The Slow Down – a brief history of my sewing habits

Something is happening to me as I get older. I am slowing down. I don’t mean in the physically ageing sense but in a more philosophical way, in the way I approach life. I have more patience now for certain things than I did when I was in my twenties or thirties, or even my early forties. Take sewing for example.

I started making things in my teens. An elderly friend of my mothers had given her an old tin full of sewing paraphernalia and some oddments of fabric. I remember following a pattern from an old magazine and on the hand crank Singer that my mother owned but never used, I made a little duffle bag and a matching ‘smoking cap’ style hat out of a remnant of deckchair fabric. I used the bag a few times but I don’t think I ever had the confidence to wear the hat outside of my bedroom but what I liked about that first project was the speed at which I was able to bring those functional items into existence.

That was around the same time I got my first job as a Saturday girl in a soft furnishings shop. One morning I was tidying the remnant basket and found some scraps of plain glazed cotton. I remember distinctly there was some peach, a minty green and a denim sort of blue. I asked my boss how much they would be with my staff discount applied and she let me have them for nothing! In my lunch hour I nipped to the haberdashery store round the corner and bought a couple of metres of elastic and not being the sort of teen who had a bustling social life, I spent my Saturday evening making hair scrunchies in my room, listening to Pink Floyd.

Those first teenage projects all had one thing in common. They were fast makes that I completed in one sitting. Even the first skirt I made was run up in an hour or so, no pattern, just some fabric and a bit of elastic for the waist. I liked the instant gratification of being able to finish something in one sitting and that didn’t change for a good few years. I made pull on trousers and bloomers for my kids because they were quick and easy. I made a few pairs of pull on trousers for myself for the same reason. Anything else seemed far too complicated so I didn’t bother trying. I made the curtains for our house and I did cross stitch but even the time that took frustrated me! It wasn’t until my fourth daughter was on the way that I started experimenting with making other things and by the time she was born I had an Ebay shop selling bunting, baby bibs, kids t-shirts with motifs appliqued on, Christmas stockings and very crude versions of the hand stitched cards that I still make and sell now. But I still wouldn’t make anything I couldn’t finish in one sitting!

Then life started to get complicated for one reason or another and I found that more and more often I was having to abandon a project for days, weeks or sometimes months before I could see it through. More often than not the half finished things got tossed, either into the bin or back into the fabric stash waiting to be ripped apart and made into something else. Eventually I was able to pick an abandoned project up and continue on with it and what a revelation that was. It meant I could prep more complex multiple items for selling for a start! By this time I had opened my first Etsy shop and my confidence was growing. But life wasn’t straightforward and over the years I shut up shop, started another, moved to Folksy, back to Etsy (and all the other platforms in between that sprung up and have since folded!), had creative droughts and crises in confidence. I have recently emerged from such a period and this time I have been able to simply pick up where I left off with all the unfinished projects.

There is something very freeing about being able to put down and pick up. I’m sure there are many creatives out there who have always been able to do this but for me it has been an important stage in my creative evolution. Apart from a few cross stitch kits and my Strawberry Thief tapestry I have really struggled to go back to things, but now I actually have multiple projects on the go and I’m quite enjoying the flexibility of being able to choose whether to knit, embroider or baste and sew hexies together when I have space in the day for it. I love that crafts I once felt were beyond me are now open to me, like patchwork for example. My youngest has just taught herself to crochet and I no longer see it as a craft other people do but as another one for me to pick up when I’m ready. Hand sewing patchwork pieces together was once something other people did and I never thought I would even give it a try! Now I fully understand the virtues of slow stitching anything. My mantra has changed from ‘machine it if you can’ to ‘can I do that by hand’.