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Finding Quiet in a Culture of Noise

How sewing can help you honor all parts of your personality, by Sarai Mitnick.

Posted in: Creativity & Mindset • March 31, 2018

Last year, one of our local fabric stores hosted a regular evening for Seamwork members to come together and sew. People of all different skill levels, ages, and backgrounds came together to learn a technique, work on projects, and socialize.

One evening, I visited along with some of the Seamwork staff and asked them the main reason they came. The answer, for most of these women, was that it carved out time for them to sew. It was a chance to get away from their day-to-day, socialize in a low-key way, and just make some time for themselves and their creativity.

That sort of time is in short supply for most of us, between the responsibilities of home, work, and family. It makes sense that the external structure of sewing classes or events like this one would help motivate us to prioritize creative time. In fact, I’ll bet that’s a big reason people join Seamwork: the monthly structure gives us a reason to sew every month.

Why is this time so important to us? Perhaps one reason is that it helps to generate the experience of flow, the “optimal state” that I discussed last month. But I also wonder if the conditions and values of modern society might make this time even more important for some of us.

In her book Quiet, author Susan Cain states that our temperaments exist along a spectrum of introversion and extroversion. The main thing that distinguishes the poles of this spectrum is that extroverts prefer plenty of stimulation, whereas introverts desire less. Extroverts feel energized by interaction, like to think on their feet, and work through ideas by talk and action. Introverts like to think first, enjoy quiet time and space to concentrate, and often feel exhausted after intense social interaction—even when they enjoy it.

This book has generated a lot of conversation, and one thing I’ve noticed is that nearly everyone identifies with at least some of the traits of the introvert—even those you’d certainly peg as extroverts. Even high-energy social butterflies who dominate every conversation say that they feel a real lack of quiet time for themselves, or that they feel exhausted by the constant stream of stimulation.

One reason for this may be that, as Susan Cain explains, Western culture glorifies the extroverted ideal and devalues the traits of introversion. We have developed a “culture of personality” where style is valued more than character, and the traits of extroversion are rewarded above some of the equally valuable traits of introverts. Perhaps this is one reason we are expected to keep up with and enjoy a frenetic pace, to always strive for more and bigger over what is personally meaningful, and to sacrifice quiet time in favor of more action.

But this taxes all of us, even those who are extroverted. Because nearly all of us live somewhere along the spectrum rather than at an end, it seems that most of the people in the world need space to recoup our energy, to focus, and to be still once in a while. The more the world devalues these things, the more acutely that need is felt by all of us.

As an introvert myself, the peaceful and creative space that my weekend sewing gives me is invaluable. Not only does it give me an opportunity to experience creative flow, but it also recharges me after a week busyness and stimulation. Giving myself the time and space to create is one way to fight back against a culture that values only a part of our needs.

Do you consider yourself an introvert, an extrovert, or an ambivert? How does that part of your personality affect your sewing and creativity?

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