Sew Stay (In Someone Else’s) Home

I am currently in England and having been advised to practice social isolation due to my eldest daughter’s underlying health conditions. I am away from my home in Hong Kong. I am away from my husband, who I will likely not see for at least 6 weeks — if not longer — as he will be in enforced quarantine in Hong Kong after a work trip to Europe. I am away from our family friends, some of whom remained in Hong Kong, some of whom are still in different parts of the United Kingdom. I am away from my pets, my wardrobe, my oven, my Netflix account, and I am away from my sewing machine and all my sewing paraphernalia.

But funnily enough, when I came to the UK I had figured that I might be visiting for awhile and so I thought that I might be able to do some sewing. I had brought two patterns with me: the York Pinafore dress by Helen’s Closet, as I wanted to perfect the fit and felt it was simple enough I could do it without instructions, and the Sew Over It Ultimate Trousers which I threw in at the last minute; I had just made them and thought they would be fun to hack if I got a chance. I must have known that down the line I would want to be sewing.

Denim fabric for the pinafore with floral cotton  from Sophy's mother's stash, and floral bias tape.
My Mum sweetly gave me some fabric from her stash to line the pockets of my pinafore dress.

Everything changed when, 10 days into our trip, my eldest daughter (who has other medical issues) developed epilepsy. After multiple daily seizures and 5 hospital visits, we knew we were unexpectedly staying in the UK indefinitely while we try to manage her condition and get used to a new normality. Through all this, Covid-19 was gathering pace in Europe, an ominous background to our new reality.

In the initial stress of the epilepsy diagnosis I didn’t have the capacity to think about anything, let alone miss sewing. But when I went overboard on a painting project sent home by my daughter’s school and ended up making a short stop-motion film of a dinosaur watching a volcano erupt, I knew it was time for me to reconnect with my creative side.

A child's artwork made of cut-out coloured paper. On the left, a volcano erupts;  on the right, a spiky dinosaur with a googly eye looks on, under a bright sun. There is grass made of strips of green paper.
You know you wanted to see the dinosaur being surprised by the volcano erupting! Artwork by my daughter, direction by me!

And there are so many wonderful resources to do just that in the UK: I am so privileged to be in a place with such a range of shops and services for the sewing community. Before we had been advised to self-isolate and before my daughter had started having seizures, I bought a sewing magazine and instantly got three patterns for my stash. I saw a few fabulous vintage patterns in a charity shop and snapped them up at £1 a pattern. I got some PDF patterns printed out and delivered to my home from a small copy shop. I am now replete with patterns and won’t be buying any more!

I am enjoying reconnecting with planning and being excited by individual projects rather than feeling overwhelmed by my fabric stash. I bought some lovely grey denim from a shop in a seaside town near my parents, specifically because I wanted something that was a keepsake from home. I started sewing it into a York pinafore at my parents’ on a hand crank sewing machine which we think is over 100 years old.

A Frister & Rossman vintage hand crank sewing machine sits on a table.
This required some oiling and proper elbow grease to get to work!

After everything going on the back burner to focus on my daughter, I ended up finishing my York Pinafore at my in-laws’ on a borrowed machine only a few years old. I found a local bricks and mortar shop and chose some beautiful stretch navy corduroy to transform into a pair of dungarees after I heavily hacked the Ultimate Trousers into a dungaree pattern. Now we are isolating, I have the time to see if this actually works and what it will look like! But I’m taking it slowly, allowing these processes to take time and considering and appreciating each step.

I’m also strongly aware of the need to sometimes do absolutely nothing in the evenings, except maybe browse Netflix or read or knit. I have ended a lot of evenings with headaches, as the stress and strain of anxiety coupled with hours on my own with two active under-5s while not leaving the house takes its toll. But I’m giving myself the space to say that’s okay too, there is no optimum productivity level and I have all the time in the world at the minute, so right now I am #slowsewing and relishing it!

A colourful skein of sock weight yarn is on a fluffy throw. Some of the yarn has been worked in rib stitch on a circular needle. A monitor lies next to the yarn and the TV is on in the background.
I find knitting more meditative than sewing although I am so slow it’s laughable!

Government policy changes every day, as do my daughter’s seizures, as do my plans on how to approach building a routine away from home. I am still learning the best way to support my daughter and manage my own anxiety without allowing her to be affected by it. I know that sewing (and knitting) can help give me a break, a moment to myself, to come back to the challenges of parenthood calmed and recharged even in these difficult times.

I am currently away from the familiar and facing uncertainty and fear for both my own loved ones and all the vulnerable people in the UK. Sewing is an outlet for me to plan for a future in which I’m not staring at a video monitor to check my daughter isn’t fitting in her sleep, where I’m not calling loved ones but seeing them in person and sharing a comforting hug and a cup of tea, and where I’m settled with my husband in a place of our own facing all life has to throw at us as a family unit. I am so aware of all the people who have heavier burdens to carry during this time of stress, upheaval and anxiety. I hope (if you are able) you can all find your own small moments of escape.

A white woman with short brown hair in pigtails is standing close to the camera and smiling. She is wearing a black denim pinafore dress with a grey striped boat neck top underneath.
My finished York Pinafore! Isolation means its difficult to find photographers, hence the odd angles!

What sewing are you doing through the Covid-19 crisis — if any? How have you been coping? Share your stories with us in the comments, and I hope you all feel the global connection and camaraderie of the Sewcialists community through this!

Sophy is originally from the UK and is currently living there for the foreseeable future but her home is in Hong Kong. Sophy started sewing three years ago and is looking forward to the moment when her wildly optimistic plans match her finished garments!