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Apr 10, 2011

Sewing, Growing, and Flowing: The 8 Benefits of Making It Yourself


Readers, I always welcome the opportunity to take a break from actual sewing...to talk about sewing.  I find myself in a contemplative mood today and thought I'd reflect a bit on what sewing has given me, and perhaps you too.

Here, then, are my 8 Benefits of Making It Yourself:

1. Sewing is creative.  When you decide to sew yourself something instead of going to a store and buying what somebody else has designed, manufactured, and marketed, you're tapping into your own ingenuity and inventiveness.  Like so many of our abilities, once you tap into them, you realize how much more you're capable of than you ever thought possible.  Creativity begets creativity: you've sewn your own shirt, now let's see if you can sew your own vintage Fifties lace overlay cocktail dress (to make one example...).

2.  Sewing is educational.  There is so much to know about sewing and the learning never stops.  Fabrics, notions, techniques, fit -- the list is endless.  No matter what level sewer you are, there's always a new challenge ahead.  What can be more thrilling than that?


3. Sewing is self-actualizing.  I define self-actualization as becoming the person you really are, being true to yourself, and feeling authentic.  Doing something we love solely because we love it is self-affirming. You know you're on the right path when you're doing something that brings you joy.

4. Sewing gets you into your "flow."  Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, a Hungarian psychologist and author of the classic work Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, argued that people are happiest when they are completely immersed in an activity that requires their full attention and skill.  (More about Csíkszentmihályi -- including the pronunciation of his name! -- here.)  Because sewing requires our full concentration, it puts us into our flow state, where we feel not only most alive, but also most relaxed, as our other concerns fade into the background.



5. Sewing is part of a craft tradition.  A century or two ago, most people were able to make most everything they needed.  The majority lived in the countryside and grew their own food.  Many built -- or participated in building -- their own home and furnishings.  Commercial industry as we think of it today was next to non-existent.  You might barter services with another, but basically you had to take care of your own needs.  Self-sufficiency is profoundly satisfying.  Today most of us no longer need to grow our own food or make our own clothes, and as a result we lack the knowledge -- passed down generation to generation -- to do so.  Learning how to sew reconnects us with these traditions.  And if you can do it with your own energy (by treadling or using a hand crank machine) you're even more self-sufficient!

6. Sewing is fantasy.  In the same way that it's no more difficult to paint a picture of a palace than a hovel, an extra foot of fabric can turn a house dress into an evening gown.  Sewing is a vehicle to explore not only who we are and what image we want to project into the world, but also who we like to pretend to be.  Children are able to access this ability with complete lack of self-consciousness: a blanket thrown over a table becomes a fort, an old sheet, a cape.  How many adults are still attuned to this capacity to dream and play?



7. Sewing is a window into history, sociology, and economics.  Sewing for ourselves challenges us to think about the role making clothes has had throughout history.  Sewing machines helped to emancipate women as it gave them a commercially marketable skill.  As sewing became an industry, sewers organized themselves into unions so that those in the textile trade could make a living wage and support their families.  Today, because of globalization and concentration of corporate power, we're moving in the opposite direction.  Sewing taps into a lot of academic disciplines and if we're inclined to study it, we can learn a lot about the world we inhabit.


8. Sewing is social.  Sewing used to be something most people did in isolation.  Unlike an activity like knitting, it's hard to sew in a group -- though obviously not impossible.  It requires sufficient space, organization (all those notions!), and portable machines (unless machines are provided).  But thanks to the Internet, we can connect with an unlimited number of people all over the world who share our passion.  One of the most exciting benefits of Male Pattern Boldness has been connecting (virtually and sometimes even in person) with readers from different cultures and traditions and learning their different perspectives on everything from fashion to sewing machine maintenance.



BONUS BENEFIT!!!

9. Sewing builds self-confidence.  This relates to many of the points already discussed.   When we are able to pursue something we love, we validate the importance of our own passion.   The same goes for being able to do something to take care of our own -- and/or our family's -- needs.  Feeling less dependent on the mall, on artificial trends, and cheap labor -- feeds into our self-confidence too.

Related to this is body confidence. When you learn how to fit yourself, when you become more intimately aware of your body and how to dress it in a flattering way, you feel more confident about the way you look.  What could be more dispiriting than feeling like you're the wrong size for the ready-to-wear clothing available to you, that somehow you are at fault?

 

Friends, this is what I've gained through sewing.  What have you gained?

I'd love to hear from you!

41 comments:

  1. I ditto everything you wrote.

    If I can get hubby's jeans to fit like yours...a miracle will occur. That is the magic of sewing.

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  2. Sewing taught me my creative process. I can calmly approach a project knowing how I will accomplish the problem solving, the choices, and the execution. I am slow, and don't pressure myself, and when ready, an easy time is quickly spent sewing. I don't naturally do life this way, and appreciated learning that I can think then act.

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  3. Great post Peter!!
    My first thought on reading #6- is it a hat, or an elephant inside a boa constrictor?
    xo

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  4. Yes :-)

    And to number 9 - yes! I started to learn to sew not long before I got together with the man who I am now about to marry so it's hard to divine exact cause and effect - but all I can say is that for the first time in my life I am happy and confident with my 6'0" tall, curvy, hard to fit figure.

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  5. As usual, you hit the nail on the head!!

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  6. exactly

    I was just blogging about my reflections on sewing (being my DD's 4th birthday yesterday and she being the reason I started sewing - the realization that I could buy a sewing machine and make the crib bedding I wanted for the same price as a set of crib bedding I wasn't so excited about).

    I'm about to go to church in a skirt, top, and cardigan all made by me. I doubt I will look one pew over and see someone else wearing my outfit or anything even remotely like it. ;-)

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  7. Sewing lowers my frustration. I hate to shop - I can never find what I want (and I'm not talking about something difficult or esoteric here; I always seem to be looking for certain things that no one is offering that year, like a medium grey pencil skirt or navy light weight wool slacks)but with sewing, I can fulfill these wants very neatly and without a lot of frustration at all. With the internet, I can usually find any fabric I want (and some I've never heard of but then want to try) and there really is nothing to stop me. Now, it doesn't always quite work out the way I envisioned but it certainly is less time spent than when I've gone through every store in three different malls trying to find the item and either no one has it or it doesn't come in my size range.

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    1. U r right. I don't see my size in stores. I will have to try and try then still go home and adjust. That is one the reasons I took up sewing instead of asking myself, why me? I'm still learning and I must say it built my self confidence there is nothing as good as wearing your own perfect fit. That joy I have after completing a project I can't trade it. I love sewing!

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  8. Agree with you on all the points. Sewed as a child and hated it as mother was a perfectionist and my work was never right. picked it up in my thirties and made all my work clothes as i am short until aged 62. now make shorts for summer and buy pants from Chico for winter as they fit. low and behold at 40 DD had a daughter and now i make little girls dresses, what a joy.
    When working make sure you sew for 15 minutes every day, that includes, time spent cutting, preparing fabric and pattern as well as sewing unsewing, and most of all enjoy enjoy enjoy. There will be garments that don't work out just as unworn clothes hide in your closet. DO buy a serger so you can show off inside, or perfect hidden seams.

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  9. "What could be more dispiriting than feeling like you're the wrong size for the ready-to-wear clothing available to you, that somehow you are at fault?"... This comment "hit me". Maybe that's how I've been feeling?
    ;), Rhonda

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  10. Great thoughts, all. Plus those jeans fit you so well!

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  11. This is a brilliant post, Peter! I have been thinking about similar things (being a knitter, sewer AND an academic, I guess that's inevitable). I "joke" that sewing keeps me sane -- but I really believe it does. So many of us have paid work that is virtual, in one way or another, and it is amazingly grounding and pleasurable to also engage in the making of material things. I love it.

    A side benefit: since I started sewing, my feelings about mass-produced clothing and other textile goods have changed fundamentally. Many who start to sew note that RTW suddenly reveals itself to be shoddily constructed -- and it becomes much harder to spend money on such items. Struggling with fit issues, you start to understand that very few people actually wear clothes that fit well; bad fit has become the norm. But I also find myself thinking about the hands and minds responsible for the making of RTW goods, and I find myself unable to buy things that I don't love or can really do without. All of these factors have dramatically reduced consumption around here...at least of RTW items...yardage, patterns, notions -- now that's another matter...!

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  12. Excellent post! I agree with everything you mentioned and special "here! here!" for lessening our dependance on stores and relying on the passing down of these skills to future generations. I think you'd like my post on skills vs. hobbies here:

    http://thepreparedhomemaker.blogspot.com/2010/12/hobbies-vs-skills-pet-peeve-of-mine.html

    I especially agree with your "flow" statement too. I feel this a lot when I am sewing and especially knitting. There was a piece about these certain aspects that I found a while ago here:

    http://www.knitty.com/ISSUEsummer03/FEATknittingyourself.html

    Keep up the great posting, can't wait to join you on the pants tut!

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  13. true to the eighth power!
    You are so right. All these positive things snowball into more positivity.

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  14. It is true: I feel the best when I'm sewing!

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  15. indeedy! plus my #10- sewing is my livelihood. That changes some of the emphasis of the other points, but never eliminates them. thank goodness-

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  16. Great post! I think the most important thing for me is the creative process. I like being able to look at different fabrics and trying to envision what they will become.
    I also really like number three- "Sewing is self-actualizing... You know you're on the right path when you're doing something that brings you joy."

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  17. Thank you, Peter, for validating sewing as so much more than a hobby. You've done that in a thoughtful, articulate, and wonderful way!! I really like your self-actualizing point and I completely agree.

    Sewing is joyful, for me. I love it!

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  18. I enjoy sewing because it was something I have done for many years and it is a part of me. I enjoy the creative process, but most of all I enjoy the feeling of being connected to the people who made their clothes centuries ago with a needle made from bone and a bit of leather.

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  19. Well said! My mother started to teach me to sew as a child, because it's a good skill to have. My mother is a very do it yourself type woman, she waits for no one! No man around? Get the hand truck! We can move anything ourselves! Pay someone to fix a ripped seam? Never! Little did she know that would follow me to high school and then to fashion college. For a long time sewing was a way for me to be as eccentric as I wanted to be. My body was my canvas and the fabric my paint. Now I feel the same way, but I have honed my skills and I love a well made piece of clothing as much as something that took many design hours to come up with. I have issues with self worth sometimes, feeling pretty useless and just bad in general. Sewing helps me realize I DO have skills. I AM talented. This is major for me, and it carries over into other aspects of my life and I get my confidence back. I don't know what I would do without sewing!

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  20. What a beautiful post! I think you have totally covered off all the high points! Being social, part of a tradition and being creative are the things that resonate most with me.

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  21. Yes! and for me a subset of Sewing is Craft, I would add, Sewing is Tactile. The most tactile my day job gets is touching the computer keyboard. which isn't quite as intrinsically satisying. I love the texture of fabrics and the way the feeling of it matters. It does mean I end up with some "what was I thinking" fabrics in my stash, but that's a small price to pay. Baking and gardening also have this sensory aspect but sewing is the most satisfying!

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  22. A great post, thank you. I absolutely agree with everything you've said!

    One comment about sewing (and knitting) I find it hard to come back with a reply for, is when people tell me that they don't like 'following instructions', and say that using a pattern to sew or knit is less creative, compared to drawing or painting for example. I don't agree with this, but it does frustrate me!

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  23. You hit it, dead on, every reason I sew. Especially the part about flow. When I'm in the middle of something and absorbed, I don't hear the outside world- it's fantastic. It feels like the universe is focused on what's happening under my hands.

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  24. Excellent post, well expressed and right on the mark...I cannot imagine a single day without sewing or crafting something. I'm in another world of bliss when I'm sewing whethr by hand or machine. My mother taught and shared her love for sewing and crochet with me when I was a tiny tiny tot. I remember crocheting circles at age 3 and threading her sewing machine for her at age 4 or 5 (how dangerous lol, but it was a way of life for us) and she taught me to knit and do embroidery at age 9. Sewing and crafting has been my entire life (now 40). Thank you for posting this.

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  25. Love this post, Peter. And such great comments too. I tell friends sewing keeps me sane, and you have written why this would be "sew". I have depression issues, and find sewing lifts me wonderfully. Hubby finds me vintage patterns and fabrics, at charity shops, and I am good to go. A few helping cats, and we're on... Cathie, in Quebec.

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  26. I just discovered this blog and I feel inspired to sew! Thank you for reminding me of something I love that I have been neglecting as of lately.

    I ADORE Cathy!

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  27. Fantastic Jeans - My goal is to sea a pair too.

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  28. Great post and comments. It's one of the reasons your blog is so good, you elicit such great comments.

    I wanted to add that for some of us who sewed as children, or who had mothers who sewed, taking up sewing in adulthood is a thread(!) that connects us to our own past. My mother sewed all my clothes when I was little. She wasn't the warmest or most affectionate mother, but when I sew I understand what she was doing for me, and can appreciate, in my middle age, one of the ways she was able to express affection.

    Also, as I relearn skills that I mastered once before when I was very young, I have an appreciation for my younger self. At age 13, zippers didn't faze me one bit, and that's kind of nice to remember.

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  29. Hi Peter,
    Great post! However I do think sewing can be a social experience!! I hosted a weekley sewing group at my house every Tuesday night for 6 years! We called it our weekly "Stitch-N-Bitch" . We would have pizza and brownies,chat about life,kids Hubby's,jobs etc.. all while working on our own sewing projects (the ladies would bring their portable machines). There was about a 40 year age range between all of us and WOW the things we could all share! For example the oldest member of the group was in her late 60's and was a wiz at hand sewing techniques (she learned to sew in Home Ec class as a child). My highschool had no Home Ec classes but I was an avid serger user and shared all of my techniques with her! Oh the ways my sewing skills grew during those six years!!!! Ah the memories :-)
    Becky

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  30. Thanks Peter. This was a very worthwhile post. All the points you made resonate with me. In the past few years I've become very resistant to buying clothes (although I'm OK with buying underwear). I've lazily explained this by saying "I'm getting eccentric in my old age" or "it's faster to make a garment than to find one I want to buy", but your post articulates my real reasons.

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  31. Love your post and with regard to self sufficiency, thought you might like to read a recent post of mine and a very apt "God Speed the Plough" print ...http://nessaknit.blogspot.com/2011/03/god-speed-plough.html

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  32. Excellent post, Peter! In addition, I completely agree with Prof. S' comment.

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  33. Hi Peter, I've been lurking for a little while, but I just loved this post and wanted to say that you've put into words a lot of the things I feel about sewing. Sewing is such an enriching hobby and it’s a joy to see someone express that feeling so eloquently.

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  34. Hi Peter, glad to see I'm not the only one worried about our losing our collective skills. I really appreciate sewing as it's given me back my self confidence regarding my body image. I realize none of us are the same, so how can we be expected to fit into cookie cutter models of fashions selected for us. Granted, sewing is longer but so much more satisfying.

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  35. Excellent post :) I knit as well as sewing and a lot of your points apply to that as well. As a beginner at both knitting and sewing I'm still some way from attaining my goals of perfect fit, but I'm enjoying the jurney!

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  36. Thank you, Peter, for such a wonderful post. I'd like to add economy, one of the traditional reasons to sew. I've saved countless dollars by sewing beautiful clothes that fit, mending, and making household stuff like aprons, napkins, tablecloths, decorated pillowslips, sheets, & towels, and specialty items like terrycloth pillow covers for a weeping and bleeding dental victim. Also, specialty clothes for disabled friends who need adapted fastenings that work with wheelchairs, frozen arms and legs and hands, and eating challenges. My skills have made the most wonderful costumes possible too! It is a form of play that gives me back my true self, that feels so divided in the modern work world. The art of patching can be part of the soul as well as the torn jeans, the apron, the denim jacket... Kristina in Ohio

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  37. Great post! Especially that Sewing is Fantasy. That's my #1 reason... trying to become who I want to be and maybe sometimes pretending to be someone else. That and the freedom if creativity: If I can dream it, I can make it.

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  38. One of your best posts - I agree with all your points, in particular # 7
    window into the history, social, economics. I have been thinking about these facets of sewing a lot lately.
    And I will add one more - sewing is math! For all the kids out there that really dislike math, they can learn to sew and sneakily be doing quite elaborate math calculations, geometry, thinking in 3 dimensions. good for the brain.

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  39. Love it, sewing is a life long art lesson!

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