I have a history of trauma dating back from a very young age, and as a result have battled daily to function - through eating disorders, depression and a level of anxiety that just sits like a fluttering bird trapped under my sternum sucking all of the joy out of life. It is almost always there - even and often especially, in what are supposed to be the happiest moments.
The start of the UK Lockdown was immensely triggering for me & I started my Facebook group Stitch Sewcial because I knew if I, as someone who spent years in and out of therapy and who was pretty good an functioning effectively these days was finding it hard, others who might be on an earlier stage in their journey to healing, if they'd started at all, would be finding it frightening and overwhelming.
Much of the time, when people have experienced trauma, their brains respond by creating patterns of behaviour that come in to play when there is a perceived threat. On a very basic level, this is what anxiety is, your body keeping you in high alert to future threats because of the pain it has experienced from past ones. You can see now how the Pandemic, for someone who had experienced this was a major flashing beacon because for the first time in our memory the threat was REAL.
So, Stitch Sewcial was born, in a hurry without my usual prior planning and over thinking, actually on the same day Cornwall Scrubs was born too (it turned out to be a busy month LOL) and I wanted the group to be an uplifting and joyful space where sewists of all skill levels, gender and genre could come together, share their work, ask questions and cheer each other on. It's important isn't it? To have someone tell you that something is good and you did well, especially as you're learning... I can't imagine a kid going to school with no one ever telling them that they're getting something right. It's part of growth mindset - and it's vital to success in life, I feel.
Not many of us live in houses with other people who sew - and our partners and kids are wonderful I am sure, but peer support is a very different kind of support!
When the GBSB left us, I decided to carry on the momentum with a monthly sewing challenge called Get Set Sew which keeps everyone on their feet and helps push boundaries and learn and develop new skills (though participation is entirely optional of course)
In my face to face classes the focus is on community and togetherness, jelly babies feature heavily (I'll do a blog post about the jelly babies factor on a later date) to lift it from class-room to community, we sit in a circle, and the group is never more than 6 so that everyone feels they can chip in and chat during the down times. In the early stages of new motherhood, when I first started teaching, these classes were for me a glimpse of something normal and not baby related, and over time, with students booking back on to other classes, they have become as much about seeing friends and making new ones as they are about the all important income stream.
Covid could have killed my business, and all my face to face teaching has stopped, but thanks to my amazing husband who has more faith in me than I've ever had in myself (work in progress, it's getting better!) and who also happens to be a professional photographer and film-maker (you can find his beautiful film The Yukon Assignment on Amazon Prime) I managed to pivot. He quite literally got his camera out - told me put some mascara on and we filmed the who beginners and intermediate courses during the toddlers nap time in the lockdown period. Imposter syndrome and perfectionism would have stopped that happening had we not been in that unique set of circumstances, and I am forever grateful because it has shown me that I have the potential to grow a digital community alongside a face to face one, reach more people, and have a greater impact.
My first beginners class which I'm beta - testing this month has just sold out with 10 days left until we start, and the buzz and vibe in Stitch Sewcial is super lovely. I came over all soppy yesterday and went live to say thank you to them. What a team of gorgeous people.
The next pandemic that is going to grip us when Covid is water under the bridge will be our collective mental health : PTSD, stress, anxiety, jobs lost, domestic abuse survivors living with the legacy of a three month lockdown, grief at losing loved ones either from Covid, or from something totally unrelated. Mummies who have given had to navigate pregnancies and births with their partners banned from sharing the journey with them. The list goes on and on and on. Massive life rituals affected by restrictions on our liberty. Funerals being interrupted because a son wants to sit next to his grieving widowed mother to hold her hand and comfort her from Less than a 2m distance.
Trauma is real. It doesn’t have to be war zones or horrendous car accidents. It doesn’t have to be violent and dramatic and cinematic. On a very basic level Trauma occurs when our bodies nervous system is overwhelmed into a fight flight or freeze response, and is flooded with stress hormones.
You can experience all of the drama but if your nervous system is not soothed straight away back into calm, long term damage can occur. If someone gives you a hug, provides you with support and care, if you feel listened to and supported and held and if you are able to understand how to calm yourself and process, then something relatively traumatic for one person can have no long lasting effects in another. This is the basis of Polyvagal Theory ( look it up, it’s flipping changed my LIFE )
No, we haven’t been in a war zone this year. But we have experienced collective trauma, some people soothed and soothing, and others alone and still in a heightened stress response.
I personally have had a year like I’d never have been able to imagine and it has literally brought me to my knees triggering things in me I thought I had long since dealt with.
I’ve found a new groove now, checked back into therapy and started to do the work again. I have no shame in sharing that, I want to live my best life, and there is still work to do. Life is short and after a HUGE and very painful life lesson this year in putting others above everything else I am using my impending 40th birthday to pull up the draw bridge and work on getting it right before it’s too late. You never know what is around the corner. I have sewn, boy have I sewn, garments and garments and garments, and it has kept me afloat, but there is no shame in admitting that you need some extra assistance, and asking for it when you do.
So, Be kind, talk to each other about everything. Take the time to listen, put a hand up if you have something that needs saying. The more I talk to people the more I realise we all have a story to share that others can learn from.
You are an incredible human being, you deserve to be ok, to feel safe, to be heard, to share your stories. There are so many places to get help if you need them but I would personally recommend these things (apart from sewing obviously):
Polyvagal theory : look up Irene Lyon and Steven Porges on YouTube - GAME CHANGING
Trauma and the body : read ‘the body keeps the score’
Obviously in Cornwall there’s outlook southwest though CBT didn’t even scrape the surface of my issues it’s hugely helpful for many.
Hypnotherapy totally works and got me through a very traumatic medical procedure without having a nervous implosion - Body and Mind Hypnotherapy
If you have experienced any kind of domestic violence the Women’s Centre in Cornwall offers an incredible programme called Pattern Changing. I think you can self refer. If you aren't where I am most Women's Centre's will offer a version of it.
EFT (EMotional Freedom Technique) is a practical and useful thing to do when you’re triggered into a stress response. There are many qualified folks about.
And talk. Share it. When you offer your story into the universe and you look for an answer, it comes. It really does. I’m living proof of this.
My door is always open, you don’t have to deal with this stuff alone.
And if you fancy taking up a new hobby or meeting others for some sewing fun - join in with the lovely members at Stitch Sewcial, it would be so lovely to have you there xx
Overall, it was relatively easy to put together but it was after I thought I'd finished that I started to have problems!!
Earlier this month I hosted a flat pattern cutting workshop for the members of my free facebook group Kernow Sewcial witb Jef Newsam of Spinone clothing.
Jef is an expert pattern cutter and we wanted to provide an intro to patten cutting by working through the instructions for Winifired Aldrich's incredible pattern cutting method for a basic bodice block.
My dressmaking stand - who Jef has christened 'Doris' is a standard size 12 in old sizing (before we vanity sized) which is slightly small than me in bust and quite a lot in hip, but about right in waist. I wear a UK size 8 - 10 depending on the shop I am shopping in which gives you an idea about why some of your shop bought patterns may not make up to your usual size and why you must ALWAYS measure your body and look at the finished garment size numbers to work out which size to actually make for you.
We worry about sizing - but in reality it is just numbers. I will write another post on this more another day.
So I made this pattern in a size 2 which is a size 8 even though my measurements worked for the 'made for' measurements of a size 3 (10 ).
This is because I could see there was a LOT of ease built into the garment and i didn't want it baggy and oversized. Overall this was the right strategy...
However when I made it up (in a hurry with no toile - slap wrist!!) I was rather dismayed to find that not only did it protrude flat at the shoulders (leading me to ask if I had slopey shoulders) but it also had a terrible gape around the armhole.
I am so fortunate that we had Jef and that workshop because in looking at the standard bodice block it became clear that the armhole needed to be much tighter (with more angled shoulders) and that this terrible 'make' wasn't as a result of my crap body after all.
I have said that out loud because a lot of my 'stuff' boils down to a self perpetuating inner narrative about my shape being crap - a hang over from a few years of disordered eating and a lot of other stuff besides. However I know that I am not alone in this.
The reality was that it is actually to do wit the drafting of the pattern and its relationship to my shape, which is a HUGE difference in story!
Because I had already made it - I sold the problem my sloping the shoulders more, and putting a dart into the arm hold to bust point giving a rather pleasing shape actually, which I am glad about!
A few final points on this pattern...
I think it should be lined. I am a bit obsessed with lining things because it raises something from good to lovely in terms of fit and hang and is so simple to do. It allows you to make something that truly feels like a quality garment... I might actually make a lining for this as part of a live in Kernow Sewcial, if I do that I will be sure to share it with you.
Finally - the press studs. BOY did these drive me to the edge. I had some sent by my amazing local fabric store Truro Fabrics but partially because I am cack-handed and partially because they required a bit of bulking in the seam, it didn't work out. I then tried some of the made in China variety on amazon but wasn't convinced by their rust-proof-ness and they came with no instructions and I finally solved it with some heavy duty press studs in antique brass and a fitting tool kit C by Hemline. Suddenly it all came together very easily.
Overall I am really pleased with this now - it fits nicely and is what I had hoped for. It could do with pockets, but then couldn't everything!!
Have you made this? How did you find it?
One of the things I cover in Back to Basics the online sewing course for beginners and refreshers, is how to change a sewing machine needle.
How often to you change your needle? Did you know you should change it for a fresh one every 3/4 bobbins full? Or at the start of every new project?
A blunt needle can cause all sorts of issues - including problems with stitches ... when you're troubleshooting a problem with your machine, changing a needle is one of the first things you should do!
Did you know that when the dressmakers made Kate Middleton's wedding dress they changed their needles every 3 hours? It's so important for precision and optimum use from your machine..
But do you actually know how to change a needle on your own machine? If not - watch this short video I made to explain it, it's a sample lesson from LEARN TO SEW: Back to Basics, my brand new online course launching 29th October - I hope you find it useful!
I'm so thrilled that my sell out beginners sewing course is now online - It has been 6 months in the planning and recording - with 66 video tutorials and all the hand outs to accompany it - but its finally here!
I never thought that in 48 hours I’d go from awkwardly trying to operate a sewing machine to feeling confident enough to want to try some simple dress making.
Back to Basics is beginners and refreshers sewing class covering all your machine basics, how to thread, sew, troubleshoot tension, change a needle, adjust stitch length / width. You will make 5 completed projects over the course and it will set you up for solo sewing! Work the comfort of your own home on your own machine so you can really get to know it. Detailed instructions, handouts and clear video tutorials.
I run this course in a closed Facebook group, with both recorded videos and regular weekly zoom calls for anyone who is struggling to understand a particular aspect of the teaching that week.
This brand new online class begins on 29th October for 5 weeks. Each week we will have a live (optional) zoom call to check in and share progress, and then I will upload the course material for the following weeks.
Each session introduces a series of skills for that week, which are consolidated into a weekly project - each of them practical, gift-able and useful!
I will teach this course a maximum of 6 times a year - and after this launch the next opportunity won't be until 2020 - so if you've ever want to master your machine, bite the bullet and join us today! Next year the price will go up too - so grab it at the discounted rate while you can :)
A comprehensive foundational sewing course, 65 video lessons, one year access and live support as you go for £85 - what's not to love!? You can book yourself on here
Here are some of the things that past students have made as a result of being on this course:
Come and join us! It will be so much fun :)
Sewing. pattern cutting, teaching, tea and Jelly Babies!