I had an interesting conversation with Anna this morning as I was showing the steps to insert a zipper for this pocket.  It’s a complicated, many stepped process:  the zipper is heavy duty, and the fabric is lighter.  The fabric has to be cut into in order to place the zipper within a fabric ‘rectangle’, and then the second piece from the front has to be attached…finally the pocket itself is attached.  Nonetheless, it’s a process with many steps, and one I wouldn’t attempt to document verbally, unless there were a variety of illustrations.  It’s the sort of process that one has to re-figure out every time it’s done.


many sewing tasks are like that actually:  there are too many steps to properly remember, and they take place in such a small three-dimensional space with many layers and folds, that one has to rely on basic problem-solving skills in order to re-engineer the construction.  (Especially, as in our case, this is not a production process with many iterations…I’ve probably done 6 of these zippers in the past year…not many in sewing terms.)

it reminded me of my father’s approach to solving problems in his work-  which have been typically mathematical, geometric, and relate in some way to 3-d space as well.  He is fond of doing simple math problems in his head, and relies on memorizing a very few formulae and basic numbers,  re-developing each and every time the non-core concepts from the core.  For instance, he would memorize pi (to the 4th decimal place) and a couple formulas relating to spheres and circles, as well as the number of feet in a mile-  and that would be enough for every problem he needed to understand in the last 30-odd years.

Anna and I started talking about how we learn based on that pocket.  I’ve always believed I could learn anything from reading (apart from, perhaps, rock climbing and german, though I tried.) And truthfully, reading has served me very well: it taught me more than school or college ever did.

However, there are problems one encounters where even knowing what question is the right one to ask next is unclear.  When I started to learn web-programming, it was through back-figuring other examples in html, css, javascript, or php.  I’ve yet to read a book on the stuff, though I own a couple. But at points I’d be stumped, and know that if I could use english to describe my problem to a person, it would become clear immediately, but using keywords in google would do nothing-  as I didn’t yet know which question to ask.

This is perhaps because I don’t have an actual interest in knowing web programming; (unlike sewing) the websites I make are merely a means to an end– and knowing extraneous knowledge about it would be too time consuming. When I was seriously learning about sewing as a teen, I was so in love with the skill set I was voracious to know everything about it, regardless of immediate utility.

Knowing that I’ve relied on reading to teach myself almost anything, I’ve somewhat recently been thinking about how people learn who can’t, for what ever reason, use reading the same way.

I’ve had two close relationships with individuals who, as children, couldn’t read in a practical sense (dyslexia or learning disabilities.)  Both people are very smart.  yet both developed perspectives on the world that are foreign to me, in a very sense that is both intangible and difficult to pin down.  It’s perhaps similar to those stories one hears about perception: certain indiginous cultures perceive optical illusions differently than westernized cultures. Not being able to read as a child obviously requires the brain to develop atypical problem solving skills, and these might often lead to different results, and in the non-concrete space, very different interpretations of the world around them.

I’m going to be looking for learning styles tests next.

Posted by:Brook DeLorme