The lovely Hattie, Athina & Lisa have come together to create the thought provoking #SMYLY challenge. Starting in January and all the way through February they are encouraging the online sewing community to share stories of how their own sewing journey has helped with mental health and body positivity…. and WOW it has just gone to prove what a fantastic and supportive online community we have and one that I am proud to be part of.
You guys have shared some amazing stories and as much as everyone is fighting/fought their own battles Sewing has proven to be a fantastic form of self care and escape for many. It has helped some to overcome and turnaround some really quite negative and sad moments in their lives.
Over recent years the world has become less scared of talking about Mental Health and Self Care, and it’s about time! How are we to heal if the world doesn’t understand or discuss issues that effect so many. Just talking about our pain and our worries goes along way to take a bit of the weight off of our shoulders. If you don’t feel you’re ready to talk about yours just yet then write them down as this also helps – even if you rip up the pages afterwards the exercise will bring relief.
It is very easy for me to tell you the things that are proven to help (the usual…talking about your problems, exercise, spend time outdoors, keep a diary, eat healthier, practice Mindfulness etc etc) however I most definitely do not always practice this. I have in the past and still today suffer with my mental health and in particular anxiety and as much as I know what can help, it’s not always quite that simple! But, as many of you will relate, sewing helps me to truly be myself and get lost in a project that at the end gives such a sense of achievement and then pride every time its worn.
My Sewing Journey
For as long as I can remember I have loved anything and everything creative, I am lucky enough to be a Twin which meant growing up I had a permanent play mate! We’d spend hours drawing up fashion designs for our excessive amount of barbies, doing each others hair and make up (this still happens now at 31 years old!) and playing dress up in anything we could wrap ourselves up in! My love of being creative carried on through secondary school which led me to choose my main GCSE subjects of Art, Photography and Textiles – all of which are what I achieved my top grades in (apologies to anyone who may ever ask me to solve a maths equation or converse in French!).
Unfortunately I can’t give you a beautiful family story of how skills were passed down through the generations. Despite the fact that my Nan was an accomplished seamstress and my Mum could sew, when my twin sister and I chose to study Textiles our Mum did place a caveat on signing it off… We could not ask her for help! This was down to our older sister studying it 7 years prior and my Mum spent many nights after work completing projects on her behalf (nice one Laura-Lee!!).
That being said, it was a positive as it meant we learnt the skills for ourselves, skills that I am very grateful for today.
When I left school at 16 I decided to take a year out before attending college, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to study and I wanted to be able to drive to a college out of my hometown. So I decided to work in my parents business for a year. However, as ever life doesn’t always go to plan and two weeks after turning 17 my Mum died at 46 years old, no warning, no signs just out of the blue and in the blink of an eye my world was turned upside down.
As a seventeen year old girl still trying to discover who you are in the world and what you want to do I was broken and lost. In despite of sadness and uncertainty I still stood by my goal and learnt to drive and enrolled at college the following year to study… Floristry! I’d love to tell you it was something I had dreamed of becoming but I came across it in the college prospectus and thought I could enjoy it! I completed the course, became a qualified Florist and not to boast, but I won an award for my work (*pat on the back for me). I was working in a Florist shop when my boss decided to run away with his lover… not romantic like a film, just really bloody inconvenient! The shop closed and I had to look for another job.
Fast forward 12 years and I am still in that same job today. It is an office based role, pretty non creative and has seen me cry many times over the years… sometimes everything would just get on top of me (sorry to anyone that may have witnessed my cry face). Aside from those negatives it helped me to progress, buy my very first property on my own and then a family home with my husband.
I had always tried to offset the downsides and stresses of work by picking up old hobbies, but nothing ever really stuck. That was until 2012 when my husband bought me a sewing machine – (as 15 year olds we dated at school, until he broke my heart one day and we didn’t speak … until he asked me out 9 years later). He knows of my love of being creative, my studies and above all else knows the importance having a hobby has on your mental health.
It wasn’t until May 2016 that I started to document my sewing using Instagram, I had always kept pretty quiet about sewing as it wasn’t really mainstream and often thought of as old fashioned to an outsider. It wasn’t until the middle of 2017 that people I work with and spend 45 hours a week with knew that I make my own clothes. What I’ve grown to learn is to worry less about what other people think, do what makes your heart sing and be nothing but true to yourself! I am unsure whether age has something to do with this, but I know that sewing and the online community has certainly helped me with this attitude.
If it wasn’t for every single one of you who have tapped a little heart on my photos, left a comment or sent me a message online in response to my makes I would not have found the confidence in myself to start this blog or head out to a Sewing Event all on my own and meet some of you amazing people in the real world!
Mental Health & Body Positivity
I recall being 10/11 years old and choosing an outfit for my Mums Birthday party, whilst all my friends were buying their clothes in Tammy Girl I was in Topshop buying a ladies size 8, it was the only time in my life buying a size 8/fitting hips in to Topshop clothes, but it was at this age that I started to notice my body shape was different to my friends. All through my teens I was always curvier than the other girls and felt very conscious of it. My Mum sympathised, after all it was her figure I’d inherited, but she always tried to instil in me that it doesn’t matter what size the label in your clothes say so long as they fit and you feel good in them.
Those little words of wisdom from my Mum have stuck with me and really did help when it came to sewing my own clothes. As I mentioned earlier I started sewing my own clothes as an outlet at times in my life when I needed something to focus my mind on, so there is nothing worse when you’re feeling a bit low and sad in your own skin than grabbing a tape measure and recording every inch. Not only that, but to constantly get undressed and look at yourself in a mirror or photos in order to make adjustments. There is also the huge range of sizes you fall in to with different pattern companies, to walk in to a high street I am a size 12 but I have sewn garments in pattern sizes 8 to an 18… the bonus is there’s not a label to remind you in me made clothes! Amazingly though the more you do it, the more they just become numbers and mean nothing derogatory as suddenly you have a wardrobe full of garments that are made to fit every individual quirk of your body shape perfectly and make you feel not only proud but beautiful! Sewing truly does help ‘make you love yourself’.
We need to scrutinise ourselves less and be grateful that we are healthy and for the things we do have, for those things you moan about there will a woman somewhere else in the world wishing she had what you have. I think every woman at some point in their lives have wished they could change something about their appearance, whether it be size, shape or feature but what happens if we achieved those desires? It’s human nature to just keep wanting more, there will be no end as there is no ‘normal’. The moment you have the epiphany and realise that you don’t need to wait until you’re a certain way to do a certain thing or that maybe when you’re a certain size someone might think more of you… it’s not what’s holding you back, your mind is. Just be yourself and remember “you can be the ripest juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches” – Dita Von Teese.
There a lots of life lessons my Mum gave my sister and I, with gems such as “no one knows what the label says, if you hate the number on the tag cut it out!”…”there’s no such thing as normal” and “if you’re not happy you are the only one who can do something about it” but the biggest life lesson from my Mum is that life is too short and you don’t know what tomorrow will bring, so live for now, create your own happiness and enjoy every moment.
My#SMYLY challenge Make
I chose to make this gorgeous dress which is the ‘No 6 Kobenhavn‘ from ‘How to do fashion‘ – a beautiful pattern company from Denmark created by Nanna whos beautiful designs are vintage inspired. I picked it not only because I absolutely love this dress and fifties style (my favourite era), but the design also shows off those ‘flaws’ that growing up I hated and am now proud to show off. It also tells the story of what a fantastic community us sewing folk are!… Nanna contacted me via Instagram and asked if she could send me one of her patterns as she thought it would suit me, a week later I received two gorgeously packed patterns from Europe. The How to do Fashion’s selection of patterns are full of inspiring feminine designs with a vintage feel, the website is full of online instructions, blog posts and a free pattern if you sign up to their newsletter! I used this gorgeous leopard print ponte roma from Minerva Crafts, the pattern called for a woven fabric but i think it worked really well in a knit too.
I look forward to sewing more patterns from this fab Danish company, I can’t wait to see more makes pop up on Instagram! Let me know if you make any.