Can sewing make you a happier person?

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We’ve all heard the old saw “Money can’t buy you happiness.” It may be a cliche, but did you know that research has shown it to be true?

People with more money and possessions are no happier than those with less, apart from those actually in poverty. Once we have enough to care for our basic needs, owning things simply does not improve our well-being.

I’ve long heard this and accepted it to be true. It’s pretty easy to swallow, even if it’s the complete opposite of what we see, read, and hear in advertisements every day.

But what if it goes even further than that? What if a consumerist mindset doesn’t just fail to make us happy, but actually impedes our happiness?

This is a position the psychologist Tim Kasser takes in his short book, The High Price of Materialism.

We all need the same things.

Tim Kasser posits that there are three basic psychological needs that all humans share. They are (1) security, (2) self-esteem, and (3) a connection to others.

The problem is, we trick ourselves into believing that these needs can be satisfied by the pursuit of material goods. this leaves us less time and energy to devote to actually satisfying those needs. Of course, this in turn makes us even less happy, and even more vulnerable to attempting to fill the void by pursuing wealth and buying more.

As I read this book, of course my thoughts turned to sewing (as they often do). Sewing is to some extent about acquiring more things, be they clothing or household items. Of course, we make them rather than buy them. But still, I began to wonder, could sewing more and more stuff be just as much of an emotional dead end as shopping? A momentary high when you get something new, but not followed by any sort of lasting happiness? Is that all it is?

The answer is no.

Here is why I think the emotional effects of sewing are the complete opposite of materialism. Let’s think about the three main kinds of needs mentioned:

1. Security

Ok, so being able to sew your own clothes probably doesn’t affect your physical security very much, unless perhaps we’re forced into such dire circumstances that we must be able to fashion clothing from flour sacks.

But in his book, Kasser shows that feelings of insecurity cause us to adopt consumerist habits as a coping mechanism. We buy, often times, because we are afraid of something much scarier than we realize. Growing old. Not protecting our families. Dying. That’s why so many advertisements prey on insecurities and fears, isn’t it?

But let’s face it, shopping is generally a pretty lousy coping mechanism. Instead, we can channel those feelings into a creative pursuit, which I think is much healthier and actually improves our well-being, even if it doesn’t solve our fears.

2. Self-Esteem

Self-esteem is a complicated business, but a big part of it comes from “successfully using one’s competencies and abilities to attain one’s goals.”

Learning and building skills, gaining competency, and successfully completing even the simplest projects has very real effects on how we feel about ourselves. It improves our confidence and makes us believe in ourselves. Contrast this with the more fragile sort of self-esteem that is based on what other people think of you and the things you own.

One is deep and lasting and comes from within you. The other can be shattered at any moment.

3. Relationships

Putting too much stock in material things causes people to value objects and possessions above other people, family, and community.

But sewing, or any craft or creative hobby really, actually gives us an opportunity to create community. Just like this site. Or communities like Pattern Review. Or your neighborhood fabric shop.

As sewists, we can ask each other questions, commiserate over problems, cheer each other on, and inspire each other with our projects. It gives us a very real way of bonding with like-minded people.

Not only that, but it connects generations of people together. How many of us learned to sew from our mothers and grandmothers? This passing of traditions seems so important, not just for the traditions themselves, but for us.

So, can sewing really make us happier?

I think these points apply not just to sewing, but to a huge range of DIY activities, from crafts to growing food to building things with hammer and nails. Whatever your choice of creative activity, there is something about these kinds of practical arts that is deeply emotionally satisfying in a way that a trip to the mall can never be.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think DIY is the one and only path to a good life. But I do believe making things on your own is a grounding experience, and one that can connect us to other people and the best parts of ourselves.

I’d love to hear what you think. Does sewing improve your life in a real way, apart from the physical stuff you get out of it?

Sarai Mitnick   —   Founder

Sarai started Colette back in 2009. She believes the primary role of a business should be to help people. She loves good books, sewing with wool, her charming cats, working in her garden, and eating salsa.

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Comments 102

AnnabelVita annabelvita.com

I’m only a beginner at sewing, but I definitely agree with everything you’ve said here! I also think sewing is good for your self-esteem because it encourages a totally different way of looking at your body – as a neutral shape that clothes can be adapted to fit – and that gives me a totally different feeling about my body than traipsing through shops trying to squeeze into clothes that were made to fit someone else.

Maddie Flanigan madalynne.com

I think sewing makes me happier and I don’t think sewing can be related to materialism and here’s why. Sewing to me is about the process. I am a slow sewer but I like the process of working out the kinks in order to make something absolutely spectacular. It’s less about the end result and more about expressing my creativity.

Nancy

Oh YES – what a wonderful commentary to start the day, week, month, year. I think (our sewing) is such a creative outlet and my latest (find) –connecting on the blogs and sharing this lovely art form is over the moon. It is important to know what others are doing – trying to do – in various ways. The only other connection I ever had was visiting a local shop to view how others “seem” to enjoy this art form. I learned from mother, aunts, grandmothers and am passing along to my granddaughter. The other generation have passed away – sadly – but hope sewing just continues on and on. PS I only see the “younger than I” generation on the computer – except for the delightful ADVANCED STYLE – but what I say to those just starting – keep up the good work and polish those skills EVERYDAY.

Lizzy sewbusylizzy.wordpress.com

Well it makes me happier! After having a very tough start to the year I decided I needed to return to my creative roots – and funnily enough I literally stumbled across your book on Amazon and the rest is history (actually its on my blog).
I work fulltime and have two young children but I find time to sew. While others exercise, do yoga or whatever to relax I’ve discovered sewing is my zen time. When I sew all the chatter of the world subsides and I find peace. I started a blog so I could chat to someone/anyone about my sewing projects and it’s the happiest I’ve been in years. All because of your little sewing book on Amazon!
Which reminds me I’ve got to make a Ginger…

Sarai colettepatterns.com

What a great story, Lizzy. This made my day!

Lizzy sewbusylizzy.wordpress.com

Just goes to show sometimes the best things happen unexpectedly and you just need to be open to new ideas!

Wendeeflys

I agree totally with the points you made. As someone midway through her 50s I get a huge sense of satisfaction when I pull off some new sewing technique or skill. I am quite keen on always trying new things ( in all walks of life) – it helps keep the grey matter active and sewing certainly provides ample opportunity for brain work.

Michelle handmademartini.blogspot.com

Lovely post, Sarai. I would also add that most DIY-ers make things for others at some point, and that also provides deep satisfaction. When my son asks for his favorite t-shirt, and it’s one I made for him, he feels special and so do I. Sewists are generally pretty giving folks!

Thanks for this beautiful perspective.

Sarai colettepatterns.com

So true. I guess that would fall under fulfilling the “relationships” need. Making for others is truly a spectacular way of expressing your love for them. I think because you are giving them more than a thing, you are giving your time, your thoughts, and your attention.

Juliette cuisinecoutureandrocknroll.blogspot.fr

I agree with this too. Of course RTW clothing is cheap (well…not always, I know), but sewing, or more exactly the whole process of getting a pattern, choosing the fabric to go with the pattern, cutting, fitting etc., helps you see what is really behind a garment. Sewing did make me happier for various reasons. I haven’t been sewing for a long time (hardly a year) but I already start to think, when I find something I like in RTW shops, “Yeah, I could totally make that myself if I find the right pattern”. The feeling of community, which you can find on the web or IRL, is also important. Lastly, I found myself chatting with a clothing designer at my local fabric store, discussing fabrics and so on…And last of all, I personnally think sewing, or more precisely following all the steps in the construction of a garment, is helping me get into a more serene state of mind. I don’t do yoga or things like that, but I guess sewing is giving me the same feeling sought by people who do yoga and the like.

Valerie

I completely agree with everything you said! I spent many years consumerizing my wardrobe while working full-time. I now no longer work outside the home and I make/refrashion 75% of my clothing and I am happier and love my wardrobe much more than I ever have. Thank you, sewing!

Emily esposetta.blogspot.com

Sewing has definitely made me happier! Sometimes it’s frustrating but overall it’s given me the confidence to try new things–like knitting, embroidery or quilting–and it’s also helped me realize what’s important to me. I would spend my money on clothes that fell apart quickly before I started sewing. Now I spend my money on fabric and patterns to make my own clothes and accessories, as well as whole foods to make my family’s meals and desserts. I don’t spend as much time worrying if I’m fashionable as I do thinking about what I can make next. Sewing helped me realize I love creating something with my hands–food, clothes, whatever–and that’s what makes me truly happy.

Karen Monteith sewmuchmoreinfo.com

I also agree with the bit about sewing making one happier. I love to do anything with my hands…I love the process of making something by hand. It’s satisfying, enjoyable and takes your mind off other things, especially if you have to concentrate.

Stephanie star-spangledheart.blogspot.com

I’d say self-esteem totally! I’m one of those people who yearned for a creative outlet but was never really good enough at anything until I found sewing. I can take a pile of fabric and turn it into a fabulous garment. How cool is that!

Also, sewing has helped me get to know loads of people in real life. At my church, I’m known as the the girl who dresses fabulously and makes her own clothes. So many people who I probably would never have talked to (because I’m super shy…) have come up to me to talk about my clothes. Some people have even told me that I’ve inspired them to spice up their wardrobe or even start sewing!

Sarai colettepatterns.com

That’s really cool. I’m an introvert as well… I could go on and on about how I think being introverted affects creativity, but I guess that’s a subject for another day. But like you, I do think that learning to express myself creatively has always helped me connect with others in spite of not being really gregarious and outgoing.

Jessie jessies-confessions.blogspot.com

I’m a mother and a writer and sewing is such a great release to me. When I finish a project I feel such accomplishment and it feels good to make something with my hands when so much of what I do doesn’t have a concrete finished product (did that make any sense).

Laura Louise

I have suffered from depression for a number of years. Low self esteem left me unable to complete very simple tasks and I had no security or friends as a result. Sewing changed my life by gradually giving me confidence in what I could do- every small project gave me positive reinforcement. I started attending classes and made like minded friends. Then I felt secure in myself and my future. I am still recovering but day by day I am able to look back and know how far I have come. Sewing has made me happier. :)

Sarai colettepatterns.com

Such a wonderful thing to hear.

Johanna projectsbyme.blogspot.se

Sewing ABSOLUTELY makes me happier. Since February I’ve been home on sick leave from work because of a depression caused by exhaustion and sewing helps me gaining energy. It’s creative, hands-on, the results are satisfying. Also, blogging about my sewing has turned out to be a energy-gainer too for me. It feels great to get encouraging comments on my bblog from like-minded people.

Kristi @ PeetSwea peetswea.com

I absolutely derive happiness and a boost in self-esteem from sewing! To me, there is nothing more satisfying than creating something with my own hands. After spending all day in front of the computer and on the phone, it feels wonderfully productive to have something tangible!

Helen Made helenssewingadventures.blogspot.co.uk

What an interesting post. I do believe that sewing makes me a happier person. On a day to day basis, I have a desk job which offers little chance to be creative. Sewing and all the other draft / DIY things I do it my way of having a release from that and letting my creative ideas free. For me, sewing isn’t necessarily about the actual clothes I make – although it’s great to be able to wear something you put the effort in to making and receiving comments about it, it’s simply about the release from the confines of a desk job. My sewing also allows me to create things for others that I know they will appreciate, and that certainly makes me feel happy.

As you say, the sewing community in general – be it in a store on on the internet offers such a great opportunity to connect with others who have similar interests to you and to learn from and be inspired by those people.

Nina toftsnummulite.blogspot.com

So glad you looked up that book, Sarai! And I think everything you’ve said CAN be true, but isn’t always. I know crafters who only make things in order to get the latest look that they can’t afford to buy (and they usually make those things quite poorly because they don’t plan to keep wearing them once they’re no longer the latest look). I think a lot of us sew more stuff than we need, and although the process of getting that stuff is obviously different to just buying it, I’m not sure the feeling is always that different – for example, I notice many bloggers sewing themselves endless bags! And let’s not forget that we do have to consume in order to make things – a lot of people get very carried away with ‘must-have’ designer fabric collections and patterns. Also I think the hoarding of a fabric stash may well be to do with those fears that Tim Kasser talks about. Having said all of that, I’ll repeat that I think the advantages you described CAN be true – it’s all about sewing mindfully.

Sarai colettepatterns.com

Totally agree, Nina. I sometimes get into a hoarding mentality with fabric. I see beautiful fabrics at the store and I’m afraid of “missing out” if I don’t buy them. I end up buying more than I can really use at times. That definitely sounds like insecurity to me.

I actually have to say to myself sometimes: There are lots of gorgeous fabrics in the world. I cannot have them all. I should buy what I can use right now.

It’s like I need to break the spell or something.

Samantha butterinthefridge.blogspot.com

I have been sewing and knitting all my life (which means about 40 years) and it has given me so much at so many important moments. I have picked it up and then put it down when life got in the way, and yet I have always come back to using my hands. When my first marriage was in decline I would sew endlessly to get away from a bad home life. When I finally left him, knitting for hours on end in my new apartment gave me such solace. When everything else is going crazy, working with your hands to make something for yourself, or a loved one, is the most satisfying thing I can possibly think of. Sewing (and knitting) give me a sense of daily accomplishment, stretch my mind, allow me to daydream when things are stressful, teach me (daily) patience, give me an outlet for my creativity and lastly, but by no means least, make me very happy. All the clothes and quilts and sweaters/socks/hats I produce for myself and my loved ones is just gravy. And delicious gravy at that! I honestly believe that if more people made things with their own hands, be it sewing, knitting, cooking, gardening, woodwork etc., we would be a much happier society.

Wow, this post realy got me thinking. Thank you Sarai.

Kokori twistedyarns.wordpress.com

Thanks for a thoughtful post – and that book just went onto my wish list :)
The correlation between doing, making and being has always fascinated me. I find that the more handmade items I own, the less clutter I need … which definitely makes me happier.
I think the three elements named by the author really come together in sewing, if we allow security to take a meaning beyond the physical.
As was pointed out before, sewing forces and allows you to look at your body in whole new ways – just think of that fifties sundress you never dared making, because just look at that waist! How do the models DO that?? And then you see somebody else wasn’t so timid, and they are a normal person with a normal figure, maybe even a few pounds more than fashion dictates, and they can pull it off. So you give it another try, and it works. You might need to make changes (which will enhance your skills and hence help lowering the fear factor), but you’ll look a lot more fab than you ever thought possible (which will grow your self-esteem), and you did it because you saw it could be done (company).
Yay for happy (making) stitching!

Sarai colettepatterns.com

Wow, yes, so true about seeing clothes on different bodies! I could do a whole post about that.

I think it is SO affirming to see clothes on a variety of body types, even ones different from your own. I think it’s really important for our self image to recognize that beauty come in many, many, many variations.

Jeanine

I definitely believe sewing makes me happier (well, I do have moments when ripping out a seam where the opposite is true!). I love the logic challenges it presents my brain, which make me feel good since I’m learning new ways of doing things and figuring it out on my own. I believe in learning new things until the day I die to keep my mind active, and sewing is definitely one of the more rewarding hobbies I’ve picked up!

Wanett sownbrooklyn.com

My answer is a resounding and definitive YES! My machine has been broken for the last two weeks or so and I am MISERABLE! I was finally able to order a new one last week. Thanks to an extreme level of incompetence on the part of FedEx, what should have been delivered Saturday (after paying extra to get it quickly) is now being sent back to Amazon. I’ve ordered a new one that’s being sent via UPS. I should have it tomorrow. Though, I hesitate to get excited with the experience I’ve been having, so far. If it comes, my equilibrium will be restored and my guaranteed happy will be back. For even when sewing is difficult or not as successful as I want it to be, it never fails to make me feel accomplished and proud. I miss that feeling SO much.

Sarai colettepatterns.com

Wanett, your story reminded me of how I learned to knit! My sewing machine broke down while I was in grad school (and super stressed). I had to wait several weeks to get my new one delivered and I was going nuts not using my hands, so that’s when I took up knitting for the first time. :)

Sallie sallieoh.blogspot.com

“Busy hands are happy hands” that was the adage that was passed down through the women in my family. Sewing involves your mind and body in a very real way. You work towards a goal, you complete the goal, you begin the process again. I think all creative work is wonderful for staving off idleness – which for me is the real beast.
I think for me the main thing I’ve felt since sewing and blogging was the community connection – the relationships. This was the one thing that I found was hard to foster in my everyday life and it has indeed lead to a greater sense of peace and happiness and support.

Annie K

I couldn’t agree more! I learned from my mother (who was the font of all knowledge worth knowing) that if you’re feeling the blues, picking up something, whether it’s a needle, a charcoal stick, a piece of wood, or a lump of play-doh, and making something with it, is the quickest way to chase those blues away. It’s an outlet for your creativity and entertainment which results in something to show for time spent. It helps you connect with others who have the same interest, and share your love with those who might receive some of the things you make.

Suzon Grisou suzongrisouinenglish.blogspot.fr

Sewing (and also knitting) really makes me happy. I am working as Marketing Project Coordinator all day…. Working on projects that are not really necessary or useful and even worse magnifying the surrounding consumerism…. Making things for myself or for my daughters really help me feel that I can do things that matter. I started knitting again after my grandmother died last year (she taught me to knit actually) and start sewing right after that. I was afraid of not being able to sew but with a lot of focus, I could really do nice things. I am planning to have a 2-year break to sew and knit even more.
Thanks for this lovely post!

Oklahoma Mom

I think it is depends on what you are sewing, but I do feel better after I have been sewing. It is like it lets up some stress that I have been dealing with so that I don’t think about it so much.

Marliese Thomas marliesethomas.tumblr.com

Absolutely, sewing is a true form of contemplative practice, similar to meditation. To do it well and avoid mistakes (sometimes) it requires completely concentration, no multi-tasking. That includes not worrying about all the other things flying around in my head. As another commenter mentioned, it’s a zen moment.

At the moment, I mostly sew children’s clothing, though I don’t have children (but the Hazel pattern is calling my name), so it is sewing for the craft’s sake. There is a great sense of accomplishment that I can figure out the physics and math of fabric, the pattern, and putting it all together. While sewing itself is fairly solitary, learning to sew, sharing experiences, even just where to find materials has created a wonderful sense of community. The people I have met through online and local sewing stores have been some of the most supportive and creative bunch. Our growing technology has only helped strengthen that, as we can see from these comments alone.

Anna kisstheground.ca

I’m recovering from a near fatal illness. During my long night in the intensive care unit, I had time to think about the people and things that matter to me.  My family (including my dogs) and my good frinds were at the top of the list.  My possessions, my job and money didn’t cross my mind once.  Something surprising that did enter my thoughts though was how much joy I get from creating beautiful things, whether through my writing, quilting or sewing. For me, creativity and the ways that I bring my creative self to life, feeds my soul and, I believe, serves to enrich the world around me. 

Sarai colettepatterns.com

Thanks for your perspective, Anna. This really touched me and made me think about sharing some experiences in my life that have brought these issues into focus for me as well.

Jennifer jennysews2.blogspot.com

I have to agree – sewing makes me happy. I’m a new sewer – just started about two months ago and I can’t stop! I watched my mother sew growing up but I never developed an interest until a “need” developed. My body has changed (got a bit larger) and my budget has decreased so shopping for clothing was one of the things that had to be cut. But then I discovered that many people are making their own skirts, dresses, etc. I thought it was maybe something I could do. Until recently, I felt I didn’t have a “thing” – like my sister has baking and my brother has photography. Well, since I started sewing – this is it! I LOVE it and yes, it makes me happy. I don’t feel as bad about my weight gain and I’m thrilled that clothing can fit me. It helps me focus and its very therapeutic for me.

Ashley at The Feisty Redhead thefeistyredhead.blogspot.com

Definitely agree with the self-esteem part! I feel so great when someone compliments one of my garments.

One thing I struggle with in sewing is the financial aspect. I used to think that I sewed my own clothes to save money (and maybe that was true in the past), but I find myself spending more on fabric than I ever spent on clothing. Now I sew for other reasons — to get the perfect fit, to customize my wardrobe — so I’ve come to see it as an investment in creativity.

Lauren lladybird.wordpress.com

Sewing has totally made me happier – and healthier, in a way (I used both it & crocheting as a distraction when I quit smoking a few years ago :) It worked haha). I find sewing to be incredibly relaxing & so perfect for getting my mind off other problems while I push all my focus into whatever is going on by my sewing machine. It’s great for clearing the mind – for me, it’s pretty zen. It’s taught me patience & that it’s ok to put things down and walk away for a short time if I’m getting frustrated. It definitely helps with my self-esteem – not just body self-esteem, but I’m also totally proud of everything that my hands & mind are capable of creating. I’ve also built many friendships on sewing – it’s totally a uniter! Not only with my blog friends & such, but also real-life friends who meet up for sewing dates. As a bonus, our hangouts aren’t centered around food and/or alcohol (not that there’s anything wrong with that – but a little variety is nice haha :))

Sam alittleofwhatyou.blogspot.com

Sewing definitely makes me happier. It allows me an outlet to express my creativity which my job does not. Even during periods of my life when I haven’t been sewing I’ve always done something creative, be it knit, paint, whatever to give myself that outlet. I couldn’t imagine life without some sort of creativity.

Kim K

I dont sew, although I would like to learn, but I do knit. I enjoy knitting because it’s a creative outlet for my nervous energy, it can be meditative but it can also be challenging. I like having something that is my own, something that I didnt have to buy, and something that will last. Whether that something be a shawl, sweater, hat, scarf, or even something as simple as dishtowels or dishcloths. I didnt have much in the way of fingernails before I learned to knit. Even though I like to read, I like that time spent on the bus or watching something on the internet can be filled with a productive activity. Selfishly, I like receiving compliments on my handywork from other knitters and from people who are amazed that something as simple as sticks and string can make something beautiful.

Sarai colettepatterns.com

I find sewing and knitting to be so complimentary because they require different mindsets and types of attention, but both are meditative. No matter what mood I’m in, I can do something creative.

KC

A very thoughtful post, as usual. I am not sure sewing always makes me happier, as my finished product on me looks completely different than the pattern sketch, but sewing has helped me in many ways. A creative pursuit that keeps your mind and hands busy has allowed me to deal with many curveballs thrown my way over the past few years. My sister, dealing with similar issues, tends to fret and worry instead of staying busy, and it’s been a petri dish of learning for us both. Happily she learned to quilt and it does help. The creative aspect of ‘turning nothing into something’ is very rewarding…even if half of my mis-sized efforts go to friends or the local thrift store. Money-saving? No way. Happier? I’d say yes.

Lynda seamshappy.com

This is so true for me. I am happiest when I up to my elbows in a sewing project.

Lisa

I was in a dark place in 2003, and spiraling downwards. Then I bought a book and taught myself to knit.
I proved to myself that I am smart enough not only to learn, but to teach myself effectively. I have since taught myself to sew, make jewelry, build and customize furniture, garden, do basic home repairs, really anything but cook. And I am so much happier.
Do I thank DIY for all this? Partially, yes, I do. I have a sense of achievement, education, and tangible rewards. I’ve learned a lot about patience (with myself and with friends whom I’ve taught what I’ve learned, as well as with process) and that perfect practice makes perfect. I’ve learned that process and product are different forms of satisfaction. I am no longer lonely (even when I’m alone, I have all this fabric to keep me company!), and my self esteem has improved drastically. I’m still a lot better at shopping for fabric than sewing, but I improve my skills with every project and I get compliments and validation from social circles on all my handmades.

Thank you for the post, Sarai! Sewing is the most complicated thing I’ve taken on, and you inspire me to keep stretching every day.

Sarai colettepatterns.com

Amazing story, Lisa. These stories are really making me think.

Shannon

I completely agree. I always feel better when I finish a project and share it with a friend. I often use sewing as a type of therapy. I also feel this is a lesson we learn as children and forget as we grow older. Children love to create new things and show them to everyone they see. It gives them a sense of pride and self worth.

Jessica ayenforcraft.blogspot.com

I think it’s a fine line. Crafting has changed me as a person, there’s no question about that, but I think that, especially sewing clothing, can veer towards a consumption-oriented mindset where the biggest thrill is about the latest thing you made, and not necessarily crafting mindfully. I know a number of bloggers who struggle with wanting to make at a reasonable pace, and feeling this pressure to constantly produce for the blog – and produce interesting, snazzy, cute, kitschy, elegant, “wow factor” kinds of garments instead of what really fits int our lives and our needs. I often feel it myself. Personally I love the meditative and creative qualities to making my own clothing, but when I feel a certain compulsive obsessiveness come over me, a form of “wantyness” that I associate with overconsumption, I know it’s time to put away the projects and nourish other parts of my life.

Hannairina nordic100.blogspot.com

I have to agree with you. I’m currently thinking of taking a longish break from sewing because sewing and posting new things constantly doesn’t make me feel good. It just feels the same way that buying new clothes weekly does. Consuming.

I prefer to sew and knit for a real need. Like if I have a specific event to go to, it’s enjoyable to make a really nice dress. Or my mittens from last winter have holes in them and I need new ones. I thought really long and hard about starting to blog about my doings because it does add pressure to making and now after about half a year of intensive sewing I feel like there’s nothing I need and that has sort of taken away my motivation.

Sarai colettepatterns.com

Yes, absolutely. I think that’s why I like doing the creative challenges like the palette challenge. I like those bursts of high productivity and the motivation, but it’s not a pace I want to sustain.

Lately I keep looking at my wardrobe and thinking how I don’t really need more clothes. But I like to sew for the joy of it. I think that’s a good place to be and I hope to stay there.

Nina toftsnummulite.blogspot.com

Exactly – that “wantyness” (I also think of it as feeling “wanty”!) can absolutely apply to sewing just as much as to shopping. For me that kind of anxiety comes up when I’m particularly tired or worried about something.

christine burns

I’ve just flicked through your thoughts here and want to take time to read properly but I just thought that buying RTW never fills me with the pride and such a sense of achievement that i get when I put on something I’ve made.

It is also so much about sharing which is a more profound thing to do than shopping

Shirley sewingbyshirley.blogspot.de

Sewing definitely makes me happier! I’ve always told people that it’s “good therapy.”

txbunny

I was lucky to learn to sew as a child from my mother and grandmother. For sewing has always been empowering for me – it allows me to create anything from fabric for my home, alter rtw clothing so it truely fits, make repairs, and create new clothing when needed. Because of this skill I can create/alter/modify anything made of cloth to suit my creative vision for my life. I need less because each item suits me. To me this is truely powerful.

Tina

I was just having a conversation last night with a friend about why I sew. For me, I began sewing because I simply could not find clothing that fit me in stores. I’d spend hours in every store in my small city and not find anything that I felt comfortable, or beautiful in. The ability to sew clothese that fit my body definitely helps in the self-esteem department; I don’t think about what I am wearing because I am not constantly adjusting and I can focus on the important things in life.
I feel sewing also keeps me sane. As a mother of a small child there are so many days when I feel like I spend all day cleaning only to have toys on the floor at the end of the day. Or as a teacher, I finish grading a stack of papers only to be confronted with another set. With sewing, when I finish a project I am done and I only sew again when I want to.

Graca sewessentiallysew.blogspot.com

Yes, sewing does make me happy. I will admit that I refuse to sew for people in general because I found that most people are looking for someone to do things on the cheap and will take advantage of my sewing ability if they think they can get away with it. And I do get stressed when people try to push after I say no. Those people can go shop at Target and H&M (no offence to anyone who shops there, they do cater to a market and good for them). But I do like sewing for others, on my own terms. I like sewing little kids clothing for my friends’ kids and in the past for my niece and nephews, recently my niece’s graduation party (prom) dress and baby clothes/pj’s for Christmas Hampers. Besides, I find sewing on my own terms relaxing and being relaxed makes me happy.

greta

a wile ago when I was having a really hard time handling my depression and anxiety diy-ing and sewing helped me to go through it. it always gives me the feeling of being part of this world and not loosing the connection to myself. for me crafting and producing things with my own hands is indeed a very big part well.being and happiness.

Ana

I really like this post. I like beautiful things, they are important to me and make me happy so yes that makes me a little materialistic I guess, but I try for it to not give me any sense of self worth. Like you mention in your post that is a trap of materialism. And I agree with all the things you say about sewing; building skills, building self esteem, community, etc. Sewing is definitely all those things for me. And I see sewing as a creative outlet not a materialistic endeavor. However, when my consumption of sewing related things like patterns, fabric, notions, etc. outpaces my actual sewing, that’s when I step back and contemplate exactly the issues you bring up. I think we’re all guilty of overconsumption in some aspect of our lives, even when it comes to the thing that make us happy, like sewing. I know I am. So the lesson for me is that the act of sewing is what really makes me happy not necessarily having this or that fabric. And that’s what can be hard to keep in mind.

Marliese Thomas marliesethomas.tumblr.com

So many of you have said such wonderful things! It is great to hear how an enduring craft has touched so many lives and made a real difference.

I think of materialism as wanting something for appearance’s sake, or to prove that you have it. Not only having more, but having brand. Something I have gained from sewing is a better appreciation for the quality (or lack thereof) of ready-to-wear. I’m willing to pay a little more to invest in a better-made item because the waistline is faced or the bodice is lined. And boy do I read fabric content labels!

Sometimes, though, I feel like an overconsumer of fabric. How many of us are guilty of the exploding stash? Especially given that fabric is not always cheap (well, the good stuff, at least). In this sense, it takes reminding myself of the mental benefit to justify the expense. And to justify the time away from my family and other activities, to say it’s okay to prioritize this solitary thing over anything else.

Jessica is so right about people expecting from you. And I don’t even blog about it to have that pressure. But once your friends identify you as someone who sews (sewist, sewer?), watch out. I’ve somewhat intentionally developed a reputation for being an unreliable completer of on-demand work until requests stopped. The ones most likely to receive are the ones who expect nothing, usually because I like them, or their child, or the kid happens to be the right age/gender for an outfit I’ve completed.

I also try to have two or three projects available of varying levels of difficulty. That way, if a complicated piece is driving me up the wall, I can whip out a little jumper and get some instant gratification. Or I can go watch tv and work on some embroidery.

Claire thecottagerevolution.com

Really lovely and thoughtful post. Your statement that making things helps ground us is so true. Making anything by hand helps one better understand the process, which in turn helps one become more in touch with the value of things. And I believe that understanding the true value of things is a large part of being happy.

irene

I enjoyed this post. I sew less than a year now and I can definitely say that sewing made my life fuller and gave me a sense of accomplishment that no intellectual activity alone has given me. Actually my husband has commented more than once that I seem much happier since I started sewing. It’s not about the clothes really, because I realized that I am more interested in the process than in the end result, as others have mentioned. I have completely lost my interest for clothes shopping (although I now shop for fabric, so the effort to keep my consumeristic tendency at bay has not stopped). I also like the idea of sewing for other people and being able to offer me-made presents. Overall it is much more empowering and fun experience compared to the short-lived satisfaction that a purchase can give you.

Dorien

It does, it really really does. I love to dream away, sketch, improvise. I love to feel inspired and be able to try out new things. I love how my grandmother says it must be in my genes because two of her brothers were tailors (though I’ve never met them, and I’m self-taught). My other grandmother, who passed away last year, always wanted to see every single part of the dress or top I made, complimenting me on it, even though it wasn’t perfect. And yes, it stopped me from shopping for things that never suited me well anyway. I also love the fact that, when I do go shopping, all I can think is: ‘I’m not buying that, I can make that myself’, and because of that having a bigger budget for shoes to match my dresses. I don’t love that everybody’s asking me to hem their pants though :-)

April

Thank you very much for this post. I have been feeling very down and haven’t really felt like doing any of my sewing projects. This gave me just the push I need. I always feel much better after I finish a project. I just needed to be reminded how doing DIY projects can help you feel better.

Kat coutureacademic.wordpress.com

I’m sorry you’ve been feeling a little down lately, we all get like that. I recently went through a down phase and what really helped me were my ladies on my favorite sewing forum (www.thesewingforum.co.uk). It’s really great to have a supportive team of like minded individuals behind you when you feel down. It’s also nice to read stories of others who feel/have felt the same way and how they got their sewing mojo back!

What also really helped me was to slow down and put love and care into every step of the process and turn down the self-judgement. I can be quite hard on myself when stuff doesn’t rise to my high expectations – and that doesn’t do much for the ol’ self esteem!

I wish you all the best, and would encourage you to take up a simple project in a fabric you ADORE and love it up. :)

Sarai colettepatterns.com

Totally agree with Kat about doing a simple project in a gorgeous fabric to ease you into that feeling of accomplishment. I love rediscovering that feeling.

liza jane lizajanesews.blogspot.com

I love this post. And, YES, sewing does make me happier. I especially like the description of how it builds self esteem. I’ve noticed that the more I sew the less I am concerned about what others will think about what I’ve made. Seems counterintuitive, but I’ve noticed a shift in thinking.

Rosi rosibutton.blogspot.com.au

This is a beautiful post. Thank you so much for sharing.

Helen

Sewing -and any creative, nurturing process- is an important part of keeping your mind active and building your dexterity. I find a calmness in the focus and planning. The finished products, even the imperfect ones, are a great source of satisfaction and pride. I thrive on the challenge of sewing.
It’s very quick and easy to fill some emotional need with shopping, but I find the satisfaction to be just as quick and easy to fade. I get bored with my favorite store-bought items. But I am always proud of the work I do with my own hands. And my family is proud of me too. Who can claim the admiration of their loved ones over a store-bought dress?

Meg@Mood moodfabrics.com

Not only can sewing make you happier, sometimes it can even lead to fantastic jobs and careers…

Kat coutureacademic.wordpress.com

Self-esteem is a complicated business, but a big part of it comes from “successfully using one’s competencies and abilities to attain one’s goals.”

This struck me. What a great definition of self-esteem and how true. I know that I feel terrific about myself when I’ve fought through a difficult area of my project and came out victorious. I suppose that’s because I challenged myself and used my skills and competencies to attain my goal. Interesting.

For me, sewing isn’t about acquiring new items of clothing, this is just a nice bonus. I LOVE the process and am always a little sad when a project ends..and can’t wait for the next one.

So yes, sewing unequivocally makes me very very happy :)

Lydia

What a lovely topic. I have been sewing on and off for about 20 years — since I was 19 or so. I feel a sense of accomplishment after I complete a project. I think sewing fills my body and mind with creativity, and a sense of joy. Sometimes, when I sew too much, I feel like I don’t really need so many skirts, but they are fun to make, so does it become a project, a utilitarian item, or a creative process – or all three?

Lately however, I also enjoy buying things I cannot make, or that would take much longer (and create much more anxiety) to make. For example, I would like to work with knits, but I become very frustrated, so I usually buy my knit dresses, and sew my wovens — a happy medium I guess.

I have made several items that I am very proud of — 23 of the garments in my closet are sewn. I have a bit of a complex about my sewn items — I tend to sew more retro style and romantic styled items, while I buy edgier items — I don’t know why my buying style is different or my sewing style, but it likely stems from the fact that I try to sew what I cannot buy, or a better quality version of what I cannot find. Overall, sewing clothes give me joy, though some things I make (just like buying as well), I don’t wear as much as others, and therefore, the joy was in the process, rather than the product. I hope this makes sense — you have given me much food for thought!

TOS

It sounds like the book author just took the three middle levels from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, skipping the foundational physical needs and dropping (for whatever reason) the crowning self-actualization, the level that Maslow described as encompassing creativity. That is where I think sewing would fit for many people today.

Sarai colettepatterns.com

He cites Maslow, of course. He just has a different take on how these needs fit together. I encourage you to take a look at the book itself, because at least I thought it was interesting and compelling.

Also, I think the reason he left out some of the needs is that this is a book about consumerist materialism, and perhaps that is the level at which it operates for most people.

I often think about the hierarchy of needs in relation to creative practices like this, and I agree it’s clear that sewing is at the top of the pyramid in that particular theory. But I think it’s interesting to think about these other psychological needs and how creativity can fit into them.

Alice

Sewing is my meditation, unless, of course, it’s not going the way I want it to. But even then, I love the feeling of accomplishment I get when I’ve figured out a tough fitting problem, or changed the details on a project and ended up with something wonderful.

Liz busylizzieinbrizzy.blogspot.com.au

I think sewing and blogging about sewing has really helped my self-esteem. Now there are pictures on the net of me, it has really helped me accept my shape more and I am happier about it. Also, being a sewer I feel I am not constantly bombarded by magazines of “perfect” models, I instead follow blogs of normal people which again has helped my acceptance of myself as I am.

Trang

I started seriously sew about 1 month ago. At first I was quite frustrated at the whole process from getting the right fabric for the pattern, the right colored thread, to cutting and sewing my own clothes. My boyfriend reminded me that I have to enjoy the whole process in order to produce the the best thing with care and love, and good things take time. I only made a few tops and they all turned out wonderful because I actually took the time in every single step. I gained so much knowledge not only about sewing, but also about myself. It’s like I’m taking my time to understand my body, my interest, and why I like the things I like. I feel so much more confident about what I wear and my brains can not stop thinking about more and more creative things. I think sewing is a pathway to happiness and enjoyment in my life. Thank you for your lovely post. I made me smile.

Lauren astitchtoofew.wordpress.com

I agree with you, Sarai, and a lot of other commenters by saying that there is a sense of satisfaction that comes from creating (or fixing) something with your hands. Having a physical ‘thing’ to show for hours of hard work is immensely satisfying, and indeed the process of creating that thing, whether it be through sewing, knitting, building, or whatever, often takes much intellectual energy as well as skill or craftsmanship. I also think that in the current world where we are all sheltered from ‘failure’, crafts or other manual tasks such as sewing, which are inherently prone to failure of some sort, enable us to appreciate that our mistakes are an important part of learning (they certainly are in my case and I’m still struggling with this point!).

In case you’re interested in reading more on this topic, I read a couple of other books as well as Kasser’s last year: ‘Shop Class as Soulcraft’ by Matthew B Crawford makes a case for the value of working with one’s hands, and ‘Affluenza: When too much is never enough’ by Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss analyses the effects of over-consumption and is an excellent read.

Thanks for a great post, Sarai!

Sarai colettepatterns.com

Thanks for the recommendations! I’ve read Affluenza, but not the rest.

Gaenor bygaenor.blogspot.com

I have been a stay at home mum for the past 6 years, and I was really beginning to go crazy with the lack of mental stimulation, until last year when I dug out my sewing machine and got started. Since then I feel so much more fulfilled and confident both in my ability to do stuff and in the choices I make, even if they are just related to design/colour.

I had this odd revelation the other day when I realised that actually, I don’t ‘want ‘stuff and that we as a family are very happy to fix things up rather than discard and replace. It was a really satisfying moment (even if our children do have unbounded faith in our abilities to make and mend).

Elizabeth elizabethlarsson.com

I read about a study that showed that while buying material things doesn’t contribute to happiness, buying *experiences* (e.g., a trip) can make us happier. As soon as I read that, I thought of sewing, because that’s something that has definitely added joy to my life over the years. Every time I’m buying fabric or patterns or notions, it seems like just a material purchase (haha, so to speak), but I think what I’m really doing is buying items that will contribute to the later experience of sewing.

Peggy inmaterial.etsy.com

I’ve been a sewer, crafter, creative person my entire life and I can definitely say that these pursuits have made me a happier, healthier person. Sewing reduces stress by allowing my mind to focus on the task at hand so my mind doesn’t wander to things I could worry about. I retreat into my creative world while shopping for fabric, sitting at the machine, even ironing my sewing projects!

Suzzles

After reading this blog entry, Saria, I just have to share a story with you: Many years ago, while I was racing around the house working myself into a pressured frenzy, snapping at my kids, husband, dog, etc., my 10 year old confronted me and said, “would you please just go upstairs and sew for a while, you’re driving us all crazy!” So I did, and I felt better.

Jen mommymadebyjen.blogspot.com

Several years back a study was done by researchers at Cornell University which found that women who sew had less/lower levels of stress. For most people, less stress means that they are happier. Ergo, sewing makes you happier. I’ve found this to be true for me, and I use it to remind my husband of why he supports my fabric and sewing addiction.

Rachel

I really feel that sewing grounds us like you said. It reminds me of my grandma who is now passed away, who sewed for all her 8 children and all her grandkids and professionally. It reminds me how giving she was, always thinking of others and what they needed or desired. It reminds me of being a kid and how her creativity filled the house and inspired me to sew, although it was when she was gone and I was much older, I always had that desire. Especially when sewing or any DIY is a giving, sharing experience is it special. I used to have an empty feeling when shopping…now I have a purpose when sewing! To share, to give, to accomplish! It has built my appreciation in hand made things tremendously.

chibidani

I sew as a way to relax. I’m also teaching my girls to sew already, even though the oldest is only 6. While I didn’t actually learn much sewing from my mom since I started sewing as an adult, I was exposed to her sewing when I was young, along with my aunts and grandma. It really is a generational thing.

Tiffany amazonsews.blogspot.com

I have to say sewing really gives me what I need sometimes. Sometimes it’s nothing but me and the music of my machine and I’m ECSTATIC. I don’t want to speak to or see anyone. I’m at a point now where I’m still learning a lot of things so I make more “uh no Tiffany, you’re not wearing that on this planet” items than gorgeous Amazonian clothing. Even with all of that, I literally enjoy making my mistakes (please note that I’m known to be a raging bull when mistakes are made in any other aspect of life so sewing as a whole will probably get more patience out of me than future children..for now).

p.s. I 100% agree with you that sewing in itself is a very grounding experience. While I’m usually proud of my great items, when my family and friends love and support my bottom of the shoe crud clothes just because I learned a new dart or varied my binding, etc., etc., I’m truly touched (they LISTENED while I prattled–as I’m doing now…sorry for the longwindedness. :) )

Dana

I started sewing late last year after years of paying for alterations on RTW from being petite. I should have started this years ago! I’m finding that:
– I pay more attention to the construction of RTW items and the appreciation of well constructed garments with the time and attention to detail required.
– Find satisfaction in the challenge of a project as well as the completion
– The learning curve aspect of sewing – the skills, knowledge of materials, fitting, etc.

Learning to sew with all the challenges is really about the experience for me and not the acquisition of new items. I’m really enjoying the challenge!

Beth

Sewing and knitting definitely help me overcome some fears too. With the unstable work environment that our country/world is in, I sometimes start to get overwhelmed with thoughts of “what would I do if I lost my job?”. This is when I pick up my crafts and think “well, I can always use these skills to keep food on the table!”. Of course I hope it doesn’t come to that, but it makes me feel better having an alternative skill set under my belt.

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zeynep

I started to sew a couple of months ago which I had no idea until. Now sewing is the only thing that keeps me calm and clears my head and makes me closest to happy.

Erin

I started sewing at a low point. We had just moved to a new city where I didn’t know anyone, my job had fallen through, and we hadn’t been there long enough for me to have discovered outlets for my time and energy where I could meet new people. At that moment, sewing filled at least two of the three needs directly. My self-esteem skyrocketed when I started sewing because I had something to share with my husband when he came home. I was contributing to our household by making inexpensive pillows, placemats, napkins, basic things to learn some skills. But the real power came in the form of relationships. I became plugged in to the online community of sewists and crafters and, through them, found people in my community who were interested in the same things. Sewing didn’t save my life, but certainly made a difficult transition more manageable, and for that I am eternally grateful (and still sewing). No question, sewing makes me happier and helps meet my basic needs.

Lynn

I’m smiling ear-to-ear because all of your posts resonate so completely with me. My work is very high tech and the things I do at home (sewing, knitting, gardening, cooking) help me to relax and feel very grounded. I think that my work in the laboratory and my work at home compliment each other beautifully. Science makes me a better crafter and creative pastimes make me a better scientist.

Although I’ve never met any of you, I feel very connected to you. May all your creative endeavors continue to bring you peace, joy and fulfilment. It’s scientifically proven to improve your immune system and lower your blood pressure. Craft on!

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Justine sewcountrychick.com

Sewing has made me happier too! Before I started sewing I spent way too much time shopping aimlessly. Moving to the country from LA, i was bored and isolated and shopping was a quick but empty fix. I am so glad to be doing something creative instead. But I sometimes feel I shop for fabric too much now!

Kara

Does sewing make me a happier person? Depends on what point in the sewing, as I am a beginner and often make mistakes…don’t ask me after I’ve spilled tea on a long ruffle and have to cut huge sections of said ruffle out, or after the elastic has gotten stuck twice and I somehow manage to lose the safety pin that was attached to the elastic. But ask me when I have finished the garment, or when the hemming has gone well, or when I am listening to music and making a small hand-sewn project, then the answer is yes. I think there will always be small ups and downs in sewing for me, but I do like sewing, and having something you like to do will, I think, always make you happier.

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Maymunah

I read this an immediately thought I had to leave a comment. I have just recently started sewing and I have to say every time I start a project I am so happy. Although my mother, aunties and grandma are seamstresses they never really encourage me to learn how to sew and I wish they did I would have had a lot more self confidence as teenager.

Hana Maroo hanamaroo.blogspot.com

I started to learn sewing beginning of this year… just few weeks, and i’ve already completed my very 1st dress… and yes, i feel satisfied with my own work. Moreover, when i receive an encouragable words from my beloved ones, i feel happier… It does change the way i feel about myself and i feel more confidence, believing that i can achieve anything if i wanted to and if i give it a try

Beth

Sewing and quilting are a firm of art. You use your right side of the brain and it (your brain) loses track of time. Aren’t you ever amazed that you look at your clock and it’s three hours later!? Same thing happened when I was in the darkroom processing photography prints – hours would fly by before I noticed. It’s amazing when I’m in the “zone”. So good for your soul!

Begonia

Sewing is a way to make time for myself and not worry about the day. It is a way to take a break from stress. I have a demanding day job so it is nice to set my own pace, to experiment with ideas, without the stress of having to get someyhing done.
I am also often pleasantly surprised by the results when I let my imagination go.
Yes, sewing does add to happiness because you get to decide how you approach it. There is also a strong sense of community and history and I figure everything I make adds to the sewing culture.
I am 53 and have been sewing since I was about 5 years old.

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