November is National Diabetes Awareness Month (amusingly, “national” seems to include the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, at the very least), and today I’m reflecting on the relationship between my type 1 diabetes and sewing.
First up, a quick introduction and a quick primer on type 1 diabetes! I’m Anne, and although I do occasionally sew, I generally identify more as a knitter. That said, here in the sewing world, I’m probably better known as Gillian’s sister! I’m also one of the team who proofread/copy-edit Sewcialists posts in the background.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition that means that my body’s immune system has attacked my pancreas, and killed off all the cells that produce insulin. Without insulin, the energy from food (broken down into simple sugars) can’t get from my bloodstream into my cells, and without that energy, my body shuts down. (I ended up in the critical care unit at the hospital for several days last year after a pump site mishap meant that I didn’t get insulin for about 18 hours.) I’ve been diabetic for nearly 20 years now. Although I spent most of that time doing “MDI” or multiple daily injections, I have been wearing an insulin pump for about 4 years now and I mostly love it.
The insulin pump is a small device, about the size of a pager, which connects via tube to a cannula that allows the pump to deliver a continuous dose of insulin into my body — and I only have to change the cannula every few days, instead of giving myself multiple injections every day. It gives me a slow trickle of insulin 24/7, and then when I eat, I input how many grams of carbohydrates I’m having and it does the calculations to give me additional insulin to cover the meal and to correct for any highs or lows. The tubing and pump can unclip from the actual pump site (the cannula has a clip that lies flat against the skin) for things like showering and dressing.
I also wear a sensor on my arm that monitors my blood sugar around the clock, and I can scan it at any time to get a picture of not only where my sugar is at that moment, but where it has been — am I going high or low? Should I eat something more or correct with more insulin? With the sensor, I don’t have to prick my fingers as often to check on my blood sugar the old fashioned way, with a drop of blood on an electrode strip.
All of this means that I am pretty much a cyborg. It’s incredibly freeing! Except, of course, it means I have these two devices attached to me around the clock, and dressing to accommodate them is a fact of life. Thankfully, Gillian is an extremely generous and thoughtful sister, and keeps me well supplied with the kinds of clothes that suit not only my style but also my medical needs.
My insulin pump has a belt clip on it that allows me to attach it to my waistband or pocket, if I’m wearing separates, and I just tuck the tubing into my clothing so it doesn’t catch on things. Separates are easy — and also allow me easy access to the pump site on days when I need to change it. (I attach my pump site on my abdomen.) I do have to be a bit picky about the depth of the waistband, as the clip is relatively shallow and tends to slip off if my pants or skirt have a particularly deep waistband. I’m also, like Gillian, a devotee of stretchy waistbands, especially because sitting down with a pump jabbing me in the gut due to a tight waistband is really not my idea of pleasant.
Dresses, though, are another matter. Here’s where being a curvy person actually comes in handy! I can clip the pump to the gore of my bra, and as long as the bra has a relatively low gore, the pump is more or less hidden by my bust. However, this means that I have to be really picky about necklines. No plunging Vs or deep scoops here! And since I do have to fish the pump out occasionally to input a dose, tight/high necklines are also problematic. A shallow scoop or a boat neck tends to work particularly well, as does a cowl neck. Two of my favourites are the Cashmerette Rivermont, because of its boat neck combined with a heavier fabric (lighter-weight fabric shows the pump lumps more clearly), and their Turner, because the bodice is fully self-lined, which also adds camouflage. I also do, as a knitter, have an abundance of shawls and cowls to toss around my neck when a neckline might tend to reveal more than I want.
A friend of mine, who has the same insulin pump I do, lacks the “bust capacity” (ha!) to hide her pump against her bra. She has, very cleverly, determined that adding a buttonhole to the pocket of a skirt or dress means that she can thread the tubing through the hole, clipping it to the cannula on the inside and leaving the pump in her pocket on the outside. I keep meaning to try this myself, since it would be a nice discreet option compared to reaching into my cleavage to grab the pump at a formal event! (All clothes should have pockets, right?)
As for the sensor on my arm? I’m not really shy about revealing it, but I have definitely found that it tends to come unstuck more quickly if I wear sleeveless or cap sleeve tops. Keeping it protected under a sleeve seems to help it stay on for its intended lifespan. Oh, and the sensor on my arm comes with a scanning device, so again, pockets are extra handy.
Whether you deal with diabetes or another chronic (or temporary) illness, making your own clothes can be a powerful way to help manage your condition and to help you feel more at home in your body even when it sometimes feels like it’s betraying you. I’m a big fan of the Sewcialists’ sister Instagram community, @ChronicallySewn / #chronicallysewn.
Do you make any adjustments when you are sewing to accommodate your body’s unique health and mobility needs?
Anne is a conference planner by day, and an occasional knitting designer by night. You can follow her yarn- and dog-related obsessions on Instagram at @anniebeeknits. (She and her husband adopted a rescue dog in October and she might be a little overzealous with the dog photos. You’ve been warned.)