Who We Are: Sewing and Mental Health

Who We Are (18).jpgHello! In this round-up we are including stories from Sewcialists who wanted to share how sewing relates to their mental health. I’m glad to see a trend of people being more open about mental health – I think there are few of us who aren’t affected wither ourselves or through family and friends. Hopefully by talking frankly, we all feel less alone.

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Emmanuelle from Zoubi Zoubisou@ZoubiZoubisou

Prior to sewing, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve always had an urge to make things. I enjoy the process very much and despite the many obstacles I have placed in front of it over the years, I still need to make stuff with my hands! The obstacles are always the same: anxiety with putting my creation out for others to see, and insecurity with how those creations will be perceived. Whatever my makes have been over the years — paintings, writing, music — they’ve always seemed like extensions of myself. So if someone were to judge them poorly, then they’d be judging me poorly. This anxiety is unhealthy and has had paralyzing effects on pretty much all of my creative hobbies and social interactions. The typical pattern is one in which I get about a year into some new hobby before dropping it for fear that the result (i.e., myself) isn’t good enough. I’ve dropped many things that I’ve loved because of this, and each drop has thrown more fuel on the anxiety fires!

So, four years ago when sewing became my new hobby, the tinge of skepticism I sensed beneath my husband’s enthusiasm was understandable. But sewing has proven very different than every one of my previous pursuits. It’s not that sewing itself is different; it’s that sewists are different. The sewing community has been incredible. Their support and encouragement has improved not only my sewing skills, but my mental health too! For the first time, a creative hobby — sewing — has enhanced my self-esteem instead of reduce it. I still get anxious when sharing pictures of a new garment, but the anxiety doesn’t stop me from doing it like it did before, and this is a major step forward. I am learning to let go of my fear, listen less to my inner critic. I am as excited by sewing today as I was the day I started my first dress four years ago. Sewing satisfies my urge to make stuff with my hands without becoming a burden of self doubt. So I guess sewing is here to stay!

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Suzanne

Hi! My name is Suzanne and I’ve been hand sewing plushies and dolls since 2008 to help me deal with a breakup that was particularly hard on me. This hobby came in most handy the following year after losing my job in the social welfare sector due to my erratic behavior because of my mental health issues. My main diagnosis is bipolar disorder, which is mainly marked by long bouts of depression and extreme irritability. I also have social anxiety, attention deficit disorder, PTSD, and avoidant personality disorder. I am currently receiving disability benefits as my bipolar disorder symptoms are so unpredictable, even with medication, that I am unable to hold down a job.

Creating little felt creatures and fabric dolls has given me a measure of joy at times when life felt bleak and hopeless. Sewing by hand has given me an outlet to express myself and a way to connect with others when I lost my connection to the world through the workforce. Having others take an interest in my plushies and dolls has given me confidence when there was no other way for me obtain a measure of self-worth otherwise. Hand sewing is also an effective tool I use to quell my anxiety when it just gets to be too much.

Linnea

Linnea / Not So 50s Housewife

Sewing for me is a way to strip off the secondary trauma of my job and get back to who I am. I’m a therapist, mostly working with kids, and there are days when I come home so completely emotionally drained or wired, that I can’t even seem to have a normal conversation with my husband. Those are the nights I feel as though I need to sew something. My body and mind literally twitch if I don’t do something creative.  Normally after sewing for just a short period of time, I’m able to put my mind at ease, to relax, to feel less fragile, and to feel whole. I may not be able to help a child heal completely, but I can darn well make those cut out pieces of fabric into something beautiful.

I also suffer from sometimes severe anxiety and depression, and have seen my own therapist at times for these concerns. Sewing, or even just sorting scraps or cutting fabric, provides an outlet for me to turn my mind back to more positive pathways. I even design quilts in my head when I can’t sleep. Finishing a project, even just, a small zippered pouch or tea wallet, gives me the chance to focus on something tangible, something that I’ve been able to accomplish, despite feeling like I may never be in control again. I saw a t-shirt once that said “my soul is fed with needle and thread” and I truly believe it’s true. Now, my sewing machine is calling and I must go!

LaKaribane

Sewing is my passion and sewing saved my sanity. In 2010, there was a terrible earthquake that destroyed part of my city. When I was finally able to get into the rubble of my house, the first thing I noticed was my sewing machine, on the table, exactly where I had left it that morning. It really impacted me, as if it were a sign.  However, it took me a long time to get back to sewing. I slept and ate poorly for a long time and my clothes didn’t fit. When I did start sewing again, I felt instantly better. As though I could make things in a world that had been unmade. I also felt in control, at least of this small thing, this garment, this napkin even if I could not control the wider world around me. It took me at least three years to feel like a normal human being. But making clothes for that sad and grieving body actually helped my get over the sadness and the grief. Sewing is my passion and sewing saved my sanity. Oddly enough, when I am very stressed or anxious, I stop sewing. But, then I miss it and I sometimes have to force myself to sew something. And the effect is the same.

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Laura / missyouonamonday.wordpress.com

Don’t say “It’ll happen”

So my mental health isn’t great, its mainly anxiety/OCD issues but as a result of therapy I would say I have found it to be pretty manageable. THEN March 2015 came along, and my husband-to-be at the time (we married in May 2015) and I decided to try for a baby.  We did the ‘try but not trying’ thing and after six months of nothing happening I decided to plan it a little better and look at days I would be ovulating but still didn’t put too much stress on ourselves.  My cycles seemed to be longer than most, so I knew I didn’t have as many chances as others in the same time period and I wasn’t concerned.  A year later I done some more research which showed my cycles were abnormally long.  All my life I had heard “as long as you’re regular” well I was regular, every 60 days more or less.  No one told me that wasn’t normal, but jump onto pregnancy forums and NHS forums, and all of it, and I mean all of it, advised me to go to a doctor.  So I did.

First appointment and in less than five minutes the very kind doctor says “Sounds like you might have PCOS — Polycystic ovary syndrome.  I’ll refer you for tests.”  Those confirmed that yes I do suffer from PCOS.  Basically I don’t ovulate either at all/regularly.  So for the most of 2017 we had fertility treatment, starting with a mild form of tablets for six months and moving on to IUI treatment which we are currently undergoing.  I did fall pregnant in May last year but sadly miscarried at 7 weeks.  All of this is very challenging to deal with, and mostly I feel I have lost the sense of me, because at this stage the me I thought I would be was a mother.  The hormones are hellish to say the least, I was depressed and had suicidal thoughts.  Life in general was just so very distressing.  Watching friends and family have babies became a peculiar mix of joyful and dejected emotions battling inside me.

So what has this got to do with sewing? It’s my outlet basically, a place to let my creativity flow.  A place where if you do A+B it equals C, there is no maybe, no 10% chance. I’m sick of the maybes and the 10% chance.  There is a supportive community, seriously, there isn’t one single troll!!! I mostly sew clothes for myself, and I love making cushion covers.  After getting married, my husband and I bought a smallholding, hoping to fill it with a babies and raise them in the countryside.  There is a small room next to the master bedroom just begging to be a nursery.  We turned it into a sewing room, as it was just sitting there being a room of gloom that I hated.  We kept holding off “just in case” but no more, it’s covered in flamingos, has stacks of fabric in it, is painted a gorgeous rose pink colour, and has a big window that looks onto miles of countryside.

Lastly, a lot of people don’t know what to say to people suffering from fertility issues.  For me I hate the phrase “It’ll happen” — you don’t know that.  Say “it’ll be ok,” because it will.

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Gillian / Crafting a Rainbow

With all these wonderful Sewcialists revealing truths about themselves, it wouldn’t be fair for me not to ‘fess up too! I’m a stubborn perfectionist and a go-getter by nature, but also very introverted… and the result has been anxiety on and off through the years. I’m lucky in that my family is very open about mental health, and I have lots of role models for resilient people who seek the help they need.

For me, sewing is tightly linked as both a cause and relief for my anxiety. When I’m stressed, I either throw myself even hard into sewing, blogging on my own blog and organizing the Sewcialists… or I lie on the couch feeling overwhelmed by all my commitments and sewing projects. I’m working on creating a more sustainable balance, because I intend to keep blogging regularly myself AND sustain the Sewcialists community for years! Thank you to the Sewcialists volunteers who share the workload with me – it takes a village to run a site like this!

What’s my point? I guess I just want to let you all know that we’re all in this together, and chances are that everyone has some messy stuff going on behind the scenes. Life isn’t all perfect Instagram feeds and pretty blog pictures, and that’s ok! Without a doubt, blogging and the online sewing community have been immensely empowering, positive and inspiring forces in my life for the last 6 years, and I’m grateful for all the ways we support each other!

Please leave your thoughts, experiences and supportive comments below! 


25 thoughts on “Who We Are: Sewing and Mental Health

  1. Hi there,

    Thanks for this great post.
    I think for me, like everyone else writing I find sewing “friends” to be the most supportive, kind and giving people I have ever come across. Instead of being hugely competitive ( but we all love a sewing competition once in a while) everyone is so giving and happy to share their expertise.

    I always know that if I have a “blonde moment” as I call them, and reach out to ask for guidance or just reassurance that I am approaching a particular technique correctly, help is on hand – supportive and encouraging.

    There are times when I feel anxious about a certain process on a piece of clothing I am making; sometimes it is left for days or even weeks and I busy myself in the kitchen all day instead. Of course, when I get back to the sewing, I sit, do it and then think, why didn’t I just get on and do it!!

    Again, thank you to all you lovely ladies who have shared such personal stories. Uplifting.xx

    1. Sewing friends really are amazing! It’s nice to be part of a community with a can-do attitude, where anything is possible and everyone believes in us! (I’m guilty of that same thing though, where I spend ages thinking about how tricky something will be instead of just actually doing it!)

  2. So many touching and yet inspiring stories – women are such wondrous creatures aren’t they?! Women have been sewing clothes and making items for the home, for their families for thousands of years… Carl Jung had identified several archetypes that sit at the centre of our psyches across all humanity (The Old Man, The Child, The Mother) but one he missed (probably because he was a man living in HIS time) was the Circle of Women. Women have been sitting in circles of community for so long in our collective minds it would be impossible to locate it’s beginnings. A powerfully healing archetype which is unfolding in it’s amazing blazing glory in this astonishing online sewing community. Thank you to all who shared their stories here!

    1. Oh my goodness, Kathleen, what an amazing comment! I love the idea of a circle of women around the world giving each other strength and healing. We are so lucky to have each other!

    1. Hehehehe – sewing for mental health for 6 years has definitely made my closet jammed packed with great clothes! 😉

  3. I like to look back at all the woman in my family who have been strong and loving people and I see them as the “threads that make up the fabric of my family”. Sadly, none of them actuality sewed! But that doesn’t mean they didn’t work had to make us feel good about our selves! Our society is different than 100 years ago, and even though we have adapted to it…we have also had this crushing anxiety that comes with a faster pace of life. Sewing slows down our minds, our blood pressure and our hearts. When I make something for a grandchild, my hope is that it will become a legacy. Something to be tangibly passed down to next generations. My hope is that, the actual threads I use will continue to make up the fabric of my family! That thought give me comfort and peace of mind!

    Well done ladies! Keep sewing and blogging about it! You deserve a calm heart and mind! 🙂

    1. Beautifully said! I treasure all the family heirlooms and hand-me-downs that are part of my daily life, because they remind me of all the amazing people in my family. I hope your family also treasures the things you have lovingly made for them!

  4. Love and stitches to the ladies who shared their stories and to all sewists who are struggling with mental health issues. And thanks to Kathleen for her comment. I echo her sentiments. Gillian has created a circle of persons on Sewcialists; a modern day equivalent of the sewing bee when woman of all ages gathered to talk and share, sew and create. So honored to be part of the community.

    1. I’m so touched! I love this community we’ve made, and it’s quite amazing (and yet not surprising) how kind and supportive everyone is! We haven’t had a single negative or hateful comment in all of our discussions, which really makes me think that the world is going to turn out just fine!

  5. Dear Gillian, thank you and all the ladies for their honesty. It isn’t always easy to share what lurks beneath. All too often we tell ourselves to ‘get on with it’ and hide behind a smile, or even just hide. But sometimes, it helps to open up and this article (post) is a good example of community spirit and airing mental health issues to help others. Again, than you all x

    1. I think that process of opening up is so important – both for the person who shares, and for all the people reading! I know it helps me to know that I’m not alone – and the sewing community is such an amazing supportive place!

  6. I just hate when depression comes knocking and I walk away from my sewing machine.

    Why do I quit the one thing that I love during those times.

    The sewing community on the internet and sewing blogs have truly been a life saver for me at those times. Especially hearing I’m not alone, someone else is struggling to pick up their fabric. It gives me courage and strength.

    Thank You for sharing. Thank You for your honesty!

  7. This is such a beautiful concept, and i think it helps a lot of people to step out of their confort zones. Me, for example, i abandoned sewing because i didn’t feel good enough, and i always end up abandoning things i love because of this feeling i get. I think what got going on here is beautiful and helpful in so many ways and i thank you.

  8. I applaud each and every one of you, not only for being so honest about the challenges you are facing, but for how well you are deling with them. I do not know any of you but I am proud of you. Keep on striving. Maybe knowing how strong each of you is in the face of your issues will give me the push I need to get busy despite physical limitations from fibromyalgia and arthritis. Bless you all.

  9. I wanna join this community. I’ve been sewing for almost 15 years now. I have now a bag business. 😊 I love fashion but I don’t know how to make clothes, I only do bags but it did very well.

  10. So happy to have found this community of thoughtful sewers. I made my own clothes (and my children’s) first from necessity and later for pleasure. Now I just fix clothes and make odd things like my new TV cosy. Carry on sewcializing!

  11. Hello! Emmanuelle’s post really resonates with me – my partner likewise doesn’t get too involved when I start a new hobby because I have ‘dumped’ a lot of them in the past when I’ve lost my confidence! However, I’m getting more consistent and sewing is here to stay (alongside baking). The sewing community is very supportive and I, like Emmanuelle, do feel a bit anxious when I post photos of a new ‘make’ but I never receive anything but nice comments. Similarity when I wear my makes out and about – people’s reactions are generally good! I’ve recently taken up cello and I can sense some doubters within my social circle but I think the support I get for my sewing and baking have helped me think ‘I will do this, it will just take time’. 🙂

  12. I started my blog because I love talking about crafts and the things we make. Crafts of many different kinds have helped with my mental health. I wanted to share that help so thought I would blog about it.
    Great post, truly inspired me to share more. Thank you

  13. Such an interesting area (only just found your blog, forgive me!) Just something I would never have even come across so please keep posting! For me it’s song / playwriting, but I think arts are so valuable in mental health. Or really any passion. Apathy is always the enemy, so rewarding to channel my energy I always find. By the way, if anyone ever wants to send me an email about a positive experience with mental health, I’d be delighted to make a post about it (and obviously give a link to your page!) Big love for this post, J X

  14. This is my motto: “The fabric of my life IS the Fabric of my Life”. I have to battle against depression and agoraphobia every day. Sometimes I am climbing up the cliff face by my fingernails, other times I’m on the way down. Sewing is my saviour. I become extremely restless and irritable if I don’t have a creative outlet or space. It is so uplifting to finish a piece of sewing, whatever it may be (even darning a pair of socks!)
    .
    May I pass on a word of hope to the lady who has polycystic ovary syndrome (Laura?) I have two friends with this condition. One only ever had maybe one period per year and was told she would never have children. She is now a grandmother. This was long ago when there was no medical help for infertility. My other friend was told the same, with very lengthy gaps (3-4 months) between periods. She is now mother of twin girls aged 19, after one course of ovary-stimulating hormones. She was 40 when she had them.

    Sewing soothes the soul.

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