I Don't Know How

I was buzzing around commenting on cool blog posts the other day, when I happened upon what I thought was one of the saddest comments I’ve ever read:

“I’d love to make this project, but I don’t know how to sew.”

The finality of this comment was striking. The implication, to me, was: “and I’ll never learn.”

I confess, it made me feel angry at first. Like, why would you give up like that? What is it in your DNA that makes you not do something simply because you have yet to acquire a skill that would allow you to do what you claim to want? There are 8 million tutorials online that would teach you this very thing! What is the matter with you!?!

Now, when I get like this, I know there’s something up. We despise in others what we despise in ourselves, right? So, I took a step back and looked again, and what I came up with was this…

There’s something that has made this person afraid to ask for things. Shyness, bad experiences, whatever. It’s real and it’s there. Those of us who have been building our skill sets for some time forget what a beginner’s fear level can be like. When I taught dance, it was easy to gauge because I could see their faces. I had a physical reminder to go slow, be kind, give loving corrections, and nurture their sparks of interest. Online, it’s harder to remember to do that stuff. People get left behind. People are afraid to ask. People end up saying things like: “I’d love to make this, but…”

The craft community, as a whole, is pretty good at sharing information, skills, etc., but as long as there are people who are afraid to ask us things due to our perceived "status" in the craft world, we've got a problem. I'm shooting for 100% in this area. I'd like to see exactly nobody slip through the cracks. If someone is curious about how to do something, I want to be there to offer help or a decent referral.

So, I just wanted to publicly say: If there’s something you want to ask me, if there’s a skill I can help you with, if there’s a problem we can work together on, if there’s something I have that you need, if you want to make something that I know how to make…ask. Do not worry for one second that you are bothering me…just ask. I may not always have time to help in the most complete manner, but I’ll do my best. Life is far too short to sit around wishing that you knew how to do something as simple as sewing, or anything else for that matter.


  1. I was going to leave you a lengthly reply here, but decided that just two words will do.....

    'Well said'.

    Thanks for sharing, it's a pleasure to read your blogs.

  2. I don't know how to sew but I intend to learn. Frankly I am excited to learn. Sewing and welding are the two skills I plan to get under my belt in the next 6 months or so. I have already bought a used sewing machine at a yard sale and I have acquired the parts to build a welder. Yeah, I want to build a welder. I figure I will have more of a sense of ownership of the project that way.

  3. I love this post (as always), Paul! And I'm in total agreement. If there's anything I'd love to see happen in the crafty blogosphere, it's a completely open sharing of ideas and techniques. And no perceived "pecking order" among bloggers. Everyone has things to learn and everyone has things to teach. That's why this whole thing is so cool.

  4. Great post!

    Let me know if you are asked about doing something that you are unfamiliar with, as I have a pretty extensive crafting/artsy background and would love to lend a hand! So far, I have yet to come across a craft I haven't been able to tackle. (I just made two cigar box guitars!)


  5. you've inspired a new post on my blog. thank you!

  6. Thanks everyone for the great comments. Sorry I'm so late to the party. Been out all day! Anthoo, thanks for taking the time. Rock on.


  7. Thank you for the reminder

  8. Okay, I'm pretty crafty, so trying a new skill won't scare me off. I have other hang-ups to do with other areas of my life. I think I'll re-read your pep-talk article and insert problem X into it instead of "sew" and see if I feel the courage to face those other challenges. Thanks Paul!

  9. Christine - Well, that's the real point, isn't it? We all have those hang-ups around this or that that keep us from doing things that would make us happy or heal us. I've been taking some inventory around that myself lately. Good luck.

  10. Well said. I always hear 'I can't draw" and try to encourage people but your last paragraph struck me like a bolt of lightning. An offer to help anyone, anywhere. That is powerful. That is the new 'Pay it forward'.

  11. You know, one of the things I like about some of your posts is you seem good at looking at things from other people's point of view to get a better understanding of how they got to where they are in their mindset.

    I've always been frustrated when people don't seem willing to get in and give something a go because they haven't been formally taught how. I've met a lot of people who won't attempt something unless they're sure they are competent at every stage of the process, rather than being willing to use it as a learning experience. I'm too far the other way - I would have smoother progress if I learned more background before attempting things, I tend to just jump in and (try to) work it out myself as I go.

    It's good to see you exemplifying the message of your mentor post. Thanks for the reminder to take a little more time to see things from the other guy's perspective.

  12. Don and Matt - Thanks so much for the thoughtful comments!

  13. just wanted to add that sometimes barriers to creating exist because of systemic oppression - it's a privilege that i have a computer and can come read your blog regularly - or read at all. it's a privilege that i have any time to craft and don't spend all my time just trying to support myself at some non-crafty job(s) just to survive. and things like sewing, with a machine, can turn out to be expensive endeavors.

    it's also a privilege to have been taught that you're capable of learning new things, that sometimes "failure" is worthwhile, that your desires are valid. i often deal with these blocks when i'm working with youth and young adults. especially youth of color, those with non-normative sexuality and gender, who don't have class privilege, etc.

    so when some people make a comment like "I can't..." i think it can actually be a complicated position. i understand that this is not everyone's position, but it's worthwhile to keep it part of the conversation. and i would venture to say that the people most affected by "I can't..." states of mind probably will not benefit from your offer.

    this is not to impune you/your offer (i am all for skill-sharing it is incredibly important), it's just something i wanted to bring to the table in the spirit of contemplating art and change. especially art and social change.

  14. Bex - Indeed. Thanks for bringing this to the conversation. There is much to be grateful for.

    Having been a High School teacher, I can attest to the fact that, many times, you do run into the blocks you speak of. Kids go without many things that we take for granted and are terrified of making mistakes for a variety of reasons. Whether or not they can successfully navigate their way through "I can't" and end up at "I can" depends on many factors.

    Thanks for the comment.