I realised fairly early on in Lockdown 1.0 that I am not particularly good at rest and relaxation. Or rather, that my idea of rest and relaxation is different to many!
Yes, I love a good book, and I am a big fan of a Netflix binge or a lovely hot bath. But I function best when I have stuff to do shall we say! When the pandemic hit, initially I was on less hours, working from home and attempting to homeschool. Then I was furloughed and homeschooling became slightly more manageable (as manageable as can be for someone who is not trained as a teacher!). But the days were long and I felt unfulfilled. I also broke my right big toe on the first weekend of that first lockdown, so my plan of Joe Wicks-ing every day quickly went out the window!
I experimented with numerous creative pursuits, things I’d always wanted to try. Some of which have stuck, some haven’t. I feel like a lockdown cliché in many ways. I sanded, painted and varnished furniture, planted and replanted pots in my garden, birthed a sourdough starter which I am delighted to say is almost one year old now and is still going strong. It regularly provides reason to make fresh baked loaves, sourdough pizza, black olive and rosemary focaccia, and
delicious cinnamon rolls that probably aren’t really a suitable breakfast item but can make mornings extra special. My 6 year old daughter went through a phase of asking me to draw a new Disney princess every other hour and her wall is still covered in my average efforts. I attempted knitting, realised it’s not for me.
Whilst I enjoyed most of these various activities, none grabbed me quite so completely as sewing. I picked up a cheap beginner machine from Facebook marketplace in June 2020, and my mum donated a bag of material she’d picked up from a church fair a number of years ago. In fairly typical me fashion, I just dived straight in.
First thing I attempted, just to get a feel for the machine, was a little dress for my daughter's doll. It was adequate; I fought my machine for a good 10-15 minutes just trying to thread it and it was generally untidy and ill-fitting. But it was finished. The second thing was a dungaree dress for myself made by following a tutorial on YouTube, which was actually pretty good! Often new sewists will start with something a bit more simple but I didn’t really know where to start, so just
made something I wanted. Since those first tentative stitches, there has been an abundance of makes of which I am so proud. I wrote a list last week and astonished myself with the sheer number of things I have made. So that in itself gives me a huge sense of satisfaction and achievement.
However, there is so much more that I get from sewing it’s difficult to know where to start. I have learned so much more.
- Patience - patience with myself, the expectations I have of myself and my abilities.
- Acceptance - of mistakes, of mishaps and slight imperfections, or of complete ruination of something I’m attempting to make, and the ability to then reuse or redesign that thing so that it is not wasted.
- Growth mindset - learning from those mistakes but also having an interest in different ways of doing things - new seams, different ways to fit a zip, learning how to make a placket, and a whole new world of jargon that I will probably never understand!
- Mindfulness - I usually listen to podcasts whenever I am doing something with my hands but I actually prefer to sew in the quiet. I find that my mind wanders infrequently, so focussed am I on the straightness of the stitch or the evenness of the hem. I take particular delight in my pre-sleep sewing fantasies - what can I make next, what material in my stash do I want to use, how could I adapt that thing I made yesterday to make it even better.
- Body acceptance - no battling with sizes in shops (especially trying to buy online - who knows what size will fit!) and having made-to-measure clothes in fabrics and shapes I like.
- Gifting - I have also developed a deep joy in making gifts for people and seeing their faces when they open them. For Halloween I made individual crayon totes for the children on the street, popping a little notebook, some crayons and a bag of sweets in each and distributing in a COVID friendly way. A hefty portion of Christmas gifts this year were handmade and I imagine that will be the same for all future birthdays and Christmases.
- Creativity - mixing and matching fabric types and prints, adapting patterns, combining patterns, drafting my own pattern. I am hoping to grow and increase this element of the hobby as the years go by and will always have something new to learn.
- Upcycling and Recycling - one of the things that keeps me up at night is the urgent environmental crisis and I always aim to do my best. Sewing allows me to increase this effort, recycling clothes that are slightly past their best or no longer fit, making eco friendly kitchen items such as bowl covers or sandwich/snack bags, and using all my scraps to fill items such as doorstops, wreaths and draft excluders.
There is a downside, sadly. I have a slightly unhealthy fabric addiction and an inability to ignore pattern or fabric sales. I am marginally obsessed with Facebook marketplace, always on the hunt for bargain fabric bundles or a mint condition vintage Singer machine! I recently had my machines serviced and was without them for 5 days and the realisation dawned on me that I really missed them, and had itchy fingers. Of all those creative endeavours I tried, and enjoyed - this is the one that spoke to my soul and has not only endured, but has kept my head above water, throughout months of lockdown, Tier 3, redundancy, school holidays, new job, back to lockdown, back to school, Tier 3 again, lockdown again and homeschooling again.
I can’t imagine ever not sewing now, it’s such a big part of my life and such a vital part of my mental health maintenance. What it has taught me is that it may take time, but finding that thing that grabs your heart, makes you smile and gives you a lift just to think about doing it, is so important to wellbeing.