Spelling Out Sewing

Recently someone asked me, in a friendly and curious way, what benefits sewing had brought to my life. The question was so unexpected that I could only answer in an entirely spontaneous way – yet four points rattled straight out of my mouth.

Self Esteem

Whatever else is happening in my life, I know I can hold two pieces of fabric together and shove them through a sewing machine with my foot down on a pedal. Or, to put it more eloquently, I am able to utilise creativity, craft, vision and energy in making something unique, be it a dress, a cushion cover, or coasters. I can hold something in my hands and know that without my hands, it wouldn’t exist. This makes me feel good about myself.


Being In The Moment

When I’m sewing, everything else peels away. I don’t think about my To Do list, the grocery shopping, that dry cleaning that needs picking up, the phone call I haven’t made, my career, future or overdue haircut. I just sew. It’s my version of yoga or meditation – with pretty fabric thrown in. Yay!

Pink Fabric

Recharging The Batteries

If you’re anything like me, life is a constant multi-tasking challenge. How to stay energised? Some of the answers are obvious – a good night’s sleep, healthy eating, exercise. Sitting behind a sewing machine for hours at a time? It doesn’t sound obvious, yet it works – more activity gives me energy for other activity. When I recently returned home from a trip, I sat down at my sewing machine and sewed like my life depended on it. Did this leave me even more exhausted? No. I returned to the office feeling like a new woman.

Creative Fulfilment

The number one reason for me: I get to engage with a part of myself that is as essential as eating, breathing or drinking (water!) – my need to create. And it’s accessible creativity. I’m not looking at writing a 100,000 word novel. I’m not trying to put on a play. I’m just gonna take three metres of fabric and see what happens. Crucially, I don’t even mind the mistakes!

Of course, I should have added another important reason to sew – the friends. I really should have mentioned the friends. But what about you? Do these reasons resonate? Are there others you’d add? If you had to justify sewing to a stranger, what would you say?

Sewing Bloggers

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66 Responses to Spelling Out Sewing

  1. Vicki Kate says:

    In full agreement here! Especially the friends bit and the ability for me to just be in the present when sewing. It’s definitely more than pretty dresses!

  2. Chris says:

    Well put, Karen! Those reasons are all true for me too. Another one is Feedback. Sewing gives me a result of my work, something tangible that I don’t get in my day job as a teacher or as a mother. In those fields I work and hope for the best – but in sewing I see immediately whether a garment fits and flatters or not. I really enjoy having that feedback – so much that I don’t even mind the fails (as long as there aren’t too many of them).

  3. Rebekah says:

    I just started sewing, in large part for these reasons. I love coming home to my sewing machine and zen-ing out, and despite the inevitable mistakes, I really like being able to point to something and say, “I made that!”

  4. I love the freedom… Npt being limited by what’s in stores or in fashion right now. I can take a pattern and make it in a fabric I love, change things I don’t like and create a wardrobe that truly feels like ‘me’.

  5. Aileen Brown says:

    I love it because I find it soothing. Don’t know why but that doesn’t really matter! It forces you to concentrate on something tiny like fitting a zip in something complicated and reduces the world to getting a little bit of something as perfect as you possibly can. What could be better? First time I’ve posted. You have inspired me!

  6. Aileen Brown says:

    I have also wanted to respond to your post about making a cotton dress in February. I dug out some fabric and made the same Shirtwaister. One of the few dresses I will actually wear! Must start following Me Made May !!

  7. Great post! I agree with all of your points, Karen, and I’d add the opportunity for self-expression. I’m not the most adventurous or colorful dresser, but I love that being able to sew clothes allows me to choose the fabric, the style, the fit, as it takes my fancy. And even if you use the same pattern or fabric etc as someone else, it’s always going to be a one-off creation, made especially for you.

  8. Amen! I totally agree!

  9. Well said. I totally agree with you. I love being creative and wish I had more time to devote to it.

  10. Jennie says:

    Completely agree, my 2 child-free hours a week at sewing class are what keeps me going, that and the great British sewing bee!

  11. Barbara says:

    Very interesting, I think you’ve expressed it beautifully. For me, it’s particularly about being in the moment, creative expression and liberation from clothes shopping.

  12. lauriesannie says:

    Everything on your list plus two – the ability to afford the really nice clothing I want and some great memories.

    • LinB says:

      Yes! Even coming across a long-ago-abandoned garment at the back of a closet or deep in a drawer can trigger pleasant memories.

      Also, sewing relieves psychic tension so that I am not tempted to carry out murder … wait, perhaps I should not have said that aloud … I’m sure you all know what I mean. Taking shears to a length of fabric is nearly as satisfying as standing over the body of one’s enemy with an axe, and generally leads to far less jail time.

  13. MadeByMeg says:

    YES YES YES and YES! It’s funny that making things can provide so many benefits beyond just the end product of the garment.

  14. I heartily second all your points and the comments about sartorial freedom and self expression. I’d also add independence into the mix: Not having to rely on retailers to deign to sell garments in my non standard size and not having to rely on someone else to mend my split seams or loose buttons. Yay for self reliance!

  15. Jenny says:

    I couldn’t agree more!

    I wrote my own post a few weeks ago, particularly about how it’s helped with my body image:


  16. Betsy says:

    So well said. I stitch every morning before going to work and it is my therapy. I teach middle schoolers so doing something that brings me joy also enables me to share joy

  17. Rochelle New says:

    The friends I made through sewing (and blogging) is my most profound impact at the moment. It’s so amazing how creative minds seem to click together so well. I feel like there’s a lot of instant friends with sewing and that’s wonderful. I also love the alchemy of sewing. Taking pieces of nothing and cutting them up and sewing them all together into something. It’s really fantastic to say you can do that! A self esteem booster for sure.

  18. Annelieke says:

    Hello Karen (and Jenny of Cashmerette whom I will meet tomorrow!) I’ve been lurking on sewing blogs for years, (never commented until now!) and I love reading your posts particularly. Thank you for this one…..I sew for ALL those reasons and in addition because it just gives me joy! It’s challenging when I need that, I make it simple when I don’t, and all I need to do is choose the right project. I have no friends where I live who sew, and so your blogs, and others, are so nourishing! Thank you for all the energy you put into keeping them current, and photographing so beautifully, and sharing. The warmth and camaraderie you seem to be able to send over the computer is incredible. xoxo

    • LinB says:

      Welcome to the sewing community! We live all over the world, some of us in more isolated pockets than others. It’s always good when you find sympathetic persons, makes the loneliness go away.

  19. Pat says:

    I love mystery shows and books. To me, sewing is like solving a mystery. All the puzzle pieces (pattern pieces) fit together to solve the mystery (my garment). Even the mistakes are o.k. I have no one in my life that sews, so it’s bloggers like you that inspire and nudge and get me to make the jacket of awesomenss 🙂

  20. sewgrandma says:

    I sew for the basic necessity of covering up my bod. It’s a bonus that I create something to wear which is outrageously cheaper than store bought, I’m not so sure I save money considering the value of my 3 sewing machines, serger & stash. Oh yes ,,, my stash satisfies my desire to shop.

  21. Yvonne Bennett says:

    Creativity and also my independent streak. Even as a child I’d try making something before asking my parents to buy it. So much self satisfaction gained, from the process, the pride of creating, pride in wearing a self made garment and just the fun of choosing materials. I can also lose myself in the process and forget about worries, at least for a bit. Sewing is a skill that can fill many needs over the course of a lifetime.

  22. I made it!! says:

    Yes, yes, yes, I wholeheartedly agree!

  23. S says:

    I love all of these replies. I’ve noticed that many are the same as mine would be – that sewing liberates me from buying clothes, which I loathe. For a number of years, I have only worn sweaters that I have knitted myself. I feel the same way about sewing now although I will need to do quite a bit more sewing before I will have an entire wardrobe. (I sewed all of my own clothes in my early twenties when I was a broke student, but I took a fifteen year hiatus from sewing!) There’s something so lovely about only wearing things that I’ve made myself. It makes me think more clearly about what I truly need and helps me to refine my consumption so that it aligns with my values.

  24. oonaballoona says:

    well, i’ll tell ya, i just spent hours with gals in the garment district, and was feeling terrible about the dough i spent…but after reading your post i’m able to justify sewing to *myself*! and the fabric will remind me of them 🙂

  25. sweetalchemy says:

    I love this list. Your first point about self-esteem is a big one for me. I’ve always sought a creative outlet in my life, but sewing and knitting have been especially important to me while I’ve been in graduate school, and I think that’s because they help to counteract the self-doubt that constantly appears while trying to get a PhD.

    • Lauren Jade Thompson says:

      I started sewing and knitting during my PhD too! I agree that it gives you something tangible to counteract the abstraction and uncertainty of those years spent wrestling the theoretical with little or no clue if you’re doing it right and convinced that everyone around you is smarter, has read more books and is more valued by the academic community.

      Karen, the phrase that instantly popped into my mind when I read the beginning of your post was “well, it’s cheaper than therapy!”. I too find sewing really meditative and calming (even though it can be stressful at times, it’s a different kind of stress).

      I also think the creative outlet thing is really important. I’ve always been creative and loved drawing etc – but I’m no good at it! So I sought creativity through my dress, pairing up nice combos of colours and patterns and shapes, and then this gradually evolved into “I wish I could have that style in that print or that colour” so HELLO SEWING!

  26. emsewcrazy says:

    I agree as well. Friends was an unexpected but such a welcome benefit of sewing blogging and I never want to go back!

  27. I agree with all the previous comments and your own, Karen. As someone about to retire and worrying about whether I can afford to, I can make a bit of pin money from my sewing too and hopefully enjoys every minute of it.

  28. Philippa says:

    I sew for very similar reasons to you – I feel so much better when I’m making something. I love to work with my hands. There are also environmental reasons (I have the slowest wardrobe ever) and ethical reasons why I prefer sewing over shop buying, and now I have a blog too there are some wonderful people to share my hobby with. I love it!

  29. Pingback: Why sew? | barbarajanemade

  30. Kat says:

    Absolutely. Not sure if you’ve seen this, but along the same lines as what you’re saying http://edition.cnn.com/2014/03/25/health/brain-crafting-benefits/index.html

  31. ellebougies says:

    I love this. I’m so new to sewing, but can’t get enough of it, and I think you really eloquently make sense of why that is!

  32. I agree with you SO much. Especially about the energizing part.

  33. It’s fun and I like it. I like how selfish it it just to be doing something for me as well. That sewing machine is MINE.

  34. great post! I agree with all of your points esp regarding self-esteem and being in the moment. I love sewing and really find when i’m at my machine the time can pass so quickly with me just concentrating on one thing. No worries about what else is going on in life and I just love the sound of the machine as it’s stitching, i find it SO relaxing!

  35. Carol says:

    I agree for all the reasons already stated – sewing is MINE and I use it to express many things. I make useful things (quilts, pot holders, etc) not-so-useful things and things for me to wear. One additional benefit is that I can use my skills and talents for others. For example, I can’t go to Africa with the mission trip this month, but I can sew some Little Dresses for Africa for them to take along. I can’t go to Mexico to help build a house, but can send a quilt for the family to use in their new home. So a little piece of me goes along with those that go physically. It’s very fulfilling.

  36. I agree, sewing is so much more than just making clothes. It would be easier to buy stuff on the high street, but sewing gives me a creative outlet and a huge sense of achievement at being able to make something with my own hands. I love all the steps, from choosing the pattern and fabric to making up. Nothing makes me happier than sewing the last stitch on a garment, as I can then start the whole process again with something new.

  37. lisa g says:

    these are all excellent reasons for loving the craft! certainly, they resonate and are true for me as well. i always feel a bit odd when someone asks me about sewing and i don’t know how to respond (i make some stuff for my kiddos, who in turn brag to their friends, so word gets out…). but, mostly i get the “i wish i knew how/had the time!” response. sewing is just a permanent part of my life in a way that other hobbies will never be.

  38. Yes, absolutely. I think for me, the part of my brain that is involved in all the analytical and wordy work I do at my job all day gets a chance to switch off and recharge when I’m sewing; I’m still using my head, but a different part of my head, which is why it’s so energizing.

  39. Lynn says:

    The first reason I sew – the reason I started – is because my mother, my grandmother and my aunts all sewed so I could never imagine *not* sewing. I never even thought about “should I sew or should I not?”

    The reasons I keep sewing are 1. If I was stuck with only the clothes available in stores I would be a very unhappy person because I never see anything in a store that I would wear except for t-shirts. And RTW jeans and slacks don’t fit me at all. Ever. Because I sew, I can wear what I like. 2. I’m addicted to fabric.

  40. Laura says:

    This is a really lovely post. It’s amazing what a difference sewing has on people’s lives.

  41. Laura says:

    Oh, and I’d just like to add pride. That little moment when somebody (preferably someone who doesn’t know that you sew) says they like your dress and you do a little dance inside your head before trying to respond that you made it without sounding smug.

  42. I agree with all the above posts. Sewing is my escape, the little bit of my rather hectic life that is mine alone. I love to create things, it really affects me when I can’t. I have met loads of lovely people through sewing and had lots of fun experiences that I would never have had otherwise. I hope that I will always be able to sew. 😉

  43. CUP + PENNY says:

    Lovely! For me it’s the pride of wearing something I made.

  44. Rachel says:

    I am in complete agreement with your list. I’d also add Freedom – in the sense that it gives me autonomy by allowing me to wear the things that I want to. Also Reward – in that it gives me tangible evidence of having completed something. I am a Town Planner by day, and it is often years until a client will construct the thing that I’ve secured planning permission for on their behalf. Having a bit of instant gratification to balance that it is nice! Great post, thank you. Rachel ☺

  45. Emma Jayne says:

    Losing myself in the moment is my number one benefit of sewing. Gym classes are all well and good but once I’ve learnt the routines I can think about my career and work out at the same time. Gardening is ok but again too much thinking time and it can feel like a chore. Shopping works but comes with the guilt of spending. Only sewing will do.

  46. Ruth says:

    All the stuff about creativity is definitely a driver, but also for me there’s the element of style and self-esteem. I am in my fifties and work in a creative industry where “power suits” are unwelcome. My style is what used to be called “smart casual” (but no jeans). It suits my lifestyle, but can I find clothes in that style that suit me, fit me and don’t make me look like mutton-dressed-as-lamb? At a price point I can afford? Can I hell. It’s not as though I am an unusual shape or size. I am medium height and size 14-16 (sewing size not UK/US high street size in which I am 10-12). I know that fashion and style becomes more of an issue for women as they age. I personally don’t want to go the “wearable art” route. Nor do I want to be trussed up in formal business suits. Nor do I want to wear elastic waisted pants and skirts and t-shirts all the time. So I sew fairly low-key stuff with nice details. And I have a style that I like now (many thanks to Burda mag particularly) I have to sew! I am just glad I enjoy it too!

  47. Mel says:

    Not to mention the incredibly fulfilling sense of pride I have when someone compliments my outfit, and I can say that I made it myself!

  48. joelleharris says:

    I totally agree, plus for me the joy of teaching other people to sew, they too can reap the benefits :0)

  49. Gilraen says:

    Fully argree, for me also independence – specifically from what colour and fashion people Sewing allows me to create within the moment but in my own colours and style

  50. sewbusylizzy says:

    I love this post as I often say to people that quiz me about my sewing/blogging “it’s not just about making clothes – it’s so much more to me than that”. In fact to some degree the clothes almost seem secondary (although I could have happily been a clothes horse in another life).
    I often describe sewing as my yoga as it’s the only time my brain shuts up (quite a feat).
    I thought you would find this article interesting! http://edition.cnn.com/2014/03/25/health/brain-crafting-benefits/index.html?c=&page=2

    • Love your description of sewing as yoga, Lizzy! Totally agree. It’s about shutting out the rest of the world for a few hours – focussing on something creative to forget daily stresses. I find it very relaxing.

  51. Well put! I totally agree!

  52. BMGM says:

    I just tell people I make stuff. When I was writing a PhD dissertation in theoretical physics, I spent most of my time in front of a computer or staring at equations on paper or blackboards. I needed something tactile for my hands. And clothes to wear so I don’t look like the guys.

  53. Sally says:

    This is such a great post!!! Spot on – thank you! 🙂

  54. Helena says:

    This is a great post and I’ve been thinking along those lines lately as well. Why do I sew? While I haven’t gotten as far as spelling it out in a post yet, I’m planning to do that, I came to an important realisation.

    Sewing is no longer a hobby for me. It is my lifestyle.

    To create, engage with the sewing community, wear unique garments. I’ve gotten confidence, not only in sewing, but in dressing and being myself.

    • puu says:

      while i agree with everyone here your reply, helena, spoke to me the most. i realized that i feel the same way. what started out as a pastime has become a lifestyle – inspiring me to be more me, to create, and above all to engage with an entirely new group of people. hear hear!

  55. Love your post and love this whole thread!
    My favorite point from your origianal list is accessible creativity. A garment can take two hours or two months to make, but I know I CAN make it.
    I like the engineering aspect of sewing. How does one take THIS particular piece of fabric and create That 3-d garment with the needed amount of structure and support while still retaining beauty and flow and ease of wear. Or how does one go from a picture on an envelope or on my screen and make something that looks like that but fits my particular body with my broad back and my flattish butt and my longish legs.

    Reading this thread Ruth just taught me a new phrase -“Mutton dressed as lamb”. I’ll be 60 in a couple weeks and I get that. In real life I mostly wear yoga pants and comfortable tops. But if I can keep that level of comfort and somehow make it a little more fashion forward then I’m thrilled.

  56. Aww, look at that picture of the four of us looking happy! Great memories. Friends are a relatively new part of sewing for me, but a very important part. Everyone I’ve met has been so supportive and I love being part of a community of like-minded souls.
    I love to shut myself away from the stressful world in my sewing room and can spend hours in there, completely uninterrupted. I find the physical act of sewing very relaxing. On the other hand, I sew because I love to wear unusual/inventive things and I find pattern making is something I get excited about too. It’s a winning combination for me.

  57. MrsC says:

    Late to the party! But I just wanted to add that I’ve only just watched episodes 3-6 of Sewing Bee, and dear Jenny put it so well too – that with a piece of fabric and an idea, you can create anything, and that is a feeling unlike any other, absolute magic!

  58. Hannah says:

    I love to sew, make and create. I find it hard not to be doing something and therefore seem to always have a lot of projects on the go, but it wouldn’t be the same without them. If I’m not making I am thinking about making something. When I was away for the week I missed having all my tools and being able to just make something when I was inspired to do so. It is great when you make something that you are proud of and when someone says they like something you made, even better when they say ‘really?’ 🙂

    I made a skirt in the fabric of your dress here:

  59. All of the above. It was wonderful to see that gorgeous dress again Karen.

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