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.*
- 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.
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.
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.
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.