31 July 2011

It's Official: Sewing Changes Lives

Wow. I have been so moved to read your responses to my post asking what impact sewing has had on your life. There were so many thoughtful, fascinating responses - it's taken me a few hours' sittings to read through all the comments, blog posts and emails. I thought I would share a few of the gems here in case you haven't read them...

“I have noticed a marked increase in my confidence since I first sat at the sewing machine, and not just in knowing I can do things/make something/repair something. I'm less shy because I have something about which I'm passionate to talk about, that might sound weird but it's true. I'm more outgoing, less awkward and more able to talk to strangers because I feel like having a passion makes me more interesting.”
- Kirsty

“Sewing has helped me to see what things really matter in life, which for me is being able to fend for yourself and your family. So many things in the world are just not important. They are made important by the company that sells the product, pretending you need it. This attitude has in some way made my world smaller, more locally oriented.”

“I'm a lawyer by profession... I absolutely believe in being (trying to be) a well-rounded person. No one has just one talent, so why spend all one's energy on one thing (one's job, e.g.)? Since I firmly believe this I want to show my children (5 and 7 yo) how to do it as well. I prefer they don't just see me working on the computer. I like that I'm showing them how to make something useful. They also get to see that I struggle yet finish. I like to challenge myself (and let them see it) to do something entirely new, like knitting socks from the cryptic instructions on the paper round a skein of wool...”
- Uta von L

“…this week without my machine and doing no crafting whatsoever my mental health has suffered dramatically… along with the other little crafty bits I do it's my only creative outlet as my job is so far removed from creativity it's a dull gunmetal grey merging into a murky dirty brown… I can't express how much my life has improved as I feel like I have a purpose and it brings me enormous joy to create something I feel is either useful or beautiful or hopefully both. Sewing for me is most definitely not a hobby but a way of life and I wouldn't have it any other way.”

“For me sewing is creative - yes; self sufficient - yes; challenging - YES! But it is also intensely personal - a time to focus on something that is not really needed, that will never make me rich and that is incredibly time consuming but after a lifetime of working hard for other people is just about me.”
- Karen W

“I create for so many reasons, but I would say the top reason is because of the rush that comes with creating your own things; you don't have to wait to find what you want, you can make it yourself and love it 10x more than if you would have bought it because you can proudly say that you made it.”
- Cicily

“Sewing isn't just a hobby, sewing IS me! It's such an integral part of who I am.”
- Sarah

“Sewing has helped to break my addiction to consumerism. After learning so much about human trafficking and slave labor used world-wide to make cheap clothing I now feel empowered to 'vote with my dollar' by refusing to shop at places like that. Instead I make my own clothing or re-make clothes bought at thrift shops.”
- Jessie

“The timing of starting to sew was crucial for me... I was facing redundancy and a very uncertain future. Some nasty problems surfaced in my extended family and they happened to coincide with some pretty hefty disappointments in my personal life. I felt like everything was spinning horribly out of control and I couldn't cope at all. I became ill and was forced to take a three month leave it absence from work. It was a tough time because I felt so completely useless, and like I couldn't get anything right. So on all those days off work, I sat down and sewed. I'm not saying sewing is s miracle cure for depression! But being able to turn my hand to something creative was a really important outlet for me and still is. At a time when I felt like I sucked at everything, being able to create was an amazing feeling. I knitted and crocheted up a storm then too! It was soothing and stimulating at the same time and it was definitely a factor in my recovery.”
- Roisin

“I have spent the last 17 years in the legal field, 15 in law school and as a litigation attorney, and the last 2 as a judge. My day job is stressful. But when I have the opportunity to immerse myself in a project, it is as if I am walking from the black-and-white scene of my "normal" life into the technicolor world of fabric, imagination and possibility. The experience is tactile, visual, psychological and emotional.”
- Beth

“I often am questioned by others about my sewing hobby. Most people think it is quaint and a 'nice' thing to keep me busy, but few people (who aren't makers of some sort) seem to really 'get' how creatively challenging and satisfying it is. My standard explanation is that sewing satisfies my insatiable drive to discover how things are made and learn how to do that myself...”
- Casey

“I'm curious to know how much it is sewing per se that changes your/one's life, or how much reaching into a community of like-minded people (via blogging, meet ups, sewing classes, etc.) contributes to it too."
- Nathalie

“Like you, the feeling of being free from the influence of advertising and clothes shopping and generally consuming rabidly, makes me feel awesome. Like I have more clarity and time to pursue what really interests me. Figuring out what I like and what I want is so much easier when I no longer visit the church of Topshop regularly!”
- Zoe

“I want you to know that your post brought tears to my eyes and overwhelmed me in a very surprising way. I only found this world of sewing bloggers in June. Since that time, I have been happier and more excited about life than I had been in years.”

A lot of people also wrote to me to say that sewing helped them through difficult times in their lives - miscarriages, eating disorders, depression... Being in control through the process of making had a positive impact on their lives. This was something I wasn't expecting to hear - but it makes total sense.

Thank you so much to everyone who responded. I could only fit a selection of quotations in here but please know that I appreciated every single one. So much food for thought...

[Soundtrack: 'Down in the Valley' by Otis Redding]

28 July 2011

Embroidered iPhone Case

I made this little iPhone case as a birthday prezzie for my friend Angie. My embroidery stitches aren't amazing but at least I can say it has a certain "rustic" charm. I used unbleached calico for the outside and lined it with a super snuggly layer of flannel to keep the phone warm in its bed at night.

[Soundtrack: 'Hanging on the Telephone' by Blondie]

26 July 2011

Fabric for Fashion Swatch Book Giveaway Winner!

Wowzers! 318 people entered the giveaway to win a copy of Fabric for Fashion: The Swatch Book. But of course there can only be one winner...

True Random Number Generator  60Powered by RANDOM.ORG

... congratulations to madscouser! Woooooooooop! Madscouser, please drop me an email with your postal address. Thanks again to Laurence King publishers for offering such a fantastic prize.

In other news, I've been really moved to read the responses to my post asking what impact sewing has had on your life. I've been working up a mountain in Croatia with very little free time and extremely temperamental internet connection, so I haven't yet been able to read through all of your thoughts and respond yet. As great as it is being here, I am really looking forward to getting home so I can dedicate some attention to reading your thoughts...

23 July 2011

Has Sewing Changed Your Life?

For some people, sewing is a hobby. For me, it's much more than that.

I took up sewing on a whim a year and a half ago, after I felt a sudden urge to put my hands to some use other than typing. As someone who spends most of their life dealing in ideas and information, I felt an overwhelming desire to make something tangible. I nearly went with ceramics, but then signed up to a workshop on how to use a sewing machine. You know the rest of the story.

I've been trying to articulate the impact that sewing has had on my life since then. Here goes an initial attempt... Taking up sewing has:

- Reconnected me with my creative side, a side of me I'd been suppressing for years ever since I reluctantly gave up studying art to concentrate on subjects more likely to get me a job. It has allowed me to flex a different side of my brain from the one I use at work;

- Offered me a sense of childlike play, experimentation and discovery, whereby I can make things in a non-competitive environment, in my own way;

- Made me feel more in touch with the physical world, less alienated from the production process that goes into making things. It has given me a stronger sense of agency - I can have an idea in my mind and see it come into existence and be realised in physical form;

- Helped me feel more empowered and less reliant on other people, experts, or factories to make things and sort things out for me;

- Given me a sense of achievement with every stitch, and improved my self-esteem every time I wear a handmade garment out the house;

- Shifted my relationship to consumption, removing my previous compulsion to shop, to acquire things, and helping me to lead a more ethically and environmentally responsible life;

- Encouraged me to appreciate the aesthetics of everyday things, the beauty of the lines on the coat of someone walking in front of me, the folds of the dress on the person sitting opposite me on the tube;

- Made me feel part of a global community of like-minded people who make stuff and support each other.

We say that the arts inspire people, challenge them, make them feel good, add value to their lives. I attend a lot of cultural events at arts venues - galleries, cinemas, museums, concerts, theatres... But none of those events have had as big an impact on me as sewing a dress, in my own home, when I choose, without the leadership of "official experts" but with the support of the online sewing community. For my Clore Fellowship, I'm writing a provocation paper (my initial rambling thoughts here) in which I want to highlight the importance of self-led creativity in the home. The brief is to write something very personal, so I'm going to discuss the impact that sewing has had on me. But I don't just want to write about me.

* Have you recently rediscovered your creativity?
* Do you feel that taking up sewing - or another craft at home - has changed your life in some way?
* Has it affected how you feel about yourself?
* Has it changed the way you interact with the world?
* How would you explain this to someone who doesn't have a creative hobby? 

If you have a story to share and are happy to be quoted in my paper, I'd love to hear from you. I'm sure you can articulate the impact sewing has had on you much better than I can! You could leave a comment below, drop me an email or write a post on your blog and send me the link.

Thank you!

20 July 2011

Giveaway! Fabric for Fashion: The Swatch Book

So - you remember that post I wrote gushing over Fabric for Fashion: The Swatch Book? Well, the publisher got wind of it and wrote to thank me. A quick email exchange later and we have a giveaway! Woop!

Laurence King have loads of amazing looking fashion and design titles on their website and they also have a Facebook page - check it out.

If you'd like to win a copy of this wonderful tome, leave a comment below. The closing date is Sunday 24th July at midnight GMT. The giveaway is open internationally and the winner will be picked at random. Don't forget to leave your email if it's not linked to your blogger profile. Ooh and spread the word!

Aren't I good to you? :)

16 July 2011

What's On My Sewing Table...

When I returned from my two week residential course, I had an urge to cut out a quick and easy sewing project. I'm making up McCalls 2401 (the old faithful from my first sewing project) in some gorgeous lightweight cotton I found at Goldhawk Road. I'm going for the view E bateau neckline with view D short sleeves. I'm planning to add a little embellishment which I'll reveal soon. Well, I say soon, but I've got a massive project at work so think this is going to have to be put on hold for a little while. Hopefully not for too long though...

What's on your sewing table?

[Soundtrack: 'Clean Up Woman' by Betty Wright]

13 July 2011

Me Made Musings...

Do you tend to sew casual or fancy clothing? Things you wear on a daily basis or special outfits for special occasions?

During Me-Made-June, I joined 100 other sewing bloggers in wearing homemade clothes every day for a month. This wonderful initiative of Zoe's taught me to embrace, celebrate and showcase my self-made stitchery on a daily basis. It also taught me another valuable lesson - that I should make more practical clothing.

I've made:
- seven dresses - one casual-ish, six fancy
- six skirts
- two blouses - neither of which I wear
- one jacket
- one t-shirt
- one pair of pyjama bottoms.

Spot the difference...

When it comes to sewing, I'm attracted to pretty dresses, fancy details, bright colours and unusual prints. I like making the kind of special outfit I could wear to a wedding or a party, safe in the knowledge that no one else will be wearing the same dress, and basking in the glory of compliments on my ability to stitch some bits of fabric together, oh yes. But my life really isn't as glamorous as my self-made wardrobe might suggest - I'm living a lie! Most days I just go to the office. I like dressing up to play offices - and I say "play" offices because my office is a jeans and shirt kinda place. Some days I feel like dressing down like everyone else, and on Saturdays I always have an urge for denim and stripes (why is that?). During Me-Made-June, my denim skirt and stripey top got a LOT of wear.


So I'm going to make an effort to make more things I can wear during the week - blouses, t-shirts and (gulp) trousers. After all, clothes are meant to be worn.

How about you? Do you sew fancy clothes or everyday clothes? Do you have a favourite casual clothing pattern that you make time and time again?

[Soundtrack: 'The Letter' by Macy Gray]

9 July 2011

The Fabric Book I've Been Dreaming About!

Hurrah! The book I've been waiting for the whole of my sewing life has arrived! "What can it be?", I hear you plead. Well, my friend, it's a fabric guide and swatch folder rolled into one - Fabric for Fashion: The Swatch Book

It's a folder containing tons of information outlining the raw materials, construction, processing and finishing of different fabrics, as well as touching on issues of sustainability. More importantly, over 100 sample swatches are included for you to stroke, most of them in their unbleached raw state so you can focus on tactility without getting distracted by visuals.

I'm slowly learning how to recognise a type of fabric by feeling it and this book is going to be a massive help. I've already got a hefty fabric reference book, but there's only so much you can learn from a text description of fibres and drape. And as much as I enjoy standing in fabric shops fondling shantung whilst trying to commit the name to memory, there's only so long you can do that before you get mistaken for a fruitloop. I also tried taking some bloggers' advice to collect a stash of fabric samples for reference, but I didn't get very far with that and found I got distracted by the print or pretty colours. Fabric for Fashion: The Swatch Book solves all those problems.

The book isn't cheap, but for me it's worth the price to understand what fabric a pattern or blogger is referencing and to develop a deeper sense of suitable choices for garments. If you need to grasp the basics of interlock knits, want a quick comparison of silk charmeuse and sandwashed silk habotai, or always wondered what cotton domette feels like, I'd recommend checking out this extremely informative and well-presented guide.

5 July 2011

Jasmine Green Tea Dress

Hurray! Finished just in time for Martha's wedding. Thanks to Sarah for coming up with the perfect name for this dress - it's green, it's a tea dress, the print looks a bit like jasmine flowers, and it chimes with Colette Patterns' project names, this one being Ceylon.

This isn't the simplest pattern in the world to fit - it has multiple parts with gathers, so if you don't get it right first time it takes a while to unpick stitches and readjust. I've made it up once before in red gabardine, for which I made a muslin and then adjusted the pattern pieces for next time - I'm so glad I did that! The rest of the fitting was easy to do, although the notches on the bodice back and midriff back didn't match up. Has anyone else found this problem with this pattern? It was no big deal though, everything came together relatively easily.

For my first attempt at piping (one thing to tick off my contentious sewing techniques list!), I chose what must be the most difficult place to put it. The yoke involves multiple layers that don't come together particularly intuitively. I messed it up about three times, but it was worth the bother in the end to add some definition and show off the shaping.

Apart from the piping, sewing this dress was stress free. I followed Laura's productivity tip of breaking down the mammoth project of making a dress into small, manageable chunks, then writing these tasks down in a list (eg. "make gathers", "serge seams"...). It makes the project seem less daunting, and it's easy to pick up where you left off when you find yourself with some free sewing time. Oh and I just love ticking things off a list!


I have to say, I'm really pleased with how this dress turned out. The fabric is lovely and drapey, the fitting is perfect, and it's the kind of thing you could dress up or down depending on the occasion. As this outfit demonstrates, I think - flower and lipstick for a wedding, sensible shoes for camping!

[Soundtrack: 'Nobody Does It Better' by Carly Simon - the first dance at the wedding... aww...!]

2 July 2011

Me-Made-June... Days 27, 28, 29 and 30

I spent the last four days of Me-Made-June on a course for my fellowship in rural Kent. Lots of quality time learning from cultural leaders and playing hide and seek. More importantly, a change of background for my MMJ photos...

Day 27

What's Me-Made in today's outfit?
1970s Feel Beignet Skirt

Day 28

What's Me-Made in today's outfit?

Day 29

What's Me-Made in today's outfit?

Day 30

What's Me-Made in today's outfit?

I don't have the time or the internet connection to debrief on my experience of MMJ now, so I'll come back to this in another post. In the meantime, it'd be great to hear from you - how was MMJ for you, whether a participant or observer? What did you learn about your self-made wardrobe?

Ooh and thank you to everyone who has helped identify the mysterious pattern. Some fascinating historical clues and varied guesses as to a date - I'll keep digging. I paid $2 for it, which may not sound particularly exciting for American readers, but for a Brit that was pretty astounding...