The Christmas Dress
* This is a paid blog submission. Guest contributors receive a small fee along with their choice of fabric to use for their selected project. All content, thoughts + creative are the guest writers own.
People often refer to their sewing practice as a form of self-care and I couldn’t agree more. I want to contribute another dimension to this subject and explore how learning a new skill can also be a form of self-care. In my work as a social worker and therapist I have had the privilege to see the extraordinary changes that can occur in people, in their relationships to themselves and others, when they find something they love and that they love to learn. For me, it has been this way with sewing.
What I have found in my sewing journey is that much of the joy for me comes from mastering new techniques and “levelling up”. Sewing is self-care for me for many reasons. Of these, perhaps the most significant is the very act of learning to sew. Learning necessarily requires us to stretch, to grow within ourselves and reach for something new and different.
It’s been a very long time since I’ve had a new dress. In my pre-kids urban life I used to rock a dress. My dress wearing days faded away as the lifestyle changes of moving urban to rural, the body changes associated with having children, and a more restrictive budget, started influencing my clothes choices.
I had yet to sew a dress. There was something about the size and scale of sewing a dress that I found daunting (and still do to be frank). As well as my pragmatic objections to the general frivolousness of a project that was not likely to yield a “high rotation” garment. Nevertheless, this holiday season I thought: why not? It’s been a crummy year for dressing up. I’ve barely socialised at all and I’ve been working from home in jogging bottoms for months. And, after all, I was invited to a Christmas Party!
I chose the Elodie Dress by Closet Core Patterns and the project started strong. I toiled the bodice for size and as soon as I started sewing I was enjoying myself. I love the inverted pleats and the shape of the bodice with that plunging V neckline. Then I set to work on the real deal.
This beautiful ikat has quite a loose weave (but is nevertheless opaque) and so while it shared some useful properties with cottons in general (it holds a press forever and was straightforward to cut) I did still feel I needed to “handle with care”.
The colour is luscious. The fraying revealed that the fabric is actually woven with a combination of black and bright blue threads. The overall effect is this incredible navy which changes depth in different lights and just pops against the white triangles. It also became deliciously soft with handling and I can report it is a joy to wear in warm weather.
I was full of confidence. This dress would be beautiful! I would look great in it! It was going to come together easily and efficiently! Oh wait… I was soon reminded that comparatively longer projects test my patience, I feel myself wanting to rush, and cut corners, and this requires discipline to resist. And, predictably, I hit some road blocks. All of which were amplified by the knowledge that my work was going to be on more-than-usual public display.
Suddenly I was full of doubts. Embarrassment even. This isn’t good enough. I’m not good enough. The triangles don’t line up. The pockets look ridiculous. There is too much gaping. How did that happen? Who do you think you are? Why would you do this? You can’t take good photos! You don’t have anything valuable to say about this! What were you thinking?!!?!?!
In the midst of this sudden “maker’s turmoil” I took some time away from the sewing and I let myself sit right there in the discomfort. I reminded myself of something I say to my clients, that the most effective forms of self-care are often not about doing things that are comfortable. In fact, self-care is very often about doing things which are profoundly uncomfortable.
I let myself slow down and take a more critical hard-nosed look at the problem. What needed to happen to fix this? I unpicked things. I recut the pockets. I hand-sewed every hem, the waistband and the facing. I made a conscious decision that I was prepared to take steps backwards in order to move forward. And another, that I was prepared to accept imperfections. The result of this mindset shift was tremendous and immediately paid off in a quality garment and one I am so much happier with than I at one stage expected to be.
How was the Christmas Party? I’m glad you asked. I was all frocked up, complete with makeup and heels and… my daughter woke, utterly distraught from an unusually timed nap and there was no hope of going. She needed to be at home. She needed me to be at home. So I hugged her, in the dress, on the floor of our room, until she was ready to let go again. And it didn’t matter: the dress had already worked its magic.
Because pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone necessarily requires a little self-belief, or at the very least, some faith. It requires sitting in discomfort, in those feelings of not knowing, inadequacy and doubt. And then, waiting on the other side, there is growth.