Sewing for Self-Care

Most long-time readers of Sew for Victory will know that I came to sewing during a battle with severe anxiety. At the time, I was stuck in a state of permanent physical panic and was working to find a solution that lay outside of a doctor’s office. Although sewing was by no means a cure, it took me out of my head and let me put all of my issues on pause for a brief period of time. Since then, things have really turned around for me. While I never count myself totally free and clear, I now have a whole toolkit of self-care techniques that keep me in check.

That said, it’s inevitable that new battles emerge. I mentioned in my post on Monday that I’ve been on a bit of a blog hiatus while I’ve been dealing with a bad bout of homesickness. It’s been about 5 months since I moved to the US and it’s definitely not been the easiest transition in the world. Anyone who has moved country knows that it comes replete with challenges. Since I’ve lived in the US before – albeit for brief periods of time – and I was also going to be moving closer to my parents – who are English but have lived in the US for about 12 years – I figured it would be super easy. Not to mention that I was actually going to be back with my then-fiance and finally able to get married. But I’ve learnt that none of this is a guard against missing what you’re used to.

My instinct when I feel down is always to wrap myself up on the sofa and binge on some reality TV. But I know, after many years of figuring this stuff out, that this rarely works to turn things around. So, after letting myself mope for a couple of weeks, I’m back on my self-care game with a vengeance. And, in light of what I’ve been going through recently, I wanted to share my tips for using sewing as a method of self-care!

*An important side-note: sewing is definitely not a cure for mental illness. I got better through a whole range of things, including help from doctors and therapists. But, for me, the holistic approach always works best. Sewing is a huge component of how I maintain my happiness and positivity and I definitely recommend creative endeavours to anyone struggling. But I absolutely see this as a companion to other kinds of intervention. Please make sure to pay a visit to your doctor or call a helpline if you are in a bad way.*

  1. Pick a project that works for you

It’s important that, when you’re sewing during a difficult time, you have a plan. Since my mind is typically all over the place when I’m feeling down, it’s especially difficult to focus. The beauty of sewing is that its very nature demands your attention. So, before you sit down at your sewing table, make sure you know what it is that you’re going to be working on. Otherwise there’s a good chance that you’ll spend the next 30 minutes staring into space whilst you try to decide what your next project will be, ultimately leaving you frustrated and feeling a bit like you’ve failed.

In order to help with this, I have a designated monthly page in my bullet journal where I plan out my projects for the month. Although I might not get around to all of them, it gives me a clear vision of what I have lined up. For each project, I then break down into bullet points the specific things I need to work on. For instance: cut pattern pieces; cut fabric pieces; construction; seam finishes. This list can really get as detailed as you want it to. Have a look at the photo further down in my post to see how this looks in practice (*disclaimer: I am artistically challenged*).

I’ve found that keeping track of projects in my bullet journal is a really helpful way of avoiding the inevitable fuzzy-brain that accompanies anxiety, depression, stress, homesickness etc. I tend to set up my sewing page a couple of weeks in advance each month so that I can develop my plans on a rolling basis, when I’m in a good frame of mind. This gives you the flexibility of avoiding making these decisions when your mind isn’t in the best place. And it gives you a super accessible and well thought out reference point for when you’re feeling down but know that you want to sew.

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2.  Set aside some time, daily

Now, this may not work for everyone. I have the luxury of flexibility when it comes to structuring and planning my day. But some people have other obligations that might keep them from designating daily sewing time, or they might just have a whole list of self-care techniques that they choose to mix and match. However, when I’m feeling at my lowest, it’s helpful for me to commit to sewing as a daily activity. This means that, even if I only spend 5 minutes at my sewing table, I’m actively carving out time to focus on something that I love to do.

For me, the best strategy is not telling myself that I must be chained to my sewing room for a pre-allocated amount of time. I don’t force myself to sit for an hour, or even 15 minutes. Instead, I simply commit to sitting at my sewing table on a daily basis and seeing where it takes me. Most of the time, I expect to give up within a couple of minutes. But, more often than not, I get quickly engaged in the activity and end up sitting there for  well over an hour.

Since most of us, when we feel down, end up stuck in a cycle of lethargy and guilt, finding something to commit to daily is a super important step. Sometimes this commitment will be something as seemingly small as getting dressed in the morning, or making sure that you eat three meals. I’ve had days where these things are a massive victory. Investing in a creative project is a demanding thing and sometimes you won’t quite be up to the task. Be kind to yourself and acknowledge what’s achievable for you.

3.  Acknowledge what you’ve achieved

This follows on from what I said above and also relates back to bullet journaling. It is absolutely vital that you find some way of keeping track of what you’re achieving. My bullet journal is one component of this because it allows me to check things off of my list. The act of doing this is incredibly satisfying. But it’s vital that you also keep a daily log of what you’ve done, where you’re actively noting what you’ve achieved. This can be as simple as writing down ‘I sat for 5 minutes and planned out my projects for November’, or ‘I finally started to attach the sleeves to my top’, or ‘I actually got around to changing the threads in my serger. It was a nightmare’. Just making a note of these things, however seemingly small, is so important. It promotes a feeling of accomplishment and success – which we all need on a rolling basis, but is particularly necessary when we’re feeling blue. I also find it helps to note down how I’m feeling about what I’ve done. Maybe getting myself to sit down at my sewing machine was super hard that day or maybe I feel particularly triumphant. This all provides a great record of your progress and your achievements.

You could make a project of this record, as I’ve done with keeping my bullet journal (although sewing is just one small component of what goes into my journal). You might even use a blog or social media – such as Instagram – to keep track of things. There are definitely ways to make this into a larger and more involved hobby, which can be incredibly rewarding in itself.

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4.  Share, share, share

Since I’ve been dealing with a particularly acute bout of homesickness, one of the best remedies has been renewing my connection with the sewing community. I’m very lucky in that I already have this blog on the go and a community through social media. But it’s easy to have these things and still feel isolated. Sharing your creativity with others should be an active and engaging process. Read other blogs, comment on people’s photos, share your experiences. Each of these things will make you feel a part of something bigger and you’ll find that you end up attracting people with similar tastes and experiences. I posted on Instagram earlier in the week and mentioned that I’d been feeling homesick. I got some wonderful comments and messages from people, offering support and telling me about their own experiences. This was incredibly comforting and, given that I’m in a new country with a very limited network of people, made me feel far less alone.

Sharing your crafts will also help to reaffirm what you’re achieving. As I mentioned above, it’s important that you’re able to document what you’re doing so that you can recognise your accomplishments. Doing this online – or even by starting a Meetup group or attending a sewing class – is a fabulous way of keeping a record whilst also finding inspiration from others around you, and reminding you that you are part of a community of like-minded people.

5.  Find inspiration

It is vital to stay inspired. Inspiration is really at the heart of finding the motivation to sew and share what you are doing. It can be incredibly difficult to feel inspired when you’re struggling with other things and your mind is everywhere but on your sewing. To make sure that I stay inspired, I do a few different things. The first, and most important, is that I constantly check in with what other people are doing. I keep an eye on my Instagram, read other blogs, and generally look out for makes that might inspire my own creative instincts. This doesn’t always work. Sometimes I’m in a bad place and the last thing I want to do is be reminded of all those things that other people are achieving. It’s not always the healthiest thing to look to other people when you know that you’re going to be inclined to compare yourself negatively (trust me, I’ve been there!). In these instances, I keep a cache of photos on my computer and various bits of inspiration on my notice board in my sewing room. I’ve curated these as time has gone on to reflect the different kinds of inspiration that I usually need in order to get my creative juices flowing. Another great resource for this kind of thing is Pinterest. Although I’ve fallen off of the wagon a bit, I used to use it a lot as a place to store all of those pics and patterns that sparked my interest.

However you do it, make sure that you find a way to stay inspired through the dark times. Scrapbook, blog, use Pinterest, glue pictures all over your walls (unless you’re a renter like me, of course). Inspiration is perhaps the most important resource for ensuring that sewing remains a positive self-care technique.

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So there you go. My tips for self-care through sewing. If you’ve used sewing for similar reasons, definitely let me know if you have any of your own tips to add. Obviously all of this is based on personal experience, but I’m sure many of us share the opinion that sewing can be a powerful tool in difficult times. If you’re going through it right now, remember that everything really does pass and, before you know it, you’ll be in from the cold.

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The Cocktail Hour: An Update

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You might remember that, at the start of the year, I announced that I would be participating in The Cocktail Hour Blogger Tour! Well, many months later, my reveal is actually approaching! I’ll be posting on 17th November about my finished dress – and finally showing you all the pattern that I’ve been working with.

Thankfully, my Cocktail Hour project has been just the motivation I needed to kick-start my sewing again. After the endless disasters of the Zadie dress (which is still not finished because of various construction issues), I’ve been having a seriously hard time getting myself to sit back down at my machine. But I finally took myself out fabric shopping in the hopes that I would find just the right fabric to get me moving again! So here’s a little fabric teaser for the dress that you’ll be seeing here in a couple of weeks…

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Stars for days! Cocktail Hour appropriate, while still sufficiently Laura! This gem was picked up from Joann’s and, although the fraying is already a pain, I’m super happy with this fabric choice. I can’t wait to see how the finished dress turns out.

If you’re feeling in the mood for a challenge or need a bit of sewspiration, definitely check out the great collection of Cocktail Hour patterns. It’s an amazing selection and the proceeds from sales of the patterns are going to The Eve Appeal – so you’re also helping out an incredibly worthy cause! Here are some of my favourites:

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If you decide to participate (which you absolutely should!), make sure to post your makes with #sipandsew so that we can all see them. And stay tuned on 17th November to see my make!

Guest Post: 13 Basic Sewing Machine Maintenance Tips

A special treat today! The lovely Annabelle, who blogs over at Wunderlabel, has written a fantastic post about maintaining your sewing machine. I’m seriously the worst when it comes to sewing machine maintenance (in that I don’t do any) so I was super excited to learn some tips. This post is an excellent starting point for anyone who – like me – doesn’t have the first idea when it comes to maintaining their precious machine.

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Have you ever noticed that when if you don’t get a regular oil change on your car it seems to run differently?

You might not pay as much attention to it as I do…

But, I have noticed that right after I get my oil changed, it seems like my car is brand new again. It is almost like I have just given it a bath or fed it a good meal.

Well, your sewing machine is the same way…

As a seamstress or even just the part-time sewer, your sewing machine gets used quite often. It makes pillow cases, dresses, blankets, and various other crafts you design. So, it is important to keep your machine well-oiled and clean to ensure maximum efficiency. A dirty machine can lead to issues with your craft and also issues with the machine – which can be time-consuming and costly.

In addition, a dirty and not properly maintained sewing machine can lead to issues with sewing safety – you might poke yourself with a bad needle or something of the like. However, by practicing some proper maintenance steps, you will be on your way to a clean machine:

1. Read your owner’s manual

The first thing you should do when you get your sewing machine is read your manual…

But, you should keep this on hand so that you can also pull it back out when you go to clean or service the machine.

It might note the best ways to clean your specific machine or anything you need to know to avoid.
 

2. Always start by turning the machine off

Once you have reviewed your manual and are prepared to get the cleaning process started, turn your machine off.

This will help avoid any mishaps or injury during the cleaning.

During this time, you should also remove the extension table (if necessary) and take out your bobbin.
 

3. Use different brushes for different tasks

Just like one-size-fits-all doesn’t work in clothing, one-brush-fits-all doesn’t apply to cleaning your sewing machine…

Different parts of the machine need the attention of different brushes.

Tip: Use a stiff brush for removing lint and fuzz, such as around the feed dogs. Use a soft brush for picking up the stray pieces.
 

4. Oil your machine

Nothing works better than a well-oiled machine…

There are a lot of moving parts in a sewing machine that need to be lubricated to keep them running smoother and longer.

Invest in a good quality sewing machine oil – typically it will be clear and very fine.
 

5. Double check your oiling job

Once you have completed the oiling of your machine, it is time to ensure you have done the job correctly…

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, a little oil might still be lingering inside. So, simply sew a bit on a piece of scrap fabric to make sure everything is working smoothly and no excess oil is dripping down.
 

6. Avoid using canned air

The debate on whether or not to use canned air on your sewing machine continues…

But, I say don’t.

Using the canned air can add moisture to the sewing machine and only create more clumps of lint, which in turn, can clog up the machine.

Instead, use the various brush types I discussed in tip No. 3.
 

7. Clean the inside thoroughly

Do you remember when your mom asked you to clean your room as a child and you would just throw everything in the closet?

Well, throw that mentality out the door when it comes to cleaning your sewing machine.

It is important that you carefully address each and every part – from the feed dogs to the bobbin area to the needle plate.

8. Inspect the needle plate

Sometimes, the needle plate can get some nicks or burrs – this needs to be smoothed out. So, before you put your needle plate back, check it and smooth out any nicks or burrs you find with an emery cloth.
 

9. Clean the outside, too

While the inside of your machine is important, the outside deserves just as much attention. Start by cleaning the outside of the machine and work your way inside to avoid knocking any more dirt or grime into the machine.
 

10. Use high-quality needle and thread

Of course, half of the proper maintenance of your sewing machine is cleaning it properly.

But, the other half starts with using quality thread and needles to avoid any issues.

The low-quality thread is linty; therefore, it can get caught up in the machine and cause it to get dirty. Even some waxed and glazed thread can be bad for your machine.

Visit a sewing shop near you – they will know the best type of thread for your machine.
 

11. Use your cover 

One of the easiest ways to maintain your machine is to keep it covered when not in use. This will help avoid damage to the outside and help keep dust and other particles off.
 

12. Regularly change needles 

After hours of sewing, needles can become dull and might even become damaged. This can negatively affect your project and even damage your sewing machine.

Always ensure that all your equipment is in tip-top shape!
 

13. Ask a professional

In the end, it is all about who you know…

And, occasionally, you should know of a good, quality professional who can clean your sewing machine for you about once per year.

Typically, there is a tech who specializes in the cleaning of your specific machine.

 

While it might take some work on cleaning day, a properly maintained sewing machine works much better. Therefore, helping you create several high-quality, crafty pieces for years to come!

How often do you clean your sewing machine? Let us know in the comments!

 

About the author: Annabelle Short is a writer and a seamstress of more than 5 years. She loves making crafts with her two children, Leo (age 9) and Michelle (age 11). Annabelle likes to write about business, crafting and sewing, and parenting. She splits her time between London and Los Angeles and writes for Wunderlabel. You can visit her blog to learn more about her and her handmade creations.