The resilient sewist

TW: death, grief and burnout

I started to sew clothes 10 years ago, next July. It’s a weird thing to know the date of, but I remember it as it’s the summer my father died.
I was lucky to have a great relationship with my dad so the months following his death were the worst of my life.

I left the city for the summer, to get some space to grieve and spend some quiet time in the countryside. At Christmas that year, my mother had given me a small sewing machine since I wanted to learn to sew, but I hadn’t used it much yet. When packing to go join her, I figured I might as well bring the machine with me. Being alone in a village where I knew no one for a couple of months sounded like a perfect excuse to learn new skills (and yes, it also sounds like a Hallmark movie setup).

Earlier that year, when I had decided to learn to sew, my goal was to finally gain access to the vintage wardrobe of my dream (finding true vintage as a 5’7’’fat woman being almost impossible). That summer though, while I worked through grief, family stuff and a plethora of very intense feelings, I discovered that sewing could be so much more than pretty clothes. Through sewing, I found a new way to manage all the stress and anxiety and fill, for a few hours a day, that hole in my chest. I might have broken down crying more than once as I was sewing that first dress (grief is a sneaky little bastard) but being able to focus on a task that I enjoyed and that gave me a huge sense of accomplishment and pride, was like a little raft I could hold on to when everything else was just too overwhelming.
I wore that dress a lot despite all it’s wonkiness and flaws, and every time I wore it, it made me feel good. In part because I had made it and fit me better than anything before, but also because it reminded me that I was strong and resilient. At the risk of being cliché, it was a reminder that I could get through anything.

I continued to sew that year, once I got back to my normal life. The more items I sewed, the better I felt about my fat self, the more confidence I gained. That was probably the weirdest side effect of grief and my coping hobby; the one I had expected the least.

However, I don’t think I realised how essential in my mental health tool box sewing was until a few years later when I hit a rough patch at work and I started to view sewing as an act of self-care, a way to show kindness to myself and slowdown. When the rough patch turned into burn out, I had to take some time off work. I am very ambitious and have high standards for myself professionally: this was not, to say the least, a great time for my self worth and confidence, both personally and professionally. I sat on my couch for a week, devastated and lost: I was not, in fact, unbreakable.
And then, I turned to sewing. I needed to accomplish something, to regain a bit of confidence in my skills, no matter which ones: I picked something challenging and started to work on a tailored wool coat. Whenever I had a good day, I would work on it, even if just for a few minutes. I finished it on time to wear it on my first day back to work a month or so later.

I know plenty of non-fat people who use craft to manage their stress and anxiety. However, as a fat woman, when life gets rough, being kind to my body and loving myself are often the first things that go. It becomes very easy to turn against this body of mine (in small insidious ways) and stop caring for it. Especially since these events can impact how my body looks. Sewing is a deliberate act of self love and a way for me to stay grounded in my body, not ignore it. Investing time, attention and, yes, money, in making something for myself helps my mindset to go back to, if lucky, self love or at the very least body neutrality.

It hasn’t been easy to be kind to myself, sitting at home with my cat this last two months, while I’m being bombarded by fatphobic memes and my body is doing whatever it wants. But knowing that I can make clothes that fits me and make me feel beautiful and comfortable is unbelievably reassuring and helps me get through the tough body image days as well as these anxiety filled times.

Noémi is a semi-regular sewist and knitter from Montreal, Canada. When she finally take decent pics of her memades, you can see them @noemirouleau .

1 comment

  1. I’ve been sewing all my life, but never have I needed it more than in the months and years following the loss of my husband (and our home) in bushfires 11 years ago. Even now, and especially when the triggers are rampant (definitely fire season, anniversaries and heightened anxiety), it takes me to that place where I have control, I call the shots and the world rights itself for that brief moment. It’s funny because I get really frustrated and anxious and “drop my bundle” (my anxiety/panic attacks/PTSD) when things get out of control outside of sewing, but if my machine stuffs up, I cut something wrong or sew something wrong it’s never a problem, just do it again, tweak it or nut it out. You can’t bluff your way through sewing. It’s transparent, true not fake. You can’t hide behind the “ no I’m ok, see here I’m smiling so it must be true” facade. Sewing takes those raw edges and begins to heal them, mend them. I find comfort and peace in making clothes that are mine, I feel proud wearing my makes, making something substantial and something “living”, a 3D garment from a folded up length of fabric, just WOW! I did that!!!! I am thankful that there is a slice of this world that makes sense in chaos, thankful when I am in the company (be it virtual or IRL) of sewists, especially those of us in the Fat Sewing Club.

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