When I announced to my readers at msmindbody.com that I wanted to learn how to sew, I got a couple of well-meaning emails from readers counseling against it. I was pregnant at the time. Being a mom takes time, they said. So does being a writer, and a wife, and a yogi. Don't burden yourself at this point in your life.
I saw their point, and certainly appreciated their concern. But I went and signed up for that sewing class anyway. Because there's something about getting lost in a craft that is so satisfying. Even soothing.
I haven't finished too many projects since then (now almost three years ago). But I did make curtains for my daughter's room and an apron for myself. And re-purposed some beloved old flannel jammies as hankies. (I'm really good at squares and rectangles—circular pieces still scare me.) And…well, that's about it. But not only did I enjoy the process of making them, every time I see or use one of these items I re-experience some of that simple pleasure.
In the name of inspiring you to re-consider learning that hobby that's capturing your imagination or diving back in to something you used to do but have let go, I interviewed Judi Ketteler, author of the just-released (and fabulous) book Sew Retro: A Stylish History of the Sewing Revolution + 25 Vintage-Inspired Projects for the Modern Girl (Voyageur, 2010) about how--and why--sewing is such a big part of her life. Enjoy!
Q&A with Judi Ketteler
You started sewing when you were 16—without giving specifics, let's just say that was a long time ago. Can you give an example of how your hobby has helped you through a stressful time?
I don’t mind saying that was 20 years ago! When I was a super-busy, three-job-working, overachiever in college, I was worn down to the bone by the end of each semester. The first thing I would do, almost the minute the last exam was over, was dig into my pile of fabric and start sewing. Working with my hands, playing with colors, piecing fabric together, negotiating fabric through the machine, picking out things like trim and buttons: it all fed my soul, like flipping the hourglass back over so the big pile of sand is on top again. Without sewing, I think I would have crashed and burned.
And right this second, sewing is helping me deal with the anxiety of being pregnant with my second child--I can’t control if this baby will sleep or nurse well, but I can decide exactly where I want the rickrack to go and how big the pleats should be. For me, sewing is about losing myself in the creative process and the ensuing calm that happens when I do that, as well as the satisfaction of finishing a project. It keeps me grounded.
You're a mom, a busy entrepreneur, and an avid runner (Judi recently completed her third marathon). How do you make time for sewing?
That is the tough one! For the most part, I sew at night, after my 2-year-old, Max, goes to bed. Sometimes, just working on something for half-an-hour makes me feel better—it doesn't have to be five hours uninterrupted. I do, after all, need to also spend time with my husband! Sometimes I can also squeeze in some sewing on the weekends during naptimes. I know that after the baby comes, my time will be even more fragmented and it will take a while to feel creative. I’m okay with that. I know that the creative juju will find me again.
What is it about sewing in particular that you find stress relieving?
I love thinking about it and planning for a project. I love the shopping for supplies, and also the rummaging around in my scrap basket trying to find fabrics. I love digging into a pattern and figuring it out, or doing my own sketch and trying to work out the details of how it fits together.
Sewing uses a part of my brain that doesn’t get used enough in daily life and it activates some sort of pleasure center. Also, working with my hands just feels really good. Seeing colors and textures come together and getting lost in a project gives me a great Zen feeling.
That’s not to say that it’s never frustrating! Sometimes a project just doesn’t work out or I make a big mistake and get all irritated and have to walk away for a while. Sometimes I have to scrap a project altogether and it gives me this unfinished, bleh feeling. But as soon as I get going on another project, or fix the mistake, that feeling goes away and I forget about the frustration.
What advice would you give to someone who told you that they don't feel they have time to pursue their hobby?
I think we all have this running script in our head that says “I’m too busy for that.” Weeks might go by where that is absolutely true. But overall, there are pockets of time if you start looking and prioritizing. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed and feel like you have to complete the whole project right away. Just take it as it comes and use the little pieces of time you do have.
Also, don't discount how energizing pursuing a hobby can be. I might be dead-tired after Max goes to bed, and all I want to do is zone out on the couch with reruns of Deal or No Deal. But if I can just get my body physically up the stairs and in front of my sewing machine and make one stitch, I almost always feel the energy coming back, although sometimes I really am dead tired and just need to go to bed.
Finally, if you can get the other people in your house on board, it’s helpful. Your significant other might then say, “I’m going to go do XYZ. Maybe you could work on that quilting project you’ve been talking about because I know you enjoy it so much.” A little support goes a long way.