Even when you see the storm coming, you never quite know how hard it’s going to blow. Is it worth putting up an umbrella, only to risk having it blown away? Is there time to dash for shelter? Do you plod on, head down and determined, trying to ignore the rain soaking through layers or clothing? Or do you embrace it, raise your arms to the sky and challenge the dark clouds to bring it on?
Weathering the storm
I tried the ’embrace the storm’ approach, cycling home from work through London one evening years ago. I was wearing a 1950s fitted white cotton poplin top filched from my mother’s ‘don’t go rummaging in there’ clothes chest. It was quite a thick poplin and since it was a June heatwave I may not have been wearing anything underneath. The heavens opened, hosing down gallons of water on each square inch of tarmac and pavement. There was nothing to be done except accept it and grin. Which I did, to the chap in the car that drew up alongside me at the traffic lights. It was only when I got home that I realised that the smile he returned probably had little do to with the weather and more to do with – well – I’ll leave that to your imagination.
My recent (figurative) storm began with the frenetic run-up to Christmas. It accumulated nervous anticipation as we waited for the call to summon me north to our eldest daughter as she waited to go into labour in January. Work had to be completed in advance of this moveable but inevitable deadline – it than had to be caught up with again between subsequent visits. In the middle of all this, fabrics had to be selected, delivered, photographed and described. The Sewing Bee was due to start. We needed to clear out our winter stock in a remnant sale – and on it went. All while battling this winter’s favourite bug that at one point saw me working my way through a box of tissues a day for what seemed like weeks. (And you wondered why there weren’t any blog pictures…)
We all have our personal version of times like this. There’s usually a day or time we identify which marks an end-point in our minds. A Friday night when everything is finished – or an entirely free weekend to catch up and potter around. However every time my end-point drew closer, something else landed. A family commitment, an extra meeting, the coffee machine’s broken and ‘Oh my lord – that new food really doesn’t agree with the dog’s digestion, does it?’
None of which proved devastating or impossible to handle – but they piled up and kept coming. Eventually I threw up my arms to the sky and invited the clouds to open.
Throw it all at me, why don’t you. Let’s get it over with. I give in…
Of course we always get through, one way or another. Fabulous colleagues, a supportive family, joyous occasions in the midst of all the turmoil and friends who are going through similarly torrid times and who are therefore forgiving. (Thank you!) However those precious days that I’d hoped to reserve over the Christmas break for sewing, reading, seeking out inspiration – those days just disappeared. I mentioned in my last post that an attempt to sew up a piece of fabric from my stash failed miserably. It set me wondering why that project had been such an outright disaster.
What would it take to get back in the swing of things and rediscover the pleasure of a successful sewing project?
What went wrong?
I’ve had enough sewing disasters in my time to know that there’s usually a reason for a project that goes belly-up. I sat myself down and made a list of reasons why I thought I’d produced my ‘wadder’. This is what I came up with:
- Although the pattern was familiar, I’d embarked on an adaptation without any testing or research. (In this case, adding a roll-neck to a round-necked tunic).
- I hadn’t worked with this ribbed jersey before
- I’d attempted to get the project done and dusted in a limited time, late one Sunday afternoon
- It was the first time I’d had the opportunity to do any sewing since November – i.e. over 2 months away from my machine
- Although I’ve done a few jersey garments over the last few years, it’s not a fabric type I ‘grew up’ with – I still feel like a bit of a learner in the knit sewing department.
- Finally, however determined I felt, I was also quite tired.
Remembering why I sew
Among the subjects it will touch on are the mental health benefits of sewing. The relationship between the practical arts (sport, too) and mental wellbeing are increasingly recognised and well-established. The positive impact arises from being ‘in the zone’, ‘mindful’ or ‘in a flow state’ (pick your terminology and bear in mind I’m no psychologist) when playing a musical instrument, painting, gardening, knitting or indeed, sewing. You can’t practice properly without allowing your mind to focus on the activity in question – thereby tearing it away from to-do lists, technology and other sources of stress.
A timely reminder then, of why I love sewing so much. For a period of time I get to define my space, send people away (Joe, Patrick and Esme wouldn’t get a look-in). I forget time pressures and focus on a single thing. The penny dropped that my disastrous sewing project had become one more thing on a growing to-do list. Instead of enjoying the process of testing my pattern adaptation, practicing working with a new fabric and allowing myself time to ease into the habit of sewing again, I’d tried to just ‘get it done’. Which might have worked in 1982 just before a night out in in a darkened room where safety pins wouldn’t be noticed. But which failed to acknowledge a big part of the reason of why I love to sew. Most importantly after a two month hiatus, I simply needed to practice sewing again.
I’d set my project up to fail.
Easing myself back into the sewing saddle
Determined to turn things around, I cleared out a full day and a half the following weekend and set myself the simple goal of enjoying the process of creating a successful garment. I have an ongoing slow-sew project in the form of a checked jacket that I’d love to finish.
However I really didn’t trust myself not to undo all the good work that has gone into that so far; besides, it would never be completed in the time available. I decided to make a list of things that might help ensure success. This is what I came up with.
- Treating myself to a fabric that I loved and that I was confident about working with (our Itajime ivory & navy blue printed foulard fabric won the day)
- Choosing a pattern I’d used before and not doing anything to it that wasn’t tried and tested (The winner? Vogue 9204 from our Slinky Shirt Kit, naturally. I’d worn my original sample all through Christmas and madly fancied another version)
- Setting aside more time than I could possibly need
- Putting on music that I can work to (For the record my favourite sewing album is currently Ben Watt’s Fever Dream This week, at least…)
- The essential household chores were done, there was food in the house and everyone knew to let me just be…
And the result?
D’you know what? It worked.
I took my sweet time. I went gently – on myself, as well as my sewing. I stopped to relish each stage and didn’t cut a single corner. I did everything as beautifully as I could, stopped to look at what I’d accomplished and took the time to be a bit proud of myself.
Naturally, I still cocked things up; notably sewing the side seams wrong-sides together. Yes, really. I forgot to turn my blouse inside out having stay-stitched the neckline. But even that turned into a labour of love. I unpicked and re-pressed meticulously and everything was right as rain.
I didn’t get to do the hand-stitching on the sleeve cuffs and hemline until a week later – but when I returned to it, I was amazed. I threaded my needle, put in a couple of stitches to start slip-stitching the hem and I swear I felt my breathing slow and my heart rate drop.
This is the result.
Actually I think I’m going to hit the sofa for the weekend. I have a pile of magazines to work through for inspiration and I’m looking forward to planning for the spring. However I’m determined not to forget what I’ve learned in the last couple of weeks. It’s easy to watch the Sewing Bee and forget that we don’t have to sew to that frenetic timetable – any more than I’m sure those brave sewers on TV do once they get home.
In the meantime thank you all for sticking with me as I weathered my storm. The sun has come out and I’m almost caught up (a few emails still to go…) I’d love to know how you’ve managed to carve out time and space to sew under pressure. Or perhaps you’ve also returned to sewing after a break – possibly far longer than my two month dry spell. How have you eased yourself back into the sewing saddle? And generally – what works (or really doesn’t work) for you when you’re embarking on a new project? We know lots of returning sewers at ClothSpot – any advice or encouragement would be appreciated I’m sure.
Have a lovely weekend!