I actually don’t love sewing right now.
A blog post about how the pandemic trampled my coping mechanism.
I used to be able to rage sew. To channel it and not be angry about the little mistakes I made, but I don’t trust myself anymore. I couldn’t even if I wanted to. The pandemic slowly wore me down and it spoke its warning so loudly and so publicly that I didn’t even notice it transform me. Call it languishing if you like. I’ll stick to labelling it apathetic, or even angry, certainly desperate.
A year since this begun, and I have barely been able to find the motivation to pin an image to a Pinterest board for a make. For months now I haven’t been able to trust myself or the multitude of skills I have honed through repetition over the last few years, to really commit to much. If practice makes perfect then languishing makes for stupid mistakes and a growing distrust of my intentions.
I lie awake at night panicking that I’m not doing the thing that used to bring me joy and I’m permanently furious with myself when I try to do any sewing. The sheer amount of will-power I have to muster to cut out a paper pattern then commit it to fabric is staggering.
People tell me they recognise this feeling, that they’re struggling too - I wish that took the edge off, but it doesn’t because I have leaned very heavily on sewing to help me navigate tumult and anxiety. I feel like I’ve fallen out of love with something that used to be one of my only forms of genuine self care. Sure, sewing is frustrating. There are moments in each project where maybe you want to tear your hair out, but I have always felt sure I’d be able to return to it with renewed vigour one day. Things don’t just fall out of your brain like coins from a purse.
But over the last few months, there haven’t been many makes where I haven’t ended up crying or furious (one of the only things I've successfully made has been the Sophie Hines Axis Tank - seen/linked below). Most makes get folded up (if they’re lucky) and shoved on the ‘to-do later pile’, but the more those projects build up the more I have a physical representation of ‘Roisin can’t sew anymore’ to contend with.
I’ve taken every measurement - my bust, my hip, my waist in particular - every month to check the garment will fit and noted it down in my makers journal. My only true dedication to journalling the changes we’ve been through in the last 12 months. It always varies by an inch or half an inch either way and makes me paranoid that the project I cut out last month will no longer fit. Will I have the energy to get it perfect? Is there even any point in trying if it’s already wrong?
I’m so hyper aware of my measurements, what they used to be, what they’ll likely be now. But with the same stroke they mean nothing, it’s like I’m trying to do complex maths when it used to be art. Didn’t I used to sew for joy?
I keep saying to myself, I’ll step away from my machine for a while and when I come back to it I’ll feel renewed. Yet the less I do it the more panicked I am about ruining fabrics, breaking my machine, worrying that I just don’t love sewing anymore. Things that seemed so simple, like pattern piece tessellation, or how to work with particular fabrics, I am incapable of doing without messing up and I keep thinking about my therapist saying down the phone to me “Look for the burden of proof, Roisin. Write down all the evidence you have for that thought being true”.
With black and white thinking you’re supposed to ask where the evidence is that you’re ‘not good enough’ or ‘your workmate hates you’ for example, and 9 times out of 10 it doesn’t exist - what a relief. But the more mistakes I make, the less motivation I have, the more the Problem Project Pile stacks up, the more I want to shout ‘There’s your damn burden of proof PHIL!”.
The truth is I would rather languish than sit at my desk and stare at a pattern that used to make sense but now seems to be written in Cyrillic. I’m trying to be nice to myself, but no matter what I try nothing seems to shift it and I’m sure I’ve lost my most important coping mechanism. It feels like opening the door and expecting to see my therapist, but to my horror I’m back in the sweltering attic room of a turret in Trinity College with my first year professor asking over and over again what I don’t understand about Hobbes Leviathan whilst the other students look on in embarrassment.
Today, I cried on my floor because I couldn’t make all the pattern pieces fit onto a piece of fabric that I *know* they fit onto. None of it made sense and it was the 3rd or 4th mistake of this type I’d made today. My partner wrapped his arms around me, but I was so white hot with rage that faced inwards towards myself that I didn’t feel worthy of accepting that kind of kindness - and kind and thoughtful suggestions for ‘taking some time away from this’ or ‘going to get some fresh air’ seemed like confirmations that I’m never going to be able to get this back.
I’m so determined to push through, but none of this feels like fun anymore. It feels like labour. Sewing is doing nothing but triggering my 'maladaptive perfectionist traits' as Phil calls them - where it had been the very thing I offered up as a solution to Phil this time last year. “Sewing is the only place that those habits don’t really appear in my life, that’s why I love it so much.” I guess a year trying to find distraction from everything and anything in sewing, of cocooning, our world’s constricting, our friendships becoming dependent on entirely online interactions, of sinking deeper into consumption of imagery and video and being jumpy in supermarkets because people are getting too close, will really do that to you.
The little fabric piles feel like they’re goading me as I write this, but I’m too annoyed to touch them either way. I’m hoping writing something will unstick it all, but like driving I know it takes a lot more perseverance and probably a lot more kindness towards myself before I get to move forwards again. Getting something out there is a good way to process the feeling - as Phil used to say, and that is the first step to feeling better.
NB: I wanted to write this for myself as a way of channeling my feelings somewhere during Me Made May - but I also know that a lot of you are feeling similarly, or have struggled with creativity during the pandemic. You’re not on your own there, feel free to drop me a DM if you want to just get it out - and don’t fall into the trap of thinking everyone on instagram is creating 24/7. This is your reminder that it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows despite what you might see. I recommend unfollowing people if their content makes you feel bad - even unfollow me if I am contributing! Social media is there for you to use, not to let it make you feel terrible. Take breaks, write it down and follow people whose posts bring you joy.