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!

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

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.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

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!

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

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.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

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!

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

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).

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

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.

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!