Turning Hobbies Into Habits: 5 Practical Steps

Hobbies into Habits

Lately, I’ve been very preoccupied with the notion of habits. Part of getting myself through the various struggles I’ve encountered this year has been a reliance on and strengthening of old habits (the ones that I know work really well for me), as well as building new habits. Although many of us recoil from the idea of structuring our lives around habits, fearful that they go hand-in-hand with predictability and a lack of spontaneity, habits are a cornerstone for us all. More than 40 percent of the actions that we perform over the course of the day are habit-based, meaning that there is no conscious decision-making involved. Statistics like this make it clear why learning to create good habits can be so critical to our health and happiness. Our brain automates what it can in order to conserve extra energy for other critical decisions. If we can learn to automate the different activities that we really want to perform (or, at least, reduce the amount of decision-making involved), we are building our lives on a solid foundation and raising the bar for our own base levels of happiness.

It all sounds very appealing, of course. But habit creation is a difficult thing. I’ve spent months reading through literature, doing research online, and trying to apply various strategies to my life in order to create better habits. Although I’m not suggesting that anyone should give their lives over to habit formation – nor do I think that habits hold a magic answer to all of life’s problems – working on building good habits has helped me immensely this year. Since I work from home, juggle multiple projects, and am something of a self-care fanatic (no surprise there!), I have a lot to grapple with and total freedom in how I do it. All of this free time really lends itself to bad habits, since I rely exclusively on self-motivation in order to get things done (and fall victim to reality TV binges with concerning regularity). I’ve also been trying to better manage my mental health and work through periods of depression and anxiety with a view to lessening their impact. A big part of this has been turning my existing hobbies – or new ones that I wish to pursue – into something more akin to a habit. After my two month hiatus from sewing, I’ve become particularly keen to figure out how these types of hobbies can become more ingrained and less susceptible to life’s ongoing peaks and troughs.

But why should we turn hobbies into habits? Doesn’t it suck the fun out of it? I don’t believe so. Habits are foundational to the overall trend of our lives. If our habits are bad, we generally don’t feel great nor do we thrive. Integrating good habits into my daily life has truly allowed me to take control of the downward trend that I was on. I also know that, when it comes to hobbies, we have a tendency to see them as optional. Life gets in the way. Yet hobbies exist because they expand our life – they make us happier, better, and more fulfilled. The idea that we would allow life’s obligations to interrupt such an important aspect of our wellbeing is a problem. We deserve to take the time to create a habit around these most important activities. Turning a hobby into a habit means that the time is already set aside and we are choosing to use it for ourselves. It’s not simply an optional extra that we can dip into if we happen to find that we have the time left over.

If you’re looking to build a hobby into a habit, I’ve put together five practical steps that you can take to this end. These are things that have worked for me and are also backed up by the truly incredible amount of literature that exists on the topic (I’ll put some resources at the end of the post if you’re interested in reading more). So, without further ado, let’s delve in…

1. Get To Know Yourself

I’d love to do away with the cliches but self-knowledge is critical when it comes to building good, sustainable habits. We all have limited time in a day and, for most of us, we have far less free time than we would like. This makes it extra important that you are working to build habits in a way that is geared specifically toward your own preferences and lifestyle. It’s so easy for us to get caught up in what other people are doing and how they’re doing it. I’m definitely guilty of this. I love reading about the habits of various famous authors and imagining that adopting their routines might suddenly unveil the literary genius that I always knew lay deep down inside me. Or perhaps I could become the Oprah of a new generation by mirroring her morning regime. But the simple fact is that I am not these people and, if I want to succeed in my own way, I will need to know what works best for me.

Obtaining the kind of self-knowledge that can help you on your journey to habit creation isn’t as hard as it might sound. It’s really about getting into the practicalities of what a habit would look like for you. The types of questions that I asked myself (and wrote down the answers to because it really does help), included:

  • Are you a lark who functions best in the morning? Or do you work best late at night?
  • What does your free time look like? Do you have the ability to shift your free time around (if you’re a lark, for example, can you build your free time into the morning?)? Is there a set period of time that you can set aside for your hobby – daily, weekly, or monthly?
  • What are your goals? Why do you want to pursue this hobby as a habit?

These questions will help you to become better acquainted with your goals and how you might pursue them within the limits that your lifestyle imposes. It is important to give some time to exploring the realities of how a habit can fit into your everyday life, particularly when that habit is a hobby such as sewing. Hobbies tend to take up quite a lot of time and it can take a while in each ‘session’ for us to feel like we’re really present. It’s a bit different from a habit of brushing your teeth. However, when you compare to the sort of time that would be invested in exercising or cooking dinner as habits (both good habits, by the way), it doesn’t seem like such a big deal. As I’ve emphasised in previous Sewing for Self-Care posts, even 10 minutes a day at the sewing machine can help to stir motivation and, ultimately, create a habit out of a hobby. Getting to know yourself is really the first step toward setting yourself up for success which, incidentally, is the second step!

2. Set Yourself Up For Success

It can sometimes be difficult to acknowledge the places where we are limited. If we’re in the habit of going to bed late after a Netflix binge but know that we function best in the mornings, it can be tough to acknowledge that we may do better with an early night and some self-care time in the morning. Life can undoubtedly get in the way of us functioning at our best! So it’s key when trying to build new habits that we set ourselves up for success in as many ways as possible. Once you’ve spent a bit of time thinking about your lifestyle and preferences (as per Step 1), you can begin to create manageable goals for yourself. This is so important. You’ve already asked yourself what you want to achieve, so now it’s a matter of figuring out how to go about it. This will look different for everyone. If your goal is time-specific, you may decide that you are shooting for 30 minutes at the sewing machine per day. If you’ve figured out that you are a lark, you might have chosen to set your alarm an extra 30 minutes early to accommodate. Or perhaps weekdays are out of the question for you, so you’re setting aside Sunday afternoons as your weekly crafting time. The most important thing is that you are realistic. Going from doing nothing at all to sewing every evening after work is probably not setting yourself up for success!

You will also want to enable yourself by making sure that you have what you need. This is something that’s relatively specific to hobbies as habits. You’ll want to be sure that you don’t sit down in your crafting space, ready to begin your activity, and then discover that you’re missing something critical to the whole endeavour. There’s nothing worse than getting ready to sew and realising that you’re out of thread. This just increases the temptation to throw in the towel and sit down with an episode of The Only Way is Essex and a bowl of ice cream instead (am I revealing too much?!). So be sure to pre-plan and set yourself up for success by being properly equipped. It is also a great idea to have a back-up plan. If you discover that you don’t have what you need in order to sit down and sew, what can you do instead? Perhaps spend some time planning your next makes, or look for some style inspiration. Maybe tidy up your crafting area. Or take care of some of those long-neglected clothing repairs. There’s always something else that you can do and still feel that you are maintaining your habit. The key is setting aside the time and using it purposefully on your hobby.

3. Use The SMART System

If you’ve read anything about creating habits, you’ve probably come across the SMART method before. It’s a really easy way to ensure that you are hitting all of the most important components of successful habit formation. So let’s go through them one by one:

  • Specific: giving yourself vague goals will not work. So don’t say to yourself ‘I want to sew more’. Be as specific as possible when setting out to create a habit. Hobbies are slightly more complex as something to turn into habits because they are naturally more expansive than many of the habits we think of (drink 2 litres of water a day, for example). So there are many different approaches. As I outlined above, you might choose to be time-specific (sew for 10 minutes a day, paint every Saturday afternoon from 2-5pm). Or you might be project-specific (complete one new garment a month). Being project-specific is slightly harder since it doesn’t necessarily create a concrete habit in the same way as designating time. However, it depends on your goals. Perhaps the habit you want to cultivate is simply making more of your own clothes, in which case being project-specific would be a valuable approach!
  • Measurable: This relates back to specificity. It’s important to set goals that are measurable. So time, projects, etc. Saying ‘I want to sew more’ is not a great way of creating a habit because it isn’t measurable. You need to be able to know that you are achieving what you set out to achieve in a very clear and concise way.
  • Reward: Successful habit creation relies, in part, on some sort of reward. This can be something you consciously give yourself as you complete a habit. For instance, eating a piece of chocolate after exercise. With hobbies, this kind of explicit reward shouldn’t be necessary. Assuming that you are picking up the hobby for the sake of enjoyment, the reward is usually a part of the process. You get something out of what you’re doing. In the case of sewing, this might be the absorption that comes with immersing yourself in the activity. It is also very likely that you feel rewarded by completing a garment and wearing it out. That said, there’s nothing wrong with giving yourself an explicit reward. I like to accompany my daily sewing with cups of tea and a podcast. To me, this just ups the ‘reward’ factor that’s part of my sewing time.
  • Trackable: Monitoring/tracking is important. It’s a form of accountability that allows you to acknowledge whether what you’re doing is working. It’s also part of human nature that knowing we’re being monitored (even if it’s by ourselves) makes us stick to habits. It is the same reason that many people advocate an accountability buddy when they’re trying to diet or exercise. I use my bullet journal to track my habits (not just sewing but any habit that I’m trying to cultivate). It helps me to monitor how well I’m doing and often encourages me to perform an activity, even when I’m not really in the mood. Obviously you want to be sure that the habits you’re tracking are ones that actively make you feel good!

Adopting the SMART system is a sure way to set yourself on a good path toward successfully creating habits. Before diving into performing a habit, it is worth figuring out how well it conforms – or can conform – to SMART. Ensuring that you’re ticking each of these boxes just makes it more likely that the habit will stick long-term and survive life’s more tumultuous periods.

4. Get Involved In The Community

For me, being part of a community is integral to habits around hobbies. It is an actively encouraging factor in pursuing hobbies that we love, particularly where time investment might be higher. This could mean taking classes to develop your skills. Alternatively, it might mean creating a blog or participating in a community via social media. Hobbies lend themselves to interactions with others. Whether you’re into fitness, painting, sewing, or cooking, there are huge communities both in-person and online that you can become involved with. I find that the friendships I’ve formed online, as well as the inspiration that I get from others, helps to remind me why hobbies (and habits) are so important. I love to sew because it plays such an important role in my wellbeing. And I like to make a habit of sewing because I know how often life can get in the way of pursuing hobbies. Being a part of the sewing community is a great reminder of why setting this time aside for myself is part of the foundation on which I’m choosing to build my life.

If accountability is something on which you thrive, community can also be a massive part of that. Signing up for a class keeps you accountable, particularly if you know that you’re expected at the class or you have already paid for your place. Alternatively, you might enjoy taking part in an online challenge. The sewing community on Instagram is constantly having 30 day photo challenges (#bpsewvember is taking place right now, in fact) or competitions (the Cosy Cardi Challenge is also going on at the moment) and these can be great ways to up the accountability factor. Using a blog to make a public commitment to some sort of challenge (self-imposed or otherwise) might also help!

5. Acknowledge Your Achievements

This final step is probably my favourite because I’m all about taking time to step back and celebrate the victories. Acknowledging what you’ve achieved is absolutely key to creating a habit. It serves, in part, as the ‘reward’ function that I mentioned as part of the SMART system in Step 3. If we forget to recognise our victories, we’re losing an inherent part of the reward that comes with hobbies! Taking the time to celebrate achievements is also fundamental to what psychologist Albert Bandura called ‘self-efficacy’. Self-efficacy is a person’s belief in their ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task. So self-efficacy is key to us having the confidence to pursue an activity and is, therefore, absolutely vital to our continuation of habits. If we don’t believe we’ll be successful, we’re not as likely to keep devoting the time to habit-building. Making sure to celebrate what you’ve achieved and acknowledge what you’ve overcome is part of creating self-efficacy. If you can step back and recognise the victory in setting aside time for yourself, creating amazingly unique garments (or whatever is relevant to your hobby of choice), you automatically increase your own self-efficacy. Sticking to the SMART system and setting yourself up for success are also important ways of developing self-efficacy when it comes to hobbies as habits!

I would suggest writing down victories as they happen. Maybe, like me, you keep a journal in which you can acknowledge what you’ve accomplished. Or perhaps it’s just a matter of writing a list on your phone before you go to bed. Either way, it’s important to communicate your successes in a concrete way. Writing things down allows our brains to process them more actively and consciously, rather than just half-absorbing them as they buzz around our mind. These victories will play a large role in what spurs you on to keep up with a habit, even when the going gets tough.

So there we have it! Five practical steps for turning hobbies into habits. If you’ve managed to make a habit of your own hobby, leave any tips you have in the comments! Part of what I love most about writing these posts is getting to chat with all of you and hear about your experiences. Happy hobbying!


Some of my favourite resources on habits:

  • The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
  • Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
  • 6 Stages and 16 Tips for Developing Good Habits by Barbara Markway (Psychology Today)

Sewing For Self-Care: Being Honest About My Struggle

It’s been a while, friends! In fact, this has probably been my longest blogging hiatus in over a year (which is saying something). Truthfully, this break was not simply a matter of life getting in the way – although I have been ridiculously busy. While I always strive to be as honest as possible on the blog – and my Sewing For Self-Care series was a way to integrate my struggles with my mental health into this – it’s not always easy. The past few months have been tough on me. I started working for the first time since I left my PhD programme, whilst also trying to accommodate increasing amounts of yoga into my schedule to gear up for teacher training. I’ve had a backlog of sewing projects to work through – some with deadlines – on top of dealing with some really severe homesickness. It’s hardly a surprise that I found myself back in the throes of panic attacks and pretty crippling stress.

Surprisingly, given the nature of these blog posts, I generally struggle to talk in detail about my mental health. I’m sure there’s an element of cultural conditioning in this – the whole ‘stiff upper lip’ mentality – as well as an awareness throughout my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood of the stigma that still surrounds these sorts of conversations. Starting a conversation about self care on Sew For Victory was not only an effort to point to the remarkable impact of creative activities on mental health, it was also a place for me to learn how to have honest conversations regarding mental health and mental illness. Although I’m so passionate about the destigmatisation of conversations about mental health, practicing what we preach isn’t always as straightforward as advocating our passions.

When things started to go downhill for me again, I realised how much easier it is to share our stories once they’re behind us, rather than when we’re in the middle of them. After all, a story of conquest and victory sounds so much more appealing than one of struggling in quicksand when you’re casting yourself as the main character. Unfortunately, battles with mental illness are rarely simple plot lines – as inconvenient as that fact is when we’re trying to distill our experiences into something that sounds attractive to others. But this realisation is hard to come by.

Writing about mental health on a public forum adds an extra layer of complexity to this whole situation. Having introduced some incredible voices to the conversation, I felt more obliged than ever to stick to a narrative of having ‘survived’ and ‘come through’ my struggles with my mental health. After all, who would consider me a responsible host for the conversation about sewing and mental health if I was still knee-deep in the struggle? It took some time to realise that this idea of ‘obligation’ was one that I’d built up for myself. I don’t believe for a minute that any of the incredible bloggers that have written for the Sewing For Self-Care: Your Story series, or any of Sew For Victory‘s readers, would consider me obligated to any kind of standard.

So here’s the honest truth. I still struggle. Sometimes every day, sometimes every hour. I have panic attacks, I take medication, and sometimes sewing is the activity I’m least likely to turn to for any kind of relief. I cry, I hold myself to oftentimes impossible standards, and I see a therapist. Equally true, however, is the fact that I’m writing this post and that, despite having many moments of feeling that giving up might be the easiest option, I still have an incredible amount of hope. The internet offers us a forum to paint our lives as whatever we want them to be and whatever we wish they were. It’s easy to slip into the habit of creating a narrative for yourself that veers so far away from reality you feel ashamed and guilty when you look at the truth. My story with mental health isn’t one of conquest – although I achieve victories constantly. Neither is my use of sewing to help manage my mental health as simple as I’m sure it comes across in the posts that I write. Although the tips I give and the thoughts I offer are all true and things I use, the ways in which I utilise sewing (or, on some days/weeks, don’t) shifts in parallel to the changes in my mindset.

Although this isn’t really a sewing post, as the host of the Sewing For Self-Care series I thought that it was important to write. When I wonder if stigma still exists around mental health – given the fact that conversations on the subject are increasing – I can’t help but look to my belief that I have to be ‘on the other side’ of the battle in order to offer a legitimate and worthy perspective. Looking around, it’s clear that so much of the information we consume regarding mental health is told by the ‘victors’ – people who consider themselves free and clear of the struggle. Perhaps, like me, they’ve simply made their narrative more palatable to a society that still isn’t quite comfortable talking about the reality of mental illness – the unbrushed hair, the angry outbursts, the feelings of hopelessness that no amount of logic or rationality can contradict. These are difficult truths to face.

I managed to get back to the sewing machine last week. It felt like a relief. I actually ended up taking some of my own advice – tried and tested – to rediscover my motivation. But if you read these posts and wonder why the tips don’t work for you, you need to understand that they don’t always work for me either. As Jenny wrote in her guest post, sewing and self-care have a complicated relationship. Sewing isn’t always what we want to do, nor is it always what’s best for us. I still believe that creativity provides one of the most powerful resources – available to all of us – through which we can manage out mental health. The science backs this up. But sometimes, we’re just working on getting ourselves out of bed. And that’s ok.

I’ll still be writing about sewing and self-care. Even with the fluctuations in my mood and my motivation, sewing is still one of my major passions. But it’s important to write here that I don’t fit the narrative of Sewing For Self-Care. My story with mental health is much bigger than that and, whether you struggle with mental illness or the general stresses of adulthood, so is yours. My overall message, however, remains the same. Be kind to yourself. Whether that involves a session at the sewing machine or not.

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Coocoo For Colour: How Do Our Colour Choices Impact Our Mood?

“The best colour in the world is the one that looks good on you.” Thank you Coco Chanel for your endless fashion wisdom. Whilst I’m usually inclined to defer to Coco on just about anything style-related, her thoughts on colour definitely have me wondering. Is colour selection really just about figuring out what looks ‘best’ on you? Or does this approach simply narrow the way that we think about colour and its potential impact on us?

Interestingly, I have lots of books about both sewing and fashion but one thing none of them mention is colour. Yet, to me, colour is such a key part of why and how I sew. As most of you know, there’s little planning involved in my selection of new projects. Instead, I just trawl fabric shops for endless hours until a fabric catches my eye. Then I either pair the fabric with a pattern I think it’s perfect for, or stash it away until I find exactly the right project. Although my being drawn towards particular patterns and projects is driven by a whole variety of factors, colour plays a massive role in how I select my fabrics.

My attraction to particular colours goes through phases. It doesn’t just influence the sorts of fabrics I select and sew – it dictates most of what I place around me at any particular time. Frequent visitors to Sew For Victory might recall that I’ve been in quite a strong and unrelenting mint green phase recently. From my favourite shoes, to my fabric choices, to my water bottle and my nail varnish – everything has been mint green. And, honestly, I’m not even slightly mad about it. You see, I firmly believe that our colour preferences and choices are tied heavily to our mood and general place in life. I’ve become more and more interested in this as I’ve delved deeper into both the various dynamics of self-care and sewing, as well as trying to understand my own very prevalent attachments to colour.

The psychology of colour impacting our moods is actually very well documented. Throughout history, people have created dominant associations between particular colours and certain emotions, thoughts, and situations. Red has, for example, become almost synonymous with love and romance. However, our colour choices go beyond this in actually having a demonstrable impact on the way that we feel. According to Professor of Psychology Andrew Elliot, some evidence points toward green as having a particularly calming effect on us “because it is associated with growth and nature.” (1) Similarly, orange “is said to stimulate enthusiasm and creativity,” (2) which is good news for us sewists! One really powerful study from back in 1982 found that colour has a dramatic impact on the health and wellbeing of children. As reported by the New York Times (the article is well worth a read if you’re interested), school room colour and lighting changes saw a drop in the children’s mean systolic blood pressure from “120 to 100, or nearly 17 percent…” Their behaviour also changed for the positive. (3)

So what does this mean for us sewists? Colour definitely doesn’t have to be a conscious choice because, ultimately, if it makes you feel good then there’s really no need to interrogate. However, sometimes understanding the impact that colour has on our mood can help us to make purposeful choices in order to move ourselves in a particular direction. If we’re feeling down, throwing on a bright dress can certainly work wonders! As with everything, colour is obviously no miracle cure. But I was super impressed by the amount of evidence out there to suggest that colour really can have a demonstrable and measurable impact on the way that we feel. Having browsed around and plucked different pieces of information from different places, here’s a summary of colours and the moods most strongly associated with them (I’ve included a list of articles at the end of this post, if you’re interested!):

Red: Stimulates and excites. Can be associated with passion and love.

Orange: Stimulates creativity and enthusiasm. Also associated with feelings of playfulness and warmth.

Yellow: Creates positive emotions, such as hope and happiness.

Green: Creates a sense of calm and relaxation, largely due to the association with nature.

Blue: Calms the mind and provides a sense of concentration. Can also be associated with trust and security.

Purple: Creates a sense of calm and soothing. Purple is also historically associated with spirituality, so can help you to feel spiritually connected (is that’s your cup of tea!)

Pink: A calming colour that stimulates a sense of safety and connection with femininity.

I find it so reassuring to know that something as simple as picking a colour to wear can help my mood. Even working with bright and playful colours on my sewing machine has a very real impact on my mindset. Although I couldn’t find the evidence out there during my search, it would make sense that there is also a sort of reverse relationship here – meaning that we might be ‘drawn’ to particular colours as a reflection of how we feel or (if you believe it) what we most need at a given time.

Part of the reason I’ve been reflecting so hard on this recently is that I’ve very much transitioned from a mint green obsession to a love of all things pink. I didn’t even notice it happening but just suddenly found myself picking out pink fabrics, wearing pink nail varnish and clothes – even selecting pink/red flowers at the supermarket. I’m not sure how real the connection is between colour and the way that I feel, but there’s definitely some kind of relationship between how I choose to surround myself with colour and the way that I’m relating to the world around me.

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So what does this mean for self-care? Thinking more consciously about the way that we interact with colour may be a positive step toward checking in with ourselves. However, I think the indications that our colour choices give will vary dramatically from person to person. Just like I wouldn’t suggest wearing black will make us all depressed and sad (it actually makes me feel pretty good most of the time), it won’t be the case that choosing pink fabrics or clothes means the same thing for all of us. As with everything relating to self-care, it’s really about becoming more aware of yourself and your needs – looking at what colours you’re drawn to and how they make you feel. Ultimately, it could all be one big placebo effect – but, if it helps us to be our best and happiest selves, colour is an amazing tool to have at our disposal!

Do you find that colour has an impact on your mood? Are you ‘drawn’ to particular colours when you’re in a certain frame of mind? I’m interested to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments!



(1)
‘How Color Affects Our Mood’, Rachel Grumman Bender, HuffPost (27 Nov 2011)
(2) Same as above
(3) ‘Color Has A Powerful Effect On Behavior, Researchers Assert’, Lindsey Gruson, The New York Times (1982)

Other articles/websites of interest:

‘Colors That Affect Your Mood’, Brook Haven Retreat
‘Color Psychology: Does It Affect How Your Feel?’ Very Well Mind

Sewing For Self-Care: Kendra’s Story

This month has been an incredible one for the Sewing For Self-Care: Your Story series. Elena’s post received such an amazing response from many of you and I’m so happy that this blog could serve as a forum for discussion about sewing/creativity and its role in managing more severe forms of mental illness. Today’s post, from the lovely Kendra, takes a different angle. As a mental health professional, Kendra talks about sewing as self-care in light of working such a challenging and consuming job. For those of us (and I’m sure there are many) who find ourselves stressed out, frazzled, or otherwise unable to leave work at the office, Kendra’s insights are powerful and important. So, without further ado, I’ll hand over to Kendra and her wonderful story of sewing and self-care…

*If you would like to contribute to the Sewing For Self-Care: Your Story series, details can be found at the end of this post.*


I work as a licensed mental health counselor, which means that, like many of you in other professions and jobs, I’m often mentally drained at the end of the day. It’s ok because I love the work I’m doing, but that doesn’t make it any less draining—perhaps the opposite. I work at a community mental health clinic, which means a majority of my clients are unemployed, many are on disability, many are in recovery from substance abuse (or trying to maintain sobriety), many have been hospitalized multiple times for suicide-related behavior, and almost all are trauma survivors of one kind or another. In treating them, I become invested in their narratives. And over time, those stories can consume me, and clients’ behavior can seem personal, unless I actively pursue self-focused activities.

I’ve always had hobbies, enjoyed socializing with friends, and worked a full-time job, but it was not until I returned to graduate school (for a second time!) that I truly understood the consequences of failing to maintain balance for myself. Practicing self-care is essential. For me, that includes the healthy habits such as exercising, eight hours of sleep, minimizing coffee and alcohol intake, a balanced diet, socializing, reading, and turning off the news when necessary. But in addition, it includes my hobbies, of which sewing is the most prominent these days.

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Because I have cultivated my healthy habits and hobbies, it is a lot easier for me to sell those ideas to struggling clients. I speak with my clients a lot about developing their own hobby or re-igniting interest in an already-existing one. I always use sewing as the example in my own life. While no one has reported that they picked up sewing too, several have found benefit from being creative, adding structure to their day with a class, having an activity to look forward to, or developing a sense of accomplishment by completing a project or working with their hands.

Growing up, my mother sewed a large part of my wardrobe. I did not love it at the time because she wasn’t making me look 80’s trendy (no, my mother was not sewing me tutus, leggings, or off-the-shoulder sweatshirts). But I sure do love looking back at the pictures of us!

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My mother taught me how to knit and how to needlepoint. I learned cross-stitch at Girl Scouts. I learned to sew in eighth grade home economics. I didn’t hang on to all these hobbies, but about seven years ago, I picked up needlepoint again and really enjoyed the creative outlet it provided. And, this past winter, I dusted off my sewing machine and signed up for a class. The sense of accomplishment from completing a sewing project is very strong. I love being able to experiment with fabrics and styles that I can’t find in a store or that I wouldn’t normally select for myself. The attention to detail that I need to accurately pin my fabric, stitch straight seams and even hems, and iron the seams, appeals to my perfectionist tendencies. Not only that, but my budget can definitely handle sewing!

In terms of self-care, sewing allows me to focus on each step and remain present as I’m doing the project. For example, when I’m cutting fabric, I have to be focused on what I’m doing and be very deliberate. It’s almost meditative. I can sit down at my machine for five minutes or five hours and I still have to do one step at a time. That’s an important reminder for me to complete one task at a time and give it my full attention. When I make a mistake on an item, I fix it. That’s like boot camp for problem-solving. And, it reminds me that I do know how to solve my own problems, and that I can usually fix a mistake by acknowledging it and figuring out how to move forward, instead of dwelling on the mistake. Can you imagine if every time I sewed the lining into a dress wrong, I just stared at it for hours, cried, and then threw the project away?

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When life stressors increase for me, I lean on my hobbies even more. I attend a weekly needlepoint class and a weekly sewing class. I’ve made friends in these classes that I can check in with throughout the week while attending. It creates structure for me to attend the classes at a consistent time each day and be on time to work. I develop new skills that I can use to sew or stitch another item. I look forward to going out and coming home because each location offers its own rewards. I find myself sewing and stitching more often, as a means to balance out my stress.

Between the spotlight that mental health has recently undergone with two recent celebrity suicide deaths, the political climate and uncertainty of world events, the warmer weather and longer days leading to less routine, the transitions of the summertime approaching, a packed schedule, and even noticing that it’s time to buy a new pair of running shoes, has all led to an increase in stress.

So, my sewing machine is going at full speed.

And my closet just got a little more packed.

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A huge thank you to Kendra for such an interesting and affirmative post! Since writing the Sewing For Self-Care: Your Story series, I’ve been fascinated by the ways in which creativity can be used in professional mental health care settings. That encouragement toward creative hobbies plays a role – as described by Kendra – just evidences that the connection between mental health and creativity is a very real one. I so appreciate Kendra taking the time to write this post for us! If you want to keep up with her sewing journey, you can follow her on Instagram @kqkstitches or Twitter @KQKrazy

If you are interested in contributing a post to Sewing For Self-Care: Your Story, please get in touch! You can email me – laura@sewforvictory.co.uk – or contact me via any of the social media outlets linked in the side bar. If you would like to see more information about the series, be sure to check out my original introduction post!

Sewing For Self-Care: Elena’s Story

Over the past few weeks, I’ve spent a good amount of time reflecting on the Sewing For Self-Care: Your Story series. I didn’t have may goals when I created the first call for posts. I had seen and experienced the gap that exists in conversations about sewing and its relationship to mental health, and I hoped that creating this forum for discussion would go some way towards filling that hole. Although we use the term ‘self-care’ often and with increasing fervor, I found that it was being used increasingly to escape the need for real, honest discussions about mental illness. The sincerity and openness of the bloggers who have participated in the  series has gone a long way – I believe – in redirecting the conversation to one that confronts very real and truly multidimensional experiences.

Something I didn’t foresee in starting the series, however, was the amount of learning I would do. Reading the posts submitted to me has opened my eyes to a world of stories that I wouldn’t otherwise have encountered. The fact that these stories are in the words of the people living them just adds to the power of the education we’re all undergoing as readers. Today’s post – written by Elena from Vintage Sewing Machines Blog – is a testament to the educational power of people choosing to tell their stories with courage and openness. Her experiences with bipolar and her use of sewing to establish a sense of “normality” is enlightening, to say the least. I have learnt an incredible amount from my personal exchanges with Elena, as well as from the truly amazing story that she’s written for us today.

With that, I’ll stop hijacking the post and will hand over to Elena…

*If you would like to contribute your own story to the Sewing For Self-Care: Your Story series, details can be found at the end of this post.*



I’ve been thinking a while about Laura’s call for stories on sewing for self-care. It’s a personal subject – how do I even begin to tell it?

I have a long story – a life long one, in fact, having been born with an active bipolar disorder. I am 48, but it is only in recent years that some form of medication became available for my particular variant, and even that does not remove the symptoms but only softens them. Thank Goodness for that though! I am not complaining – last 6 years were bliss. 🙂

So, without any help, pharmaceutical or from a therapist, I had to find my own ways of dealing with life. I’ve worked all my life, I still do. Work full time, and for twenty years also studied in the evenings. So the effects of bipolar disorder had to be managed, yes, but mostly hidden from everyone else – appearances must be normal, or anyhow close to normal, since no one wants to have a colleague with mental health issues. It is only in recent years that the stigma started lifting a little, but only just. If you want to lead a normal life without everyone treating you as if you were “fragile”, mental illness has to be hidden. I figured it out at the age of five – not the bit about mental illness of course, but the bit about hiding what you feel. You learn the rules of social behaviour and then you act accordingly. No one needs to know what you feel inside.

A very good psychiatrist told me a long time ago: “I don’t have a medicine to give you. You have an artistic personality and you need to learn to live with it. Do artistic things – that helps.”

So, all of you bipolar people: we have artistic personalities! Huzzah! 😀

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I’ve been doing all things textile since before I can remember 🙂 so following the doctor’s advice wasn’t hard. But sewing only started to have an impact on my bipolar when I consciously included it into my daily routine as a mandatory activity. It pushes back the waves, creating islands of time shielded from the roaring ocean of conflicting emotions – my everyday “normality”.

So yes, to me sewing is vital.

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Mania is not euphoria

In a nutshell, bipolar disorder makes your general emotional state swing between periods of depression and mania. It is the background mood – you still get the usual emotions on top of it. The length of each period is roughly the same, so your life goes through regular phases, for some people it’s 3-4 months each, for others it’s only days, and sometimes it can be as long as several years.

Depressive phases are easy to understand – you feel sad and everything looks worse than it is, this is very similar to a regular depression. Manic phases are more complicated, and usually far from pleasant. You don’t get elevated moods  – the dominant emotions are anger, irritation and frustration, not euphoria, as many people think. So you’re generally swinging between depression and aggression…

My phases are short – just a week each, so at least I always know that no matter how bad it is, it will be all over within a week. 🙂 Always look for the silver lining. :-))

When mania is really bad, I can only sleep 3-4 hours a day (or not at all when I was younger), so you’d think there is a lot of time but you are so conflicted that you don’t get anything accomplished unless you get organised. But you can’t get organised because your thoughts are racing and jumping all over the place, so you yourself literally start racing around the room… The only solution is to have a plan prepared and waiting, such as needing to clean 5 bathrooms, make 25 identical T-shirts or wind 30 balls of wool. 🙂 Not too involved – your brain is in overdrive. (NOT to write another chapter for your PhD thesis – bad, bad idea!!) This frantic work slows you down, and there comes your chance to do some creative work and make new plans, both for depressions and manias. This is when you get very out-of-the-box ideas – very creative. Not always wise, but creative.

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During a depression you can’t think straight because your brain is too slow. So you need a plan to follow, such as drafting a difficult pattern or sewing that said pattern using some slippery satin or something. A real challenge. It must be tactile to bind you with reality – it is incredibly easy to slip into a dream world – after all, any reality is only in your perception, it is always subjective. But, as someone said, if the dragon is still blazing fire after you’ve woken up, call the Fire Brigade because it’s the real one (probably your cooker). So, doing complex tactile things helps to separate real dragons from imaginary ones and stimulates the brain and winds it up a bit, so you become functional again which automatically improves your mood. Win-win. 🙂

And what about sewing?

I don’t just sew for the sake of doing it – the process is extremely important but it must lead to a good result. Or at least it must serve as a lesson so that the next attempt would yield a good result. A good result being a garment that feels nice, fits me perfectly and looks a treat – all three aspects are equally important.

I sew clothes because I like my clothes to fit and be comfortable – not too hot and not too cold, so made of natural materials, and unfortunately such things are not being stocked at our stores. (Someone said that our cotton fields got contaminated with polyestritis – it certainly looks that way in the shops!) So I make my own.

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Wearing well-fitting clothes that suit the weather, your mood and the occasion gives you an instant boost of confidence which is very important when your emotional state is a bit shaky – and you don’t need to have bipolar to know it! (And wearing polyester that makes you all clammy and sweaty with the corresponding aroma does the opposite.)

I started making my own clothes back in school, learning from my mum – she used to copy patterns from magazines. They fitted well enough – they fitted my mother far better than they fitted me though! I got so fed up with endless fittings and alterations during sewing that I went to college and took on a complete professional training in bespoke pattern cutting and tailoring with couture techniques. No more alterations! 😀

Those three years, and getting my tailor’s diploma in the end, was the most empowering experience of my life! I possess an essential life skill – making clothes – and with it I shall survive anywhere, endure anything – even a Marsian invasion (and won’t they need clothes too?). 😉 

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Every garment I make, for myself or for others, I make to the best of my ability, and still every time I learn something new. Sewing has endless variations of fabrics and patterns, colours and textures, finishing techniques, embellishing, embroidery, knitting and crochet too – and I am not sewing for theatre, this is all for every day! I like to sew everyday clothes and make them less everyday.

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The more reason to have calming grounding tactile textiles to sew and knit every day!


Thank you so much to Elena for writing such an insightful and thought-provoking post! It truly is a testament to the incredible impact of sewing and creative outlets on our mental health. Be sure to check out her blog – Vintage Sewing Machines Blog – for more amazing content!

If you are interested in contributing a post to Sewing For Self-Care: Your Story, please get in touch! You can email me – laura@sewforvictory.co.uk – or contact me via any of the social media outlets linked in the side bar. If you would like to see more information about the series, be sure to check out my original introduction post!

Sewing For Self-Care: A Round-Up

Being able to post about sewing and its relationship to self-care is probably my favourite thing about running Sew For Victory. I think that so many of us who have battled – or are battling – with mental illness struggle to find a meaning to it. When you’re experiencing something that you wouldn’t wish on anyone, it’s difficult to justify why you should have to suffer through it yourself. Using my blog as a platform to discuss mental health and highlight the incredible benefits that a creative outlet can have for all of us is just one way that I’ve been able to give some sort of meaning to my experiences. And I believe that this search for meaning may be one of the reasons why sewing works so effectively in helping us to manage our mental health. Not only is a great distraction from various external and internal goings-on, it’s a channel through which we can direct our emotions – sadness, stress, anxiety, happiness, or otherwise – and create something meaningful. I don’t even think it matters what you end up creating – a garment, a painting, or a doodle. Because the meaning behind it is there, regardless.

Opening up the blog to other sewist’s stories about sewing and mental health has been an incredible experience. I am honestly humbled by the fact that anyone would want to share such personal stories with an unknown audience, but it’s a testament to those amazing bloggers and the power of this conversation. Although I see the taboo around mental health decreasing in many respects, it still feels to me as though society is most comfortable when it is a conversation being had behind closed doors. Not only does this do little to dispel the ignorance around mental illness, it’s also incredibly dangerous to individuals who are struggling to find a path forward. My hope in starting the Sewing for Self-Care: Your Story series – and writing about my own struggles separately – was to start an open and honest conversation about mental health and the way that creativity can help us navigate the psychological storms.

So far, I’ve had three fantastic bloggers share their stories:

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  • Jenny from Jenny DIY wrote about using sewing as a means to manage anxiety, as well as the complex relationship between self-care and mental health.

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Each of these amazing individuals spoke openly about the ways in which sewing has helped them to manage mental illness and practice the self-care that we all so desperately need. Their passion for sharing the benefits of creativity is evidenced by their total willingness to share their struggles on a blog that is not their own with a whole host of people that they don’t know. It’s this kind of courage that makes me believe we truly will reach a point where conversations about mental health are no longer ‘closed door’ discussions but are ones that we aren’t afraid to have wherever we choose to.

If you would like to add your own voice to this conversation about sewing and self-care, I would love to have you. You can read the original post or simply email me laura@sewforvictory.co.uk to share your thoughts!

Since starting the Sewing For Self-Care: Your Story series, I’ve also shared some additional resources of my own. One of my favourite posts to write was Sewing For Self-Care: The Science Behind Creativity And Mental Health. The more I’ve been writing about sewing and self-care, the more interested I’ve become in the the objectively verifiable ways that creativity can help us to manage our mental health. Although it is an area of increasing interest for academics and professional mental health practitioners, I found a lot of evidence from studies already conducted that indicates a strong positive relationship between creativity and recovery from mental illness. Although a creative hobby is obviously no replacement for professional intervention – whether through doctors or therapists – it is so encouraging to see evidence that points to the benefits of creative outlets in managing our mental health!

I also recently shared one of my favourite posts of personal tips in Sewing For Self-Care: Managing Motivation. My levels of motivation are definitely a strong indicator of where I stand with my mental health on any given day. It ebbs and flows with my mood. Even if you’ve never struggled with mental illness, you’ve likely encountered the ways in which our drive to get things done tends to fizzle out when we’re faced with particular emotions – typically stress or anxiety. Over years of learning to manage my motivation when my mental health isn’t so great, I’ve developed a few different techniques that tend to work in giving my the motivation boost that it needs. Writing this post was a great personal reminder of the fact that I have all of the tools at my disposal – sometimes it’s just about clearing the mental fog so that I can access them!

So that’s a round-up of my most recent batch of Sewing For Self-Care posts. Definitely check out anything you’ve missed and be sure to show your support to the incredible bloggers who’ve shared their stories here. If you’d like to participate in the Sewing For Self-Care: Your Story series, please do be sure to get in touch. Even if you aren’t keen to have anything published on Sew For Victory but just want to talk, you can use any of the many social media avenues (linked at the top of the side bar) to reach out to me. In the meantime, take good care of yourselves.

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Sewing for Self-Care: Managing Motivation

Motivation is a fickle thing. We all find ourselves subject to its whims, usually at the most inconvenient of times (hello deadlines!). To see peaks and troughs in your daily drive is totally normal. Things like energy level, social interactions, and even the weather can impact our desire to get things done. When it comes to practicing good self-care, however, our general levels of motivation can be both an excellent sign of our current state and a great place from which to build ourselves back up.

My motivation is perhaps the most effective indicator of my state of mind. When I’m feeling acutely anxious or depressed, my ability to get things done flies out of the window and away to some far-off land. It’s not necessarily a question of desire. I usually know what I need to do to put myself back on a positive path. But knowing and doing are two very different things. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve become stuck in a cycle of knowing what I ‘should’ do and criticising myself for my failure to do it. This is neither helpful nor compassionate.

Over many years of handling these lengthy dips in my motivation, I’ve developed some pretty helpful techniques to get myself moving again. I like to think of it like giving a car a jump start. Since this is a sewing blog – and I’ve written before at length about why sewing/creativity is so valuable to mental health– these tips are written with creative hobbies in mind. They are techniques that I apply specifically to my sewing, although I’m sure that they could work equally well elsewhere. The tips I’ve put together in this post are also framed by my own battles with mental health, so they’re particularly sensitive to that. However, I definitely find myself applying some of these tools on days where I’m perfectly happy but just ‘can’t be bothered’. So hopefully there’s something for everyone!

*This post isn’t intended to serve as either a diagnosis of or a treatment for mental illness. I write about sewing and self-care because, for me, creativity helps to bolster a positive outlook and has assisted my recovery. However, sewing is not a panacea. I was helped by doctors and therapists, as well as a host of other important interventions. If you’re struggling with your mental health, please reach out to a professional or someone you trust.*

  • Be Kind

If life were accompanied by its own set of rules, I would campaign for this being number one. We forget it far too often, particularly when it comes to our relationships with ourselves. I want to begin with this tip because it should frame your understanding of the others. Nothing that I’m saying in this post should be a starting point for self-criticism. I’m presenting a number of techniques that work for me when I’m struggling to find motivation. But there are days (and, let’s face it, weeks) where nothing is quite able to penetrate the walls of negativity that I’ve put up around myself.

If you find days or weeks where your motivation wanes – when you just can’t get yourself to the sewing table – it’s ok. The worst thing that you can do is add a layer of self-criticism into the mix. It will only further diminish your motivation. I mean, who has ever told themselves ‘I’m such a failure’ and felt more desire to get things done? Kindness should be your watchword. When I’m in a mindset of self-compassion, I usually find that my periods of low motivation pass by the fastest. Of course, it’s easier said than done. Few of us are taught to cultivate self-love. But learning to be kind to yourself truly is the jumping off point for all great things.

*A side-note: I always struggled with the whole concept of self-compassion. On bad days, I still do. If you’re having difficulty developing a mindset of kindness, I highly recommend looking up metta meditation (there are some on the Insight Timer – a free meditation app that I use). I know this isn’t everyone’s thing – and it’s totally not sewing related – but it’s a really incredible tool!

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  • Small, Achievable Tasks

Now we’re on to the concrete stuff! One of the greatest drains on our motivation – particularly when it comes to creative projects – is looking at a big task as one complete whole. Creative hobbies are often very involved, with lengthy projects. If you can only see the long hours ahead of you from start to completion, is it any wonder that your motivation to get started might disappear?

When I’m feeling anxious or depressed, it’s really easy to get stuck in a feeling of overwhelm. Everything becomes a bit overwhelming – getting up, getting dressed, showering, eating. When you’re investing so much energy to just do the things that you need to (like eating), thinking about an optional hobby like sewing becomes totally unimaginable. However, doing something creative is also a powerful path back towards yourself. The important thing is working to build a bridge between your current state and a place that gives you enough energy to work with something creative. To make this achievable, it’s so important to break any projects down into bite-size chunks – little tasks that could be accomplished in a really short amount of time.

The great thing with sewing is that our projects already come packaged in steps. Writing these steps down in a list can be really helpful – i.e. sew front bodice to back bodice; insert zip etc. Doing this condenses the instructions even further and makes them appear even more manageable. You can break the steps down as much as you want, to meet the demands of your life. Sometimes motivation wanes simply because we have so much else going on. Having bite-size tasks that can be accomplished in five minutes is a great way to get in some creative time, regardless of what else is happening!

A word of warning – don’t rely on yourself to do a task breakdown when you’re in a low place. When you’re already lacking motivation, it’s unlikely that you’ll want to invest energy in this. I tend to do a project breakdown at the start of each new project – this allows for any bad days and gives me a pre-existing list that I can turn to at any time.

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  • Create A Multi-Purpose Space

Like me, you may be lucky enough to have a designated sewing space. They’re truly a gift. However, when my motivation to sew has evaporated, having everything contained in a separate room becomes a bit of a problem. I just avoid the space like the plague and don’t have to think about anything sewing-related. When I had a sewing area incorporated into my living space, I found myself sewing a lot more when motivation was low. This is largely because I would find myself walking past my sewing area, seeing something that needed doing, and just getting on with it.

Now I’m not suggesting that we evacuate our sewing rooms. But it’s helpful to find small ways of making the space feel more multi-purpose. A lot of this is about using the room’s advantages. If, like me, you have a big window, adding a comfy chair for reading in the sunlight might be a great option. If your room is hidden away as an escape from the family, capitalise on that! Add a kettle and some snacks, or a blanket so that you can take a cat-nap. Basically anything that gives the room an added, non-sewing purpose. This way, you’ll find yourself going to your sewing room even when sewing motivation is low.

Where this isn’t possible, it might help to develop a list of non-sewing tasks that can be accomplished in your sewing room. I like to clean my room in between projects, for example. Often, cleaning feels much more achievable than sewing does. Sometimes I like to reorganise my patterns or fabric stash. Alternatively, maybe you have some decoration ideas in mind to brighten up your room. For more on this, see the ‘Emergency Tasks’ tip at the bottom of the post!

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My sewing room is super small. But I recently moved my mannequin so that I could throw some cushions down and read in the sunlight. I’ve ended up spending way more time in my sewing room and, often, will just wind up doing some actual sewing!

  • No Zero Days

The ‘No Zero Days’ mindset has been one of the most valuable tools at my disposal in confronting my motivation. The idea is that you work out the things that you want to achieve and commit to doing something towards that goal every day. No Zero Days. For me, this means doing something sewing-centric (choosing a project, working on pattern construction etc.) and something blog-centric (writing a post, replying to comments, social media posting etc.) each day.

The No Zero Days mindset is great because it gives no requirements on how much or how little you do. You’re simply committing to doing something. Even if it’s 11:30 a night and the day has totally passed you by, there’s always something you can do. Make a list of things you could post about on your blog this week, trawl through some online fabric shops to help plan your next project. Just do a little bit of something – even if there’s no way that you can drag yourself to your sewing table today.

Always remember, however, to forgive yourself. If there’s a day when you just can’t get anything done – you’re too distracted, too low, or otherwise – be kind. It’s no big deal. Learn from it and move on. You’ll do even better tomorrow!

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But really, where would I be without my bullet journal?

  • Emergency Tasks

Along with my breakdown of bite-size tasks, I always like to keep a list of ’emergency’ tasks. These are to accommodate my worst days and help me stay on track with my ‘no zero days’ commitment. Essentially, these should be tasks that you think you might be able to achieve if all else fails – and they can be tailored to the things you most struggle with. For example, when I’m in a state of particularly acute anxiety and panic, distraction and absorption become my priorities. I can typically get about the apartment just fine but my mind is racing non-stop. Tasks on days like that are typically focussed on things that I find really absorbing – so it’ll be sitting on the sofa with RuPaul’s Drag Race on TV and doing some cross-stitch. Relatively low effort but still super engaging for my mind. Alternatively, on days when I’m just super low, my priority is typically to get my body moving. Those are the days when I would work on cleaning my sewing room, reorganising my stashes, or otherwise. I might also set aside some hand stitching that I can do in a comfortable seat.

The important thing here is to work with yourself – that’s what makes this a self-care centric practice. Do some experiments. Watch yourself as your motivation peaks and troughs, see what works when you’re in different states of mind. Trial and error is no bad thing. This should be tailored to you and your needs.

This is true for everything I’ve listed. These are tips that speak to my personal experience. Although I believe that they can be translated to different people and different experiences, they might not appeal to you. And that’s ok! Maybe they simply give you ideas of your own that you can adapt to suit you. I wrote this post as something of a guide for potential ways to navigate low motivation. More than that, however, it should hopefully show that there are ways – even on our bad days – when we can move ourselves forward whilst always respecting our needs in any given moment. It’s not about forcing, pushing, or criticising. Rather, it’s about attentiveness and limitless compassion to ourselves – this picture will always look different, depending on your situation and frame of mind. Just be kind to yourself and the rest will certainly follow.

If you have any of your own tips to share – or general thoughts to add – please comment below! I’m always super excited to hear what other people do and have a conversation about the many aspects of using sewing for self-care!

Sewing For Self-Care: Moriah’s Story

Welcome back to another Sewing For Self-Care: Your Story post! I’ve been so overwhelmed by the response to this series and particularly the willingness of such an amazing collection of sewists to share their stories. Talking about mental health, in any form, can be a daunting task. Doing so in an unfiltered, globally accessible forum – as with blogs like mine – takes the challenge to another level. So I want to take a moment (acknowledging that it isn’t nearly enough) to thank all of the beautiful and courageous souls who have shared their stories on Sew for Victory so far.

This week’s contribution is an amazing addition to the conversation surrounding sewing and self-care. Moriah offers an incredible insight into the many ways that sewing has helped her with her mental health – particularly around the types of body image issues from which so many of us suffer. So, without any more chatter from me, I’ll hand over to Moriah!

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


My name is Moriah Conant and I blog at www.thelordismyteacher.com.

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I’ve been sewing for almost 13 years, and it is a huge positive in my life.

Sewing and Mental Health

One of the first memories that I have of sewing was during a summer that my older sister/best friend was spending with our grandma.  We’ve always gotten along well and my sister is a great support, especially when I am struggling with my mental health.  Eight year old Moriah was pretty upset about her sister being away for so long.

To keep me occupied one day, my mom suggested sewing a quilt for my beloved dolls. Together we cut small squares of scrap fabric, sewed them into rows, and then into a small quilt.  It was amazing to see these wrinkled scraps of fabric become a beautiful and useful object.

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Apparently we still own the little doll quilt!

Needless to say, I was hooked.  Sewing provides me with something to do with my hands on the hard days that I can’t quiet my mind.  I make the rules, I control what I’m making, and where my focus is.  Doing something constructive with my hands allows me to makes positive choices for my mental health.

In college I was always busy and rarely had time for sewing.  About a year ago I picked up embroidery (again) as a way to sew on the go.  That revamp of a hobby became an Etsy shop that I run (www.owlofit.etsy.com).  My small embroidery projects are portable, do not require a lot of time investment, and provide a way to be creative when I don’t have much extra time.

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My Etsy shop is a good way to fund graduate school, do something that I love, and boost my mental health.

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I’ve also done some fun projects for myself.

Sewing and Body Image

I think most people can relate to struggling with body image to some degree.  For me, I lost over fifteen pounds over the course of a few months (about two and a half years ago). Even before this loss I didn’t have any weight to spare. It’s frustrating to try everything that you can to gain weight and still feel like your clothes are falling off of you.

It wasn’t until almost two years later that I finally connected the dots between the weight loss and a medication that I was taking. Thankfully, when I brought that up to my doctor he made some adjustments and I’ve now gained back that weight.

It is an amazing feeling to create a garment specifically designed and fitted to my unique body.

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This bodysuit is one of my most recent makes and it took several pattern adjustments to make it fit but it paid off!!

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This is a Barrett Bralette (pattern from Madalynne Intimates).  I love the way it turned out.

Sewing and Self-Confidence

I love saying, “Thanks! I made it.” Every new project reminds me that I am capable of making things and overcoming challenges.  Failing, learning, and growing also helps the perfectionist in me to give myself grace.

There are few things that get me more excited that a sewing project that turned out great.  Even when plans don’t turn out so well, I can learn from what went wrong.

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This is my beautiful niece in a beanie and leggings that I made for her.

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My cat Wednesday also likes to give her help and input with my sewing.

If you want to hear more from me, check out my blog www.thelordismyteacher.com !

Thanks so much to Laura for allowing me to share some of my story with sewing.


A massive thanks to Moriah for sharing her amazing story! Definitely take a look at her blog – The Lord Is My Teacher– to follow along with her journey. You can also buy some of her incredible makes via her Etsy Shop – OwlOfIt (seriously, the embroidered hats are amazing!

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 postintroducing this series and starting this larger community conversation about using sewing for self-care.

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.

Elisalex

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