Who We Are: Sewing Through Times of Change

We often talk about sewing as therapy, but what happens when a change in circumstances makes sewing feels like a luxury that you don’t deserve?

A few years ago, pre-kids, I lived in London, England, worked a full-time job in banking/consulting, bought loads of fabric, went to sewing classes, socialised a lot and sewed up a storm. And it brought me a great deal of happiness and joy. Even after baby 1 was born, I still had a 4 day a week job and over time managed to find a way to fit in the sewing related things I liked to do (i.e., I am lucky to have a supportive other half who wants me to be happy).

Author in NYC in self made coat and dress, smiling and happy
Back in the days when I worked in the city. Navy coat and green dress are me-made.

Fast forward to now, and in recent times I’ve just moved to a small town in The Netherlands. It sounds like a small move right? A 45 min flight across the North Sea is nothing! Well yes, but it’s been a lot harder than I ever expected. My new job is as an unpaid stay at home mum, I have a 3 year old and another one due soon, and oh, how times have changed! The guilt of relying on someone else to fund my life is truly immense. At the very least I feel obligated to put dinner on the table and do laundry every day (even if mister says it’s not necessary). Most of all, I feel guilt for craving me time, aka sewing time.

I want to have it all, and now

Ever get the feeling that you should be able to have it all and do it all at the same time? Family life, a career, leisure time, being self-sufficient… I think this is “all at once” idea is a myth that is often sold to women in my generation. The reality is there are only 24 hours in the day and some things just have to give. Surely there is a better way besides finding this out the hard way?

In my upbringing, the mindset was that the best thing you could do for yourself (and what was expected) was to get an education and a paying job at the end of it. There was never any talk of whether it was ok or not to be a stay at home mum and what might happen if you ever had a family. This is despite my own mother and stepmother being stay at home mums (and they had a load of other value-adding non-mum activities that they did).

Kate's mum's silk scarf that was handwoven in cream silk with a moire effect
My mum is a handweaver. Growing up I didn’t appreciate her skills with silk and a floor loom but her work is pretty great in my opinion!

How it feels to crash and burn

A change in circumstances combined with lack of confidence in a different language I don’t speak, and lack of understanding of the sector here means I don’t have a paying job. Going to a single income has been hard. My daytime activities, whilst valuable for the family, makes my contribution feel limited in many ways. And if that’s the case, then how could I possibly have any “me time” and therefore contribute even less?

Buying fabric and finding time to sew feels now like a luxury. And as silly as it sounds, sometimes I think if I haven’t done all the household stuff I planned to do, then I don’t deserve time to go and do something I actually want to do.

Sewing feels like a luxury but I need it in my life

My days are what you would probably expect — entertaining the toddler and doing household stuff. Sometimes I try and be kind to myself and nap as well, as pregnancy #2 makes me tired. Regardless, by the end of the day, I’m totally spent. On the weekend my other half often takes the toddler out so I can have an hour or two here and there because he wants to encourage me to sew and be happy. But he’s already spent the whole week at work so it doesn’t always feel like a fair arrangement. Either way, I’m grateful that he’s there, he’s an engaged parent, and we work as a team.

patchwork dress made by author in blue and white
Want to be #sewfrugal? Make a patchwork garment! This dress is made from a bunch of offcuts in my stash which I’ve hoarded over the years.

What I can say though is that after some weeks in no-sewing mode, I’ve realised that NOT sewing has become a source of unhappiness. It’s like I’ve forgotten all the great things it has given me besides a bunch of new clothes and skills and lost part of my identity. So for any sewist who is going through change and doesn’t really feel like doing any sewing, I want you to know you are not alone! And here are my top tips to get started again:

  1. Sewing is inclusive. If you sew, you can be a “sewcialist”. If you want to be online, share your makes, be part of the community online or offline, you’ll meet people. And we know sewing people are the most awesome people In my first month here I’ve met 2 sewists — one I previously knew from Instagram and the other was introduced by someone else I knew online. And I’ve had 3 other people from Instagram saying that if I ever want to meet up they are there. That kind of thing keeps me sane.
  2. Making stuff is therapeutic. I think sewing should be in the same category as art and music when it comes to this. I listen to the whirr of the machine or the whoosh of the steam iron and the rest of the world disappears for a couple of hours without me noticing a thing. After a few sessions, I have something to show for the time spent.
  3. Once a sewist, always a sewist. What else are you going to do with all the fabric and machines you have lying around?! It’s just waiting for you to pick up again and it will always be there for you.

And so, the sewing must continue and hold me together in this time of change. I hope that if you ever have times of stress or change that you’ll find sewing as therapy too!

Kate is a former guest editor of the Sewcialists. An import to the Netherlands via the UK, she thinks sustainable fashion and sewing should be accessible to everybody. Follow her blog Time to Sew for sustainability chat and Instagram @timetosew for sewing adventures!