Style Crisis: Swimming into Autumn

Swimming into autumn

I’m sitting here this morning with inner thighs so sore that when I climbed off my bike this morning I actually yelped, right out loud. The reason? Swimming club training sessions restarted a few weeks back and our coach has definitely taken off her ‘ease us in gently’ gloves. Last night’s session was all about breaststroke. A string of drills, some slow, others at speed. All requiring legs to CLOSE as we completed each kick. And despite hobbling around today like a reincarnation of John Wayne, I couldn’t be happier.

The cost of ‘keeping on keeping on’

We’ve all had to find our own way of navigating the last six months. My priority, aside from staying safe and well and helping family to do the same, was of course to keep the business going. With the extraordinary support of so many of you, as well as my resourceful colleagues and ever-patient family, ClothSpot has kept going throughout. I’m incredibly grateful to be in such a fortunate position so when I say that the ‘keeping on keeping on’ has taken a personal toll, that’s not to complain. It’s simply an acknowledgement that I probably need to cut myself a bit of slack; also that my mojo, sewjo and everything elsejo might need a bit of help getting back into gear. I know I’m not alone in that; Diane’s recent ‘Life Update’ post on her DreamCutSew blog tells a similar tale of lockdown dislocation.

Lockdown in clover?

As a natural introvert, my experience of lockdown, was (whisper it) not wholly unpleasant. The world stopped and errands notwithstanding, I got to take a breath. I’m only too aware that my experience would have been very different had I been home schooling and/or if I didn’t have access to some amazing countryside in which to take my daily hour of exercise. As it was, I cycled hard, reconnecting with the fenland landscape.

Breakfast time
Run, Myrtle!
Stopping to take it all in

Our swim squad shared workout routines and joined in arduous weekly land-training on Zoom. (“Are you still breathing Alice? We can’t see you moving…”)

Lockdown Mondays at 7am: Zoom training

Zoom was also the venue for my weekly yoga class, with a spin-off as two of us went ‘rogue’, establishing a weekly ‘rebel yoga’ session on WhatsApp. All this online interaction proved surprisingly meaningful; seeing real people on a screen gave me much more of a lift than I’d anticipated.

Overload alert

On the work front however, our plans had to be turned over and around on almost a daily basis. My usual enjoyment of change (the seasons, learning new things) was tested beyond its usual limits and it became difficult in turn to settle down to more routine activities.

Take reading. It soon became apparent that my inability to settle down with a good book for any length of time was shared by my ClothSpot colleagues, friends, customers and swathes of people commenting on social media. Similarly with fashion magazines. Growing up in the middle of nowhere, they’ve been almost as important to me as books, yet suddenly they seemed irrelevant; a window into a world I couldn’t join.

Events in the world outside turned uglier as Covid took its toll and we moved from spring into summer. The killing of George Floyd hammered home the daily realities of injustices experienced by people of colour, prompting us to take a hard look at our role even as a very small business.

That process is ongoing, but while social media has been a tremendous source of learning and inspiration, parts of that world have also become a place of great frustration and anger for all sorts of reasons.

Sweet relief

My usual recourse would be to seek out inspiration in exhibitions, galleries and shops but even though these are re-opening, there’s the issue of transport. Usually an intrepid traveller, it’s been difficult to judge how far afield I might safely stray.

Not a moment too soon then, at the beginning of last month I was able to get back in the water, even thought it’s meant sharing with fish, wildfowl and pondweed.

One misty night, deep in the Fens…

The Fens offer lakes and claypits aplenty to chose from – we’ve even had night-time swims complete with glowsticks.

Glowsticks at the ready!

With the reopening of (some) swimming pools, so has begun my route back to some sort of normality (as well as the aforementioned sore legs).

Breaking through a creative block

This is all very well, but pondweed, chlorine and wetsuits don’t get a girl very far on the styling front. I know get that this isn’t a nature or a swimming blog! I just wanted to explain that this hasn’t been a straightforward process for me, any more than I suspect it will have for you. Or even Alison Moyet for that matter.

What I learned was to take small, familiar steps – and repeat.

It’s an approach that’s worked on the sewing front. My summer garments have been very practical; T-shirts have prevailed. I’ve made four in a row and learned a good deal about jersey-taming have enjoyed seeking opinions from others on Instagram.

Modelling my ‘Plantain’ Tee from Deer & Doe

I found that the process of sewing forced me to not look at the news every 5 minutes, and demanded (in the nicest way possible) that I paid attention to what I was doing. It helped be calm and made my mind stop buzzing.

Getting to grips with future planning in the middle of such uncertainty, was more difficult however. In an attempt to give myself a kick-start, I settled down on the sofa for one entire weekend, with books, magazines and my iPad. My goal: to work through the recent fashion magazines, read some fiction in between and retune my head to a more external viewpoint. Perhaps the excitement, the enthusiasm, the joy, would return.

We have lift-off!

And you know what? It did. Not all at once, but that weekend turned out to be a gift to myself that kept on giving the following week and beyond. It fed through into our fabric selections and our ongoing hunt for more sustainable fabric supplies. It fuelled new conversations across ClothSpot about our approach. I was spurred to find time with my business coach (hello, Shirley!) which in turn, helped me make some key business decisions. And finally, I began to think about how I wanted to spend my sewing time creating some garments that I would love to wear. I was even inspired to book a haircut.

I was about to gallop through all the fabrics I have ideas about, the patterns that look as if they might work and the combinations that have excited me. There are lots! Which means they’re worth a separate post so I’ll see you next week with all the details.

Has sewing helped you get through the last few months, or has it been difficult for you? How have you managed to continue being creative this year? Please, do share your thoughts in the Comments – my swim/sew combo might have worked for me but I’d love to hear about your experiences.

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