On missing creativity

Hello everyone. How is your January going? Traditionally my most difficult month of the year, I have been surprised by how well I'm getting through it. Instead of laying under a mountain of duvets with a never ending supply of Earl Grey tea, I've been able to keep up with everything I had planned - which isn't much because overloading when you're potentially going to be feeling a little fragile is a recipe for disaster. I've been maintaining my running routine and have actually been enjoying the cold evening runs home. Another benefit has been starting yoga on a Monday evening immediately after work - such a fabulous way to begin the week. 

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The slight downside to anticipating such an awful month is that you become super sensitive to how you are feeling. One aspect that has come into ever sharper focus for me is my ongoing lack of desire to create. Just a year ago you would find me prioritising making a dress or a free motion picture over doing the house work. Ever since finishing up the items for the wedding, I've not reached the third step of the creative ladder, let alone the normal eight or nine that I'm so familiar and much more comfortable with. A missing sewjo is fine - I've been here before and it is inevitable it will happen again but I have been surprised by one particular emotion that has come with all of this. 

Guilt. This is becoming the overwhelming feeling I experience when I think about sewing, when I see fabric, or go on social media and see fabulous makes in progress. This feeling is nuanced. I don't feel that I owe anything to the online sewing community - we can all pick and choose how, and to what extent, we want to interact with others. Instead I feel awful that I am not joining in, not sharing because I am not making. I'm now struggling to sit on the sidelines and cheer you all on because it opens the wound of not making a little wider every time I do. I'm avoiding our study where my sewing supplies are kept. The room is in an absolute mess and needs to be tidied but the stab of guilt of looking at my stash and all my scraps sends me dashing for the sofa and the safety of a fiction book.

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Interestingly, it isn't true to say that I'm not making. I've made a number of items for others and myself over the past three months, all which had deadlines. Getting round to making them has been challenging but I've enjoyed the short bursts of stitching - the 30-60 minutes I can muster. Guilt raises it head when I struggle to get going and walk away from the table. It's also present when I think about how I want to share these items with you, to  commit to the web the blog posts that have been circulating in my head for months, and yet even that seems a step too far. 

I have no doubt that this will eventually pass. That I will find myself spending a weekend in the study rolling fabrics and putting patterns away. That I will find myself glued to my machine making all the things because the urge to stitch is overwhelming. In the meantime, I'm trying to keep the pressure off and see if I can nudge myself to a sturdier footing on the third step of the ladder. This post appears to have come from the decision to not force a post. I start a sewing course on Wednesday where the plan is to draft and stitch a jacket that will get me through the changing seasons. There is some gorgeous wool in John Lewis that is calling to be bought with my birthday money and I have some delicious silk from Vietnam that could work for the lining. The plan is there and with the accountability of the course I'm hopeful. Let's see if it works. 

Recently

After a time of extreme highs, you can't always anticipate how you will be feeling afterwards. I had an inkling that my sewjo would be depleted after finishing my wedding dress in March and, if it happened, I hoped it wouldn't be for too long. Instead of bouncing back, my motivation for making *anything* decided to take a long holiday and vanished completely. I believe this was because I needed a rest both physically and mentally, and because I was having a huge internal battle over my identity (this post sums it up better than I ever could). It is only now that the battle is over (I stuck with my original) and that life is settling down into a more normal routine that I am feeling my sewjo come back. It hasn't yet fully unpacked its bag though and disappears for day trips when I try to force it. 

This complete disappearance was bad news for me. Like many others, I rely fairly heavily on sewing as a form of mindfulness to help me keep my thoughts in check. It rivals exercise for being my most effective tool. Discovering that one of my fool proof techniques for nudging or maintaining my mood could no longer be fully relied upon was slightly alarming and made me realise that I needed to expand my creative arsenal. 

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Doing nothing isn't in my nature which led me to I experiment. Over the past six weeks, I have worked on my English paper piece quilt so it now covers half of our bed. The repetitive nature of hand stitching seemed less intimidating - I could stitch a few hexies and leave it. Before I knew it, the quilt had doubled in size. I love how it is turning out.

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I dabbled with some new free motion embroidery designs. I didn't have any expectation for them - good job as only one turned out ok! However, the mere process of doing this has given me some more ideas for when I can get back to it. 

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I've never considered myself as someone who is able to draw but I have always wanted to. Without any expectation, and partially through desperation, I signed up for an online course to learn the basics of drawing. I'm only experimenting with line drawings at the moment but it's nice to see I might have potential if I keep practising. I'm currently obsessed with vintage pattern envelopes and will be using them as inspiration going forward. 

While none of these have the same effect as sewing, it is great to be learning some more creative skills. They do help in their own way and I am looking forward to continuing with them. Another positive is they have been enough of a distraction to stop me constantly thinking about when I will sew again. I already am and have an almost finished Itch to Stitch Anza dress which I'll be sure to share with you soon. 

January

Over the past few years, January and I have not been friends. It is the month that I find the most difficult and it isn't helped by the fact I normally have to a work trip to Switzerland where I can't find a quiet space for nearly a week. I had hoped for this January would be different and took steps to help by planning some new activities to help me relax and distract me and I've a rather productive month in between long hours at work. I also got a very welcome surprise when the work trip was cancelled for me and I'm delighted that I'm now writing this from my lounge in my dressing gown with a vanilla coffee rather than freezing my toes off making my way through the Swiss alps. 

The first new activity I've picked up is English Paper Piecing which I have wanted to try for a while. When you move into a new house, everyone tells you that you will go through your first winter saying you'll do things differently next year as you'll know the quirks of your house. I'm already there! As delightful as our house is, being built in the 1930s and being open plan, it is a little chilly especially during a cold snap. I've stolen Adam's fleece blanket for evenings on the sofa while he wears a thicker fleece. I feel a little guilty about this but not enough to buy another blanket right now. Instead I've used it as an excuse to make myself a quilt using English Paper Piecing. I've decided to keep it simple by using hexagons and have been slowly working my scrap box to get a variety of colours and prints. I don't have a set design in mind, just a vague notion that I'll work out over the next few months as I stitch the hexagons together. I've found the process so far to be very relaxing for the evenings - the repetition of folding over fabric and long basting stitches soothes the mind after a busy day. I'll have to find somewhere else to store these as my side of the sofa is filling up!

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Last Saturday I visited FabricHQ for a free motion embroidery class taught by Sam. This is another craft that I have been wanting to try for a while and when I realised they were only a 45 minute drive from home, I immediately booked. It was a great morning and it was lovely to finally meet Sam, who patiently took us through doodling on a scrap through to completing a picture. Moving the fabric around without the help of the feed dogs was a little strange to begin with but doodling my name and a few flowers helped me to get the feel for creating curves. I chose to make a pair of shoes and I'm happy with how they came out, especially for a first attempt. I'll be putting them up in the office next week now I've photographed them for this post. As it is so quick to make a small picture and is a great scrap buster, I will definitely be giving this a go from home. I'm just waiting for payday so I can buy a darning foot and some bondaweb.  

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My poor sewing machine has been feeling a little unloved while it has been trapped by boxes but I have had use of my overlocker. I could have moved the boxes to get to my machine but I decided against it and saw it as an opportunity to finally get to grips with sewing with knit fabrics. Last January I traced the Ultimate Wrap Dress by Sew Over It and then put it away for some reason and forgot about it. I now have a nearly finished dress to share soon. I honestly don't know why I waited so long to start with knits - strange how a delay in starting a project can become an unhelpful mental block. 

Finally, the cancellation of my trip meant I secured the last place on the trouser drafting course run by Darn It and Stitch. Over four weeks I'll have a block to fit me and the skills required to draft some basic trousers. I'm really pleased to have got on the course as trousers are the most difficult item for me to fit or buy due to my body proportions being different to the measurements used in ready to wear. In the first class we drafted our block and I could see this difference clearly on paper. Homework for this weekend is to trace the block and toile them ready for fitting on Wednesday. I also need to decide on what style of trousers I want to draft over the coming weeks. I have few ideas as you can see in the photos below. 

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Learning new skills and trying new crafts/fabrics has been a lot of fun the past few weeks. Combined with an amazing mattress and some black out blinds for quality sleep, I honestly think they have helped my to get through the month and stay more positive than I might have been. Long may that continue! How has your January been? Have you been learning anything new?

Lessons from my sewcation

For the past week, I have been at home merrily stitching my way through my plans for a summer wardrobe while watching a lot of Wimbledon. The sewcation was strategically planned, allowing me enough time to go and buy items for my upcoming holiday if I didn't have time to complete these items. I did well though - seven items will be completed by the end of tomorrow evening. The Vintage Shirt Dress has already made its way here and I'll get the others all up as soon as I can but here's a photo to keep you going.

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To make up for the lack of photos of a shiny new item, I thought I would share some observations, lessons learnt or reconfirmed over the past few days:

  1. Always buy more black and white thread that you think you need. You will run out of both at the most inconvenient moments.
  2. It is always the right decision to buy zips of a single colour in multiple lengths. 
  3. You may need to actively remind yourself to eat and drink. 
  4. Fray stopper will transform your button holes.
  5. Your machine will become fussy. Feed it good thread, especially for button holes.
  6. Button holes are so much easier when you grade your seam allowances properly.
  7. Use a bright coloured thread where possible to baste so you can see them. It makes it easier to remove them or reminds you to do this step. 
  8. Do as many steps as you can at once before moving. E.g., pin as much before stitching, stitch as much before pressing....
  9. Your blind hem foot works beautifully as a guide for edge stitching/ top stitching.
  10. Always buy 8 or more buttons. I never have enough, or any spare in case some come off.
  11. It is far too easy to still be in your pyjamas at 11am for a couple of days in row.
  12. If you don't tidy as you go along, your sewing space will look an absolute tip and will make visitor's eyes widen when they walk in to deliver a large bag of items for some unselfish wedding related sewing. 

I'm sure I've forgotten many more points that should be included. Are there any points you would add from your experience of sewing for a full day or more?

When is a handmade piece worth more of your time?

See that small pile of clothes below? That's the pile of handmade items I can't decide what to do with. They are all currently hanging in my wardrobe waiting patiently to know whether they will ever be worn again or if their fate lies somewhere else.

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I'm pretty good at clearing out items that I no longer like and wear and this includes my handmade clothes. Yet it is different for these pieces. Sadly they do not see the light of day. They are all too big and look ridiculous when I put them on.

There are many reasons why they have not been added to the charity bag: I thoroughly enjoyed making them, I loved the feeling I got from wearing them, and the fabrics are just gorgeous that I can't bear to let them all go. A small but influential part of me thinks they should be unpicked and resized. Why haven't I? Time - they would all take so long to complete. Somehow it is easier to start over than alter. But isn't that just laziness? 

I'm really not sure what to do with them. What do you think? Should I just take the plunge and invest the time or should I say a fond farewell? To all? To some? I would love to know how you decide whether a piece is worth more of your time. In case you want to judge the individual pieces they are: Peacock dressAnnaMae blouseCressida skirt, and Ceylon

"What is your biggest hurdle?"

How do you spend your morning commute? I have recently been listening to podcasts - I just can't seem to get enough of them. Lately, I have started working my way through the archives of The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry and one episode in particular hooked my attention. Todd chatted with Jeff Goins about his latest book. The conversation about finding your thing in life, your calling if you will, was interesting but there was a question towards the end that I've been pondering for a while since hearing it: 

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That question is applicable to every part of life: work, personal battles, family, relationships, exercise and healthy living etc. It also applies to hobbies. I could list a lot of things I find difficult or wish I could overcome with sewing and blogging but I don't really class them as a big hurdle or a struggle - I just need to practice or research them. However, I do have an answer for both.

Sewing: time. Put simply, I do not have enough time to 

make all of the projects I would like or to learn all of the things I want at the speed I would like. This where I got the idea of sewing before work and I am having fun trying to figure out how to make life a little more efficient while actively building in relaxation and rest. It is definitely an interesting challenge! 

Blogging: the fear of taking the next step. Now that sounds grand, doesn't it? It's actually rather smaller as I don't have plans to change the focus of this blog. I do wonder if I could grow this little corner of the internet in some way though. The struggle comes from many questions that stack on top of each other: what direction? Will my next series be any good? Will you come back if I made changes? And the cycle continues... I'm waiting to see where my thoughts settle. 

How about you? Would you be willing to share your biggest hurdle or struggle in sewing and/or blogging? If so, leave a comment below or drop me a email. 

How many is too many?

Tell me, can you juggle more than one sewing project at a time? Can you cope with a number of works in progress (WIPs) at different stages? I ask because I seem to be pushing my limits at the moment. 

I’m a multiple projects on the go person and will have at least two projects happening at the same time. I like the variety and different options I get by staggering projects. If I’m short on time, I can stitch a couple of seams. If I don’t feel like sitting at the machine, I can trace a pattern or pin pieces together. If the projects are at the same stage, I don’t have the chance to maximise my sewing time and match it to my mood. Two or three projects feels manageable. I find myself in a place where I’ve slightly lost this feeling and I’ve been asking how many WIPs is too many?

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At the beginning of last month I had a whopping 11 projects on the go. I had to create a spreadsheet just to keep track! You have seen some of them (my Buchanan and Cressida skirt) and you will get to see the others fully rather than the sneak peaks in the photos. I admit this is a completely self inflicted situation. November and December are busy months for me and I have no idea how much time I will have to sew. October was relatively free so it seemed sensible to try and use the month to get ahead. 

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Working on 11 projects has been pretty difficult to move along. There is a pressure there that doesn’t normally exist. I'm still enjoying the process but there is an edge to it. Perhaps it is because six of the projects are selfless ones that I am feeling it more - the pressure of getting it as perfect as possible and delivering on time seems to dramatically increase when you’re not the recipient of your work. It seems that I haven’t learnt my lesson though as I’ve added another project to the list this week and agreed to finish a coat lining replacement with a friend that we started about ten months ago. The good news is I’m nearing the end of this marathon. Thankfully there is more grey text on my spreadsheet than black but there is a lingering sense that I've had too many projects taking place. 

What are your thoughts? What’s on your sewing table at the moment and what is your limit for WIPs at any one time?

When sewing gets you through

Boy, this week has been tough. It has been a very long and trying one. Almost every aspect of life has been stressful at some point. Normally when this is the case I turn to chocolate, biscuits or some combination of the two. However, this week has been different. Instead of reaching for a nearby sugar high, I've been reaching for anything sewing related, no matter how tenuous the link. 

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I suddenly find myself with three projects on the go. I have cut out my Robson coat and started to piece it together. I made three bodice toiles for the Emery and Winifred dresses (two for the Emery, not three each!) and then cut them out of the fashion fabric. One of them is almost completely finished. This is a lot for me - I'm normally a one or two projects kind of girl. Three actively being worked on is practically unheard of! In addition I've been reading books on fit and fabric, examining patterns more closely to work out how and why they were drafted and have re-watched many episodes of the Great British Sewing Bee and the House of Eliott. So what is going on?

Put frankly, I've needed to claw back some control and sewing has done precisely that. Being able to plan projects, ensuring fabric is on grain (tearing fabric is amazingly therapeutic!), cutting out the pattern and preparing everything ready for construction is incredibly soothing in a world full of noise, decisions and confusion. The gentle concentration needed for hand basting darts and bias binding to seams has a quietening effect on my mind. Working out how to balance three projects and sew them well but efficiently, without any interruption from others, has been a tonic. I've been taking my time, trying to enjoy every aspect of the process - even when I've realised that I've cut out half a dress and am struggling to get the rest of it from the remaining fabric and keep it on grain. 

But there has been a bigger revelation this week. When feeling under pressure or low, I also re-establish a close bond with “comfort” clothing. Do you understand what I mean when I say they feel safe? They are like a form of armour when I'm out of the house and warm hug when I'm in. This week all of my comfort clothes have been items I have made. I can honestly say this has never happened before. I haven't reached for my oversized university sweatshirt, my cosy green fleece or my pyjamas. Instead I have worn my CeylonMiette, purple Ginger skirt, Cami and my Lady Grey. I have been building an layer that is trying to protect me from life's stresses but this time it is a layer that I have built completely by myself. I have found additional strength and some comfort in knowing this. Does this remind you of Karen's recent post where she describes sewing as providing a coping strategy? I think she is spot on. When you need that extra nudge to help you push on, put on some of your favourite makes and take pride and strength whenever you look at them. And the best part about it? It is completely guilt free compared to comfort eating!

How about you? Do you turn to sewing or something else when you are under pressure? And does anyone remember the House of Eliott? 

Thoughtfulness and preparation

Do you have moments where you look at your creations and realise that they are different from your previous makes? For some it could be a slight change of style or using a different fabric but I've noticed it in the construction.

My last four or five makes look different to my previous completed items and they feel different when I'm wearing them. The difference is so marked, that I've been pondering the reason for this. I don't think it is just practice that is improving them, although certainly my seam finishes are much better than when I began sewing and my gathering is much more even. So what is making the difference? 

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Thoughtfulness and preparation.

I have taken more time at the beginning of a project to think about exactly how I want to the finished article to look and then work out what techniques I will need to make it a reality. I've even found myself jotting down notes before I start (why I didn't do this before, I have no idea!). I've thought more about the inside of the piece. What type of seam finish will look visually pleasing and do the job well? Do I need a lining? Which pieces need reinforcing? 

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All marks are transferred from the pattern including every notch. I always tried to do this but often found I had missed a few vital markings, which isn't helpful when you find out you have set a sleeve upside down! Clearly I was too slapdash about this. Not any more. I double check everything before I unpin the pattern. Which brings me nicely to cutting out.

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This is where I have really noticed the difference. I always took my time carefully placing the pattern piece on the grainline but I didn't bring the same attention to cutting out. I was happy for the edges to have nicks and be a little uneven. The problem with that though, is matching the edges is not easy. I've even had items where there was about an inch difference in the length! The fixes needed when this happens are not ideal and often mean the item doesn't get finished. So I've slowed down a lot, which makes the cutting out process even longer as I'm quite slow at this part anyway! It is worth it - my edges match neatly and finishing them is much easier. Hemming no longer has the same amount of dread attached to it, which we all know is a bonus!

So what about you? Have you had moments like this? 

Work vs Play: How do you decide?

Since I started working I have often debated over which clothes in my wardrobe should be for work and which should be for play. Every morning I look at my options and ask that question. I've also noticed that this has got worse since I started sewing. For some reason, in my head, there needs to be this distinction. I'm not really sure why, it is just there. Yet the reality is different. I noticed when I reviewed my wardrobe a few months back that a lot of my clothes fall into both camps. 

Obviously there are items that do fall into only one camp. I have an outward facing office job which means I need to look to smart. There is no way that I would wear the short blue lace dress I own or the shorts that I am about to make in the office. Jeans sometimes sneak in (like today, when I can get away with it!). Similarly, I am unlikely to wear the trousers I have for work at the weekends.

However, the majority of my wardrobe falls into both camps. Practically everything I have made has been seen at work unless it was for a specific occasion. This morning I left the house in a rtw jacket (which I dearly love) and while I was waiting for the bus I realised that my Anise would have looked better and yet I'm not sure I want to taint it with the "you've been worn at work" thoughts that circulate every morning.

Perhaps I should just make some items for work. Perhaps I should make more items for home and move some of the loved items to the work camp. Perhaps it doesn't matter at all, and it shows that I have a wardrobe that I love and want to want to wear whatever the situation. It is strange - I don't have the same thoughts about shoes or bags. 

Anyone else have similar thoughts? How do you decide to split your wardrobe? I'd love to know.