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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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: 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: Tamsin’s Story

The first Sewing for Self-Care: You Story post is here! I was so excited to hear from Tamsin, who blogs over at Hazelnut Thread. Her story about using sewing as part of an effective approach to postnatal self-care is incredibly relatable and enlightening! When I emailed her back after receiving her post, I wrote that I couldn’t help smiling as I read. I’m sure that you’ll find the same! Whether you are dealing with anxiety in general, attempting to develop a specific self-care regime around your little ones, or are simply looking for better ways to attend to your own needs, I’m know that Tamsin’s post will help you there. I hope that you enjoy!


While it’s quickest to describe myself as a long term sufferer of anxiety, in reality, what I suffer from is a multi-plate spinning brain. When each plate is being spun, I feel pretty normal. When I’m at work, I teach 30 different children a concept at several levels of understanding at the same time as balancing their behavioural needs, thinking of better ways to explain myself and keep them all in the same room. It’s what my brain is used to. It’s fine. But whenever I don’t need to think about that particular plate, anxiety loads the empty plate – filling the gap that is left behind. In other words, my brain is trained to think about several things at the same time and when I stop, it finds other things to think about, and think about and think about. I can rumunate on a gut-wrenching thought over and over quite compulsively.

Sewing has been part of my life now for almost 3 years and it is a blessing for someone with a brain like mine. I wanted to write about how this happened and where the sewing journey has taken me in that short time. I had always wanted to be able to make clothes since I can remember. I had a sewing machine, actually I had two! But honestly, I could not make a thing, all the gear and no idea, stuffed in the back of my wardrobe for 15 years.

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When Hazel decided to come along (I thought it was early menopause, but no, I was 6 weeks pregnant) the timing was tough. I was expecting to get Postnatal depression, but I didn’t. In fact I distinctly remember feeling Postnatal joy for several months. I would walk around so blissfully grateful. I felt so priviledged to be able to look after her, I still do. However, the antidote to this immense love is that I felt incomprehensibly guilty that I was not good enough for her. I don’t live near my family and only one of my friends has children, so everything I felt was magnified as it was often just me and her. I suppose my day-to-day happiness masked what was really going on. While on maternity leave, an entire dinner service of anxiety plates were building in my head.

An awareness I felt when I had my daughter, which I was not expecting, was the feeling of connection with my female ancestory. I would hold Hazel, humming the same lullaby that my mum had sung to me, knowing that her mum had sung it to her when she was a baby. I never knew my maternal grandmother, but I attribute this feeling of connection to the reason sewing really took hold of me 3 years ago. My maternal grandmother was a gifted seamstress and used it to make ends meet as well as for pleasure. I had an overwhelming urge to make Hazel a pair of dungarees and when I bought that Burda pattern, I also bought a simple dress pattern that included a hat. Why I thought I could do any of it I don’t know. Obviously the first attempt at dungarees went in the bin, but when I needed to get Hazel a summer hat, I was compelled to make one. This is the decision that ignited something in me and sewing took over most of the spinning plates in my brain. Not only was the hat the first sucessful sewing project I had completed, but I distinctly remember getting a buzz from doing the top-stitching! I wonder if some deep seated genetic abililty was starting to come to the surface.

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I wish I was blogging back then to try and remember all the thoughts and learning that I was doing. But I can remember making this simple dress about 5 or 6 times. Each time deciphering the instructions in a slightly different way. The fabric was so cheap and I didn’t have to worry about fitting it carefully or anything – I could just go for it. Every bit of skill, bar sewing in a straight line, was new to me. I can remember getting so excited when I could sew bias binding on neatly. While it took me hours to complete a dress, it was easy to pick up and do in stages during nap time. It was the first time in over a year that I had sat still, with music in the background, focussing on something other than my worries. It was bliss. My mind was able to think about so much at once! The endless possibilities. Fabric choices, details, accent colours, different patterns…my head was full of it. When I wasn’t sewing I was reading about it online or in books. The guilt was there in spades that I wasn’t focussed on her, but I was making things for Hazel while she was asleep, new things in her favourite colours, so this allayed my guilt. Now looking back, I know I had no need to be guilty, but there would have been no point telling me that at the time.

It’s funny to think that I must have made 8 items on my simple 20 year old Toyota machine with what was probably the original needle! I had no idea how much I didn’t know. I did go back to that dungaree pattern and made about 4 versions – still with that same needle.

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Skip forward a few months of obsessive sewing practise and learning and I was lucky enough to get the chance to buy a new computerised machine. I was so excited that I drove straight through a buses-only lane! I had no idea until I got the ticket a few weeks later.

I made another dungaree dress in denim for the first time on my new machine, inspired by the triple-stitching feature. I made a zebra motif from felt and zigzagged it in black all around the edges. This went on the front of her dungaree dress. I was now feeling that I could make her any design she wanted. This felt like a mummy super power. I loved being able to make her a one of a kind outfit based on her favourite book for World Book Day (a cow from Click, Clack, Moo!).

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I had some ideas about how to sew in theory – as seen in films etc. – such as measuring, fitting alterations, pinning up the hem. However, I found that with children’s clothes I could get away with following a straight forward packet size with no alterations. I eyeball hems with an iron and pin them flat. I think this gave me the freedom to really learn from scratch and figure out what worked and what didn’t. The continual learning, problem solving, and creativity is such a tonic for my brain. By spinning all those plates and thoughts, I create a new outfit from a flat piece of fabric, but feel calm and relaxed the whole time.

I mentioned that I don’t bother with hemming properly, or fit! Well, I moved onto making clothes for myself. I don’t enjoy the fitting process and I’m really bad at it. But it’s reassuring to know that there is still a wealth of learning to do. I genuinely feel that learning to sew is going to take me years and that’s a relief. I know what I can’t do, but I also feel a sense that I can take on any project and as long as I take my time, it’ll get there. I feel that when times are difficult, I know that there is a way to give myself a break from the incessant ruminating about rubbish.

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Top of my list for feeling happy about my sewing is top-stitching and finish. I give loads of my makes to charity because they don’t fit – but they certainly look lovely on the hanger inside and out. I love things to be neat and tidy and top-stiching just looks bloody lovely to me. My machine definitely helps though! I can spend hours setting in a label (not that I have my own, yet) so it looks lovely. Whereas others will put fit on the top of their list and feel happy, the photos I heart most on instagram are usually of overlocking and hidden liberty facings or a hong kong seam.

I love writing my blog. I can’t keep to a regular posting schedule, but I really enjoy keeping a record of what I’ve learned on my journey, with the odd non-sewing related ramble. Instagram is my go-to social media of choice. I scroll through it a couple of times a day and it’s always been the blame for any impulse fabric, book, or accessory purchase. Mostly, I enjoy connecting with the sewing world. It’s the norm that people have their own sense of style and embrace their individualities, and people just praise each other or ask for more information. If only the whole of social media worked like that. Recently, I have really enjoyed taking part in two gift exchanges – which is odd because I don’t do any crafting and only sew clothes. But it’s definitely highlighted the joy of giving and it’s another way to connect with people.

I think sewing is either something you enjoy or not. Many people would find the whole process an utter bore, with too many things to think about. However, my advice to anyone with anxiety that manifests itself like mine does is to try anything creative. Creating uses different parts of your brain, requiring your main worrying thoughts to quieten down temporaily. It is quite hard to maintain a conversation when you are in this state, so that would be the test to see if you are there. My word of warning would be to set an alarm if you need to be somewhere. When I used to paint, 3 hours would feel like 20 minutes. I can happily lose a whole day to sewing (childcare permitting!). An hour’s rest from ruminating will do wonders for your daily well-being. It won’t fix you, but moments of peace everyday will help in the long run.

My advice to anyone taking up sewing is to start simple and repeat it over and over. Sewing for children is really good because of the smaller scale and lower price. However, if you are sewing for yourself, a nice beginner pattern sewn 5 times will increase your knowledge hugely. Even something as simple as pyjama bottoms. It’s also worth remembering that, yes, there are proper ways to do things, but in the meantime, use a 20 year old needle until you read that you’re meant to change them (and use different sizes and shapes at that). Something I also like to do is try to embrace a mistake in every project. Instead of getting perfection, when each mistake comes along I decide if I will rectify it, or whether that’ll be my “mistake of the make” and I ignore it. This approach saves a lot of heartache. Lastly – and this doesn’t sit well with my eco ideals – when learning, I think if you do it for the process and not to get a dress at the end, it’s a lot more enjoyable. Many of my makes end up going in the bin half way through but, apart from feeling guilty at the waste, it means I don’t develop a perfectionism streak in my sewing.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed reading through my experience of sewing and anxiety. Please visit my blog – Hazelnut Thread – for more stories about my journey.


A massive thanks to Tamsin for writing this incredible post. Make sure to check out her blog so that you can follow along with her sewing adventures! 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.

How To Sew Your Wedding Dress (Part 3): Stitching Without Stress and Anxiety – Or How To Avoid My Biggest Mistakes

This is definitely not a post that I anticipated having to write. For those of you who have been following my relationship/wedding journey, you’ll know that I was moving along quite happily with progress on my dress. I had a fabulous pattern, beautiful fabric, and a muslin that I had tailored to fit just as I wanted. Yet, for reasons that will be the subject of this post, I’ve wound up two days away from my wedding with no me-made dress. While you might think that I’d be freaking out – and, I won’t lie, there was a fair bit of that going on last week – I actually wish I’d decided to abandon the project sooner.

It’s inevitable that this post is going to turn into something of a P.S.A. for all other sewcialists out there, along the lines of a warning about ambition, internal pressure, and a lack attention to self-care. When I set out to make my wedding dress, it was really a distraction from the turmoil of dealing with a long-distance relationship and a lengthy immigration process. I needed some sort of project to focus on in order to remind myself that there was a light at the end of the LONG tunnel of forms, interviews, and waiting. Had I started even earlier than I did, I might have got the wedding dress finished in plenty of time. My main fear was that, if I started too early, the fit would end up being off if my measurements shifted – especially since I was going for such a tailored fit. Since I also had no idea when I’d finally get my visa and be able to move to the US or schedule a wedding date, it was also totally impossible to determine exactly how much time I would have between finishing the dress and actually getting married. So I delayed. I started sewing just before I left the UK and figured that I’d have plenty of time – around a month or so – to get it finished once I arrived stateside. This didn’t seem too outlandish to me, given that it’s a relatively simple pattern and one that I had already sewn up.

Looking back, I’m not sure that I could’ve dealt with the situation any better. But with the stress of packing up my life in the UK, moving to the US, and trying to get a wedding organised in a month, I definitely took on too much. Just trying to adjust to life in a new place is a big deal and takes up a surprising amount of time. At the end of it, I was left with a week to go until the wedding and no more progress on my dress. While I tried so hard to pull it round, the stress was overwhelming. I’ve shed many tears at my sewing machine before – the curse of being a perfectionist – but sometimes you just have to step back and ask whether its worth it. A wedding dress is such an important garment – perhaps the most important one you’ll wear over the course of your life. As much as I desperately wanted to sew my own, it was pretty necessary – for my sanity and peace of mind – that I admit defeat. Fortunately, I managed to buy one I love and with a few days to spare!

That said, I’ve learnt a whole lot about myself and my relationship with sewing over the course of this project. These are lessons that I’ll definitely be applying to any future projects – particularly those in which I’m sewing for some sort of event or feel especially invested in what I end up producing. So I thought it would be appropriate to close out my series of wedding dress posts with one on sewing without stress – alternatively titled, ‘How to avoid the mistakes I made’.

1. Remember why you sew

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This was, for me, definitely the most important lesson. I was initially really hesitant to commit to sewing my own wedding dress, largely because it felt like it flew in the face of the fact that I sew for self-care. Sewing was a hobby that I developed at a really difficult time in my life. It was a distraction from overwhelming anxiety and debilitating panic attacks, when I struggled to even leave the house. I’m so far away from where I was then, but sewing remains a really fundamental part of my self-care regime. It’s time I take for me, where I’m given space to become totally absorbed in what I’m doing. Choosing to sew my own wedding dress – a high stress project at a high stress time of my life – was a decision that began to feel incredibly disconnected from the reasons why I took up sewing in the first place. That’s not to say that you can’t sew for self-care and still make important garments. You can do absolutely anything you set your mind to. I could’ve finished the wedding dress. I could’ve scrapped Version 1 and began again. But reminding myself of why I sew – primarily for self-care – gave me a much needed wake-up call and the ability to say that enough was enough.

As I said above, the conclusion doesn’t have to be that you scrap a project as soon as it stresses you out. But, if you’re stressing, it’s a good idea to adjust what you’re doing to minimise the negativity. This might simply mean taking a break – get a cup of tea, listen to some music or read a book. Put the garment away for an hour, a day, a week. Work on a different project. Do whatever you need to do to channel the stress elsewhere and return with a fresh perspective. Remembering why you took up sewing – whether simply as a new hobby, a professional skill, or as self-care – can help to pull things back to where they should be. Stress has no place at the sewing machine (unless you’ve sewn over your finger, of course).

2. Forget the ‘should’ and the ‘could’

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I try to avoid these words as much as possible in everyday life. They are not healthy and they never lead the mind to anything good. The above paragraph should show you how easily toxic thoughts of this kind can fester – “I could’ve finished the wedding dress. I could’ve scrapped Version 1…” But this is totally where my mind was for the majority of this project. Despite my initial hesitation, I let myself get swept up in the idea that because I could sew my wedding dress, I should. Everyone would expect it after all, surely? If I didn’t turn up to my wedding in a me-made dress, wouldn’t everyone just be confused or doubt my sewing skills?

For anyone overcoming anxiety or other forms of – incredibly circular and self-defeating – mental illness, getting rid of the shoulds and coulds is one of the hardest battles. These words are often one of the main reasons why we end up where we do: I should have a better job than I do; I could just get out of bed, so why don’t I?; I should be happy and grateful for everything I have. What’s wrong with me? The power of these words is limitless and they come up more often than we’ve trained ourselves to realise. I only monitor my internal language because it was absolutely key to getting through the bad times. But this is not just a problem associated with mental illness. I notice that, in periods of general or high stress, the narrative comes straight back to me. And just because we’re doing crafting projects that we’ve actively chosen, doesn’t mean that we can’t experience stress and berate ourselves for not doing better. I should’ve just started this thing earlier and I wouldn’t be sewing it an hour before the event; Why couldn’t I just have done a better job on these seams? They’re such a piece of trash; Look at all of these bloggers and Instagrammers. They’re making such amazing garments. I should be doing that too. Seriously, why can’t I just do a better job? Does any of this sound familiar or even slightly recognisable to you? If so, you’re definitely not alone. These are the examples that came to mind exactly because they’re the thoughts I have most often. Putting yourself out there via blogs and social media is such an easy avenue to inescapable comparisons with others.

So do yourself a favour. Forget the coulds and the shoulds. Replace them with phrases like I want to or I choose not to. When you’re in periods of high stress – whether sewing a wedding dress, a commission that just won’t work out how you want it to, or a skirt with some beautiful and expensive fabric – remember that beating yourself up with guilt and regret won’t do anything to move you along or make you a better sewist. Talk to yourself the way you would your best friend or a child trying their hand at sewing. There wouldn’t be any shoulds there.

3. Do this the way that you want to do it

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Whatever event or reason you’re sewing for, remember that ultimately it comes down to what you want to do. If you’re sewing for your wedding, it’s about the dress that you want to wear. Make sure that you stay realistic given your time frame but there’s no reason why you can’t get a little ambitious. Combined with the advice above, it’s absolutely key that you don’t compare what you’re doing to what anybody else has done. Your wedding dress doesn’t need to look like those you’ve seen on Facebook or Instagram. The joy of sewing is that you’re making things that are 100% certifiably yours. Take as much time as you need and as many tea breaks. Throw it in the bin a couple of times but be sure that, each time, you rescue it when you calm down and reassess (so don’t throw it on top of food rubbish. I suggest doing what I do and having a separate bin for fabric so you can be sure that any rescued projects aren’t tea bag stained!). Not everything is the catastrophe it seems.

And, something that I’ve had to remember – even if you decide to call it a day, you are not a failure. This is not a life-or-death situation. You tried, you learnt, and you ultimately decided that it wasn’t quite the right time or project for you. That’s seriously ok. It’s rectifiable. Even if it’s only a week until your wedding and you don’t have a dress. I’m proof that there is always a way forward. Nothing is worth your happiness or your peace of mind.

So go forth and sew! Remember the reasons why you first sat at that sewing machine and never forget that you are a superhero for sitting back at it every time things go pear-shaped. We’ve all had those days and part of the joy is – as with this post – sharing them with others.