My Sewing Space Tour!

Now that the final boxes have been unpacked (somewhat reluctantly) and my new apartment is looking presentable, I thought that it was about time to give you all a tour of my new sewing room! This move was an exciting one for me, largely because I’ve been living without a creative space for the first half of 2019. While searching for a new place, the need to have a designated work area (however big or small) was at the front of my mind and I really lucked out in finding an apartment that met every single one of my needs. Those of you who’ve been following Sew for Victory for some time may recall the cute and cosy sewing room that I was lucky enough to have in my first American abode. Although on the smaller size, the room was abundant with storage and natural light and ended up being the part of the house in which I felt most completely at home (largely because it was filled with the stuff that I’d paid many hundreds of dollars to ship over with me). Now in my new flat, my sewing room is far more spacious and I’m in love with the amount of room that I have!

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Important to me (although not an essential part of what I was looking for), the wooden flooring combined with the spaciousness of the room gives plenty of space for pattern cutting. This was a real problem in my last place. My sewing room was carpeted and the rest of the apartment, although floored with wood, was bedecked with the kind of original wooden flooring that is both incredibly splintered and not particularly smooth. Anything that can help to reduce my tally of workplace injuries is always good by me and this room’s smooth laminate is just about as perfect as it gets for avoiding splinters whilst still able to lay out large amounts of fabric. You’ll also notice that this apartment is pretty incredible when it comes to natural light. I was slightly concerned about lighting levels pre-move. The apartment is basement-level and its window sills are pretty much inline with the ground outside. Paired with the fact that the building itself is relatively tall, I figured that light was going to be somewhat hard to come by. Fortunately, the angle of the sun works perfectly for giving me plenty of light, whilst avoiding the blinding midday period that made sewing almost impossible in my old space. I’m also lucky enough to have a fountain right outside of the window above my sewing table, making this probably the most scenic place that I’ve had to sew in.

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Happily, there’s also plenty of room right next to my sewing table for my clothes rail and mannequin. This fact is truly testament to the space’s comfortable size. My previous sewing room necessitated a game of real-life tetris as I attempted to fit my (very) large work table in the space, alongside my ironing board, mannequin, and clothing rail. Needless to say, there wasn’t a whole lot of room for manoeuvre. But everything now has a place for itself and I can actually step back to appreciate all of the bits and pieces that I’ve sewn over the past couple of years!

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One of the big downsides of the new sewing room (compared with the one in my old apartment) is the lack of storage. Since this is meant to be a second bedroom, it’s unsurprising that the space comes with a simple, single-sized wardrobe. The problem is that I was totally spoiled in my previous sewing room, which came equipped with the biggest cupboard I’ve ever seen – complete with a small staircase so that you could climb into it. The cupboard was so large that I filled it with my entire fabric stash, all of my other bits and bobs, my entire sewing library, and still barely took up half of the space. To compensate for the lack of storage here, I decided to buy my own. Always enjoying an opportunity to nosy in on other people’s sewing set-ups, I’d noticed that cube storage is super popular as a way to organise everything. So I got myself down to Target (truly my favourite thing about America and the greatest shop in the world) and bought a white cube storage system, to match my IKEA work table.

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I’m absolutely in love with this thing. It has so much space and, although I managed to fill it up pretty quickly, accommodates most of my sewing supply (as well as my continually growing library). Since I’m not allowed to stick anything on the walls here, I’ve also used the top to support my notice board and various trinkets. For now, my fabric stash is confined to the shelves at the top of the wardrobe – until I can search out a better storage solution (probably something that I can fit into the bottom of the wardrobe). Suggestions welcome!

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Given the size of the room and the fact that I’m balancing time between Sew For Victory and my other online endeavour – The Book Habit – I decided to add a reading corner to my work space. This has a couple of functions. Giving me a designated place for reading and writing, it also has a super comfy chair for my husband (or, let’s face it, mostly my dog) to occupy whenever I’m at the sewing table. This was a problem in my old apartment. The room was so small that there was nowhere for either of my family members to perch themselves while I worked and this, in itself, made it so much harder for me to motivate myself while they were around. Having somewhere for them is just perfect – especially while I work to re-establish a sewing habit. We actually picked the little sofa up at a thrift store for $15 and somehow managed to manhandle it into the back of our car (much to the consternation of the shop’s employees). It was an excellent find! The rug was a $20 Amazon find and the favourite purchase of my tiny dog (Miss Elizabeth Bennet) who loves to rub herself all over it. The bookshelves are the only feature of the room that still requires attention. My plan is to spray-paint them white to match the rest of the decor (or, more likely, wait until I have the money to buy new white shelves, since I know nothing about spray-painting).

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So there we have it! This sewing room definitely makes the wait for a new place totally worth it and has already proved a sufficiently inspiring space in which to work. While two years into my American adventure and still searching for a sense of home, having a space like this is one of the most important elements of grounding myself in a place that remains incredibly foreign. Much of my sewing collection has travelled with me across continents. It’s moved with me from home to home, occupying each of the five places that I’ve lived over the past 2.5 years. Much the same as I feel when it comes to my book collection, my hobbies and their accompanying inventories of stuff have been some of the few things that I’ve been able to carry with me as I’ve uprooted my life and worked to establish a new home for myself. Having this sewing space and being able to share it with you is such a joyous thing. It’s less about the space itself and more about what it represents – a sense of home and belonging that can often be incredibly hard to achieve. Whether your creative space is an entire room or the corner of a dining room table, whether it’s full of fabric or confined to a single box, I hope that it fills you with the same sense of contented joy and grounding that I feel whenever I look at my own.

Me Made May: A Success Story!

Me Made May is officially at an end! Well technically it ends tomorrow – but I’m totally ready to celebrate a wonderful month. I posted at the start of May about my goals for the month. Essentially, I was just hoping to use the month as an opportunity to revisit some of my favourite me-made garments. I definitely didn’t think I would end up dressing in a me-made outfit every day – the weather in Missouri is pretty wildly hot at the moment and doesn’t totally accommodate my vintage wardrobe. But I gave the month a good shot and ended up feeling super accomplished.

One of the greatest things about the month is that it really hammered home where I need to focus my sewing efforts. I struggled to put together any completely me-made outfits (unless I was wearing a dress, of course) because I just don’t have any tops. Just realising that this is the case has motivated me to fill in my wardrobe gaps and, as I mentioned in my last post, I’m in the process of making a couple of new tops! I think Me Made May is an incredibly useful challenge through which to get totally acquainted with the state of your wardrobe and figure out where you could put in some extra effort. I’m genuinely really excited to move forward and create a complete wardrobe for myself. I owe a lot to Me Made May for giving me an opportunity to make a much-needed appraisal of my garments!

To those of you who decided to participate in Me Made May, I hope that you have had a similarly fabulous month of clothes! I’ll leave you with photos of some of my favourite outfits – you can also see more of this sort of thing by following me over on Instagram (there’s a link in the sidebar)!

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My flowery, dotty version of V1043

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The Veronika Circle Skirt from Megan Nielsen

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My favourite trouser pattern – the Ultimate Trousers from Sew Over It

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The Clemence Skirt from Tilly and the Buttons ‘Love at First Stitch’ book

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The Tyyni Cigarette Trousers from Named Clothing – with bonus Ron Weasley

Here’s to a year of making new, amazing clothes so that next May will be even more incredible!

January Goals: How Did I Do?

At the start of 2018, I set out a few goals for myself. This was in an effort to (1) avoid the inevitable pitfalls and discouragement that come with the idea of resolutions (I feel like ‘goals’ are much more fluid and less associated with berating yourself for failure), and (2) help to give me some direction on the things I’d like to accomplish this year. Although I’m totally open to the fact that these objectives will change as 2018 progresses and circumstances shift, it’s always nice to have some goals that keep you moving forward. In an effort to keep checking in with myself – and to also give you some idea of my current sewing status – I thought that it would be a good idea to do a short monthly rehash of my progress and projects.

January has actually be a super productive month for me. My first goal for 2018 was to do more sewing – and this is something that I definitely succeeded in fulfilling so far! I’ve completed three projects in all, which is pretty amazing compared to my rather paltry showing last year. My first make was a version of B6242 – a reproduction of a 1960s pattern. This was definitely one of my more ambitious projects but ended up being one of my favourites! I especially loved the fabric choice because cherries always have a vintage feel to them (how did this come about, I wonder?).

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After finishing up this dress, I decided that it was high time to use one of my favourite fabric finds – an Australian aboriginal cotton that I’ve been too scared to cut in to. After consulting with lots of wise sewists on Instagram, I decided that a pair of simple trousers was the way to go and found my perfect pattern in the Ultimate Trousers from Sew Over It. The finished project is honestly one of my favourite makes of all time. I love absolutely everything about the finished product and the whole construction process was such a joy. Nothing crazy or complicated. And the resulting fit was something I didn’t think could be achieved without some serious alterations – instead, I just followed the pattern sizes, made the trousers, and found that they fit like a glove all over.

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Once the trousers were all done, I decided to continue working my way through my fabric stash and, shortly before the end of January, had whipped up a version of the Clemence skirt from Tilly and the Button’s Love at First Stitch book. I’ve had this book for a while and had yet to dip into any of the patterns (or, honestly, even look through it). But I’ve had the most darling sparkly bicycle fabric in my sewing cupboard for the past six months and knew that it would make a perfect skirt. I’ve yet to review the pattern – or show any pics – on Sew for Victory, but this will be coming up in the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, here’s a sneak peek…

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My second 2018 goal was to find more of a balance with vintage versus everyday wear. I definitely feel like I accomplished that in January. The Ultimate Trousers are absolutely something that I will be wearing on an everyday basis – as is the Clemence skirt (albeit only once spring/summer rolls around because it’s currently sleeting in St. Louis). That said, it’s a continued priority to sew vintage and vintage reproduction patterns when I can because, even though they are perhaps less versatile in terms of daily wear, they are absolutely my passion. A balanced approach to vintage versus everyday sewing is going to be key, and I think January reflects the development of a much better balance between the two.

My final goal for 2018 was to blog more. Without a doubt, January has been my most productive blogging month since I launched Sew for Victory a couple of years ago. I’m now in a position where I can dedicate much more time to the blog – in the past, Sew for Victory has always coexisted alongside PhD programmes and international moves. January has definitely been an amazing month for engagement with you all and with the broader sewing community. I’ve learnt SO much. I launched my Vintage Sewing 101 series at the start of the month and it has been an incredible learning curve. I’ve been baffled by a lot of what I’ve read but always leave more informed than when I came in. Since we’re not even at the end of the first of the eight sewing manuals, I’m sure there will be a lot more learning (and bafflement) coming my way.

Of all the posts I’ve written this month, however, I’m hands down happiest with Sewing for Self-Care: Your StoryI’ve been so overwhelmed by the response to this initiative and so excited by how supportive the community has been. The post appeared on The Fold Line and is currently featured on their Sewing Challenges and Hashtags page for 2018. As a result of this post, I’ve been contacted by some amazing and seriously courageous people. Some will be writing posts, others simply reached out to share their own experiences of sewing and self-care. Universally, these stories demonstrate that sewing is an incredible tool for people facing all kinds of battles. I feel so genuinely honoured to have been able to hear these stories. Never, when I was at my worst, would I have anticipated being in a position to share my experiences and have people prepared to volunteer information about their own to me. I can’t express how much respect I have for all of you who have faced, or are still facing, challenges with your mental health and attention to self-care. As much as self-care has become something of an overused phrase within the past couple of years, there is no catch-all term that better encompasses how we must all work to treat ourselves. I’m so excited to write more on this topic and introduce some other fantastic crafters to the conversation!

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So there we have it! What a whirlwind of a month! It’s been a fantastic way to kick off 2018 and, even though I’m still figuring some things out (and there are definitely places for improvement outside of these three goals), I’m excited to continue to move forward in February. Given that January and February are typically my personal annual low points (I don’t enjoy extra hours of darkness), 2018 is definitely bucking the trend! Thanks for following and supporting me through the first few weeks of 2018. I can’t wait to see what the next month has to bring!

 

Sewing for Self-Care

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

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

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

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

  1. Pick a project that works for you

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

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

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

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2.  Set aside some time, daily

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

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

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

3.  Acknowledge what you’ve achieved

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

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

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4.  Share, share, share

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

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

5.  Find inspiration

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

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

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