This is definitely not a post that I anticipated having to write. For those of you who have been following my relationship/wedding journey, you’ll know that I was moving along quite happily with progress on my dress. I had a fabulous pattern, beautiful fabric, and a muslin that I had tailored to fit just as I wanted. Yet, for reasons that will be the subject of this post, I’ve wound up two days away from my wedding with no me-made dress. While you might think that I’d be freaking out – and, I won’t lie, there was a fair bit of that going on last week – I actually wish I’d decided to abandon the project sooner.
It’s inevitable that this post is going to turn into something of a P.S.A. for all other sewcialists out there, along the lines of a warning about ambition, internal pressure, and a lack attention to self-care. When I set out to make my wedding dress, it was really a distraction from the turmoil of dealing with a long-distance relationship and a lengthy immigration process. I needed some sort of project to focus on in order to remind myself that there was a light at the end of the LONG tunnel of forms, interviews, and waiting. Had I started even earlier than I did, I might have got the wedding dress finished in plenty of time. My main fear was that, if I started too early, the fit would end up being off if my measurements shifted – especially since I was going for such a tailored fit. Since I also had no idea when I’d finally get my visa and be able to move to the US or schedule a wedding date, it was also totally impossible to determine exactly how much time I would have between finishing the dress and actually getting married. So I delayed. I started sewing just before I left the UK and figured that I’d have plenty of time – around a month or so – to get it finished once I arrived stateside. This didn’t seem too outlandish to me, given that it’s a relatively simple pattern and one that I had already sewn up.
Looking back, I’m not sure that I could’ve dealt with the situation any better. But with the stress of packing up my life in the UK, moving to the US, and trying to get a wedding organised in a month, I definitely took on too much. Just trying to adjust to life in a new place is a big deal and takes up a surprising amount of time. At the end of it, I was left with a week to go until the wedding and no more progress on my dress. While I tried so hard to pull it round, the stress was overwhelming. I’ve shed many tears at my sewing machine before – the curse of being a perfectionist – but sometimes you just have to step back and ask whether its worth it. A wedding dress is such an important garment – perhaps the most important one you’ll wear over the course of your life. As much as I desperately wanted to sew my own, it was pretty necessary – for my sanity and peace of mind – that I admit defeat. Fortunately, I managed to buy one I love and with a few days to spare!
That said, I’ve learnt a whole lot about myself and my relationship with sewing over the course of this project. These are lessons that I’ll definitely be applying to any future projects – particularly those in which I’m sewing for some sort of event or feel especially invested in what I end up producing. So I thought it would be appropriate to close out my series of wedding dress posts with one on sewing without stress – alternatively titled, ‘How to avoid the mistakes I made’.
1. Remember why you sew
This was, for me, definitely the most important lesson. I was initially really hesitant to commit to sewing my own wedding dress, largely because it felt like it flew in the face of the fact that I sew for self-care. Sewing was a hobby that I developed at a really difficult time in my life. It was a distraction from overwhelming anxiety and debilitating panic attacks, when I struggled to even leave the house. I’m so far away from where I was then, but sewing remains a really fundamental part of my self-care regime. It’s time I take for me, where I’m given space to become totally absorbed in what I’m doing. Choosing to sew my own wedding dress – a high stress project at a high stress time of my life – was a decision that began to feel incredibly disconnected from the reasons why I took up sewing in the first place. That’s not to say that you can’t sew for self-care and still make important garments. You can do absolutely anything you set your mind to. I could’ve finished the wedding dress. I could’ve scrapped Version 1 and began again. But reminding myself of why I sew – primarily for self-care – gave me a much needed wake-up call and the ability to say that enough was enough.
As I said above, the conclusion doesn’t have to be that you scrap a project as soon as it stresses you out. But, if you’re stressing, it’s a good idea to adjust what you’re doing to minimise the negativity. This might simply mean taking a break – get a cup of tea, listen to some music or read a book. Put the garment away for an hour, a day, a week. Work on a different project. Do whatever you need to do to channel the stress elsewhere and return with a fresh perspective. Remembering why you took up sewing – whether simply as a new hobby, a professional skill, or as self-care – can help to pull things back to where they should be. Stress has no place at the sewing machine (unless you’ve sewn over your finger, of course).
2. Forget the ‘should’ and the ‘could’
I try to avoid these words as much as possible in everyday life. They are not healthy and they never lead the mind to anything good. The above paragraph should show you how easily toxic thoughts of this kind can fester – “I could’ve finished the wedding dress. I could’ve scrapped Version 1…” But this is totally where my mind was for the majority of this project. Despite my initial hesitation, I let myself get swept up in the idea that because I could sew my wedding dress, I should. Everyone would expect it after all, surely? If I didn’t turn up to my wedding in a me-made dress, wouldn’t everyone just be confused or doubt my sewing skills?
For anyone overcoming anxiety or other forms of – incredibly circular and self-defeating – mental illness, getting rid of the shoulds and coulds is one of the hardest battles. These words are often one of the main reasons why we end up where we do: I should have a better job than I do; I could just get out of bed, so why don’t I?; I should be happy and grateful for everything I have. What’s wrong with me? The power of these words is limitless and they come up more often than we’ve trained ourselves to realise. I only monitor my internal language because it was absolutely key to getting through the bad times. But this is not just a problem associated with mental illness. I notice that, in periods of general or high stress, the narrative comes straight back to me. And just because we’re doing crafting projects that we’ve actively chosen, doesn’t mean that we can’t experience stress and berate ourselves for not doing better. I should’ve just started this thing earlier and I wouldn’t be sewing it an hour before the event; Why couldn’t I just have done a better job on these seams? They’re such a piece of trash; Look at all of these bloggers and Instagrammers. They’re making such amazing garments. I should be doing that too. Seriously, why can’t I just do a better job? Does any of this sound familiar or even slightly recognisable to you? If so, you’re definitely not alone. These are the examples that came to mind exactly because they’re the thoughts I have most often. Putting yourself out there via blogs and social media is such an easy avenue to inescapable comparisons with others.
So do yourself a favour. Forget the coulds and the shoulds. Replace them with phrases like I want to or I choose not to. When you’re in periods of high stress – whether sewing a wedding dress, a commission that just won’t work out how you want it to, or a skirt with some beautiful and expensive fabric – remember that beating yourself up with guilt and regret won’t do anything to move you along or make you a better sewist. Talk to yourself the way you would your best friend or a child trying their hand at sewing. There wouldn’t be any shoulds there.
3. Do this the way that you want to do it
Whatever event or reason you’re sewing for, remember that ultimately it comes down to what you want to do. If you’re sewing for your wedding, it’s about the dress that you want to wear. Make sure that you stay realistic given your time frame but there’s no reason why you can’t get a little ambitious. Combined with the advice above, it’s absolutely key that you don’t compare what you’re doing to what anybody else has done. Your wedding dress doesn’t need to look like those you’ve seen on Facebook or Instagram. The joy of sewing is that you’re making things that are 100% certifiably yours. Take as much time as you need and as many tea breaks. Throw it in the bin a couple of times but be sure that, each time, you rescue it when you calm down and reassess (so don’t throw it on top of food rubbish. I suggest doing what I do and having a separate bin for fabric so you can be sure that any rescued projects aren’t tea bag stained!). Not everything is the catastrophe it seems.
And, something that I’ve had to remember – even if you decide to call it a day, you are not a failure. This is not a life-or-death situation. You tried, you learnt, and you ultimately decided that it wasn’t quite the right time or project for you. That’s seriously ok. It’s rectifiable. Even if it’s only a week until your wedding and you don’t have a dress. I’m proof that there is always a way forward. Nothing is worth your happiness or your peace of mind.
So go forth and sew! Remember the reasons why you first sat at that sewing machine and never forget that you are a superhero for sitting back at it every time things go pear-shaped. We’ve all had those days and part of the joy is – as with this post – sharing them with others.