Sometimes you find yourself in a place you'd never expect or even know is possible. It’s happened to all of us too many times to count, right? Well, I’ve found myself over the last few months in just such a place and I’m using sewing to get me through.
I’m a pattern designer and up until 7 months ago I was also a sewing teacher. My dream job. First hand, I was able to see the life changes that come when someone learns how to take a flat piece of cloth and turn it into something. It can be truly magical! I’ve seen sewing mend a heart from a broken engagement and give someone who’s no longer a caregiver a sense of purpose. It’s helped those people who have, like me and maybe you, had a life change.
2 years ago I started feeling not quite like myself. It’s actually a long and drawn out story that I won't bore you with but over a period of several months and many doctors, I found myself plagued with vision issues, body weakness, numbness, fatigue, speech problems and difficulty walking and navigating stairs. My family, friends and students watched me change and I tried to hide my problems but it was getting more and more difficult and scary. After 16 months of doctors I landed in a brilliant university neurologist’s office and she ran hoards of tests and found I had Lyme disease. What? Shocking for all of us since they say “Lyme disease doesn't exist in California” which is a dirty lie, by the way, that thankfully my doctor didn’t believe. I was losing my sweet mom to pancreatic cancer at the time of my diagnosis so I put off treatment while I took care of her. Soon after I said “Goodbye” to my mom, I underwent treatment that cleaned out the Lyme bacteria but left me with additional nerve and muscle damage. Thankfully, I’m now on my way to recovery with physical and occupational therapy and the help of an army of family and friends.
This really is going to be about the blouse, I promise.
Before this all happened, the “things” that made me tick were sewing and distance running. I now walk very slowly with the help of a bright blue walking stick I named “Eileen” which is an improvement over my former walker which I didn’t name (probably because I lost my sense of humor for a bit there). I may not be a distance runner anymore but I am happy with the leg progress I’ve made as I can walk further as each month goes by. My hands have not healed quite so quickly so sewing has turned out to be difficult and I’ll go so far as to say disheartening. But given my new disabilities/changes I’m trying to figure out how to get back in touch with myself while feeling separated from the things that made me tick (pun completely intended).
But we’ve all been here. Well, maybe not exactly here but here in the sense that we all have hiccups and interruptions in our lives that take us away from the things that make us us. In my case it’s physical but maybe for you the interruption was a wonderful thing like having a baby, getting a new job or moving to a different city or something difficult like being a caregiver or recovering from a loss. So how do we find our way back? Or, the better question is how do we stay in touch with ourselves while embracing our current situation?
Pretty philosophical for a sewing blog, but those of you who consider yourselves “makers” and you have trouble “making” for whatever life reason have all pondered this.
I can tell you the solution to some of my problems started with this shirt. Who knew McCalls 7360 would help me climb this hill? I call this shirt the “Happy Shirt” for obvious reasons, it looks happy. But really this should be dubbed “The Occupational Therapy Shirt” not as sexy a moniker but certainly accurate.
When I first tried to sew after my treatment, I wasn’t strong enough to cut fabric and could only sit up for a short period of time. It was discouraging and thus I stayed away from my sewing room. I had ideas and the desire to sew but it was difficult to bring myself to try.
With my initial sewing failure fresh in my mind, one of my first occupational therapy goals was “to cut fabric.” I’m not sure my therapist has ever had a patient with that goal but there it was. With practice and by using both hands (and the help of new easier scissors from my thoughtful husband and son) I did it! Since this went well I decided to really use sewing to help me heal. My next goal was to make a shirt with a collar. Don’t you just wonder what my therapist thought? My therapist said “Okay, in how long? Let’s quantify it. Don't think about how long it would take the “old Diane” but how long it will take you now.” “Well, the 'old Diane' would make this in 4-ish hours so the “current Diane” can do it in 8 hours. I’ll allow myself twice the time.” I said. “Great! Keep track of your time and let’s see how it goes. If it takes you longer it doesn’t matter, just do it.” She said.
Setting goals has always worked for me and this new goal freed me up to walk into my sewing room, turn on the timer and start. Somehow this approach separated me from the disappointment of before and the sadness that comes with thinking about what I can’t do anymore and allowed me to move forward. More than 14 hours later here it is, my goal achieved! Yes, it took me more than 3 times what it would’ve before and the quality of my work is not the same but the maker in me is alive once again.
My doctor recently said to me when I asked how long it would take me to recover “We aren't going to talk about time, we are only going to talk about progress.” You can imagine how hard it was for the impatient me to hear that. But I thought about it for a few days, really digested it and decided to own it. It’s been just about the most helpful thing I’ve heard. I made something. That’s progress. We aren’t going to talk about the time it took.
I’ve physically adapted to so many things and I can adapt my thinking too. It doesn’t matter how many things I make in a month or how perfect they are, I just need to make progress. Are you here too? Have you had a baby and you don’t have time? Can you find 15 minutes twice a week to make progress? Did your life change involve moving to a different place and you don’t have room to sew or a job where you work more? Can you pick up some hand work that will move your skills forward as you work in your kitchen or on your lunch break?
Sewing is a great way to help me get back to me. I watched it happen in my students and now it’s my turn.
Oh and by the way, I loved this pattern and the butter soft Robert Kaufman corduroy from Fabricland. I made a contrast under placket, tab and collar facing with 1/2 yard of the cotton lawn print. I even had enough of the floral to bind the sleeve seams so the rolled up sleeve looks finished. This shirt is a keeper…for so many reasons.
If you made it to the end of this very long blog post, I thank you for taking the time. It felt good to get it out.
Happy Sewing Friends!
Heeeey my French friend, I’m sorry to hear your story but relieved to know you are on the mend! I bet this happy shirt will a reminder of what you can do at your weakest .... it only gets better going forward, the next shirts only going to take 11 hours (insert laugh here)
3/1/2019 11:40:48 am
Bon Jour! Thanks! The real surprise here is I stayed with it for 14 hours...one shirt. Every time I see #slowsewing I giggle. I'm the mayor of slow sewing city and I'm proud of it.
3/20/2019 04:40:55 pm
Thank you! The sewing thing has always been a thing for me and I'm glad it's here to stay! And it really is making me stronger all while I'm making a new wardrobe. Win, Win! Take care my friend!
3/19/2019 05:46:05 am
Truly a wonderful reminder. To focus on making progress, however small or slow. It is hard to relearn something you were once fluent in. I cut a tendon in one of my fingers and cannot play music any more as I used to, ... but perhaps the trick is not to expect, just to aim to improve. Such a beautiful happy shirt - a testament to your perseverance.
3/20/2019 04:46:10 pm
It's really true what you say. Aiming to improve is the key. I'm sorry you've had an injury that keeps you from doing what you once could. It sounds like you've been through something like this too. I wish all the best for you!
7/3/2020 01:30:01 pm
Thank you so much for sharing the link. I feel so blessed to hear your journey and get to know you better. You are a true inspiration. I can’t wait until we get to share your journey. Ann
3/14/2021 12:43:25 pm
Hi, I'm a new reader and fan of your patterns and I just wanted to tell you this post really resonated with me. Sewing was a big part of my recovery from postpartum depression. I'm glad you found it helpful too. Thanks for your thoughtful writing!
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Hi! I'm Diane, a wife, mom, sewing teacher and pattern designer from sunny Southern California. I share my sewing adventures here on the Blue Dot Blog formerly Gatorbunnysews. For more info click here.