I have a confession to make. Like many others, I’ve picked up a quarantine hobby.
No, I didn’t start baking bread or start painting along with Bob Ross videos. Okay - I tried to make bread but couldn’t figure out proofing at altitude and got sick of eating my failed attempts, so I have resorted to buying my bread from local bakers.
I started sewing. And I’m a little bit obsessed.
The story of how I started sewing actually goes back to when I was a child. I learned to hand sew (as in, use a needle and thread to physically stitch things together) in elementary school. I was probably around 7 or 8 years old when my mom told me she was tired of sewing on my Girl Scout badges, showed me how to thread a needle and told me to start sewing my own badges on my vest. This was, of course, before all the badges became iron-ons. I still have fond memories of one of my first projects: my Daisy t-shirt-turned-pillow, which was basically a t-shirt that we took and filled with cotton batting, before sewing the neckhole, armholes and hem shut.
Later on, I started sewing my ballet slipper elastics with clear thread. I remember trying on slippers, marking where the elastics would go and how they would cross over each other, and then making very messy stitches to attach them. I even sewed my elastic and ribbons onto all of my pointe shoes. Somehow, despite my stitches being very messy and chaotic, none of my slippers or pointe shoes ever fell off my feet.
I forgot about this skill until, like everyone else, I had to figure out how to make some masks earlier this year. I cut up some pillowcases and t-shirts and started handsewing the into masks. This took forever, literally hours per mask, so I started looking at sewing machines.
Machines were sold out everywhere and I wasn’t able to get one until July. I spotted one on the Joann’s website for $150 and figured it was a low-risk investment. When it arrived, I picked up some fabric at my local craft store and started sewing some test items like a sewing machine cover, laptop sleeve and kitchen apron.
Those projects went relatively well, so I branched out into garment sewing. I also discovered the Love to Sew podcast and was promptly hooked. So far, I’ve made aprons, tank tops, dresses, a jumpsuit, a jacket, a pair of pants, a skirt, a tablecloth, placemats, tree skirts, fabric buckets, and an outfit for my dog, Mochi. I’ve got plenty of patterns and fabric cut out to make more projects, and even started dipping my toes into vintage sewing machines.
Oh, and obviously I’ve made plenty of masks. Literally so many masks.
My sewing machine used to be on a tall table in my second bedroom/office, but I’ve since relocated my entire setup to our basement. I’ve got 2 entire tables for sewing and shipping supplies (oh right, I also launched a second business), and 2 large containers of fabric. Most of my holiday weekend online shopping was related to sewing. It’s really become a big part of my life.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about why I enjoy this craft as a hobby and why it excites me. Sewing stretches both the creative and engineering sides of my brain. Since it’s a new hobby and skill I’m learning, it fulfills the part of my brain that always wants to be learning and improving, too. Understanding garment construction is also so interesting to me, because I love fashion and I have a huge appreciation for well-made garments.
I have to say there’s also an element of control and certainty that comes with buying fabric, cutting it out and following instructions that is somewhat soothing during this time. Being able to make something with my hands can’t completely compensate for things that are out of my control, but it is reassuring to know I can whip up a pair of pants in an afternoon.
And at the same time, there’s an ethical and sustainable clothing angle to this, too. Sewing my own clothes means I know who made my clothes (me!) and I can do a fair amount of research on the fabric I buy and purchasing decisions I make. This takes a lot of research time out of my clothing buying process. If I choose to buy new fabric, I choose to buy more sustainable fabrics like linen and tencel. I can also buy deadstock (fabric that comes from designers or other sources that would’ve otherwise gone to the landfill) or secondhand fabric (fabric purchased and not used, or garments) to make garments, and minimize the amount of net new consumption I participate in. I can even repurpose old fabric or thrifted bed sheets into practice garments, aka muslins or toiles.
Like many others, I’ve also discovered that the sewing corner of the internet, and particularly Instagram, is extra supportive and inclusive. Everyone is nice and helpful (okay, besides the people who post racist and xenophobic comments in vintage sewing machine groups), and willing to offer their experience to help you fit a garment or find a pattern. The community of sewists I’ve met and interacted with are the biggest reason why I’ve started preaching about sewing to anyone I can, and a huge reason why I continue to enjoy it.
As I’ve learned over the past few months, sewing as a hobby is far from dead or outdated. And since I’ve invested so much time, energy and money into the hobby already, I’m considering challenging myself to make all of my clothes (with a few exceptions, like socks) in 2021. Stay tuned for details.