Finally finishing graduate school this year was the hardest thing that I have done in my life. Working through the challenge, I learned so much about myself. Part of that was learning how important it is to me to sew – to work with my hands, to design, and to create. Sewing is my rock that gets me through hard times. Curious to see if others have had similar experiences, I asked some other sewists to share their personal connections between sewing and making it through graduate school. I’m excited to introduce Vicki of Another Sewing Scientist.
Sewing Scientists are the coolest kind of scientists. It’s true. (Trust me, I’m a scientist.) Confession time: I’m not Dr. Another Sewing Scientist. I have 18 years of schooling, but never wanted to do a PhD. I did a Graduate Certificate in Biotechnology in 1999, and the program has since been altered to be an MSc, so make of that what you will!
That being said, I’ve worked in research labs for 20+ years now, doing everything from ocean sediment sampling, to plowing experimental fields for barley planting, to designing drug assays, to brain surgery. Yes, brain surgery; it takes a steady hand, lots of pre-planning before you cut, and the ability to monitor and juggle several projects simultaneously. And then there’s a bit of hand stitching at the end. Exactly like sewing. ;)
I’ve spent many hours over dinner or drinks (more often drinks) with colleagues during which the conversation tends to veer towards the personal: we all do the same kind of research, but how do we differ? Turns out, we all have a secret creative side: my project manager studies classical voice; my post-doc is a singer/songwriter, my grant reviewer is a film maker, the annual parasitology conference I attend is organized by a woman who crochets baby blankets for all her favourite PIs…. there is even an auction night to raise money for a student travel fund, and the highest bid usually goes to the works of a professor emeritus who does watercolours of parasites!
Conversations with these creative scientists tend to go like this: “Well, when I started university, it was a toss-up between creative pursuit X and my scientific field, and I decided that I could always be a scientist during the day and do my creative projects after hours, but I wouldn’t be able to do the opposite.”
Indeed. Home genetic engineering is highly frowned upon, both by one’s neighbours and one’s government, while home sewing is much less likely to land you in jail. (aside: rather than the famous “Home Sewing is Easy” fabric, wouldn’t it be fabulous to have “Home Genetic Engineering is Easy”? No? Just me then. Ok, how about browsing the extensive science collection of fabrics at spoonflower instead. The diatom prints are my favourites.
The downside to being a sewing scientist is lack of time. Since going back to full-time work after my last maternity leave, I usually only have a few hours to myself per week, and that doesn’t include sewing as often as it used to. Case in point: I’ve been working on this “1 hour” skirt for more than a week already, sewing in 10 minutes snatches. Luckily, my kids are getting older and more independent, and I can see that soon I’ll have longer and longer stretches to myself again.
I’m constantly inspired by things in my lab. I have one project in the works that I’ve been steadfastly piecing together since last year’s Project Runway unconventional challenge that saw Justin Leblanc made a “test tube” dress (which was actually made with pipet tips. I was so adamant about correcting that mistake that I wrote a blog post about it. I’m also working on a fabric painting project based on my alamar blue yeast assays. The colours are mesmerizing.
But hands down, the best part of being a sewing scientist is all the travel I get to do. For the past 5 years, I’ve worked on a project with partners in Canada, USA, Botswana and South Africa. That means travel to all the research centres for technology transfers and conferences. That means fabric shopping, and even the occasional meetup! While I’m very unlikely to buy typical souveniers of these work trips, I always come home with my baggage tipping the weight limit in fabrics. Always.