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.

63B89306-BCAC-4144-BF90-F9AFB6E1245C

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.

F626B7C0-9EF6-4B7A-AA8A-E4D717F0C4C2

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.

IMG-1329

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!

IMG-5069 (1)

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?

IMG-5012
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.

IMG-5082


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! 😀

IMG_20160828_111509_edit

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.

IMG_20170129_175234

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.

IMG_20180118_160529_edit

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.

Vintage flowers dress - Page 4_edit

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?). 😉 

IMG_20160828_110947

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.

IMG_20171020_194745_edit1

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!