Cards on the table time. I've been in a quandary over whether to submit an entry for the Sewing Makes You Love Yourself challenge (SMYLY 2018). There are some profoundly touching and thought-provoking experiences emerging all over sew-cial media and for a while I wasn't sure that what I had to contribute would be worth reading. Then I realised I was over-thinking it. And that, in itself, is the very reason why I decided to share my story.
Truth be told I, like many, suffer from anxiety. Some days are better than others and, generally speaking, I am much better at dealing with it now than I ever have been before. Sewing has been a big player in finding positive mental health and just generally feeling much happier about the skin I’m in. For this reason, I think it’s worth saying at least a word or two on a side of me that I don't often publicly share. I should say at the get-go that I am certainly no medical expert. Anxiety is as broad as it is personal and I can only talk about my own experience.
But first, a bit about the challenge... Sewing Makes You Love Yourself was set up by Hattie van der Krohn (Instagram, YouTube), Athina Kakou (Instagram, You Tube) and Lisa Kisch (Instagram, YouTube). It is a challenge to raise awareness of the positive effect that sewing can have on mental health and body image. All you have to do to participate is to share a little of your own experience in these two areas and produce an item of clothing that makes you feel great. More details can be found on the lovely ladies’ feeds.
And now, my story… For as long as I can remember I have suffered with anxiety. I have a vivid memory as a teary-eyed 6 year old facing my first sports day. It was the night before (night time always was, and still is, the worst time for me) and I was sick with worry. Nothing my parents said could console me. I was convinced that I would be a complete failure. I would come last in every competition and everyone would laugh at me. I had a childhood medical condition too which, with hindsight, definitely heightened my emotional fragility.
Over the years, that fear of failure has continued to be a source of stress and, at times, has been debilitating. Somewhere between then and now I have tried lots of different treatments from hypnotism to Emotional Freedom Therapy (EFT) to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). The first couple of approaches didn't particularly help at the time; however the CBT is what really gave me a better understanding of the different types of anxiety. I discovered that I 100% fall into the ‘catastrophiser’ category. The 'what if' category. Always assuming the very worst outcome of every situation, just in case, so that you are prepared for what you think is almost inevitably going to happen. If I didn’t check the oven 10 times before I left home, the house would almost certainly burn down. And on top of that came perfectionism. A toxic mix that, at times, became a real strain on my mental wellbeing.
Finding mindfulness in sewing... As a naturally anxious person, sewing has helped me to find calm and regain a sense of logic. Through sewing, I have found mindfulness. The very act of making a garment enables me to focus my attention and shift my thoughts away from overdrive. Whilst I am still not completely free of all anxiety (I am a human after all), over the years, I have learnt to understand it and found ways to deal with it. In short, sewing is unquestionably one of the best tools I have come across for maintaining positive mental health. What's more, I feel I have been able to channel my perfectionism into something productive!
And body image? Aside from mental health, the SMYLY challenge also promotes awareness of positive body image. Although I can fortunately say that I have been less affected by this issue in recent years, I am a big advocate of how good a handmade wardrobe can make you feel. When I’m wearing something I made myself, I walk and hold myself differently. And feeling great on the outside goes a long way to feeling good on the inside.
Introducing my Chole Coat..
I was unsure what to make for this challenge until my new Sew Over It Chloe Coat was fresh off the machine. That’s when it dawned on me that this was the perfect item. A garment that took a lot of love and attention to detail (a true act of focus and mindfulness) but also one that I would wear day in and day out - and, as I said before, wearing handmade makes me feel great.
I purchased the wool from Misan West on the Goldhawk Road in London. It was the end of the bolt so I got a really great deal. The green lining was also from one of the fabric shops along the same road, a perfect complement - although not as pleasurable to work with! The pattern itself came together very well and, although quite roomy, I love the finished product. The inside looks as polished as the outside too which is always a bonus. Plus it was the first time I have used the label stamp that that my lovely husband had made for me at Christmas.
With all my handmade clothes comes a particular association with the time I made them, where the fabric was from or what I made them for. I will always think of my Chloe Coat as my SMYLY coat!
SMYLY has altogether been a really thought provoking exercise. Big thanks to Hattie, Athina and Lisa for hosting the challenge and to all those who have contributed. Life is not always as picture-perfect as social media can make it seem and it has been great to see so many people sharing snippets of the stories behind their images, realising so many of us share similar experiences. I feel lucky to be part of such a wonderful group of people who bring with them collective experience, wisdom and support. Go team!
And in case you wondered what happened about sports day... I did go. I was in the red team and participated in every event with relative success. With the exception of a black eye caused by a rogue beanbag, it wasn't nearly as bad as I had imagined.