So the Sundays in January are rolling on by… and it’ll be February soon. Can you believe it? It feels like just five minutes ago I was counting down to the Christmas break, clinging on by a thin thread, the only thing keeping me going was the thought of that week off work where I could roll out of bed at 10am and wear sweatpants for ten days straight. Ahhh, #LifeGoals.
You might remember a couple of weeks ago I spoke about the #WorthOfSewing movement that launched at the end of last year. After round one, which focussed on the worth of the time and skills that went into a garment (and challenged people to guess how long it took to make it), we’re now on to round two – the ‘worth of sewing’ to ourselves. To our mental health and wellbeing.
Why do we choose to sew? What do we get from it? To non-sewists, it’s probably a crazy hobby – why would we spend our (probably limited) free time creating clothing, when clothing can be so easily bought from high street shops?
There could be (and most definitely are) many factors in our choice of hobby – purely and simply because we enjoy it, because it’s a way to unwind, or a creative outlet. Or it could be that we value handmade, individual things in a world where so many things are mass-produced. Or it could be freedom of expression, if we spend all day in a job where we’re told what to do. A way of giving restrictions in other parts of our life the finger, by doing whatever the hell we choose with our sewing projects. We’re in charge and what we say goes. We don’t need to answer to ANYONE. You want sequinned pants? You go for it. Ain’t nobody gonna stop you.
MY CRAFTING HISTORY
I’ve been creative pretty much all my life (apart from in my finance career, where ‘creative accounting’ is considered dishonest or even fraud ??). My mum was a knitter, and although she never taught me anything sewing-related she was a tailoress when she was very young – before she married and had children. I only ever remember her knitting, I never saw her sew any clothes. She didn’t own a sewing machine. It’s a little bit sad, on reflection, because she probably could have taught me a thing or two! I’m about 90% sure she said that she made men’s suits in her tailoring job, but my memory is a bit hazy.
This photo of her, taken in Paris in the 80’s (probably only a short time before I was born), is almost definitely the source of my love of fur coats.
My earliest memory of crafting is cross stitch as a teenager (and I’m ashamed to admit that I still have some unfinished projects from my twenties, which I’ve promised myself that one day I will finish. Probably when I’m retired, lol). I also did scrapbooking and card making, and knitting. The first thing I ever knitted was a garter stitch scarf – my mum cast on for me, and I literally went back and forth knitting the rows with varying shades of neon yarn. It was proper lairy.
Some of my scrapbooking attempts from my younger days:
And that one cross stitch project that I’m determined to finish before I die:
So although crafting has been a big part of my life for a long while, I didn’t actually sew an item of clothing until about 2014. The very first garment was this skirt – the thing that started me off on this sewing journey that I now find myself on:
The back zip is proper dodgy, and there’s a whole lot wrong with the waistband, but it sparked something in me.
SO WHY DO I SEW?
When I thought about why I sew, and what benefits I get from it, it was initially hard to pinpoint the precise reason – the closest I got was ‘because I enjoy it’, and that’s not a very good answer really. On considering it a bit more carefully, I think it’s to do with certain aspects of my personality – who I am, and my approach to life.
The husbeast will confirm that I am very stubborn, and determined. And defiant. And that I don’t like to be told what to do, or follow the trends. I am fiercely, uniquely me, and heaven forbid anyone that stands in the way of that. A company I worked at a few years back tried to impose that all workers only used company branded mugs, didn’t have any personal photos on their desk, and had the company logo as their computer desktop background – no exceptions, no funny pics of your doggo etc – and believe me I left that place with a bang and told them exactly what I thought of their policies and attempt to turn their workers into robots.
So yeah, you could say I’m pretty strong-willed, and I have a very definitive idea of what’s okay and what’s not okay.
My hair colour (and nose ring, to some extent) can be a bit of a sticking point with some people who make presumptions of what a 34-year-old should look like. But I love my hair and that’s all that matters – I don’t care that other people my age are ‘proper grown ups’ with a family and a mortgage and I’m still over here wearing Pikachu socks and sewing bags with zombies on them. Or that sometimes I eat pancakes for dinner rather than a proper meal. I’m not ready for that ‘adult’ life that everyone assumes you should have. I’m not sure I ever will be – I don’t think I was made to fit the standard template.
Clothing that matches both my age and my lifestyle, is therefore hard to find. If I go into the shops that are aimed at your standard 34 year olds, my reaction is usually:
The clothing is just not me. It either screams school-Mom, or just plain BOR-INNNNGGG. Which forces me to the stores that stock the type of clothing I like, but are clearly aimed at teenagers and girls in their twenties. And it’s not very often that shops like that cater for someone of my shape – the clothing seems to be made for lean teenage girls. Which clearly (espesh after last week’s demolition of the ‘serves six’ bread and butter pudding) I’m not. So I’m stuck in the middle. Clothing brands seem to be assuming that your life progresses in a standard way – so by the time you’re 34 you’re probably married and probably have children and therefore probably don’t care too much for a dress that has Iron Man on it.
Well, they can shove their assumptions, basically, because I wanted a dress with Iron Man on it. So I made one.
If I wear the clothes that are offered by these dull-as-dishwater brands, I’m dressing for a lifestyle that isn’t mine. I’m swaddling my young-at-heart personality that still says ‘soz’ and ‘cosmic’ in a dowdy cardigan that’s easy-wash, easy-iron and hides baby vomit. NOPE.
It’s very rare that I actually see things I like in shops anyway – I only came back from New York with a handful of items, and believe me I spent a fair amount of time in Macy’s, Bloomingdales and strolling along 5th Avenue. But – as I’m sure you’ll remember – I came back with a hefty amount of fabric to make my own clothes.
I think this is probably what draws a lot of people to sewing – in one way or another, the ready-to-wear clothing available doesn’t align with who they are. And it’s no surprise, really – every single one of us humans are unique in our tastes, personalities and body shapes, and it’s just not possible that we’re all catered for with the clothing that’s available in the shops. For some people, it probably doesn’t bother them too much and they just choose the things they like the best from what’s available, and forget about a perfect fit. But for those of us who it does matter, sewing can be the answer. It can allow us to make the clothing that we want, which allows us to express ourselves however we choose. We can tailor it to our own individual bodies, and hit whatever point on the gender spectrum we choose. I could make baggy jeans, or ‘boyfriend fit’ shirts, without having to shop in the men’s section. Guys could make themselves more fitted (or ‘prettier’) items without having to shop in the women’s sections. By sewing our own clothes, we do away with this segregation and instead create a selection of clothing that is defined as ‘ours’, rather than by our gender.
BEAUTY IS ON THE INSIDE
I’ve never been focused on my own appearance in a ‘beauty’ sense – I’m not one to spend ages styling my hair, or painting my nails, or applying makeup. I’m not into revealing clothes either – short skirts, cleavage, nah mate. None of that. I’m not out to impress others with my flesh. I don’t understand why so many clothes are designed to have body parts precariously hanging out of them. Or even why some bras are apparently made with the sole aim of getting your nipples to touch your chin. As a teenager, it was really hard for me to find ‘going out’ clothing that met my style preferences – it was all short tops and skirts, the aim seemed to be to use as little fabric as possible. For me, the exception who wanted something different (something nice, but just a little more modest) there wasn’t much choice.
As I’ve got older, I’ve come to care even less about what others think. I’m not wasting my days trying to make myself look ‘prettier’ for other people. They can take me how I am, or not. I don’t care either way. If I’m not ‘pretty enough’ for someone, or my eyebrows aren’t tidy enough, or my boobs aren’t perky enough, then that’s not my problem. I for sure ain’t gonna lose any sleep over it. It’s why I’ve never understood plastic surgery for purely cosmetic reasons, and why it saddens me to find out that Superdrug give botox injections in store along the high street. You could swing by on your lunch break for a top up, as if it was nothing to inject chemicals into your face so that you appear better to others. If people don’t love you the way you are, then you’re hanging with the wrong people. I have wibbly bits, bingo wings, and stretch marks from my teenage years when I was a lot heavier. If someone was to use any of these things as a reason to distance themselves from me in any way, there’s a bigger problem at hand and it’s certainly not mine.
As a society, we seem *so* focussed on outward appearance – which is madness, given that your body is just the housing for your personality, your sense of humour, and all the other things that make you who you are. I don’t care if you’re the prettiest thing on the planet, if you have the personality of a plastic bottle then nobody is going to want to spend time with you. People seem to forget that their body is the most amazingly complex thing they will ever own, and if there’s a few wrinkles coming through or a few wobbly bits, you should give it a break. It keeps you alive 24/7. Even when you’re sleeping, it’s working hard to make repairs and prepare you for tomorrow. Rather than injecting it with toxins, try eating some greens and getting an early night. Take care of yourself.
My (very basic) morning routine, for many many years now, has been:
1. Wash face with The Body Shop tea tree facial wash
2. Moisturise with The Body Shop hemp moisturiser
3. Clean teeth, and use mouthwash.
It’s quick, it cleans everything that needs cleaning, and suits me just fine.
When I overhear conversations of people discussing their make up regime, talking about a million different creams and lotions and this and that, my mind is just BLOWN. I couldn’t imagine going through that drama every morning. Life’s too short to care about shaping my eyebrows (which are just going to grow back anyway) or trying to correct uneven skin tone. Over the last few years, during the summer, I’ve started getting this blotch on my face which is basically a massive freckle-y area that makes me have a freckle-moustache – sure, it’s annoying, but whatevs.
MY DREAM WARDROBE
I want getting dressed to be a similarly simple process – I’d like a wardrobe of clothes in prints that bring me joy, and that fit me. I don’t want waistbands that dig in, tops that are too short, shirts that are too tight around the bust. And if that means that I have to make all my own clothing in order to have that, so be it.
Shopping for clothing has always been a depressing experience for me – in the springtime especially, it’s all pastels and florals. NO THANKS. Plus – and this is gonna make me sound super old – it’s hard to find a nice skirt in a decent length. You either get a pretty, but teeny tiny ‘belt’, or a matronly number. When I started making my own clothing, I realised that I could take control of my wardrobe – I could choose the styles, the fabrics, the colours – and the skirt lengths. The only limit was my imagination. I could be ME. I could choose fabrics with designs that made me happy, and make them in a style that I wanted. Again, it’s me not following the path that’s already been laid out (the clothing collections produced by the high street), and instead taking a random left turn off the beaten track and cutting a fresh path through the jungle.
A lot of the shops assume that you ‘grow out’ of the fun stuff as you get older too – children, for example, can get underwear with llamas on them. Try finding an adult pair of pants with llamas on them. Go on, try. Bet ya can’t. So what if I WANT a pair of adult pants with llamas on them? Well, I can make them ??
SHARING THE SEWING LOVE
I sew for the husbeast as well because he also falls the wrong side of what the clothing manufacturers deem to be the ‘norm’ in terms of clothing style and size. He’s about 5’5, which off the bat means that shopping for jeans and trousers that are the right length is a drama, let alone finding something in a nice style that’s also a suitable length. He’s also not particularly keen on what you would call traditional ‘man clothes’ – baggy fit, boring colours. When we were younger, he used to wear a size medium in everything even though it was clearly way too big, and if it wasn’t black or navy, it could jog on. Over the years, I’ve slowly encouraged him to shake off society’s expectations of what a male should wear, and wear whatever the hell he damn wants. Some very big steps that we’ve made are the neon fur coat, and also the outfit we put together for an upcoming Minerva blog post:
Yes, that’s a fur bomber jacket that I made for him.
Yes, those are my heeled boots.
Yes, that’s red nail varnish.
And yes, those shiny jeans are mine (or were mine, up until the point that I became too fat to get in them. Now they’re his because he’s still skinny).
And you know what? He looks bloody awesome. MUCH more awesome than he would ever look in clothes from the men’s section of Next, or Marks and Spencer. I’m so proud of how he’s giving two fingers to what’s expected of men’s clothing choices, because I know that for him, this is a big deal. He used to worry a lot about what people thought of him – he still does, a little – but he knows that I love him for who he is and I want him to express that in whatever way makes him happy. However he chooses to dress himself to walk down the street, I’ll be walking right next to him. Haters can hate if they want, but they are the ones with the problem – they just don’t know how to react when they are faced with something that’s outside the realms of their narrow-mindedness.
Despite all that, I know that it’s hard to be yourself when you feel like you might fall outside the lines of what’s considered ‘normal’. As humans, we’re designed to want to be accepted. But how far do you stray from your true path in order to ‘be accepted’? How much do you have to sacrifice? Is it worth it? Sometimes people say to me that they wish they were brave enough to dye their hair pink, or wear a certain item of clothing. It makes me sad that they feel that they can’t – it’s their body, and they can dress it however they want. They shouldn’t fear being judged by others. What other people think doesn’t mean jack shit. You’re never too old to get your lip pierced, or your first tattoo. These age-related expectations really grind on me.
We will only change society’s norms by stepping over the line, digging our pink leopard print heels into it as we go and smushing it into oblivion.
So, what is the ‘worth of sewing’ to me? It’s my freedom of expression. The ability to smash down the barriers and walk my own path. The power to be who I truly am.
And in this field of horses, I want to be the unicorn.???
Ahhh, what a rant ? That felt good! What really amazes me though, is that every single one of the millions of us that are on the planet are unique. No two of us are the same. We’re all different shapes, with different markings and colourings. And each one is as beautiful as the next, no matter what anyone says. You owe it to yourself to be you, because no one else can.
What is the worth of sewing to you? What makes you continue to pick up the fabric and create things, over and over again? Think about it. You might be surprised at what you discover.
Next week on the Wanderstitch blog… I’m heading back to New York City with my By Hand London Victoria Blazer ✂️ Subscribe below to make sure you don’t miss out! ??