The Deeper Story Behind Why I Sew: Thoughts on Embodiment and Pace

by Meghan Fowler

I’m writing this post with the intention of imparting some encouragement and confidence to you as a creative human (whether you see yourself that way or not).

Though I’m going to be talking a lot about sewing, (with the hope of giving would-be sewists a little nudge to get started!), I think there are some important thoughts here for everyone. Thoughts about making in general; about engaging in focal practices and returning to our humanity in the process. Follow along if you’re interested! At the bottom are a couple of ideas for everyone (sewists and non-sewists alike) to start thinking differently about fashion and about creativity.

Learning to Sew, Step-By-Step

Ogden Cami from a thrifted jacket. This is one of the first things I made for myself.

If you are considering trying your hand at sewing; you can do it! All it takes is the right tools, and a good dose of determination, patience, and grace. You need all three of those attributes, because if you’re like me, it will NOT suit to be so product-oriented that you miss the joy of the messy, imperfect, humanizing PROCESS.

Fact: I’m not a professional sewist. Not even close. I’m self-taught, which is to say I’ve practiced and trial-and-errored and read posts and watched videos and figured things out bit by bit. And bit by tiny bit I’ve learned how to sew buttons and add invisible zippers and flat-fell seams (yes, that’s a thing). I learned how to sew simpler things like burp cloths, then baby tights, and shirts with simple hems…We all start somewhere!

Flat-Felled Seams on my Free-Range Slacks

I slowly added to my repertoire until I had the confidence to try more audacious projects, only to realize that, like the simplest patterns, all they were were a list of small, careful steps that added up to a whole. Guys, now I can make pants! Which is wild when I think back. But I liken sewing to baking. If you can figure out one thing at a time, you can do the whole thing. No one makes muffins in ONE step! They do all these tiny, individually simple steps, and they add up to this complex, tasty, puffy, warm treat of deliciousness. One-step-at-a-time. That’s how it’s done.

And so it is with sewing: Can you trace a pattern? Okay. Can you thread your bobbin? Pulling out machine manual. Got it! Can you iron a seam? Yep.

You see? All kinds of little, tiny skills make up even the most complex of garments. You just need the will to learn those skills, and the faith that they will get easier and more intuitive to execute as you do them over and over again. I’ve been learning step by sometimes-VERY-slow-step, with lots of mistakes and thread bungles (my word for when it gets tangly and loopy in the back), and maybe a few choice words dropped along the way.

My Haori (a Wiksten pattern) finally “finished” after I picked and re-sewed the whole thing. I ended up dying it in Indigo after this!

Grace, Determination, and Patience

Friend, if you’re really new at sewing, or even just one flat-felled seam step behind me and feel intimidated at all, PLEASE DON’T BE. It just takes grace, determination, and patience.

It just takes grace, determination, and patience.

Grace I need all the time, in all things, and I’m getting better at receiving it (and dispensing it!). Determination I fortunately have a lot of, naturally. This serves me well most of the time but poorly when I push past wise limits! (My friends and family are nodding right now.) And patience; something I am learning the hard way – trust me. I’m not naturally patient. Case in point:

Sometimes Often I hurry too much and accidentally make annoying mistakes. For instance, I may or may not have sewn almost an entire #wikstenhaori together WITH FRENCH SEAMS only to realize I put the front two panels on opposite sides. Enter stitch ripper. Patience is the virtue I most lack, and sewing is teaching me it (also, life is, but that’s for another post; also, children are, but that’s for another post too). It requires patience. But it’s also extremely rewarding.

The Opportunities and Rewards

Sewing  – like so many embodied activities that are suited to thoughtful pace and care – offers several gifts toward well-being. First, it encourages me to prize focal practices over the products of efficiency and it gives me a chance to get out of my head and into my body. Second, it moves me toward a healthier connection with myself, and between myself and the created order. Let me explain what I mean.

1. Re-Integrating: Getting out of My Head and Into My Body

Trust me, anything can become frenetic if you’re doing it in a rush, heedlessly, intoxicated by adrenaline (yes, even sewing). I should know. I’m a go-er! But a slow, tactile process like this affords the mental space and time to sloooooowwwww things down and get in touch with my own humanity. It affords an opportunity; and if I take advantage of it I can begin to re-integrate my tired mind with my able body. This, perhaps, is one of the best immediate dividends paid by the act of sewing.

…a slow, tactile process like this affords me the mental space and time to sloooooowwwww things down and get in touch with my own humanity.

2. Noticing and Valuing the Gifts of Creation

Sewing clothes for myself also presents an opportunity to care for my particular body in a special way – to customize things to fit ME, and to appreciate the body I’ve been given for exactly what it is (and being find with what it isn’t). This is good self-care. And by virtue of the time and effort committed, sewing (mending, too, for that matter!) helps me to know and be grateful the very materials I use to clothe myself — it teaches me to appreciate the fruit of the earth and the long efforts that produced the fabric I am using. Me sewing is the final step in a long line of making — making that began with soil and seed (ideally. I’m not a fan of artificial fibres like polyester. But more on that another time). It teaches me to value things: raw materials brought forth by the earth, the technology employed toward making the fabric, the caring hands that transported or cut it, my own labours, the thoughful work of the pattern-makers…

the delicious blue linen I’ll be sewing into a Hinterland dress

And you know what? It feels right. It feels right to know things, to be connected with them, to be grateful. It feels right to slow down. It feels right not to take for granted the cost of things, and it feels right to be kind to my body by clothing it with care. (I feel like I should offer a disclaimer here saying that I still have SO much growing to do as it pertains to thinking this way, slowing down, living mindfully, purchasing sustainably, etc. I think what I’ve written represents an ideal that I want to be shaped by, that is shaping me over time. But I haven’t “arrived” yet. There! Said it.)

It feels right to know things, to be connected with them, to be grateful. It feels right to slow down. It feels right not to take for granted the cost of things, and it feels right to be kind to my body by clothing it with care.

You Can Do It: Just Start!

Friend, if you’re interested in starting to sew but are scared, I hope this post has imparted some new courage to you. And I want to remind you (if you happen to have any level of perfectionism-intertia) that you don’t have to commit to becoming a sewist. You don’t even have to commit to finishing a piece well. It’s okay to take time on something you care about and get it wrong. Process is important and valuable for its own sake. And permission to learn through mistakes (that’s the grace part!) is something we need to force ourselves to learn. Consider this an opportunity to learn grace, to slow down, to reconnect with the physical world, to show yourself some love, and to – eventually – make things you love and feel proud of.

Here’s how you’ll do it:

You’ll do it one little thing at a time. Maybe today that means you’ll pick a pattern. And you’ll trace out your size one evening when your kids are sleeping and you’re tired but not toooooo tired. Maybe you’ll even cut out the fabric the same eve! That will be wild. Then – even though you are subconsciously avoidant – you will push yourself and just sit down at the machine and thread it. What a rush! Finally, you will sew one seam. Just one. And then you’ll leave it for a day, or a week. But the next thing won’t be so daunting because – you know – you’ve started.

So just start! Do it!

Two Take-Aways (Whether You Sew or Not!):

Regardless of whether you ever intend to start sewing or not, I want to encourage you with these two take-aways:

1) You can start to think differently about fashion too. Purchase things you care about, that you’ll show care for. Buy things made of good quality fabric. Buy things at thrift stores or from ethical (environmentally and socially) makers. Think about where your clothes are from, and how to give them a long life. Try and build a wardrobe of well made, long lasting things that will ultimately biodegrade.

2) Think of some kind of embodied activity that gives you life — something that brings you out of your head (and off your technology!) and into your body. Something that provides an opportunity to slow down, to become aware of your body, to notice things with all your senses, right where you are. Something that takes time and requires your loving attention.

That’s all for this week! If you have any questions or feedback feel free to comment below OR fill out the contact form. And, as ever, I encourage you to sign up for the Under the Elms email list to stay updated with what’s what over here. Sign up form is rightttttt here ➡️

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p.s. If you’re wondering, here’s what my Haori looks like now, after being dyed in indigo. Although I love me some beige, I like this colour a lot more with my skin. Especially in winter when my freckles flee southward!

 

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