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Go Back   AikiWeb Aikido Forums > AikiWeb AikiBlogs > Seeking Zanshin: Blood, Sweat, Tears & Aikikai

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Seeking Zanshin: Blood, Sweat, Tears & Aikikai Blog Tools Rating: Rate This Blog
Creation Date: 02-24-2005 11:53 PM
jducusin
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One small gal + a dojo full of big guys = tons o' fun
Blog Info
Status: Public
Entries: 272 (Private: 12)
Comments: 195
Views: 274,644

In Humor The Aiki of Sewing (!) Entry Tools Rate This Entry
  #234 New 08-16-2008 01:34 PM
As further evidence that:
a) I over-think things
b) I really was an English major once
c) I have Aikido on the brain the vast majority of the time (which explains the lack of space in there for much else)
d) I should give up on all these silly metaphors and parallels I always seem to observe the more I train in the art
or
e) all of the above,

...I wanted to share something amusing I discovered while sewing some gifts today. I'm not sure how many other of you Aikidoka have used a sewing machine before, but chances are if you have, you already know that it can be a rather finicky process --- not unlike a certain other process we all know and love. (Okay --- or make that "love-hate", depending on what progress you're making with your training or even on what technique you happen to be working on.)

Now those who know me well understand that I am nowhere near being a technological pariah (I love electronic gadgets, the mechanics of things and working with my hands in these respects) and that I strive to be extremely detail-oriented. Or anal, depending on who you talk to. That said, these characteristics are ones that you would think would practically guarantee me success in my sewing endeavours. Not so, I'm afraid. After all, what really does?

First of all, some quick context for those who might not be familiar with how a sewing machine works...in a nutshell, the machine manipulates two threads that bind your fabric together:
- the top thread, which is on a larger spool and ends up getting threaded through the needle, and
- the bottom thread, which is on a much smaller spool called a bobbin installed in the bottom platform of the machine underneath the needle.
As the needle moves up and down, it inserts the thread into the fabric and pulls up the thread from the bobbin --- which results in a weaving or interlocking of both top and bottom threads back and forth and in turn joins the fabric together. Uh...ideally. Sounds simple, doesn't it?

Well, I had been struggling the other evening with a really annoying problem I was having in sewing velcro to these little purses I was making. The machine would work fine for maybe the first few seconds and then completely jam up --- the needle wouldn't move up and down and the fabric seemed stuck; when I tried to take the item off the work surface, I barely could --- the bottom thread looked like dozens of tangled threads tightly matted to the fabric (nothing at all like the single, clean line of stitching that it should have been). After fighting with the machine for some time --- which involved having to:
- wrench the fabric from it
- cut off the matted threads
- open up the bobbin casing and clean out the tangled threads underneath and
- start sewing all over again
(only to find after just a few seconds the very same problem) and "rinsing and repeating" several aggravating times all with the same non-result, I only just barely decided against throwing my (brand-new) machine out the window in frustration and took a closer look at things.

As I moved the wheel that controlled the needle slowly up and down with the bobbin casing open, I saw that the top thread would loop itself over a mechanism below and get caught --- undoubtedly the source of the problem. However, nothing in the manual suggested a solution and I was certain that I had followed all of the directions --- this new machine wasn't so different in its procedures from the old one I had worked on for so many years, after all. After a long, frustrating night, I left well enough alone.

It wasn't until the day after, when I spoke to my mother-in-law about the problem --- herself having sewn a great deal in the past and being a far more experienced seamstress than I --- that she (bless her dear heart) had a suggestion. It seems that she too had once experienced a similar problem and told me that the cause of it was that she had threaded the top portion improperly. Now, I was fairly convinced that I had followed every instruction in the manual on how to do so quite carefully; I had even gone so far as to humour it, as far as I was concerned --- after all, I had been sewing for almost twenty years now and it's not like it's "Rocket Science".

But at this point, I was desperate to try any fix that might solve the problem --- I loathed the idea of having to send my brand new machine back to the manufacturer to be repaired and the delay it would cause me in my projects. So there I was this morning, going through each step and each diagram one by one, making sure I did everything exactly right. And at the outset, it seemed that I did. Every single step it asked and demonstrated, I had replicated all along.

Except of course, for one little, nagging thing...

Now, you have to appreciate that very appropriately, the introduction to this particular section in my sewing machine manual states:
"This is a simple operation but it is important to carry out correctly as by not doing so (and this part is underlined) several sewing problems could result." No kidding.

You would never have guessed it, but my problem was caused by something that they did not at all mention in the text, nor draw attention to in the least, save for the detail being shown rather inconspicuously in the very last, small diagram. Whereas with my old machine, before starting to sew you brought the top thread under the presser foot, with this new machine you left it hanging on top of it. No mention of this, anywhere at all. They never drew attention to it. You just had to infer it from the diagram.

And this was when the light bulb came on. I couldn't help but laugh out loud. This was just like learning Aikido. You may think that you've got the general form of something down pat, but leave out just one simple, seemingly minor detail and things go seriously awry.

Not only that, but it's just like learning from a Japanese shihan: they never outright tell you everything you need to do, they assume that you will infer it from what you're seeing!

Other cute parallels between sewing and Aikido I've noticed:

In both, maintaining proper tension is vitally important. In sewing, an imbalance in tension between the two threads results in ugly, uneven stitches and a possible break in the seam. In Aikido, an imbalance in tension between uke and nage results in ugly, bumpy technique and a possible break in connection between attacker and defender. When the tension between the two is equal and balanced, you get:
- in sewing, a smooth and consistent line
- in Aikido, smooth, flowing and effective technique.

And of course, no matter how experienced you believe you are and how much you think you know, there is always more to be learned from practitioners who have struggled at it longer than you have.

The moral of the story is: Aikido is a highly complex art with layers upon layers of dimensions of thought and movement that go into the performance of each technique such that more often than not, the solution to a problem you're having is one that you might consider a seemingly minor or even arbitrary, detail. The process of solving your problem relies upon painstakingly examining every aspect of what you're doing and how you're moving as well as experimenting and discovering ways of adjusting and adapting by attempting what will often be extremely subtle changes in your movement and your state of mind at different times.

Hope you enjoyed my rather long-winded little tale and that it might give some folks a good chuckle or even some new insights. It definitely did both for me.

All the best in your training,
Jamie
Views: 1314 | Comments: 3


RSS Feed 3 Responses to "The Aiki of Sewing (!)"
#3 09-09-2008 02:23 PM
jducusin Says:
(part two of two) Which is why I think it's nice that my own sensei always tells beginners to look at the feet first when learning a new technique so they don't get overwhelmed. Gotta love Aikido --- so many details, you never stop learning!
#2 09-09-2008 02:23 PM
jducusin Says:
(part one of two) Thanks for the comment! I agree with the idea of learning "how to learn" --- it sounds so counterintuitive, you'd think that so much of it would be 2nd nature but I've worked with enough students with Learning Disabilities now that I've learned not to take it for granted. It's kind of like learning "study skills" for martial artists.
#1 08-24-2008 08:46 AM
CatSienna Says:
I'm klutzy with needle and thread so i can entirely see how one little detail can entirely mess things up. At least you managed to figure it out. I would never have got that far Parallel with a japanese shihan was funny. Made me think that I realise the more I do aikido that it is like any other form of education. Part of its value lies in teaching you how to learn and how to observe and see things rather than in the content of what's taught. Thanks for putting it so concretely.
 




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