#stayhome (and sew?) in Italy

Ciao! I’m Eleonora (aka @io_e_carlotta) and I live in the city center in Milan, Italy. More or less all of us have experienced a dark time in our lives but this is different, we’re all in this together but we’re all isolated. We were startled by something completely unexpected and scary.

No one is at fault.

I would never have thought something like this could happen to us.

Lombardy (my region, in Northern Italy) was the first place in the West to be heavily impacted by the SARS-CoV2 virus. I’m pretty sure the situation is known to everyone.

Every day there’s hundreds of deaths and most of these people are bound to die alone. I still remember the 21st of February, the day that the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Italy: I was having lunch with my son and I told him that I felt like we would remember the moment we first got the news.

That being said, only one thing was asked of the public: staying home.

Well, for someone like me with a passion for sewing this could have been the chance to pursue some interesting projects. Unfortunately (maybe not that much actually), things aren’t really going that way.

Here’s a list of what I’ve done, would have done, didn’t do, and what I might do:

1– During the first week an Italian friend started an initiative: sewing the same pattern, a t-shirt, designed by her for the occasion, by meeting one day a week on a call. It was the beginning of the lockdown and I thought it would have been a nice thing to do, so I agreed. We also used the #iorestoacasaecucio hashtag which would then turn worldwide into #stayhomeandsew. As much as I usually am a pretty productive person, I found myself incapable of doing anything. My enthusiasm was under my feet and my sewjo went away. When your usually busy city goes silent, the only sounds you hear are ambulances and you can only stay home, this can happen.

2– The Italian sewing community isn’t that big. At the beginning of March, with a few sewing friends we used our Instagram page to spread the message around about what was happening in Italy. It was the first time I talked about anything other than sewing on there. We realized that the world didn’t really understand the situation and underestimated it: some people still didn’t get what we were living here. It angers me to think about the ones that mocked our government’s measures.

People here are dying, others are getting sick. People close to our families, close friends and people we know, and they are not only elderly and immunosuppressed. It’s all very real. I’m definitely no influencer, and I’m not naive enough to think that our words made a lot of people think about it but I guess that’s still better than nothing.

3– Right now the only thing I’ve sewn are cloth face masks. It wasn’t something I was longing to make…I won’t get into debates as you know all about that.

A Milanese saying is “piùtost che gnent l’è mej piùtost”, which boils down to “something is better than nothing”. So I made around 40 of them and gifted to friends and neighbors, and also some of the cashiers at the supermarket which had a shortage going on (a good way to use those cotton scraps you kept).

My friend now calls me “the one who throws face masks from the balcony”, because that’s what I used to do, to avoid close contacts.

first face mask I made

4– Something this moment can teach us is to get better at the art of doing something with the few things you have at home, since all the fabric stores and the haberdasheries are obviously closed.

In the supermarket close to my home there’s nothing sewing related ,while in the bigger ones that actually have those items you’re not able to buy them since they’re not prime necessities.

I didn’t have any elastic, so I made some strings by cutting around 2 cm of jersey and pulling it, and I have to say they do their job perfectly.

no elastic? use jersey!

You can only really go outside with a self compiled form stating the reason you’re doing so, and it has to be something really important. People are trying to buy groceries as little as possible. Even though the entrance to the store is guarded and your temperature is taken upon entering, people are still scared. Almost everyone is complying with the 1m+ distance.

5– After this, I thought it was the perfect moment to organize everything in my fabric closet: with a lot of patience I did it by using the KonMari method and it worked almost perfectly.

it was a mess

6- I thought about printing and assembling some old patterns, but my printer had no more ink left. Since I had some already printed in A4 I decided to try and assemble those. Doing some easier things helped distracting me from the current situation. Just by distancing myself from it I find it easier to process all of it somehow.

7-If you have no fabric home – which I find impossible – you could take the chance to sew the muslin you have doubts on. Some bed sheets to sacrifice are always there.

I thought about doing that, but I’m already sure I won’t.

8- Some pattern designers released some patterns for free while others are having discounts on their collections and others are releasing their new collections right now.

This is all very nice and could bring some joy in these heavy days. I don’t personally feel like buying anything right now since the winter ended and we don’t know when the quarantine will end. I don’t know what I will want to wear the first day I get to go out for a walk, since I don’t really know when that will be. As of now I’m still living with two pairs of jeans: one I sewed in January, the other last summer and I made them a bit nicer by following the Mending Matters book.

I don’t need anything else, and I doubt I will for a while.

9- Right now it might be time for me to put away the warmer clothing.
I’d love to take this opportunity to check how much I really wore what I’ve sewn this year. I thought I planned it pretty well in the last few months, but if I open my wardrobe I see that beautiful white shirt that I only wore the day I took the pictures.

I’d like to be more productive, but I don’t feel like it. It’s strange: if I feel positive today, but tomorrow I’ll only feel worried. I think it’s because I spent too much effort to stay positive. Sometimes I find useful to occupy my body in a goal that is accomplishable, without any ambitious plans.

We’re definitely going to get out of this pandemic, but we’re for sure going to be a lot different. I don’t think there’ll be much time to dedicate to what’s superfluous. It’s not that nice to say this kind of things but it’s already a given that the economic crisis we’ll go through will be devastating.
I’m trying to focus on the current moment rather than projecting too much into the future, but it’s impossible to act like nothing’s going to happen.

I’d like to end this by telling you something about my private life that made me happy and that might never come back. Every Monday afternoon I volunteered in a hospital, pneumology ward. This was interrupted, of course. That ward was expanded and it’s now one of the many ones solely dedicated to COVID-19 treatment. We barely have any hospital beds.

me volunteering in the hospital, until February 22nd

I really hope you’re doing well and I hope to get back to sewing with all of you, but I feel like a lot will be different.

We’re all in this together, fragile and disoriented, and it’s going to be hard to just go ahead on our own.

Even if she’s Eleonora, you can call her Carlotta (her dog); that’s the punishment for choosing a stupid name for her instagram sewing page.

Today is my day n. 39 of quarantine. I haven’t gone out since 9th March. And it’s my day n. 54 of social distancing. I’m a sewer, I sew my own clothes and sewing is also my job. I’m a dressmaking teacher and technician. I work freelance in a fashion school and a university fashion lab. Schools closed on 24th February in Milan. The closure was communicated on Sunday for next day, Monday. The same was for the my daughter’s daycare. Matilde is one year and half. So she and I have been together at home since 24th February. My partner is a designer and he started to “smartwork” a month ago.

I have to say that, even if I knew of the lockdown in China, I didn’t realize the gravity of the situation in my country immediately. News had been conflicting since the beginning. Someone told that it was like a flu, someone else told that it wasn’t a simple flu. Someone said that the situation was under control, someone else it was going to be a disaster. And I didn’t know what to think. I started to understand the situation day by day and I definitively grappled with it when Italy was locked down.

In these 8 weeks I has been very moody. Hopeful, scared, worried, sad about what was going on every day. And, about my home situation, happy that my parents, relatives and friends are well so far, happy to see my daughter all day long and very nervous from time to time about the fact I can’t manage to work, sew or do anything.

Actually, I have to say that, with a little baby, time for sewing was quite zero before this quarantine already. So there hasn’t been any change in my spare time situation. Very little time for sewing before, very little time for sewing during the quarantine. But that fact that I’m lockdowned at home and I can’t go out even for a walk or see anyone for work or pleasure has made my mood about this very-little-time-for-sewing-and-doing-my-things worse. 

My sewing mood goes up and down every day. Sometimes I’d like to sew a lot, sometimes I lose inspiration to sew anything. The only sure thing in this moment is that I need simplicity and color. I’m trying to sew very simple tops for me, nothing too complicated, and something simple for Matilde. Jersey and loose tops/dresses. I think I’m going to start sewing for her, and with her, more often. Quarantine has shown me that she really loves my sewing room, my sewing machine, and touching fabrics. We sewed a pillowcase and a dress for her doll together so far.

I know that my mood could change again after I finish writing down these few thoughts. I live day by day lately, trying to live as normal as I can, trying to be positive in some ways, trying to take the best of these days with my family at home and trying to go for super easy sewing projects. That’s what I need now.

Martina is a 38 year old sewist living close to Milan, in Italy. Martina started sewing her own clothes in her spare time six years ago, at first as a self-taught seamstress. Her love for sewing has grown so much that she decided to leave her job as Communication Specialist in autumn 2015, to devote her time to pattern making and dressmaking by signing up to a two-year professional Pattern Making Course in Milan. Now, she works freelance, as a dressmaking technician and sewing teacher. You can find her on Instagram and on her blog.