Roughly two years ago at about 2 a.m., I was feeding my four-week-old baby and randomly scrolling through my phone to keep myself awake, when I happened upon a sewing blog. The first series of the Great British Sewing Bee had just finished. I found the blog written by Tilly Walnes and my interest was piqued. Pretty soon I had set up a Bloglovin’ account and was obsessively reading more and more sewing blogs each feeding time.
Illustration by Laura Row
I have sewn in sporadic patches since I was twelve, but by the time I had my second child, I probably hadn't touched a sewing machine in ten years. My life prior to having children was about my job, commute, friends, and social life in London. My identity and sense of self was tied up in those things. Despite seeing myself as a creative person, I never did anything creative. I worked. Hard. I went out and I went on vacation a couple of times a year. That was it. But that all stopped when I had my children. We moved out of London, away from friends. I wasn't working or going out at all; I was left floundering. After the initial all-consuming joy of having babies, I was left with this big hole, that, as much as I adore my children, couldn't be filled by caring for them alone.
I had defined myself for such a long time through my job and my life in London, and suddenly it wasn't there anymore. I didn't know who I was or who I should be; my whole sense of myself had been completely upended. Was this it? How was I going to fulfill all of the things I had planned for me, all the possible versions of my life, all the possible me’s, if this was it?
You only have to look at the number of sewing blogs and sewing-related businesses run by stay-at-home moms to realize that I am probably not alone in these feelings. At that time, I wasn't in a position to think proactively about how to tackle these feelings and was diagnosed with post-natal depression. I was referred for therapy, and one of my objectives as part of that was to force myself to spend some time each day doing a hobby or something that I get satisfaction from. Sewing was the only thing I could think of that I had the tools for already and meant I could still be in my house with the kids.
So I started making. Little things at first: baby pants, a gathered skirt for my daughter, cushions, but then as I read more and more blogs, I found the world of indie sewing patterns and off I went. And then we upped sticks and moved across the Atlantic and I discovered New York City’s Garment District and, well, that was enough to ignite a full blown sewing craze blaze!
Sewing has become hugely important to me. If I don't sew for a couple of days, I can feel myself getting antsy and irritable. I have found something I love to do; something that is a representation of my abilities above caring for and loving my children. Something that taps into a long suppressed creative side, something that allows me to do things how I think they should be done.
Sewing helped restore my sense of self. In fact, I think it has not just restored it, but it is actually helping me understand who I am, what I want from my life, and what is important in a way I didn't know before.
A large part of this is due to the sewing community. Here, I feel like I have found my tribe: Those folk, who are part geek, part introvert, part perfectionist, part fashion fiend; people who are trend aware, detail-focused, style conscious, anti-conformist, vocal, passionate, tactile, and creative. I see myself in the people I have met in the virtual sewing community and have realized it’s OK to be one of those folk. Although this little corner of the world isn’t what I used to aspire to, it’s a happy, healthy, productive, inspiring, and supportive one.
I have always been ambitious and competitive and always wanted a high-flying career, but never quite got there. This was the source of much disappointment, feelings of failure, being envious of my friends who seemed to have it, and bitterness towards my employers whom I blamed for my stagnation. Paradoxically, that person, that person who worked so hard, that person whose identity was her job, never felt like me; I always felt like an imposter—as if I was going be exposed at any moment for not knowing what I was talking about. Contorting myself to fit the corporate mold and then a prescribed mother mold hammered my confidence.
Sewing is enabling me to create my own Charlotte-shaped mold, and my confidence is slowly growing. Sewing rules are there for interpretation and misinterpretation. A pattern is a starting point rather than a manifesto. A seam finish is my decision. I can express my personality and style through the sewing decisions I make, and I feel happy with what is emerging.
It is hard to describe, but this flexibility with the rules and how one interprets them has opened my eyes and given me more confidence in my own way of doing things, not only as a person who sews, but also more widely in my life. Gradually, I don’t feel like an imposter or that I have to fit a certain mold, or subscribe to a certain parenting style. I can decide my own way of being a mother, my own way of being a role model to my children, rather than constantly benchmarking it to others or worrying I shouldn’t do something for fear of being judged. I have new confidence in my way being the right, or at the very least, an OK way.
This confidence is bolstered by feeling like I have found something I am good at (or so I’m told), that I have something to contribute and I actually know what I’m talking about. The actual creative act of sewing, the constant learning and the huge sense of productivity that are byproducts fulfill my need not to stagnate, to be industrious and to do something that is just for me when life with two small kids can often not feel like my own.
All of these revelations stem, I believe, from the meditative and methodical process of sewing. Losing myself in a particularly tricky sleeve insertion, or repetitively doing the same movement over and over on a long hand-stitched hemline provides not only escapism, but also time and space to contemplate.
So, whilst the first few years of motherhood have been both a joy and a challenge, and I think depression is something I will always live with, these two life-changers have lead me to sewing, which in turn is taking me down a path where I have found community, creativity, clarity, and confidence. Where it ultimately leads for me, in terms of my career, I still don’t know, but with this new appreciation of who I am and my identity outside of my job and my role as a mother, I’m OK with that.