Sewing Is Food For The Soul

IMG_0205.JPGI cannot remember a time when I didn’t know how to sew.

That’s a bold statement I realise but it’s true. I have been sewing since I was 5 or 6 years old, which is now well over 40 years ago. And I don’t know about you, but my memories don’t really stretch much past that. Sewing and dressmaking have given me so much. 

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Red, pink and yellow – I knew it would work even then. Or is it more rhubarb and custard?

It has given me something to do – When I was a child loafing around not sure how to occupy myself during school holidays the response from my elders was “go and make something”. So I did. I raided my Grandmother’s scrap bags and hand stitched crude dresses and outfits for my Cindy dolls (see it really is over 40 years ago).

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Beautiful re- imagined Dolls by Sonia Singh. You can find them on Etsy. https://www.etsy.com/shop/treechangedolls

It has allowed to create my own style – When I was younger in my teenage years the more outlandish the better. The New Romantic fashion tribe I belonged to allowed me to go overboard on frills and flounces. I could run something up on a Friday ready to wear clubbing that night safe in the knowledge I was unique. No other bird of paradise would have quite the same plumage.

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C&H Fabrics Tunbridge Wells Annual Fashion Show circa 1985.

As the years are marching on ever quicker I am still able to create my own look and style identity albeit in a more understanded grey laundered linen kind of way.

It’s taught me patience – In my youth I would run up something really quickly so I could wear it that night not bothered about neatening seams or finishing inside as long as it looked good from the outside. After all image was everything. But as I have sewn more projects over more and more years I am appreciating the processes involved in constructing and creating a piece of clothing. And I do still like to run up something to wear at the weekend, although not necessarily to go clubbing, but I’m not in that much of a rush I want to compromise the quality of what I create anymore.  

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It’s given me a new BFF – Yes meet my unpicker. We go back a long way. My old needlework teacher used to say “make friends with your unpicker”. Making mistakes and unpicking your stitching is part and parcel of sewing and making clothes. Get over it! Embrace the time you take unpicking to reflect on how you can make your sewing better, or some other Zen like shit.

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It’s made me curious – After all the unpicking I’ve done on the many sewing projects I’ve undertaken, it has made me want to find out better, more effective and easier ways of sewing different processes. Part of this comes from my career in fashion, but also because I’m actually quite lazy and can’t be bothered to hand sew if I really don’t have to. 

I’ve learnt how to be a furtive photographer – Clothes shopping is more of a trial than a treat now, but every once in awhile I will stumble upon a dress or top and I can’t quite work out how they’ve inserted that panel or attached that collar.

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Neat pocket insertion!

This is where my furtive photography skills have been honed. Putting my phone on silent, discreetly taking said item of apparel into the changing room and turning it inside out to see exactly how they’ve managed to sew it all together. Then taking as many pictures as I can so I can remember how to do it myself when I get home. Anyone looking at my camera roll might be forgiven for thinking it had turned itself on inside a bag of laundry there are so many pictures of raw edges and seams.

I’ve found a sense of community – Working in the fashion industry and the education sector can be very lonely and isolating. Fashion isn’t friendly, but sewing is. Since setting up Sew Me Something, my haberdashery shop and sewing studio I have found like minded souls who seek solace in sewing as I do. The wonderful people that come into the shop or join our workshops have become friends who ‘get’ what I’m into and can revel in being nerdy over seam finishes. I have found my tribe.

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Me, Jenni Taylor @jennibobtaylor and Elle Harris @sewpositivity

I have discovered I am normal sized!! At whatever point in my life I am and whatever size I am I’m normal. Despite what it might say on the measurements on the back of the pattern envelopes. (They are 70 years out of date anyway.  Don’t get me started on that, it’s a whole other rant!) But because I am making clothes only for me my size is ‘normal’ whatever it is. I don’t have to squeeze my ample flesh into a dress in a badly lit cubicle and feel a failure. I can just pin a bit in here or there in the comfort of my own house and marvel at how gorgeous I look!

It’s now acceptable to make your own clothes – In my teenage years I was a bit of an oddity, a non-conformist who was very nearly thrown out of Grammar school and used clothes as a way of visibly rebelling. I was on the tail end of the generation that was taught ‘proper dressmaking’ in school. But even then it was fading out of popularity. Mass produced clothing was so cheap, so what was the point of making your own? Those of us that did became a kind of underground cult. A raised eyebrow or nod of the head became a universal sign to acknowledge approval of a ‘homemade’ item.

Fast forward 30years and the Cult of Craft has arrived. It’s now cool to make stuff, even if you can afford to buy it. And it’s acceptable to ask someone “Did you make that?” Because the answer won’t be a shameful nod but a resplendent “Yes I did!”

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Yes it’s Helena – I can’t get enough of them.

It’s given me peace – After all the years I’ve been sewing and teaching the thousands of people that come to our workshops this is something I can say with all confidence. Sewing provides peace. Mental health issues have always been with us but they seem to be more visible now and I have seen at first hand how the simple act of taking a piece of cloth, cutting it, pinning it and sewing it into something else provides the calm mental clarity that so many of of us crave.

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When you’re sewing you are in and of the moment, unconcerned with anything else except what you happen to be doing right now. That is so freeing and almost like a meditation in itself.

This I think is THE best thing sewing has given me.

Jules x

6 thoughts on “Sewing Is Food For The Soul

  1. I agree with all that you have said! Particularly the remarks about mental health. The little room where I keep my machine set up with all my bits of fabric, buttons and ribbon is called My Happy Place! My family all know when I haven’t been there enough. : ) and when I announce ‘I am off to My Happy Place’ they know I will return a while later a far happier person!

  2. I always so enjoy reading your posts Jules and maybe someday I will make it over to the UK to take one of your workshops and meet you in person. I began sewing in 1967 but really my story is one of starting, stopping, starting stopping 🙂 mostly stopping from 1977 – 2014 and since it’s been all out non-stop 🙂 Everything you say about sewing is so true – the internet, feminism, globalization have changed attitudes to sewing your own clothes so dramatically new sewists today can’t even imagine! And I crow with delight every time I witness some aspect of this change in action. Thank you for inspiring many to keep the fires burning and lighting so many more. It is an empowering experience (I know now an overused word that I began using back in 1995 when co-facilitating groups of high-risk adolescent women from a feminist perspective) but it does apply profoundly to sewing your own clothes.

  3. Wonderful blog post 😍Sewing is my mental retreat and I too made crude dolls clothes at primary school,aren’t we lucky to be alive now with a wealth of lovely sewing ideas, fabrics and tools .
    Sonia

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