Sewing For Sweating: Making Your Own Activewear

I’ve alluded a few times to the fact that I spend most of my work week in athletic wear. Since I work from home and do yoga a couple of times a day, it’s really too much effort to get changed whenever I want to roll out my yoga mat. Despite this fact, I’ve never considered the possibility of sewing for a workout. This is really an oversight on my part because there are constantly pics of other sewist’s athletic makes floating around on social media. So I know that it’s possible! Now that I’m moving towards starting Yoga Teacher Training (I actually have an interview for a programme lined up!), I’ve been thinking increasingly about the need to start sewing some of my own yoga clothing. But where to start!?

Sewing athletic wear is quite different from sewing regular garments for a number of reasons. Most prominent is obviously the fabric. You’ll most likely be working with fabric that contains a good amount of spandex or lycra, so learning to sew with stretch fabric is a must! I’m still somewhat challenged in this arena – although getting a walking foot has helped immensely. You’ll want to be sure that you have all of the appropriate equipment for sewing such stretchy fabric, including machine feet and needles. It might also be a good idea to have a practice with some scraps of the material before diving right in. I found this great blog post written by Melissa Fehr on the Colette Blog – it goes into some of the things that need to be considered when selecting fabric for activewear.

It’s also super fortunate that many fabric sellers now separate out fabric for athletic garments. This is the case on fabric.com (who have a separate section for swimwear and activewear) and, for those with a bigger budget, at Mood. With sewing activewear so clearly on trend right now, it really isn’t tough to find the right kind of fabric for the job! Plus, there are some seriously striking colours and patterns out there!

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Fabric from RexFabrics LA

Once reassured that there’s plenty of fabric out there, it’s a question of finding the right sewing pattern. Obviously much of this will depend on the type of activity that you need the garments for – although there is certainly some overlap. Since my primary activity is yoga, I’ve spent the past couple of weeks on the hunt for potential yoga clothing patterns. There are few different places that are worth visiting if you’re on the lookout for activewear patterns! Here’s a list of some of my favourites:

– Fehr Trade

Melissa Fehr is a bit of a guru in the world of activewear sewing, so it’s not surprising that the patterns on offer from Fehr Trade are so great! I think I’m actually going to invest in their book – Sew Your Own Activewear – since it’s the same price as buying a couple of patterns. If you’re not in the market for more sewing books, however, there are plenty of individual patterns on sale, appropriate for a good variety of activities – including things like cycling and hiking! My favourite is the Knot-Maste Yoga Set (of course!) because it looks incredibly comfy:

KnotMaste from Fehr Trade

– Seamwork

Seamwork has a couple of really great patterns (the link above will also take you to an amazing feature about building your own activewear wardrobe). I’m a big fan of their Aires leggings – although I would probably replace the mesh insert with a contrast stretch fabric – in combination with the Rio top:

Aires and Rio

Patterns for Pirates

On a recommendation from one of my Instagram friends, I decided to check out the Peg Legs pattern from Patterns for Pirates. The nice thing with yoga pants is that you really can wear just about anything, as long as its comfy and you can move well in it. My collection includes pants that I’m sure are meant to be for running, as well as regular leggings and actual designated yoga pants. The Peg Legs pattern fits many – if not all – of these descriptions. In designing the pattern for a specific activity, the main choice comes in the fabric used (with running you’ll obviously opt for something stretchy but supportive with a good amount of compression to it, versus using a jersey fabric for regular leggings). I love this pattern for its versatility, but also the fact that it looks super good as shorts! Since we’re headed for 100F in the summer, shorts are a necessity!

Peg LegsSo there we have it! Something of a beginner’s guide to sewing your own activewear, thrown together from the bits of research I’ve done in hopes of building my own activewear wardrobe. Since yoga clothing is also super expensive (the contradictions abound!), it can actually work out to be a really cost effective route! I’ll be getting started on this soon and will definitely share my progress once I’m underway. In the meantime, if you have any tips or suggestions about activewear sewing, please do leave them in the comments below!

 

Book Review: Everyday Fashions Of The Forties By JoAnne Olian

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When I first picked up sewing as a hobby, it was almost an accident. I’d been on the lookout for an activity that would help me to channel the relative chaos of my life and had already cycled through a pretty impressive number of potential outlets – drawing and photography among them. I’d never had any previous inclination to take up sewing. In fact, my only encounter with a sewing machine when I was very young had left me terrified and certain that I would never touch one again. When I eventually decided to give sewing a go, it wasn’t due to a desire to overcome this long-established fear or a real passion for the idea of making my own clothes. Rather, it was a love of history – and vintage fashion, in particular – that first sparked my interest in getting reacquainted with the sewing machine.

I had always had a fascination with vintage styles. I’d taken up swing dancing while at university as an excuse to dress myself as authentically as possible. At the time, however, it never occurred to me that I might have greater success finding the outfits I was looking for were I to make them myself. Instead, I spent countless hours trawling eBay and a number of other sites for any authentic or replication 1920s-40s dresses and accessories. I didn’t have a whole lot of luck and, eventually, my passion for the jitterbug died out. But the fascination with vintage styles never disappeared.

Although my sewing skills have developed substantially over the past couple of years and I therefore depart every so often from sewing exclusively vintage-looking garments, I’m still constantly looking to bring sewing and vintage style together. When I’m not sewing vintage, I’m typically researching it. And my growing library has played a key part in delivering me great inspiration when it comes to my sewing.

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Everyday Fashions of the Forties edited by JoAnne Olian is one of my favourite sources of vintage fashion inspiration. Alongside Vintage Details: A Fashion Sourcebook (which I’ve previously reviewed), it is my go-to resource when I’m searching for that spark of creative instinct in designing or planning a make. The book contains a truly wonderful collection of advertisements used by Sears during the 1940s – ranging from women’s wear, to men’s wear and children’s wear. It is a truly thorough accounting of the styles that dominated the period.

The book opens with a detailed and incredibly interesting introduction, contextualising the whole collection with information on fashion in 1940s America. The manner in which the war impacted fashion choices is especially interesting:

“In spite of war-imposed shortages and hardships, and ‘sorry, not available’, stamped with increasing frequency over items in Sears wartime catalogs, the smiles of the clean-cut American women modeling in its pages never faltered. Wearing cotton stockings or leg makeup and rationed leather shoes, they took Sears’s advice and saved their treasured service-weight rayon stockings for ‘furlough dates’, conserving gasoline by walking in comfortable low heels or wedgies. They wore slacks for comfort and warmth even when pregnant.”

However, you truly come to this book not for the introduction (however interesting it may be) but rather for the amazing advertisements. The whole collection is an incredible historical snapshot. I mean just look at the hats:

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As with the hats pictured, the collection of advertisements gives a great amount of insight into 1940s accessories – as well as clothes. We get to see beautiful shoes, pins, and belts, in all of their authentic glory. There’s even an amazing ad for ‘leg make-up’ designed to offer “that silk stocking glamour”! I mean you really can’t more authentic in terms of understanding the 1940s war-time style environment than that!

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The layout of the book is impressively. Although obviously the ads are presented in black and white, they are all incredibly visually clear. You’ll also notice that the year of the ad’s publication is in brackets at the top of the page, meaning that you can track the advertisements and the styles they present with a mind to the social and historical context!

I can’t recommend this book highly enough to those with a real interest in 1940s fashion. Whether you are looking for personal style inspiration or simply a wonderful historical snapshot, you really can’t do better do better than this amazing collection.


Everyday Fashions of the Forties edited by JoAnn Olian is available in both the US and UK. You can find it on Amazon UK here and Amazon US here.

Sewing for Self-Care: Jenny’s Story

The latest Sewing for Self-Care: Your Story post is here and comes to us from Jenny of Jenny DIY! When Jenny reached out asking whether she could share her story, the questions she was raising totally struck a chord with me. At the time, I’d been dealing with a desire to step back from my sewing and practice other forms of self-care. In this post, Jenny discusses this issue of timing in self-care and how we might manage our desire to sew with our expectations of the results that it can deliver to our mental health. I hope that you find this post as thoughtful and reflective as I do!

*If you’d like to contribute your own story to this series, details can be found at the bottom of the post.*


I’ve been sewing all my life, but it has only been recently that I have realised how much of an impact it has on my mental health.

My sewing journey began when I was a child making clothes for dolls. When I was a teenager, I created some very dodgy clothes! I got my first sewing machine when I was 18/19 and was using my spare time at university learning dressmaking.

Heather Dress

From my teenage years, I’d had anxiety. During my mid-twenties I’d learnt that therapy, in particularly CBT was a treatment for the anxiety I had. I was learning to retrain my brain.

Therapy taught me that the relationship between sewing and my mental health was vital. It taught me that sewing is who I am, what I’m good at and a way to keep myself grounded. The state of mind I had whilst sewing was what I needed to transfer to my everyday life to move away from anxiety.

When I’m sewing it’s just me and my rules. It’s my achievements and failures. The time I spend sewing is time to be me with no judgement from others or myself.

From the first skirt I ever made, to the first collared shirt and getting my garments to fit perfectly, my sewing journey has made me feel like I can do anything. The clothes I get to make and wear bring me so much joy. Sewing is the ultimate self-care practice!

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Melilot Shirt

If this is the case, then why do I sometimes feel like sewing can feel like a chore? I hunch over the machine and tense my shoulders. This isn’t ideal for my self-care!

When I sew I have to be motivated. The machine needs setting up and everything has to be set up right. It has to be light, warm and I need to feel wide awake.

Sometimes sewing is not my self-care. It’s often the little things, the boring things that are self-care practices that ‘work’ the most. Washing your hair and making your bed. Taking deep breaths when you first leave the house in the morning. Eating healthy food and making sure your home is neat and tidy. Those ‘boring’ self-care activities can keep your mind clear and accomplished.

I often set my heart on sewing projects and have a huge to-do list of things to sew, things to amend. My dreaming up projects and constant need to be ‘productive’ doesn’t help my headspace! Is sewing more of a burden to my self-care?

Speaking to Laura about this, she explained that “when our self-care practices become a chore or a stressor, it’s really an indication that we need to be more responsive to ourselves and our requirements in the given moment”.

That’s why I have a struggle with sewing for self-care. I never want to force myself to sew because it will make me feel better. But sewing has been a huge help for my mental health.

I get such a feeling of accomplishment and energy when I do something amazing. It boosts my self-esteem and makes me feel great about myself. It makes me feel like I can achieve so much, and this is the state of mind I have to bring to my every day anxious life.

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Sewing might be self-care for some people, at all times, but for me, it’s self-care at a specific time. If I can do my ‘boring’ self-care practices and keep my mind clear, then I can get stuck into my sewing projects. The more I can sew and be myself, the more I can continue to grow my sewing skills, and continue to keep my mind healthy and happy.


A huge thanks to Jenny for this super thoughtful post! Be sure to take a look at her blog – Jenny DIY – to see pictures of some more gorgeous makes and follow her on her sewing journey!

If you’d like to contribute your own story about using sewing for self-care, please get in touch. You can email me – laura@sewforvictory.co.uk – or message me via Instagram/Twitter – @sewforvictoryuk. Alternatively, make sure to check out my original post introducing this series and starting this larger community conversation about using sewing for self-care.

Sewing for Self-Care: The Science Behind Creativity and Mental Health

This is a post that I’ve been piecing together for a while with various bits of research. Since launching my series of Sewing for Self-Care posts, I’ve been growing more and more interested in the evidence behind the use of creative outlets to help maintain our mental health – and potentially recover from mental illness. Although there is clearly so much anecdotal evidence that creativity helps to manage mental health – my experience has certainly proved to me that there’s a connection – is that evidence really enough to suggest that we should all whip out our needle and thread in the name of good health?

Expanding my knowledge of sewing for self-care through the Sewing for Self-Care: Your Story posts has been an eye opener. I’ve heard from people who have used sewing to navigate all sorts of challenges – Tamsin’s story of using sewing to maintain her mental health following the birth of her daughter is just one example. How well do these experiences translate, however? Can sewing be helpful even if you aren’t suffering a mental health crisis? And what exactly is the connection between sewing and self-care? I’ve distilled some of the research in an attempt to answer these questions (and as the ever compulsive former PhD candidate, sources are listed at the end of the post)!

* As always, none of the below suggests that sewing should be seen as a cure for mental illness (and none of the studies mentioned posit that creativity can single-handedly fix a mental health crisis). My personal experience – and the evidence discussed below – is a testament to the power of creativity in maintaining mental health and practicing effective self-care. But I found my answer through a wide range of interventions and activities, including consultation with doctors and work with therapists. If you’re suffering, please be sure to reach out to local professionals who can help to put you on the path to recovery.*

Is There A Connection Between Creativity and Mental Wellbeing?

YES! (I’m really fortunate that this is the answer because otherwise it would make a LOT of what I’ve written totally redundant). There’s a good amount of evidence to suggest that creativity helps to maintain mental health. An article in Psychology Today cites a literature review by Stuckey and Noble, in which they looked through over 100 studies into the connection between engagement in the arts and mental health. Their overall conclusion from looking through these studies was that “creative expression has a powerful impact on health and well-being on various patient populations.”(1)  The researchers also found that these studies showed a general consensus “that participation and/or engagement in the arts have a variety of outcomes including a decrease in depressive symptoms, an increase in positive emotions, reduction in stress responses, and, in some cases, even improvements in immune system functioning.”(2) So creativity could even help you fight off that irritating winter cold!

Outside of this, engaging in creative practices can also put you into a different psychological state. Many of us have experienced this before – a place where you are so engrossed in what you are doing that time passes without you even noticing. This is actually a widely acknowledged psychological phenomenon – labelled ‘flow’ by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (if I remember correctly from my years studying psychology, this is pronounced chick-sent-me-high – I wonder why I remember it?). Flow is essentially a state of hyperfocus and a place in which we are our optimal selves. We experience flow when our whole attention rests on the present moment, when we are fully engaged in and enjoying what we are doing. Creativity is one of the easiest ways to find yourself in a state of flow. And flow is integral to our happiness and wellbeing. The amazing Ted Talk by Csikszentmihalyi – linked in the citations at the bottom of the post – is a really great explanation of flow and why it is so fundamental to our mental health and a fulfilling experience of our own lives.(3) The same thoughts behind flow are the ones that encourage us to practice mindfulness – essentially the act of being fully present in the moment. It all very much connects.

“The average person has 60,000 thoughts per day and 95% of them are exactly the same, day in and day out.”(4) Creativity allows us to break free of these thought patterns and puts us into a different mental space. We turn to what we’re doing, rather than falling down the rabbit hole of spiralling thoughts in our minds. This is why creativity has such an incredible effect on our mental health. As Charles Benayon, writing for the Huffington Post, explains:

“Neuroscientists have been studying many forms of creativity and finding that activities like cooking, drawing, photography, art, music, cake decorating and even doing crossword puzzles are beneficial to your health. When we are being creative, our brains release dopamine, which is a natural anti-depressant. Creativity usually takes concentration and it can lead to the feeling of a natural high.”(5)

Clearly, then, creativity is acknowledged to be fundamental to our mental wellbeing. Whether you are working to recover from mental illness (in which case creativity can be an excellent supplement to other interventions) or simply looking to keep your mental health on point, practicing an activity such as sewing is a great step!

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Will Creativity Always Make Me Feel Better?

I think this is an important question to consider. Next week’s Sewing for Self-Care: Your Story post – written by the lovely Jenny from Jenny DIY – deals with the issue of timing. Because, as many of us know from experience, sewing will not always make you feel better. Sometimes – particularly when those pattern pieces just won’t fit together properly or your fabric can’t help puckering – it will make you feel a bit worse. Learning to respond to your needs in any given moment is something that I’ve already written about at length. But it’s a tough skill to learn (and yes, it really is a skill!). Especially when we know that sewing is such a great self-care practice so much of the time and we convince ourselves that it is always an appropriate response.

Interestingly, reaching that meditative state where creativity can have such a positive impact on your mental health is not a given. Returning to the idea of ‘flow’, Csikszentmihalyi actually identified nine different elements of flow that he saw recurrently when researching people’s engagement in flow activities(6):

  • There are clear goals every step of the way

In sewing, this is a relative given. The process of following a pattern is incredibly goal-oriented which makes it a naturally suitable ‘flow’ activity.

  • There is immediate feedback to one’s actions

This means that, at every step of the activity, you should understand how well you’re doing. With sewing, the feedback is often self-driven and avoiding falling into a place of self-critique can be a challenge (and self-criticism certainly isn’t conducive to ‘flow’). It’s important to be able to acknowledge how well you’re doing, without being hard on yourself if things aren’t going perfectly.

  • There is a balance between challenges and skills

You need to make sure that what you’re doing isn’t too easy or too hard. To achieve flow, you want to be challenged just the right amount – basically, what you’re doing should correspond to your skill level. If you’re sewing, this is pretty simple to assess. Make sure that you’re looking at pattern reviews and details before committing!

  • Action and awareness are merged

Be in the moment, fully present. This can take a bit of effort at first – don’t fall down that rabbit hole of thoughts and, instead, keep returning to what you’re doing (however, determinedly your mind is trying to pull you away with thoughts about the past or future).

  • Distractions are excluded from consciousness

Basically as above. Focus on the activity at hand and don’t let yourself get carried away by distractions.

  • There is no worry of failure

This is definitely one that I struggle with. ‘Flow’ means that you should be so absorbed in what you’re doing that you’re not engaged with the idea of failure. Since ‘flow’ requires that we know what steps we need to take in our activity, we should be fully immersed in carrying these out. If you’re naturally self-critical, it can be hard to disengage from constant negative assessments of your progress. But, if you’re fully in the present moment and the activity at hand, failure shouldn’t be on your radar.

  • Self-consciousness disappears

This relates to the above. It’s basically about putting your ego to the side. If, like me, you’ve taken your creative outlet to the internet, it can be hard to let that self-consciousness go. Many of us are engaged in comparison with others and fear that what we’re making might not get the right kind of response. These thoughts can carry away from the internet and into the activity. Thoughts like ‘What if this goes wrong, when I’ve already told people it’s what I’m making?’ or ‘If the sizing isn’t right, I’m going to look like a sack of potatoes!’ start to become a problem. Returning to ‘flow’ as your priority, the ego gets put to the side. It’s about letting go of your self-image and self-consciousness to be a part of the process.

  • The sense of time becomes distorted

I mentioned this above. When in a state of true ‘flow’, your sense of time will disappear and you’ll find yourself so absorbed in what you’re doing that you don’t notice time passing.

  • The activity becomes ‘autotelic’ (an end in itself, done for its own sake)

This relates to most of the above. If you practice sewing, you should be doing it for the pure enjoyment of the process. Blogging, or taking your makes to social media, can augment this quite a bit. It starts to become a means to an end (recognition, followers etc.) rather than an end in itself. If this is the case, take a step back. Remember why you started sewing in the first place and try to return to that sense of beginner’s joy – where everything you do is interesting and a victory.

These elements of ‘flow’ can definitely make it feel as though such a state of immersion is out of reach. But it truly isn’t. Remember that the positive effects of creativity are not tied to achieving a meditative state. Just the act of creating and getting yourself off the couch to do something productive can be sufficient. It’ll still give you that dopamine boost! But if you want to truly experience everything that creativity has to offer you, it’s a good idea to cultivate some of the elements listed above. A lot of these will just happen naturally when you find something that you love to do and are in the right mental headspace. Some of it might take a bit of work – as, for example, trying to reduce incidents of self-criticism and remain present with the activity. You might find that you achieve this state for just five minutes (and not even notice that you’ve been in it), or it might go on for hours. Although feeling good isn’t a given when it comes to investing time in creative activities, there is so much that we can do towards improving the consistent and long-term impact that creativity can have on our lives.

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So Is Creativity For Me?

Creativity – as well as the positive effects that it brings with it – is absolutely for everybody. I spent most of my childhood feeling like the least creative person on the planet. I invested all of my time in my academics and always told myself that creativity was for someone else. I did poorly at art, played the piano mechanically, and basically spent no time at all investing in anything truly creative. It wasn’t until I started sewing that I realised I’d been carrying so much creative potential. Creativity isn’t an exclusive practice. We all have, in our minds, an idea of someone truly ‘creative’. They’re probably wearing an artist’s smock, glasses, and a beret. But creativity isn’t pre-packaged and it doesn’t come with a list of admission criteria. Find something that you love to do and you will reap the benefits. Divorce yourself from thoughts of judgement from others and stop believing that you have to come into an activity already being totally knowledgeable. I’ve been sewing for two and a half years and I still do more learning than feeling proficient. That’s ok though – learning is genuinely 75% of the fun. You just have to embrace it.

Scientists, doctors, therapists, and those of us with personal experience all point to creativity as a stellar way to help manage your mental health. It is not a panacea – you won’t find that your depression lifts forever the minute you sit down with some knitting needles. But creativity will help to alleviate internal conflict and teach you to cultivate a outlook that will assist you in making lasting change. You just have to give it a chance to work its magic.

(1) Cathy Malchiodi, ‘Creativity as a Wellness Practice’, Psychology Today (31 December 2015). Link

(2) Same as above

(3) Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, ‘Flow, the secret to happiness’, TED (February 2004). Link

(4) Charles Benayon, ‘How Creativity Improves Mental Health and Wellness’, Huffington Post (5 July 2017). Link

(5) Same as above

(6) Dr Steve Wright, ‘”In the zone”: enjoyment, creativity, and the nine elements of “flow”‘, Meaning and Happiness (5 September 2008). Link

Topstitching Triumph?

As you all know from my most recent ramblings, I’ve been working away at my Ginger Jeans. This is my first foray into the jean-making world and, given the amazing reviews of this pattern, I’m hopeful that they’re going to be fantastic.

One of my favourite things about making jeans is the amount of topstitching. I love topstitching! I’m not sure if this is a popular opinion, but I genuinely find it so satisfying. Plus it looks super decorative and professional! The Ginger Jeans are presenting so many opportunities to practice a bit of topstitching. Although I will admit that constantly changing threads between my regular stitching thread and my contrast topstitching thread is a pain, I’m definitely enjoying myself. Maybe one day I’ll have two machines so that I can just move back and forth!

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An added bonus is that the white topstitching looks so cute with the anchors!

However, I am encountering a bit of a problem. At a couple of stages, I’ve had to topstitch adjacent to an inner seam line (as opposed to an edge). Whilst topstitching next to an edge is relatively simple since you can just use the guides on the sewing machine to judge the 1/8″ and 3/8″ lines, topstitching in the middle of fabric is turning out to be a nightmare. In case my inadequate description is posing problems for you visualising what I’m talking about, here’s a picture…

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Obviously, in this case, the fabric is obscuring the seam gauge lines on the sewing machine, making it impossible for me to measure. Although the actually foot has lines of its own (which are fine for following 1/8″), anything beyond the width of the foot is proving tough. I’m basically having to make a rough estimate of where the line should be – which doesn’t feel very good when I’m trying to get some perfect topstitching going. Does anyone have any suggestions for how to address this? I’m genuinely at a loss for how anyone manages this kind of scenario without some guesswork as to where the topstitching line should fall. For reference, here’s a pic of what I’m working with:

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Now the obvious solution would be to draw the line onto the fabric before stitching. I’ve avoided doing this because I’ve had such unfortunate encounters with unreliable fabric markers – ones that have come very close to ruining garments because I can’t get the marks to wash off. I’ve tried a few different methods but haven’t found any that I’m comfortable marking onto the right side of my fabric. If the only way to take the guesswork out of my topstitching measurements is to mark onto my fabric, I’m definitely going to do more investigations to find a trustworthy fabric marker!

Sorry for the ‘Dear Diary’ nature of this post. But you lovely people always have excellent sewing advice so I’m hopeful that, with your help, I can find a way to make my topstitching even more triumphant!

I’m Back!

Thanks to all of you for the super sweet messages on my last post. I’ve had a much needed break from the computer and sewing machine, and am feeling tip-top once again! If you’re feeling run down or otherwise at the end of your tether, I can’t emphasise enough how great it is to take some time away from everything. Although this obviously isn’t possible for everyone, finding even an hour or two to just switch off and focus on your mental wellbeing is an incredibly powerful act of self-love.

I’m now back at the sewing machine and will be posting some proper blog content again next week. I’ve decided to drop my posting schedule back to twice weekly (Wednesdays and Fridays) while I ease back into things. I have some great posts coming – including some new Sewing for Self-Care: Your Story posts, provided by some incredible sewists from our community! In the meantime, I hope that you are all well and finding plenty of time for crafting (especially if you’re in the currently snow-bound UK). I’m currently enjoying some sewing in my very sunshine-filled sewing room. Don’t get too jealous though – Missouri weather is notorious for dramatic changes every few hours, so I could be knee-deep (literally) in some snow by tomorrow morning!

Thanks again for the amazing support. It makes all the difference. I’ll see you next week for a proper return to normal posts! Have a wonderful weekend!

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