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.
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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 – email@example.com – 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.