How Sewing Made Me a Better Person

How sewing made me a better person

I often sew alone for hours at a time.  During these sewing sessions, my mind wanders into strange places, and I started thinking about all the things I have learned about myself through sewing.  To me, sewing is more than just the construction of garments.  Sewing is a skill that takes dedication, practice and persistence to master it.   I remember starting with small projects in home ec in middle school, making stuffed pillows in the shape of a stereo from a kit.  Later, I moved to garments, making my first gathered skirt in a hot pink broadcloth that I wore to death.  I made the same gathered skirt for my sister in red and black checked flannel that she also wore to death.  When I was a teenager, my mother denigrated my passion for sewing and dismissed it as a waste of time better spent on more productive activities like studying (she was a bit of a tiger mom).  She never understood how much I loved sewing and how it was a necessary creative outlet that gave me something to look forward to.  When I denied myself of sewing, I felt like something was missing in my life.  When I let it back in, I felt a burst of creativity.  I’ve come a long way since that first pillow.  In a nutshell, this is how sewing made me a better person.

Have a plan

There’s quite a bit of thought and planning that goes into a sewing project like picking fabrics, reading or making patterns, cutting fabric, and constructing the garment.  Some projects take a few hours and some can extend into days.  Having a plan is extremely useful in organizing your thoughts, materials and most importantly, time.  There is an order of operation when it comes to sewing, and understanding this up front can help you reduce frustration and maximize productivity.  If I just sounded like a project manager, that’s because I’ve done my fair share of project management in my day job.  Sewing actually helped me become a better project manager.

Work with it

Sometimes, my perfect, anal retentive plan A doesn’t pan out, and I have to figure out a plan B.  My retro blouse with bell sleeves was originally meant to be a dress, but the dress was utterly unflattering on me.  My first instinct was to throw it out and call it a day.  Instead, I took in the waist, chopped off the skirt and turned it into a cropped shirt I now love.  Through sewing,  I’ve learned to maximize the positive, minimize the negative and reimagine what I do have in a new light.  Being flexible and open minded can reveal a new world of options and opportunity.

Keep learning

I avoided the serger for the longest time because I found it intimidating.  This fear limited my sewing and the types of projects I could create.  If I wanted to take my sewing to the next level, serging would be a requirement.  This year, I finally bit the bullet and bought the serger.  There was a learning curve, but it wasn’t as steep as I feared.  Now, I love my serger and prefer it over my sewing machine.  I’m kicking myself for not taking it up sooner.  I can finally sew knits that look like it was store bought instead of a bad, homemade disaster. Moving outside of your comfort zone is uncomfortable and awkward, but you can only grow when you try something new. Learning and mastering new things keep your mind sharp, boosts your self-confidence, and expands your skill set so that you can do more.

You will fail

For every 5 refashions I post, I have one epic refashion fail I’m too embarrassed to share.  My husband encourages me to post them as he thinks the failures are just as interesting as my successes.  Silicon Valley has a “fail fast and learn” mentality that fosters innovation and reduces risk.  The same could be said for sewing and life in general.   I have learned through my sewing failures how to draft better patterns, pick appropriate fabrics, and measure twice and cut once (it’s such a cliche but so true!).  I learned these lessons the hard way, but I also made sure not to repeat them.  Some of my best lessons in sewing (and in life) came from my worst failures.

Practice makes perfect

In the book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field, and sewing is no different.   My friends who have little knowledge of my sewing past think I’m an amazingly creative and gifted sewist after seeing my refashions.  They have no idea I have been sewing on and off for the last 20 years.  I have taken classes and read many books to beef up my skills.  I go to stores and study clothes to understand how to reverse engineer the construction.  None of this happened overnight but rather evolved over a long time of persistence.

Find like-minded people

Sewing, thrifting and crafting were so uncool when I was a teenager and young adult.  I didn’t have anyone to share my passion or my projects with, so sewing became a lonely pursuit.  Once I took a couple of sewing classes at a local community college, I realized there were plenty of people out there who loved sewing as much as I did.  This sewing community, especially the online community, is comprised of the nicest, sweetest people who unselfishly share tips, ideas, encouragement, and enthusiasm for your projects.  It has fed me so much, and I am happy to pay it back through my little blog.  I became a better sewist by learning through others.

Creative expression

You have no idea what a rush I get every time someone shares or likes a refashion I post.  It validates my ideas and the hours of work that goes into every sewing project.   As my own worst critic, I am filled with self-doubt, but I managed to find an audience that likes my crazy ideas.  Everyone one of us has the potential to be creative in our own way and be appreciated for the work we contribute.

This reminds me of a quote by Marth Graham about creative expression and the unique value we all possess.  “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open...

Your creativity no matter what form or shape it comes in is your gift to the world.  You owe it to us to share your creativity for the common good.

So I’ll go on sewing to my little heart’s content because it’s good for my soul.  I’ll continue to share my projects as I progress and inspire others to sew their own refashions.  Who knows, maybe soon, I’ll post one of my refashion fails just for kicks.

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There are 8 comments for this article
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  3. Win at 12:51 am

    I agree. No one else will be creative in quite the same way as anyone else. So yes, keep re-fashioning. It’s cool. When I was in my 20s I used to make most of my own clothes. I was one of the youngest in the Adult Education sewing class. My teacher encouraged me to actually study dressmaking and I’m glad I did. I’m slowly getting back into it after a long break but it feels great to be creative again.

    • melissa1lin at 2:03 pm

      I think it’s vitally important to do what you love, no matter what people think. I adore the sewing community becuase they appreciate the need to create. Not everything I make is beautiful or amazing, but someone out there will appreciate it because it was made with love.

  4. Winnie Lau at 2:58 pm

    Thank you for sharing this post. I picked up sewing for a year and have only started to create garments that I include in my rotation. It has been a frustrating but passionate journey and I share in everything that you have described in this post. I work as a junior engineer and have found my creative outlet through sewing. I often wondered if I was the only person to question the effort that goes into re-work for some projects. It is a relief to know that I am not alone after reaching out to members of the sewing community. Happy Sewing!

    • melissa1lin at 10:54 am

      Thanks Winnie! Sewing keeps me sane because I need that creative outlet. I get grumpy if I spend too much time away from my sewing machine. I laughed out loud when I read your comment about spending too much effort on re-working some projects. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reworked buttonholes and topstitching to get it just right. It’s worth the time and effort because I always learn something.

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