that I needed to take to start to make the next sets of things I wanted, the next kinds of things that I wanted. I discovered that I could have a custom dress form.

The problem I've been having with mannequins was the problem that I've been having with clothes. Which is that the standard ones that you buy at the store are not the right shape at all for me. And they're also pretty flimsy. But then if you go to buy one that's custom, exactly for your measurements, that's costly. And I didn't have the resources for that kind of financial outlay. For something that is essentially, was essentially a hobby.

And it still feels a little bit self centered to want my clothes to fit. Although it also feels- well I have a whole manifesto about how it feels that clothes should fit us and not us have to fit our clothes. The idea that you have to lose weight to fit into a garment is absurd. The garment should fit you. It should fit you all the time, it should fit you every day. And when most of the fabric was hand woven, and so precious that you didn't even cut a curved seam out of it, they designed clothes for that.

So this is where my deep interest in old fashioned clothing construction started.

And then I discovered I could have a mannequin that was my measurements. I could buy a pattern and sew it myself.

And so I started that project over a year ago. Over a year ago, I started sewing a mannequin together for myself. Based on my measurements. And I figured it would take me some time. But I did not figure that I would put it mostly in timeout for a year. But I did. I did.

It came with me in the move. And I had not touched it since it arrived here. Until last week, and I decided I wanted it done by the end of the year. And I decided that right around Christmas. And I didn't make that deadline. Because I was trying not to create that sense of pressure that I talked about in my last episode. Because I knew if I created that sense of pressure, it would just go back in the drawer for another year.

And so instead, I just puttered along, and I've been solving one problem at a time. But I've really wanted to get it finished. I've really wanted to get it finished. I really wanted to get it finished. And we're there.

We're there.

I'm on the last step of getting it finished. And every time I think I'm close something else crops up that needs to be done. It's a little bit complicated or a little bit odd. But I just keep going and keep going and keep going. And this is one of those things where I've taken- I've taken the opportunity to create space around something and to use expansive tactics.

We usually think about expansive tactics as being the things that make us rigid. But in fact, when we borrow them on purpose, sometimes they are the things that create the space. Instead of thinking I will start sewing and I will stop sewing when I'm exhausted. I think I will start sewing and I will set my goal to do the next step. Just the next step. Maybe it's ironing something. Maybe it's attaching one thing to one other thing.

Maybe, like yesterday, it's actually sewing a whole panel together and then attaching that panel to the rest of the thing. And then having my most gracious partner rip out that seam. So that I can redo it because I sewed it in backwards. And then stopping.

And then stopping because I deserve not to be completely worn out when I'm done. Because when we make ourselves not completely worn out, then it's easier to pick it up again the next day, which is what I did this morning. Which left me enough brain space even- even though I was up for three hours in the middle of the night, it left me enough brain space to be able to figure out the next piece of the puzzle. And the next, and the next.

And I'm pretty sure, pretty sure it'll be done tonight.

But I also decided that I needed to start recording again. I took some time off from the mic, and it was time to come back. And I also decided that there was another project that I wanted to finish. And that project is almost done.

And I was even able to find the energy to go to the store to get the thing. And all of this because I created space. Because I created space. Because I lifted the pressure. Because I decided that it didn't really matter. It would be nice if this was done. But it didn't really matter.

I didn't have to have this to do my next project. And in fact, the next thing I build may not be- may not be a piece of clothing at all. It might be the computer stand for my desk to elevate my computer so I can look at it and type at the same time. it may be- it may be this boursin pasta dish that I heard about from a friend.

It may be a good long nap.

It may be trying screen printing using a piece of fabric and a screen made out of an embroidery hoop. And some paint. I don't know. But what I do know is that I needed the space.

One more thing: I know that a lot of us are hesitating about buying planners at this time of year. Like yes, we want them. They're beautiful. Will we actually use them? Maybe or maybe not. I've been working on planner ideas for quite some time.

A few years back I beta launched a planner then decided that it was too complicated for anybody to use these days and paused in development. To think it over, to experiment more. To try some more stuff. But here's the thing. If having several planners- try several things. I'm trying several financial tracking software packages right now.

If having a bunch of planners at the beginning of the year makes your brain spacious. Maybe that's what you buy them for is for the first three months of the year, and the kind of spaciousness they create for you. Or the thinking or the dreaming or the possibilities or the hope or the beauty.

And if they do, then maybe they're worth it. Nothing says that you have to use the whole thing just because you bought it. On the other hand, maybe they're not serving you. Maybe there's something else that would serve you better. Maybe you already have a system that works and you just feel like you should switch from using Google Calendar and a to-do list because somebody said so. Because the world is saying so right now.

I use Google calendar and ClickUp and Notion. And I'm experimenting with trying to move to a kind of daily journaling. Diary type journaling. Daily record-ing, in Notion. So that I can carry less around in my head. But that's the thing, that's the motivator, is to carry less in my head.

And if I can carry less in my head by putting it in my calendar or carry less in my head by writing freehand on a piece of paper, or carry less in my head by writing it down in Notion doesn't really matter. Just so long as it meets my needs. It gets me where I need to be. It creates space, it creates spaciousness. Figuring out what balls you can carry and what balls you can drop, is important.

I'll be recording a meditation for Institute members about how to figure out what floats and what can be put down. Because I think we're all overloaded.

We all need space. We all need to back the demand down so that we can stop fighting the demand avoidance on top of everything else. We all need to maybe finish a couple things that have been with us for so long that we can't remember not having them.

So that we can have space. Not even so we can add something new to the list. Just so we can have space. So if that sounds good, consider joining us in the membership. intensivesinstitute.com/membership

In any case, thank you for tuning in. I hope you find space.

Talk soon.