April is Stress Awareness Month in the US. If you have stress in your life (don’t we all!), you’ve likely found ways of dealing with it. Crafting, specifically knitting and sewing, have been proven to help manage stress and symptoms of depression. In a recent issue of Sew News (find the full article there), columnist Abby Glassenberg (of While She Naps) discusses how the way we talk about sewing matters and how sewing for yourself is anything but selfish.
By Abby Glassenberg
The term “selfish sewing” has been circulating around sewing blogs for some time now. The idea is to set aside your sewing to-do list and choose a project just for you, whether that’s making a new dress or a fresh handbag, or spending several blissful hours stitching patchwork for a quilt. While I fully support the idea that we should carve out time for our own creative endeavors, I think using the word “selfish” here does more harm than good.
Sewing doesn’t save much money today the way it once did, and while it’s still a practical skill — mending the hole in well-loved jeans so they last a little longer, for example — I’d argue that sewing is mostly something we do now because we enjoy it. Sewing is a creative act, something we choose to do when we have hours and dollars to spare. It’s a way to express our unique style, feel a sense of accomplishment, and connect with something inside ourselves that may lie dormant otherwise.
Self-care has been a hot topic of late, especially for women. The term refers to deliberately nurturing yourself by treating yourself as kindly as you would treat others. Women often find ourselves giving our time, energy and talents to our families, our communities and our workplaces in a way that can exhaust us. The idea of self-care is to remind us that we’re just as important and deserving of time and attention as those we’re caring for.
“I think for a lot of people, sewing is a real escape from their lives,” says pattern designer Heather Lou of Closet Case Patterns. “In particular, there is so much pressure on women to take care of business in all areas of our lives (especially if we have partners and children) that having an outlet that is just for us, purely and utterly selfish in the most profoundly beautiful sense of the word, is really necessary for our mental health. Maybe ‘self-care sewing’ would be more apt to describe it, but it doesn’t have the same ring to it.”
Sewing as self-care isn’t selfish. In fact it’s just the opposite. Digital strategist Meighan O’Toole owns her own business and often has a packed calendar. “Sewing allows me to check out and meditate after being immersed in my business all day,” she says. Beyond the pleasure of losing herself in the intricacies of a new sewing project, Meighan cares for herself by making garments that fit her body and express her individuality. “I find it empowering because I get to make clothes that fit me well as a plus-sized woman. Clothes that make me look and feel great, and add my own style,” she explains. “After a long week, I love the fact that I can choose some fabric, pick a pattern, and I have something brand new to wear. It’s helped me get to know my body better and really understand how things fit. It’s high up on my list of acts of self-care.”
For sewing pattern designer Meg McElwee of Sew Liberated, handwork helps her slow down and appreciate the moments in her life. She views sewing as a spiritual practice. “Taking time to breathe, clear my thoughts and enter the present moment with my craft ultimately helps me be a more present mother,” she says. “A mother who is comfortable with slowing down, ripping out stitches, starting over again and being at peace with the process. Because truly, that’s the heart of the problem. Our society prioritizes ‘doing’ over ‘being.’ I have no problem ‘doing.’ Most people don’t. I can always use more practice just ‘being,’ and my fiber art can help with that.”
It may seem trivial to be concerned with the word “selfish” in this context, but I think words matter. Selfish implies indulging in your own desires without regard to how that might affect others. When we see sewing as a form of caring for you, that notion falls away. Sewing helps us to be our best selves and that it certainly has a positive affect on the people in our lives. Adding the #selfishsewing hashtag to posts and captions online is a way of saying to one another that indulging our creativity is egocentric and comes at the sacrifice of doing what we should be doing: caring for everyone else. And, as a consumer of those images, that term serves as a chastisement. How dare I spend time on just me?
But we can turn that all on its head. Yes, as Heather suggests, #selfcaresewing just doesn’t have the same ring to it as #selfishsewing, but I don’t think that’s insurmountable. The more we use it, the more familiar the term will become and the more comfortable we’ll get with nurturing our own creative expression guilt free.
Join the conversation! Do you sew for “self-care”? Do you use the hashtags #unselfishsewing or #selfishsewing in your posts? Does sewing contribute to your well-being? Let us know in the comments.