Sunday, October 22, 2006

I am my father's daughter. And my mother's, too.

Let me explain

My dad had the soul of an artist. I always wished that whoever advised him when he was in college (he did two years before dropping out) had pushed him toward art instead to business. For a tough, blue-collar guy who served in the military and grew up during the Depression, he was surpisingly sensitive.

My dad loved watching home improvement shows on TV. Now, we didn't have cable, so it was pretty much whatever was on PBS. He always thought that he could build whatever Norm Abrams was making, or whatever. The problem was that even if he did attempt it, he wouldn't be able to.

It wasn't that my dad didn't have the skill. He was amazing with wood when he wanted to be. The problem was that my dad didn't like to follow directions. He didn't measure anything ever. You know how they always say, "measure twice, cut once" to avoid mistakes? My dad thought that measuring took the fun out of things. He had a picture in his mind, and he somehow made the picture tangible.

Now, things didn't always turn out the way he planned. He made a paper towel holder for the kitchen that was really great, but the two sides the tube holder went into somehow ended up uneven and really not looking anything alike. But it had a certain flair to it nonetheless.

The best thing my dad ever made was a stable for our nativity set. He didn't measure anything at all. I know this for a fact because I watched him the whole time. But somehow or another, even with windows cut into the sides, it turned out absolutely perfect. Oh, it's a little lopsided, but when you think about it, buildings then, especially somethng like a stable, probably were. That's what makes it so perfect.

My dad also did wood carving. I saw pictures of some of the pieces he made and sold, and they were beautiful. For some reason, though, he quit doing that. I think it was probably because the arthritis in his hands was too bad.

My dad alos never used power tools, except for his drill. if he had to make a hole in something, he drilled a hole through the center and used his coping saw to cut out the hole, then he'd sand it until it was smooth. I think he liked the challenge.

Now, my dad was capable of creating and using measured drawings. He took drafting classes in high school, and in fact he designed a World War II Memorial in his old neighborhood (if you are in Pittsburgh, take a drive down Spring Garden Road. If you are coming from town, it will be on your right, not much past my uncle's old bar. Of course, you most likely don't now where that is, so I suppose that's a moot point). I think he just didn't like working from them because they were...uniform.

Now my mom, on the other hand, was all about measuring. She sewed, knitted, and crocheted. And even though she grew up in the 40's and 50's, not many women of her generation did that. It was already a dying art, and now it is fading even more.

When my mom was making something, she was all about precise measurements. Even if she was making something as simple as a scarf, she knew exactly how long and wide she wanted it to be, and she knew exactly what the guage was of the yarn and needles she was using. If things didn't turn out exactly the way she wanted, she'd rip out all her stitches and start again.

When my mom was trying to teach me to sew, she'd get really, really frustrated. See, I was like my dad, and didn't like to measure. If I was knitting, I never knew how many stitches I casted on, so I never knew when I dropped stitches. If I was crocheting, I never knew how long my chain was, so I never noticed when my piece got progressively more narrow. And if I was making something from a pattern...forget it. Somehow, I never could manage to cut on the lines of the pattern. Nor could I manage to sew a straight seam, either by hand or on the machine. I personally didn't care, but it drove her up a wall, and usually ended up in tears for one or both of us.

I think that's why I liked making things with my dad more than with my mom when I was little. He'd give me a board, let me pound nails in anyway I wanted, and make string art from it. He'd let me draw a pattern freehand on a piece of board and try to cut it out with the coping saw. He'd never get mad when I couldn't get it perfect because, "that's what sandpaper is for." We'd make these really ornate paper cards (another skill my dad had) with fancy cutouts, and even if I couldn't recreate the lacy patterns he seemed to create without even trying, it was OK (though it wasn't OK when we used my mom's fancy sewing scissors to cut the paper because they were finer and smaller than the other scissors).

I find it funny (peculiar, not ha ha), then, that I find myself drawn more to fabric and yarn craft now than I do to woodcraft. Now, I could blame it on my bad experiences with wood in academia (wood shop in OVT in 7th and 8th grade, Scene Tchnology in college), or my absolute fear of power tools (which they made us use in academia, no matter hard we begged to use a plain old coping saw or hack saw). But I really don't know.

But the really interesting thing is that despite the fact that I crochet and all that, I never measure. I just make a chain until it looks long enough and go from there. Then, when the piece looks done, or when I run out of yarn, it's done. As a result, I have some of the strangest looking pillows ever seen in my apartment right now. The one I finished last night is a case in point. It's about six inches wide, about 18 inches long, and about 3 inches high. I decided to make this one kind of like a bolster, so I had to make two end pieces. Well, I didn't measure, and they didn't quite fit, but I faked it. I also bought cheap stuffing (not going to do that again, I think). The result is a a weird, lopsided, lumpy mess. But at the same time, it is amazingly cool.

My point to all this is that I seem to be combining the best qualities of my mom and dad when it comes to creating. And I think that is pretty cool.

My next obsession after crocheting pillows is going to be quilting. We'll see how that no measuring, no pattern thing works out with that.

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