Tag Archives: sewing

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!

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

miymarch daily list make-it-yourself march

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?

MIY March - make it yourself march instagram

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!!

More industrious students

December has proved a very productive month for my students, here’s a few more creations from recent classes and workshops:

First up my Alterations students at the Friends Centre.  Here we’ve got skirts made from trousers, customising with appliqué, dresses and skirts altered to fit better and shortened jeans.  And that’s only a small selection of what they achieved in 10 weeks.

Two students from my Drop-in Sewing & Dressmaking classes; Joy in a beautiful cashmere wool coat that was a labour of love with bound buttonholes, handmade shoulder pads and fully lined in silk, and Brenda in another silk frock made from a pattern taken from a favourite dress.

Productive results of the “Make your own Christmas Gifts” Sunday workshop; an apron, 2 cushion covers and a make-up bag.  Pretty good for a day’s sewing.

And students from Varndean in their perfectly fitting skirt toiles after my pattern cutting workshop.  Why they were so surprised that the skirts fitted so well, I don’t know!

Choosing and buying fabric

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OK, so you have managed to buy a pattern to make yourself something fabulous, the next thing you need is the fabric.  To a new sewer this can be almost as daunting as buying the pattern.  Once you’ve managed to find somewhere selling nice fabric you’re faced with fabrics ranging from thin and floaty silks to heavy duty denims and canvases, not to mention stretch and knitted fabrics.

WHICH FABRIC SHOULD I USE?
First thing’s first – what does your pattern say?  On the back of every sewing pattern will be a list of suitable fabrics and a chart to work out how much fabric you need.  The list of suggested fabrics may look like gobbledegook to you, don’t worry.  First, use your common sense – what are you making?  If you’re making a skirt you’re unlikely to need heavy coating weight tweed, so think of what kind of fabric you would like to make your skirt from.  Also ask for advice in the shop, any good fabric shop should employ staff who can recommend a suitable fabric for the pattern you’re using.
As a guide, avoid these fabrics when you first start sewing to make your life easier:

  • very thick fabrics – heavy denim or canvas
  • fabrics with a surface pile – corduroy or velvet that have a textured surface
  • big patterns or stripes that would need to be matched at seams
  • slippery, thin satin fabrics.


HOW MUCH FABRIC DO I NEED?

WHERE TO BUY FABRIC?

Have a look at my regularly updated list of recommendations for where to buy your fabrics here and over in the right hand column, headed “Where to Buy Fabric”.

AND REMEMBER:

  • Check the label on the fabric to find out the width – crucial to ensuring you buy enough fabric!
  • Also check the fibre content (cotton, polyester, silk, etc) on the label. In general, natural fibres are more comfortable to wear, but may crease more easily, synthetics will be easy to look after but might not be so nice to wear.
  • Have a read of my fabric dictionary for descriptions of some common fabrics and to learn a bit more about fabric.
  • The washing instructions are also on the label – a very easy one to miss and if you forget to look the only way to find out will be to go back to the shop to check the label!! Have a read of my guide to pre-washing your fabric.
  • When choosing fabric don’t be scared to unroll some to check the hang and drape and to really see the pattern if the fabric is anything other than a single solid colour.  Also hold it up to your face and ask yourself if the colour and/or print actually suits you – is it the kind of thing you are likely to wear?  Something that looks great/cute/wacky on a roll may not make up into a garment that you will want to wear, so be honest with yourself! Have a read of my post about styling for more tips along these lines….
  • Grab a handful of the fabric and scrunch it up in your hand to see how easily it creases.

If you’re buying fabric online, only order straight away if you know the fabric and have used it before or know the shop.  If you’re not sure, most good online fabric shops will send out samples and the good ones will then even deduct the cost of the samples if you go on to order some fabric.

Feeling festive

It never normally happens to me but, it’s true, the festive feelings got their hooks into me a couple of weeks ago.  I’ve bought mini Christmas trees, been caught admiring festive mugs and made this…

I decided to add a stocking to the list of things to make at my “Make your own Christmas Gifts” workshop in December.  I don’t normally do such “kitsch” stuff, but have to admit I quite enjoyed making this one!