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by Elena Tran
December 17, 2020
Another year has passed and 2020 was the most stressful year for all of us. I don’t know a single person who didn’t feel anxious or depressed at some point during this year. I cannot imagine how I would have coped with the pandemic blues if I didn’t have my sewing hobby which became my full-time business. When I sew, I forget everything and everyone around me. This is what the scientists call “the flow”. My studio became my sanctuary, the place to melt away the worries. Why is sewing so good for us? I looked into a sewing hobby specifically, but any hobby can have the same positive effects. Spoon-making or pet grooming are just as beneficial.
I can honestly tell you that when I work on my projects, the days just fly by and I feel so happy every day. And I am not the only one who feels this way. In a study of more than 3,500 knitters, published in The British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 81% of respondents with depression reported feeling happy after knitting and more than half reported feeling "very happy." (Wilson)And have you ever watches someone do the needlework? The experience is hypnotic, I can assure you.Another study at Harvard’s Medical School Mind/Body Institute found a reduction in heart rate of 11 beats per minute and a fall in blood pressure during knitting. (Knitting, Needlepoint, Sewing, Stress reduction and Yoga) This is a very beneficial physiological response, especially for those with high blood pressure. If these results were not enough to convince you, in another study of quilters, the participants identified that the use of bright colours in their projects had uplifting effects on their mood, especially in the winter. (Emily L. Burt) Making something pretty in beautiful fabrics and colours always helped me deal with extreme stress and winter blues as well.
Sewing belongs to that intellectually stimulating activity that provides constant learning opportunities. After you learn how to sew a straight skirt, you move on to another challenge to make a pleated skirt or a skirts with godets. And you can challenge yourself indefinitely. Just keep changing your projects to keep yourself mentally stimulated. Anyone who tried pattern drafting and alterations agree that they involve complex thinking and problem solving. These types of activities are the subject of an unfolding research on brain neuroplasticity (Ackerman). The idea is that our brain constantly relearns and adapts throughout our lives and it is possible to slow down the brain degenerative conditions by constantly challenging our brain to new tasks. The neuroscientists agree that constantly learning new things or starting a new hobby can prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and that it is never too late to learn new things.
In addition to new learning of challenging skills which improves brain function, sewing leads to the great sense of accomplishment, improved self-esteem and satisfaction. Every time you complete a new project, you advance a step or two and celebrate the small victories. You feel even better when other people comment and complement you on your clothes. And when you daughter asks if she can borrow one of your pieces, well, that tops the cake.
I can tell you with confidence, that I formed the best friendships by connecting with the people in the sewing community. They are honestly the happiest people to be around. We share gladly and do not judge because we understand that sewing is a gradual skill- building process. You have to walk before you run and simple projects sometimes turn out to be the most difficult ones. In one of the studies of quilters, the participants reported that they formed strong friendships during their meetings and praise from others boosted self-esteem and increased motivation to complete the projects. (Emily L. Burt) I had a similar experience when I attended the sewing courses at a local college. Our classes were so relaxed and positive. Not all sewing skills are enjoyable to everyone and there is no need pretending that sewing is all fun. I think I had to use my seam ripper a thousand times when I was in school. However, support and encouragement from like-minded people helped me get to the finish line and bring the final projects to the show and tell.
I hope that all these proven benefits will encourage you to start sewing. You don't need to get the most expensive sewing machine or fancy fabrics and gadgets.
Learn what tools you need to start a sewing hobby.
Start small and build your skills gradually. Make sure you have good lighting setup and your work station is comfortable. Change your activities and project often to keep your interest going. Join the most fun and relaxing community of sewing enthusiasts!
Emily L. Burt, Jacqueline Atkinson. The relationship between quilting and wellbeing. March 2012. <https://academic.oup.com/jpubhealth/article/34/1/54/1550848>.Knitting, Needlepoint, Sewing, Stress reduction and Yoga. n.d. <https://www.stress.org/knitting-needlepoint-sewing-stress-reduction-and-yoga>.Miller, Kori D. The Psychology and Theory Behind Flow. 12 October 2020. <https://positivepsychology.com/theory-psychology-flow/>.Sewing and Related Procedures: Ergonomics. n.d. <https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/sewing/index.html>.Wilson, Jacque. This is your brain on crafting. 5 January 2015. <https://www.cnn.com/2014/03/25/health/brain-crafting-benefits/index.html>.
Why should I make a mockup or toile when I have a pattern? Isn’t it overkill? This concern comes up often so I think it’s important to clarify the importance of making a mockup, or a test run of your garment, also known as the toile or muslin.
Your mockup should be a shell of your garment that you can actually try on complete with zipper, collar, pockets, sleeves and any relevant pieces of detail, such as marked or drawn placements of your buttons and buttonholes, and even a rough drawing of applique, embroidery or beadwork.