Tag Archives: dressmaking

Is Sewing Good For You? My Q&A For This Month’s Love Sewing Magazine

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Remember that call out I posted just before Christmas about the beneficial impacts of sewing and generally making things with your hands? Well here it is in print in this month’s Love Sewing magazine.

As is inevitable within the limited space of magazines, things get edited so here’s the full version of what I wrote. Thanks so much to everyone who so generously contributed to this piece. It’s a subject I hope to return to later in the year.


Do you ever lose track of time while you’re sewing? Getting so engrossed in what you’re doing, so concentrated that you completely forget all about those niggly things that have been annoying you? Suddenly realising you have figured out a solution to that tricky problem at work? Feeling much more relaxed and in a better frame of mind than when you started? It’s called flow and is one of the acknowledged benefits of practicing any practical skill, be that sewing, knitting, drawing, throwing pots, making jewellery or playing a musical instrument.

Flow or being “in the zone” when making can send you into an almost meditative state with all the positive health benefits that brings. A clinical study commissioned by the American Home Sewing & Craft Association in 1995 showed measurable drops in heart rate and blood pressure amongst women engaged in sewing and an online survey conducted by Craftsy in January 2014 showed 93% of respondents believed that crafting can help them manage stress and 87% believe that crafting will help combat depression. Pretty powerful stuff.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF MAKING?

Being creative and making something with your hands keeps your hand eye coordination sharp and your fingers and hands nimble. I once saw sewing described as yoga for hands – I wish I could remember who said that! Not to mention that learning a new skill keeps the little grey cells busy.

Particular to any kind of making is the “reward” your brain gets from the end result of your efforts and seeing the tangible progress that you’ve made. The same effect can be had from the challenge and glory of problem solving so often necessary in making; you must have experienced getting horribly stuck with something to the point of frustration, walking away and coming back to it with the answer and the elation of not letting it beat you?!

There was a big exhibition at the V&A in 2011 which celebrated the hand made called “The Power of Making”. It included examples of finished objects and lots of video footage of skilled makers at work; for me this was the absolute best bit, I find watching skilled craftspeople working with their hands almost as relaxing as making something myself. You can still see lots of these films online at the V&A website: www.vam.ac.uk and search “Power of Making” they’re well worth 5 minutes of anyone’s time.

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BENEFITS FOR THE INDIVIDUAL

I teach lots of students who lead busy stressful lives and many of them place their sewing classes very high on their list of priorities stating that; “it’s the one time in the week that’s purely for me” or describe their class as “the best part of my week” and will even arrange work and family commitments so that they don’t interfere with their sewing. It’s obviously important to them (not to mention lovely for me to share so many best bits of peoples’ weeks!).

A lot of the benefits that come from creative activities could be labeled as “mindfulness”, something that’s allover the place at the moment; you can read books, download apps, do some colouring-in and take courses to improve your mindfulness, but all it basically means is experiencing and being completely in the here and now. Something you have to do when you’re sewing.

For a while I was teaching an occupational therapist in my dressmaking classes and we regularly chatted about the benefits of working with your hands and being creative, she confirmed that this was a big part of her work; that as humans we’re programmed to want to make stuff and use our hands and that working within mental health for the NHS she regularly used craft and activities like gardening to successfully help patients.

BENEFITS FOR GROUPS

I’ve witnessed people who hardly know each other share fairly intimate stories and experiences in classes. I think it has something to do with the shared experience of being creative in a group, keeping your hands busy and perhaps most importantly; not necessarily making eye contact. It’s easier to talk about difficult stuff if there’s something else going on too, rather than just an intense conversation while looking someone in the eye. The practical activity kind of takes the edge off and helps people open up. How many times have you found yourself fiddling with something in your fingers while having a difficult conversation?

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During my years teaching in adult education, I taught a lot of courses in outreach centres; teaching hard to reach adults to help them take their first steps back into education and working life. In small groups I was teaching people who wouldn’t have gone to college, where it was often an achievement to just get out of house, enabling them through creativity to meet people, enjoy the camaraderie of creating in a group where they would support and encourage each other and eventually making new like-minded friends.

I’ve taught students with self-confidence issues, depression and bi polar and the pride they have all taken in creating something, their sense of achievement and that they can see the progress and improvement they are making is tangible. The seemingly simple processes of setting goals, planning and organising that are also involved in learning a creative skill can be hugely empowering for vulnerable people who may have been living a life where much of that control has been taken away. Group creativity and learning can have similar effects on people with serious physical health issues, I’ve taught people who have suffered strokes or undergone intense radiology treatment which has damaged their concentration and short term memory and it seems the repetitive nature of sewing allowed them to feel that it was possible for them to learn something new, a process they had previously found difficult.

Learning is good for you, you have to focus and concentrate and it stops your mind wandering into darker places and worrying about problems.

When I decided to write this piece I put a call-out for people to share their experiences with me and literally within minutes I had anecdotal accounts coming in. You don’t have to look far to hear about the impact that making has had on peoples’ everyday lives. Here are a few accounts that respondents were kind enough to let me share:

Emma Miles @dressmakerssocial on Instagram who came to classes with me using money left to her by her beloved Nana when she died:

“I made my friend her wedding dress in September this year. She hasn’t had the easiest few years and it was whilst I was sewing that I was thinking about both our journeys over the past three years.

I loose myself in my thoughts when making and find that some relaxed dressmaking time works wonders for my mental health. Without attending sewing classes during my own difficult time of depression following my Nana’s death I wouldn’t have had the skills to make the dress.

Making the dress was an emotional time. It felt like all of the grief and difficult times had enabled me to produce something good.”

@robins_thread on Instagram:

“My aunt has tremors in her hands and is currently on a nasty batch of chemo. She knits beautiful moss stitch and ribbed scarfs and her hands don’t tremor when she does it. All the stitches come out just great. She likes doing scarfs because the rhythm and counting is better. It has really helped her feel better with all the chemo side effects too, and loads of the extended family have lovely scarfs from her.”

@misspbluedeva on Instagram:

“Sewing and all things crafty are great for distraction therapy. At my Pain Management Centre they strongly recommend it. It is a great way to turn the pain down and it helps with self worth, which is something we CRPS patients can loose. It gives you a purpose! It may take us longer to complete a project but it feels fantastic to give that project as a present and for it to be appreciated. For anyone with illnesses/disabilities I highly recommend it. There’s nothing better than getting lost in the sewing room for hours on end.”

Take it Slow

Even though, as we’ve heard, sewing is undoubtedly good for you and can have positive impacts on your health, I’m seeing an increasing impatience amongst some makers and an insatiable need to make something quickly and finish it in a class. I understand where this comes from (I’m the same sometimes), but it does make me a bit sad as it takes away from the point of the activity: to enjoy the process. If you don’t enjoy the process, well, you might as well just go out shopping.

In response to this, there are growing “slow textiles” and “slow fashion” movements at the moment; makers who celebrate slow processes such as knitting, hand embroidery, hand-sewn patchwork and hand finished details. These processes force us to slow down and savour the process and the benefits it will have on your life rather than just focussing on the end result. Have a look at “Slow Stitch” by Claire Wellesley-Smith for some inspiration.

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Thanks to everyone that helped me to write this article, I wish you all continued health and happiness and much joyful sewing.

Is Sewing Good For You?

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Dear lovely reader, I’m writing something about the positive effects (mental + physical) of sewing, crafting and making with your hands. Do you have experiences (either yours or witnessed in others) that you are willing to share and would be happy to be quoted on?

I can keep names anonymous if you’d rather, just let me know. If you prefer, you can email me on post{at}wendyward.co.uk

Thank you!

Super Gorgeous Glam PJ’s

Just a quick one as I had to share these with you……

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I know, luscious aren’t they?!

Wouldn’t you just love to sleep, lounge and generally lollop around in these beauties?

They’ve been made by clever devil Portia Lawrie using the t-shirt and comfy trouser patterns from my book Beginner’s Guide to Dressmaking and she’s blogged all about them here. You’d best get over there and have a read so that you can enter a double giveaway that’s happening…… don’t say I didn’t tell you.

TTFN told you it was a quick one!

How to Make the Most Pointy Corners

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Received wisdom is that to get sharp corners you need to trim them at 45 degrees.

Well, I’ve been making rather a lot of waistbands recently and have found this method gives me much pointier corners than trimming and, if you think about it, actually reinforces the corner too.

If you’ve got 2 seams joining at said corner (here one of the sides of my corner is a folded edge), fold the seam allowances on top of each other so that they overlap.

If you’re using a very bulky fabric you’d probably want to layer the seam allowances first (trim one layer of the seam allowance shorter than the other).

The Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace

Last week passed by in a bit of a blur at Alexandra Palace. It was the annual Knitting and Stitching show which is a huge gathering of all things textile related spread over a massive 5 days and the whole of Alexandra Palace. I was there with a stand for MIY Collection and taught 3 sell out workshops.

I always find the run up to the show a bit fraught and full of worrying about the design of my stand, organising stock to take and planning my workshops (not to mention making sure everything will continue to run smoothly at MIY Workshop and the MIY Collection online shop while I’m away)!

However, once I’m there and everything’s set up I do enjoy it. Here’s a flavour of the show:

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Here’s my stand this year and even if I do say so myself I think it was my best yet!

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Yours truly in action on the stand. Who knows what I’m saying but I seem to have them hanging on my every word!

It’s a great opportunity to meet dressmakers from around the country and talk to them about my patterns and book, lots of whom follow me online so it’s doubly lovely to be able to meet them in person.

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I was really lucky this year to have some help on the stand for a few of the days from Rebecca Eaton of Rebecca Jane who is going to be doing some bag-making workshops at MIY Workshop and the always lovely and smiley Emma of Dressmaker’s Social who was an absolute star and helped me out for the busiest 2 days on Friday and Saturday. She also drove us to the launch of The Foldline at Sew Over It in Islington; a super bit of sewing networking crammed into 90 mins. If you haven’t checked out The Foldline yet, have a look; founders Kate and Rachel have worked really hard on launching it and they’re promising it will become the Facebook for the sewing community. Let’s hope so as the sewing community has been lagging behind the knitting community on this.

Thanks to the very witty (see badges above….!) Emma of Dressmaker’s Social, I was also able to take some time away from my stand to go and chat to people who I’m normally only able to chat to online, this time I caught up with Grace of Beyond Measure UK (beautiful tools and accessories for makers), Amy aka Almond Rock Sews and editor of Love Sewing magazine, Pam and Simon of Ernest Wright & Son (the best scissors traditionally made in Sheffield), Tina of Tina Francis Tapestry (tapestry kits and patterns), Jules of Sew Me Something (sewing patterns, fabrics, yarns), Wendy Dolan with her super new machine embroidery book, Kim Thittichai on the Vilene stand, Elizabeth Betts editor of Popular Patchwork, Carolyn Clark professional long arm quilter,  and Sara Cook who was doing her first spot of teaching at the show.

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I also met Sophia the flamingo on the Toft Alpaca stand and wanted to take her home with me!

Excitingly I launched a few new products at this year’s show, some of which are now available from the MIY Collection online shop, but more on that in one of my next posts.

I’m also going to post some of the teaching I did at the show as online tutorials: A Complete Guide to Sewing with Knits (a collection of all my tutorials and guides to sewing stretch knit fabrics) and How to Make Continuous Strip Bias Binding. Watch this space.

Make-It-Yourself March – list of daily topics!

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So, are you going to be joining me and Crafty and Cake for a whole month of noseying at what other people are stitching?!

Make-It-Yourself March or MIYmarch will be starting on Sunday. The full monty description of what’s involved and how to play is here.

I’m looking forward to seeing your pics…….

Make-It-Yourself March – want to join in?

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In celebration of sewing and dressmaking and the Sewing Bee on television and all things you made yourself, me and Emma aka Crafty & Cake are hosting a month long photo-a-day challenge over on Instagram.  We want to know what you’re making, what you want to make, your making inspiration, where you make, what you make with and your best and worst making moments!

Each day will have a theme that we’ll post at the start of the day and you just need to post a sewing and/or dressmaking-related photo or photos on Instagram, tag us (@thewendyward and @craftyandcake) and use the hashtag #miymarch

Hopefully you’ll be inspired by everyone else’s photos, meet some new online buddies and have a bit of fun appreciating the fruits of your labours! Every day Emma and I will choose our favourite 4 images to showcase at the end of the day.

What’s not to like?!

You can play on Twitter too – use the same names @thewendyward and @craftyandcake and the #miymarch hashtag and let’s celebrate your dressmaking achievements, inspirations, secrets and sewing goals.

Celebrate Making It YOURSELF!!