Like losing a game of mini whack-a-mole

  I'm sure everyone can see there's something wrong in this picture. The above is the result of two things. The first is, my bobbin ran out. A bobbin is not a mythical creature from Middle Earth, even though it may sound like one. Still, it can be just as diabolical. A bobbin is the spool of thread that feeds from the underside of the material you're sewing. There is a second spool of thread, that feeds from the top and runs through the sewing needle. It is easy to see that one. That spool is large and lasts a long time. The bobbin, however, is a small spool and runs out frequently. The sewing needle performs a hypnotic dance, weaving back and forth like an adder in a snake charmer's basket. Meanwhile, Bilbo Bobbins leaves on an unexpected journey and you suddenly realize you have a trail of half stitches that, in a sailmaker's world, is the making of a story worth repeating: "Remember when Bonnie's bobbin ran out and she didn't notice?" I soon discovered the reason that mistake was such a big deal. It's the time-consuming nature of fixing it, which brings me to the second reason the seam in the photo looks like a teenaged boy's first attempt at repairing a favorite T-shirt. You have to run the fabric through the machine a second time and make sure the needle goes through every hole you already punctured. More holes are unsightly and weaken the material. I could barely sew in a straight line the first time. Aligning the needle to the tiny holes stitch by stitch, well, it's a word that rhymes with stitch and begins with a "B."  As I keep practicing, I am training my eyes to glance behind the needle, akin to checking the rear-view mirror of a car. I am also training my ears to listen to the rattling parts of the machine, for subtle changes that indicate my bobbin is nearly empty. I left the loft Friday afternoon exhausted, hanging my clipboard on its nail. The clipboard has  lists of skills I must learn. At the top is "seaming." I can hardly check it off, but at least I know what seams are. After that, however, are a string of tasks written in a foreign tongue. I can't wait to speak sailmaker. I think I'll be cool then, and running out of bobbin won't make people feel as though they've "pulled a Bonnie."       

 

I'm sure everyone can see there's something wrong in this picture. The above is the result of two things. The first is, my bobbin ran out. A bobbin is not a mythical creature from Middle Earth, even though it may sound like one. Still, it can be just as diabolical. A bobbin is the spool of thread that feeds from the underside of the material you're sewing. There is a second spool of thread, that feeds from the top and runs through the sewing needle. It is easy to see that one. That spool is large and lasts a long time. The bobbin, however, is a small spool and runs out frequently.

The sewing needle performs a hypnotic dance, weaving back and forth like an adder in a snake charmer's basket. Meanwhile, Bilbo Bobbins leaves on an unexpected journey and you suddenly realize you have a trail of half stitches that, in a sailmaker's world, is the making of a story worth repeating: "Remember when Bonnie's bobbin ran out and she didn't notice?"

I soon discovered the reason that mistake was such a big deal. It's the time-consuming nature of fixing it, which brings me to the second reason the seam in the photo looks like a teenaged boy's first attempt at repairing a favorite T-shirt. You have to run the fabric through the machine a second time and make sure the needle goes through every hole you already punctured. More holes are unsightly and weaken the material. I could barely sew in a straight line the first time. Aligning the needle to the tiny holes stitch by stitch, well, it's a word that rhymes with stitch and begins with a "B." 

As I keep practicing, I am training my eyes to glance behind the needle, akin to checking the rear-view mirror of a car. I am also training my ears to listen to the rattling parts of the machine, for subtle changes that indicate my bobbin is nearly empty. I left the loft Friday afternoon exhausted, hanging my clipboard on its nail. The clipboard has  lists of skills I must learn. At the top is "seaming." I can hardly check it off, but at least I know what seams are. After that, however, are a string of tasks written in a foreign tongue. I can't wait to speak sailmaker. I think I'll be cool then, and running out of bobbin won't make people feel as though they've "pulled a Bonnie." 

 

 

 

Day One: How to Hunga Dunga

Photo by Halie Sloat I know it may be hard to tell, but in this very photo, I am hunga dunga-ing.  See those black thingy-dos on the rolled up part of the fabric? You guessed it: Hunga dungas. I hope you're saying this word out loud. It's the best thing since "baggy wrinkle."  OK, I'm sorry about the hype. A hunga dunga is just a piece of PVC pipe that keeps the fabric from coming unrolled. The roll makes it easier to feed the fabric through a sewing machine.  In other exciting news, I sewed a seam between two panels of Dacron in a relatively straight line. That's good since I was worried I might not be capable of such a feat, at least not on my first go. The thrill lessened only slightly after I practiced for five hours.  As the day drew on, my stitching improved and then worsened when fatigue set in. The last time I exercised such extreme concentration for hours on end might have been when I took the GREs six years ago. Just imagine instead of filling in a circle to respond to a question, you have to fold the test into the shape of your answer.  Today, if my seams are straight, I will graduate to constructing a small sail for someone in town. "But we won't put our label on it," my coworker explained. "Well, you know, unless it's good." Challenge accepted.   

Photo by Halie Sloat

I know it may be hard to tell, but in this very photo, I am hunga dunga-ing. 

See those black thingy-dos on the rolled up part of the fabric? You guessed it: Hunga dungas. I hope you're saying this word out loud. It's the best thing since "baggy wrinkle." 

OK, I'm sorry about the hype. A hunga dunga is just a piece of PVC pipe that keeps the fabric from coming unrolled. The roll makes it easier to feed the fabric through a sewing machine. 

In other exciting news, I sewed a seam between two panels of Dacron in a relatively straight line. That's good since I was worried I might not be capable of such a feat, at least not on my first go. The thrill lessened only slightly after I practiced for five hours. 

As the day drew on, my stitching improved and then worsened when fatigue set in. The last time I exercised such extreme concentration for hours on end might have been when I took the GREs six years ago. Just imagine instead of filling in a circle to respond to a question, you have to fold the test into the shape of your answer. 

Today, if my seams are straight, I will graduate to constructing a small sail for someone in town.

"But we won't put our label on it," my coworker explained. "Well, you know, unless it's good."

Challenge accepted. 

 

How to get a job you don't know how to do.

  One week ago today I was aimless, jobless and homeless. The good people of Port Townsend changed that in less than a week. Now I live here and I am a sailmaker's apprentice.  I do not know how to sew. I have never aided nor abetted in the construction of a sail. Still, something happened in the sail loft last Monday that always seems to occur at key moments in my life. I told someone I could do it, that I would work hard and learn quickly, and they believed me.  The first time that happened, the L.A. Times hired me as a summer intern for the short-lived and now-defunct Outdoors Section. The recruiter asked me questions like, "What do you read?" I trembled and held a newspaper in front of my chest to conceal the sweat stains under the arms of my blue Oxford and responded, "I don't." The recruiter shook his head and asked me if I had any idea how many people applied for an internship at the paper.   I may have mustered a nod.  I sat in front of the recruiter for one reason. I had read an advertisement about the Outdoors Section and sent an email to the editor with a desperate request to be a part of the venture. I was 20 years old and in my third year at Hampshire College. My self-designed major was Journalism: Writing About the Outdoors and I founded and edited an adventure-travel literary magazine on campus. That editor said I should apply with the recruiter. I lied and told the recruiter I was swinging by L.A. on my winter break and very much wanted to stop in and see him. He agreed. I bought the first airplane ticket of my adult life, wincing as I clicked "purchase" in anticipation of my parents' disapproval at traveling somewhere so far away and dangerous.  After the recruiter had had enough of me, I met Bob Sipchen, the Outdoors Section editor. Bob had outdoor magazines spread across his office, guarded by a large, foam banana slug. I began to relax as I shook Bob's hand from underneath the bottom edge of my newspaper.  "I like Bonnie," Bob said to the recruiter after a few minutes. "Let's hire her." I told Bob I could do it and he believed me.  How to get a job you don't know how to do: 1. Prepare I don't know how to sew sails. I do know how to sail boats. I didn't know how to work as a professional journalist. I did have basic writing skills and a knowledge of outdoor adventure sports. Everything you do is a step. You might not know what the next step—or leap—will be, so make the most of each one. An employer should be able to look at your resume and see potential rather than limitations.  2. Believe in yourself. Not everyone will believe you when you promise to work hard and learn quickly. But, in the right place at the right time, they will. You have to take that first step. You have to take a chance before someone takes a chance on you. 3. Let your friends and family help you. When it came time to work out the details after I bought my ticket to L.A., my friends and family helped me and I would not have made it to my interview without them. Same goes for Port Townsend. Don't have friends or family like that? See Appendix B. Appendix B Become a tall ship sailor.   

 

One week ago today I was aimless, jobless and homeless. The good people of Port Townsend changed that in less than a week. Now I live here and I am a sailmaker's apprentice

I do not know how to sew. I have never aided nor abetted in the construction of a sail. Still, something happened in the sail loft last Monday that always seems to occur at key moments in my life. I told someone I could do it, that I would work hard and learn quickly, and they believed me. 

The first time that happened, the L.A. Times hired me as a summer intern for the short-lived and now-defunct Outdoors Section. The recruiter asked me questions like, "What do you read?"

I trembled and held a newspaper in front of my chest to conceal the sweat stains under the arms of my blue Oxford and responded, "I don't."

The recruiter shook his head and asked me if I had any idea how many people applied for an internship at the paper.  

I may have mustered a nod. 

I sat in front of the recruiter for one reason. I had read an advertisement about the Outdoors Section and sent an email to the editor with a desperate request to be a part of the venture. I was 20 years old and in my third year at Hampshire College. My self-designed major was Journalism: Writing About the Outdoors and I founded and edited an adventure-travel literary magazine on campus. That editor said I should apply with the recruiter. I lied and told the recruiter I was swinging by L.A. on my winter break and very much wanted to stop in and see him. He agreed. I bought the first airplane ticket of my adult life, wincing as I clicked "purchase" in anticipation of my parents' disapproval at traveling somewhere so far away and dangerous. 

After the recruiter had had enough of me, I met Bob Sipchen, the Outdoors Section editor. Bob had outdoor magazines spread across his office, guarded by a large, foam banana slug. I began to relax as I shook Bob's hand from underneath the bottom edge of my newspaper. 

"I like Bonnie," Bob said to the recruiter after a few minutes. "Let's hire her."

I told Bob I could do it and he believed me. 

How to get a job you don't know how to do:

1. Prepare

I don't know how to sew sails. I do know how to sail boats. I didn't know how to work as a professional journalist. I did have basic writing skills and a knowledge of outdoor adventure sports. Everything you do is a step. You might not know what the next step—or leap—will be, so make the most of each one. An employer should be able to look at your resume and see potential rather than limitations. 

2. Believe in yourself.

Not everyone will believe you when you promise to work hard and learn quickly. But, in the right place at the right time, they will. You have to take that first step. You have to take a chance before someone takes a chance on you.

3. Let your friends and family help you.

When it came time to work out the details after I bought my ticket to L.A., my friends and family helped me and I would not have made it to my interview without them. Same goes for Port Townsend. Don't have friends or family like that? See Appendix B.

Appendix B

Become a tall ship sailor.