Ode To My Fabric Facilitator (Also Known As Husband)

A little late for Valentine’s Day (although I’m actually writing it on the day) but this is a post that’s been in my head for a while. I think many of us who craft a lot – particularly when we’re also turning that crafting hobby into an online presence of some sort – tend to paint a convincing picture of the activity as something quite solitary. This isn’t entirely inaccurate – the skills involved in sewing and the planning that goes along with creating a new garment tend mostly to come from our own minds. It’s not much of a collaborative activity. But there are almost always other people holding us up in some way. Whether these are shop attendants helping us to find the perfect fabric, blog readers who motivate us to keep sharing our creations, or supportive partners who don’t question our many hours at the sewing machine, we all owe some credit to someone.

I often forget how much I depend on my husband to support my sewing. I don’t talk about him much on here – mostly because I’m the one who has chosen to run this blog and I don’t feel that it’s my right to put too much about other people up on the internet. My husband also has the world’s most Googleable name, which is why I don’t ever actually name him anywhere. This said, I do want to spend a post acknowledging how massively he contributes to my creativity and this blog. Without getting too gushy, of course.

IMG_2422

He was absolutely the driving force behind me picking up sewing and blogging in the first place. I’ve been quite open on here about the fact that sewing came into my life at an incredibly difficult time – a time through which my hubs was totally present and worked every day to help me navigate. I mentioned to him that I thought sewing might, for some unclear reason, be a distraction for me. Within a couple of days, he’d got me a sewing machine, some patterns, and just about all of the accessories I could need. I should mention that, by this point, I’d cycled through about four or five different hobbies in the hope that they would be the thing that stuck and helped to alleviate my anxiety and depression. All of these were time and money investments and they all pretty much fell into disuse. The fact that there were no eye rolls or questions when I brought up learning to sew is really a testament to his patience and belief in me. He also encouraged me to take up blogging as a way to log my achievements and potentially connect with other amazing sewists (that’s YOU!).

Since that point, you’ve all been a party to my journey through this blog. From leaving my PhD programme to moving to the US, it’s all been documented here on Sew for Victory. In the background, my husband has been an absolute constant. He’s financially supported my sewing while I was waiting for my green card and couldn’t work. Now that I have my green card, he’s continuing to give me every form of support needed as I try to figure out where I want to go with my career and sewing. But the material stuff is far from the most important thing. He’s there every time I doubt myself and feel like I want to throw in the towel (this happens more times than I’d like to admit). He’s rescued half-finished projects from the bin on more than one occasion. And he’s the man behind the camera every time we photograph my finished makes, telling me how amazing my garments look.

To say that I couldn’t do this without him would be an understatement. I’ve been working to get to a place where I have sufficient self-belief that I rarely question myself or my achievements. Since I don’t believe that resisting these thoughts is the best way forward – and instead work to let them come and go without getting invested or spiralling – it’s a long process of trying to get to a place where these thoughts don’t impact my actions or choices. The work continues but, because of my propensity to get super self-defeatist, I have no doubt that this blog would have disappeared long ago – along with my sewing – if it weren’t for my husband.

This is not a blog post that should be read as suggesting that it’s impossible to develop or sustain a new hobby unless you have a partner. I’ve been alive for 29 years and with my husband for just four of those. I completed an MA, MSc and took up countless hobbies without him – all while anxiety and depression were very present in my life. It’s totally possible to achieve anything that you want to without a relationship. Not to mention the fact that there are so many other types of relationship that are just as valuable as those of a romantic nature. The support I get from my husband is the kind of support that everyone out there deserves – but it doesn’t have to come from one place. I count myself lucky every day that I found all of this in one person.

So I wanted to write this post for the man who is so constantly present behind-the-scenes. He may rarely be featured but he is somehow always helping to facilitate what I do. He deserves a lot more than a blog post but, for now, this is what I have to offer. And I know he’s reading this – so thank you, my gorgeous one, for everything.

19780301_1571951656211731_8039680353922697136_o

I Got Married!

As promised, I thought I would post some pictures from my wedding! Although I didn’t end up making my dress (see previous post), I still wanted to share some photos with you. Many of you have followed me and my now-husband through the trials and tribulations of the past few years. After a lot of work and so many months apart, we’re finally closing a chapter dictated by distance and a whole lot of bureaucracy. Thank you to all of you who’ve been here, empathised, and offered your support. Even if I don’t know you personally, I still can’t tell you how incredibly important this little community has been to me. So thank you and now on to some photos…

19780301_1571951656211731_8039680353922697136_o

19787543_1571951762878387_2689170928594056983_o

19983490_1571950846211812_4895676223450525219_o

19942727_10212071738341916_7958010115239326029_o

19748626_10211650758458766_2381471357590314657_n

19800876_10212071752102260_6057058579158852988_o

19944207_1571952022878361_8236114673808889249_o

19787535_10209915415257823_2012005052774130316_o

 

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

Joan Dress

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’

DSCF2741

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

IMG_4846

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.

The Sweetheart Dress – My Wedding Dress Muslin!

This much anticipated (by me) post is finally here! I’ve been busying myself with my wedding dress muslin for a while now, trying to tweak the fit to exactly what I want. And it’s finally done! Now that I’m underway with the real thing (and my move to the US is fast approaching), I thought it was about time to share some photos of the muslin and my thoughts on the Sweetheart Dress pattern from Sew La Di Da Vintage!

DSCF2694

My strategy with the muslin was very much to alter that pattern as I went along. And there was quite a lot of modifying to be done in order to get the fit that I wanted. From the beginning, I was keen to achieve a well tailored shape to the bodice – particularly important as a complement to the fullness of the skirt and the big ol’ petticoat that I’ll be wearing underneath it.

The main strength of the Sweetheart Dress is, I think, the neckline. It’s so wonderfully shaped and I especially appreciate the way that the straight neckline is complemented by the way that it curves around the back of the neck. Something about the shape elevates the dress from a standard day dress to a garment that really does work in more formal settings. This is obviously vital to any wedding dress that is made using less traditionally formal patterns, since you’ll still want to make sure that you look bridal. Adding a level of formality that works for a wedding dress was also the main reason that I decided to go with the straight neckline, rather than the sweetheart option (I was a bit worried about a potential cleavage situation).

DSCF2702

The main modifications I made to the pattern were around the bodice. I took the bodice in quite a lot to achieve a more tailored look. Initially, there was a LOT of ease. I ended up taking the dress in when I attached the back zip, basically working with pins until I felt that I had enough ease to be comfortable but not so much that I felt baggy. I had a similar issue with the neckline (obviously I’m talking only about the straight neckline option here) – there was quite a lot of gape when I first put the bodice together. Judging from photos of other people’s makes that I’ve studied, I think this is a relatively common issue. But it was easily fixed. I just took in the seams attaching the front and side front panels, essentially adjacent to the neckline. I probably ended up taking these seams in by about 1 inch on either side to get the neckline to lie flat.

DSCF2725

Apart from that, the only other modification I made was with the hem. Mine ended up being quite narrow, simply to ensure that I was achieving a length that worked with my petticoat (the one that I’ll be wearing for the wedding, rather than the one pictured here).  The length of my muslin is really the maximum I could have achieved without actually adding more fabric when I cut out the pattern pieces – so bear that in mind if you’re after something longer, although honestly I think this length works perfectly for the ’50s style.

I think the skirt on the pattern is spectacular. It’s got the classic circle skirt silhouette but has two front pleats that offer a unique take on the traditional ’50s dress patterns. I think this is another detail that tailors the Sweetheart Dress for more formal occasions. Since I’ll be making my wedding dress in a heavier brocade fabric, I think the fall of the pleats and the hang of the skirt will look especially great! Obviously with a skirt so fabulous (and no fiancé here to tell me I’ll make myself sick), I decided that I needed to do some serious spinning.

DSCF2741

And, yes, I did make myself sick. There are a lot more than two of these photos on my computer.

DSCF2733

As you can see from the back shot of the dress, the invisible zip is very much un-invisible. This was kind of a sacrifice on the path to getting the bodice to fit right. I might let the bodice of the wedding dress out a bit to better accommodate the zip (when the dress isn’t on my body, the zip is actually invisible), but I’m not too worried – mostly because a white zip on a white wedding dress isn’t much of a problem. Obviously I won’t be diving in to sewing up the wedding dress with the exact same measurements and dimensions of the muslin – partly because the fabric is totally different, and partly because I’ve eaten a lot of chocolate since the muslin was made! But it’s good to have some idea of the issues I had with the base pattern so that I can go in a bit more aware of potential problems.

The final thing I’ll mention is the heart patches. I’d like to claim that this was a work of creative genius conceived before I started sewing. Unfortunately, that would be a massive lie. The dress was finished and ready to go. I was trimming down the seams on the zip and accidentally cut a massive hole through the back of my dress. Oops! Obviously my first thought was my usual when I run into any kind of issue, large or small – throw the whole thing in the bin. Fortunately, I resisted and decided the best thing to do would be to patch it in a way that worked. So I bought some red cotton, fashioned some heart templates, cut them out of the fabric, attached some interfacing, and top-stitched them to the dress. I think it actually worked pretty well in the end, proving that you can salvage even the most desperate mistakes!

DSCF2729

I was honestly so stressed out about making this muslin. There’s a definite level of pressure to sewing your own wedding dress that I didn’t quite appreciate before I started making. Fortunately, the Sweetheart Dress pattern is incredibly easy to work with. Modifications aside, the pattern is the clearest that I’ve ever used, with detailed instructions and photos at every step. The structure of the dress is also such that it would be a great dress for beginner sewists who are feeling a bit more ambitious!

From here, it’s on with the wedding dress. Just a few weeks to go!