“I am certain that a Sewing Machine would relieve as much human suffering as a hundred Lunatic Asylums, and possibly a good deal more.”Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace
As my first post, I thought it would make sense to write about why I sew.
- Sewing makes me feel happy
In case the title of the blog didn’t give it away, sewing makes me happy. Crafting of any sort promotes the increase of dopamine in the brain; there is plenty of research to back that up. There is an indescribable therapeutic pleasure in making something beautiful out of raw materials.
I have for many years been known to say, “I’d love to be able to sew my own clothes” but, as is the case with so many things in life, I never actually made a start. I was busy with education – I’m a collector of degrees – and trifled with many other crafts (in fact, you’ll still find me curled up on the sofa from time to time with a ball of wool and a couple of sleepy shih tzus and you’ll always get a handmade card on your birthday) so I was always learning and making something but I just didn’t make the move to start sewing. I suspect I know the reason – I have that terrible personality trait that makes me afraid of failure. If I’m not brilliant at something, I get frustrated at myself and tend to throw my head in the air and walk away. I do not like being a novice at anything. I looked at sewing as something too difficult and kept putting myself off the notion (pun originally unintended). My partner bought me a sewing machine for Christmas so I couldn’t really make any valid excuses to put it off anymore – and the rest is history. After I threw a strop trying to thread the machine for the first time – if you haven’t sewn before, don’t let your first encounter with the machine put you off because, I promise, it gets easier – I was hooked. If I’d known how empowering sewing could be I’d have started years ago, fear be damned!
2. Sewing creates self-acceptance and a postive body image
Firstly, for as long as I can remember, my self worth has been linked to my body image. I have not always been comfortable with or accepting of my body. I was the chubby kid who became the early developer with curves in all the places I’ve now grown to love but singled me out in my adolescence as ‘different’. I grew up in a home where my ‘fatness’ was a weapon brandished by my mother to keep me ‘in my place’ – I was intelligent (always top of my class), musically talented, involved in sports and kind natured but none of this mattered because I wasn’t ‘beautiful’. Consequently, I grew up with this overarching sense of shame about my appearance which caused me to have an unhealthy obsession with food and exercise throughout my 20’s in an attempt to maintain a size 8 figure.
For years, I maintained the weight loss but with great effort and almost devastating results on my health and social life. Then the criticism came – “you look ill”, “you were much prettier before you lost weight”. I began to realise that no matter how thin or curvy I was, I’d never be quite right for people – they’ll always find something to try and tear you down – so I stopped trying.
“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.”Thich Nhat Hanh
I stopped counting calories. I stopped making myself run for 8 miles to atone for eating steak and salad for dinner. I escaped a soul-destroying marriage. I started loving life again; I started letting my body be what nature intended.
I found a love for vintage inspired fashion, for the prints and the stuctures of the 40s and 50s. I stopped visiting the likes of Hobbes, Karen Millen, Reiss and Oasis, tired of having to try on every single item of clothing to find which of three sizes fitted me. For a while, I revelled in vintage reproduction clothing which was much more suited to my shape and celebrated female curves but after a few years some labels started to change their size charts (not that they’ll admit it) and inconsistency became a problem once more. As the reproductive fashions became more popular, the standard of making got worse and after a few buys where things arrived with seams unfinished or the colour washed out after a wash, I became disenchanted with these brands, too.
So with sewing, out came the tape measure and good quality fabrics. I no longer had to try on clothes to find my size. I discovered my size and started making the clothes to fit it! I was finally in a place where I accepted the reality of my curves and sewing further empowered this self-acceptance. Here’s the happiness in picking up a needle and thread – you no longer judge yourself by the accepted set of measurements that govern the high street so inconsistently.
If someone asked me for a single reason why I recommend sewing? Simply put, it’s hard to reject your body when you sew. Sewing means learning to work with your body – the option of rejecting it is off the table and you learn to embrace it. You look at your body objectively – instead of judging how your body looks, you start assessing how shapes can match your body and how to adjust them if they don’t. When sewing your own clothes, you no longer have to fit a retailer’s tick box. Every one of us have a unique, exclusive body so why not treat it that way and dress it instead of trying to make it fit the poor standards of standardisation?
“You have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”Louise Hay
I still have a long way to go before I have the skills to tackle the vintage pattern collection that is quickly building up but I’ll forever be indebted to Tilly Walnes and her series of beginner-friendly books – Love at First Sight, Stretch and Make it Simple – which have given me the basic skills to follow my dreams of building a hand-sewn wardrobe.
3. Sewing meets my ethical standards and is sustainable
The clothing manufacturing industry, over the last 50/60 years, has transformed into a global activity with complicated and exploitative supply chains that has caused the death of essential simple values – quality of clothing, care of the environment and concern for staff welfare of the people making the garments we all wear.
When you start sewing your own clothes, you challenge the status quo of the fashion industry – another way sewing gives you that ‘feel good factor’. When I started sewing, I gained a deeper appreciation of the time, skills and costs of making clothes and I started looking at high street fashion through different eyes. I remember making my first pair of pyjamas – several people commented: “what’s the point when you can pick them up for less than £10 in Primark?” There was my answer – “Because you can pick them up for less than £10 in Primark.” Somewhere in a country far away from here there is another human being with feelings, dreams and needs being forced to work in a factory for poor wages, forced to work overtime, have their life put at risk working in often unsafe working environments that we would refuse to work in just to make a garment that is so cheap we can buy it, wear it once or twice, and then discard it because it was so cheap it doesn’t really matter. For me, that is a price I no longer want to pay. I want to know that the clothes I wear are made in safe working environments and that the people who made them are able to take pride in their work, have been offered training opportunities to build lifelong skills that will allow them to aspire to bigger things and were paid a wage which fairly reflected the work they put in – it takes much more than £10 of effort to make a pair of pyjamas!
I know I’m going to get a lot more out of the clothes I sew than I have done from the clothes I’ve bought because I’m choosing all the materials myself, choosing patterns with designs that suit my style and personality, and putting the hours into making sure every piece is made to a high standard that will ensure they last and can be enjoyed for longer.