Selfish Sewing vs Selfless Sewing

With all of the love pouring out from the sewing community for NHS staff and other key workers during this strange and difficult time, it has got me a little philosophical. Most of us who sew are forever craving more time to devote to our hobby, and now we've got it. So what do we do with it? Do we devote the time to making things to cheer up and support those around us, or do we indulge ourselves and refine all of the skills we've been learning? There's an argument for both and I think that balance is important.

There are members of the craft community to say "I don't make for other people, it's too stressful" or "it's my hobby and what I do is for me". These are both completely valid and things that I am sure we have all thought at one time or another. For a long time when I (Alex) started sewing, I didn't make anything for anybody else because I didn't think I was good enough. Then, as I got better, I found other reasons not to hand over my hard work. No time, no space. I also had this niggling feeling that other people didn't understand the time, effort and money that goes into handmade items, especially garments. When I refused to make a copy of a friend's dress (a boned, corseted 50's tulle number) I got a look of disgust. I had to explain that if she paid me for all of the materials plus the time it would take, she'd be looking at a £400 dress. She hasn't asked me to make her anything again.

This isn't to say that I have never made items for anyone else. When I have found pleasure in making thing for the people I love, it has been in creating special, one of a kind items. These are not always my best quality work, case in point; World Book Day. Three little words which strike fear into the hearts of parents the world over. Every year my Aunt calls me in early march to request two costumes for my cousins. I always say yes, not because I take great pleasure in whipping up (insert theme here) costumes in two days before popping them in the post, but because I know I can do it, and my cousins love them.

On other occasions, I have made things for people which have been the most complex and labour intensive projects I have taken on. Last year, my Dad asked me if I could make him a kilt for his friend's wedding. Like me he is tall and broad and couldn't find our family tartan made up as kilt for less than £500. So I did it. We took measurements, made mockups and had fittings. It took me 2 months of evening sewing but I did it. The feeling of pride when he went to that wedding and proudly told everyone who asked that his daughter made his kilt, was worth every pleat. Because I'm a glutton for punishment, I also made the Kilkenny jacket to go with it. I'll probably never make a kilt again, and aside from the skills I learned in making this, it's also quite fun to be able to say that I've done it.

Although I have found pleasure in making things for others, the reason I started sewing was to make clothes for myself, and I don't think there should be any shame in that. By learning to sew I now have a wardrobe full of clothes that I love, that fit me and that I know the origin of. It has also been fundamental to improving and maintaining my mental health. I began sewing whilst off sick from my job as a teacher, due to stress. I needed something to focus on that wasn't work related. At the time, Hobbycraft was running a sewing promotion. The rest, as they say, is history.

This post was thought up when I started to feel guilty that during the two weeks I've been in the house isolating, I've made six garments and besides the fact that I don't have room for them, I was seeing lots of other members of the sewing community making masks and scrubs for our valuable NHS staff. My Mum is a frontline NHS worker and I have seen first hand the impact that this situation has had on her. I felt that I wasn't doing my bit. So I researched what I could do and spoke to my Mum. As the fount of wisdom that she is, she said to me that the most helpful thing I can do for her now is to be positive and upbeat when she gets home from work. In order for me to do that, I need to keep myself well. I do that by sewing.

So I carried on hemming my TATB Zadie dress. And here it is.

I think this make is symbolic of how my mindset has changed during isolation. Nothing has to be rushed. TATB Zadie is a pattern I tried to make last year, but I was doing it in the evenings after work and I ran out of both time and patience. The finished dress was scruffy and I never wore it. This time, I took my time, I put it down when I was fed up and went back to it when I was feeling inspired to sew. It is by no means perfect, and I might have another go... next year. But I'm happy with it and it feels like a little win.

Use this time to indulge yourself, whether that's in learning a new skill, mastering a technique you've always struggled with or saying no to altering curtains. If you have the time, money and desire, then making things for the NHS is a fantastic and truly worthwhile venture, but if you can't, or don't want to join the mask making revolution, that's ok too. Sewing is your hobby and if it keeps you sane during this strange and difficult time, then it's done its job.

I've made my peace with making for other people, and with indulging myself in selfish projects when I feel like it. But I still won't hem your trousers.

Keep safe and Happy Sewing, Alex from the Sew Creative team. x

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