When I started learning to sew, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Let’s go on a trip in the way-back machine. It’s the mid-90s, and I’m in high school. About 90% of my clothes are black, as is my waist-length dyed hair. When I’m not doing homework or listening to Bauhaus in my bedroom, my friends and I are shopping at all the local thrift stores, cobbling together unusual and sometimes downright bizarre outfits from others’ castoffs.
Most kids have the same concerns that we did. We wanted to figure out who we were and where we stood in the world. We wanted to play and experiment. Clothes were one of our tools.
I decided to learn to sew because thrift stores weren’t cutting it for me anymore. I wanted to take that sense of play and drama and self-exploration further. I wanted to create the person I was becoming, and that included the clothing I wore.
By and large, teenagers are supremely self-centered creatures. I say this with love and sympathy, because I think that self-centeredness is important. You have to be a little self-centered sometimes if you want to figure out who you are and what makes you tick.
That teenager still lives inside me. My tastes may have settled down and I don’t wear quite so much black, but some of that same motivation still pushes me to sew and make.
As we get older, we lose a lot of that self-centered introspection. We gain responsibilities like family, businesses, kids, jobs, bills. Each of these competes for our attention and emotional energy until there is nothing left for us. We don’t have the time to play and explore. Other things seem more important.
Sewing lets you be a little selfish. It lets you rediscover all those questions you asked when you were 16:
- Who am I?
- What am I like?
- How do I want others to see me?
- How can I express myself in a way that feels true and creative?
- Why can’t I be different from everyone else?
- Why do I have to take myself so seriously?
…And if you’re 16 now (or 14 or 12), even better. Sewing gives you a perfect outlet for exploring all of these questions and more.
Making your own clothes isn’t about becoming a masterful seamstress or producing clothes that look just like ready-to-wear. Those are nice skills to have, as far as they go.
The real joy comes from exploring who you are, bringing more creativity into your everyday life, and gaining skills you can be proud of.
Here’s to being a little more selfish and having a little more joy.
[image credit: Andreas Adelmann]