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Channeling desire into creativity


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This site is no longer being updated so head over to Seamwork to get all the latest patterns, tutorials, video classes, and more.

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Maybe I’m weird, but shopping stresses me out. Yet, I seem to love window shopping.

In part, this is why sewing is such an appealing hobby for me. I love clothes. I love the colors and textures, the creative possibilities in building a particular look, the small details that make seemingly similar pieces really interesting and special.

But there’s something about the act of actually shopping and spending money on clothing that is emotionally loaded for me. I feel overwhelmed by all the choices. I feel manipulated by the marketing tactics and advertisements and trends. I feel guilt over spending on something so frivolous. I fear the disappointment of buying the wrong thing.

When you sew, there’s a way to “shop” while you avoid most of that. Instead of shopping for something to buy, you turn your attention to shopping for inspiration.

Still, I wondered: Why does shopping bring up all these emotions? And is “shopping for inspiration” really all that different?

Your brain on shopping

The answer to these questions turned out to be even more complex and fascinating than I’d thought.

First, let’s look at why shopping is so pleasurable.

Our brains have been wired over the millennia to encourage us to do behaviors that will increase our chances of survival, or the survival of our species. Our brains find sex pleasurable because it leads to procreation. High calorie and fat laden foods are pleasurable because eating more of them makes us less likely to starve. Acquiring things in an environment of scarcity is also more likely to lead to our survival.

We didn’t evolve in a world where french fries were plentiful, so what was good for our ancestors isn’t necessarily good for us now. It’s the same with the desire for material goods. As early humans, it was advantageous to gather resources whenever possible. But now we live in a world of constant desire, of sophisticated marketing, and of cheap and plentiful goods.

It’s all very confusing to our acquisition-oriented brains. There’s just so much more to acquire.

The Pleasure of Shopping

So if our brains are wired to seek the thrill of shopping, and if shopping today is so easy, why do I feel so crappy about it?

Let’s first look at how the pleasure of shopping works. When you are window shopping, your brain is being flooded with a chemical called dopamine.

You’ve probably heard of dopamine before. This is a part of the rewards system in the brain, and it’s often referred to as a pleasure chemical. Dopamine makes you feel good.

At least, that’s what I’d always heard about it.

What Really Goes on in Your Head

It turns out, dopamine works in a much more complicated way. Dopamine’s job is not merely to make you feel good for some action that you’re taking, but to actually create a desire to continue doing it.

The difference might seem subtle, but it’s important. Animals that can’t produce dopamine can still feel pleasure. But they are not capable of anticipating that pleasure and pursuing it.

So yes, dopamine produces pleasure. But it also produces an intense feeling of want that can be extremely uncomfortable. That combination of pleasure (“that thing is beautiful and will make me happier”) and discomfort (“I feel uncomfortable not having that thing”) spurs us to action (whipping out the credit card).

The problem is, we mistake the pleasure of this dopamine response for real happiness. Humans are actually really terrible at predicting what will make them happy, and this is just one example.

If you’ve ever witnessed someone with an addiction or compulsion, you know that dopamine is not responsible for happiness. Even when the drug or behavior brings temporary pleasure, there’s nothing happy about feeling compelled by constant desire.

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You might have seen this in more subtle ways with friends and family. If you’ve ever had a friend ignore you while compulsively checking facebook on their phone, they are essentially prioritizing the immediate jolt of dopamine over the true long-term friendship that could make them sustainably more happy.

Sidestepping the want

So how do we avoid this compulsive trick of the brain, especially in a world that’s designed to exploit it?

The answer is clearly not to try to suppress the flood of dopamine entirely. After all, desire certainly has its place, and can be a great motivator for all kinds of good behavior. Without desire, we wouldn’t create anything.

Instead, I believe we can be mindful about what our brains are doing, and change our behavior to channel the dopamine response in the right direction. For me, that direction is creativity.

This is one of the ways being a sewist has improved my life. Instead of looking at pretty clothes and feeling the pangs of desire and the confusion of choice, instead of giving my energy over to the temporary buzz of material acquisition, I can direct that desire into a creative act.

And creativity, I believe, is one of the greatest sources of happiness. I really believe that using your individual creative powers to make something, to learn new skills, and to develop your identity is one of the most powerful things we can do for ourselves.

When I choose to use my pleasure in looking at clothing for creativity instead of acquisition, I am choosing the life-sustaining source of happiness over the short-term high.

Just like that real friend who will be with you always versus the quick and satisfying Facebook “like”, you have the choice.

When I sew, I am choosing a lifelong friendship.

How does sewing affect your desire for things? Does it change the way you shop, and the thoughts that go through your head when you do?

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.

Comments 67


Sewing has made me want to acquire all the fabric! ;)

Very good thoughts.


Yes, I have to be very careful when I go in a fabric store not to get the acquisition surge. I am working on the creativity of creating from existing pieces in my stash and also of remodeling older closet favorites to get the long term friendship you described.

However I have such issues with loving to begin projects and so often I lose steam before I have the project completed. Then the have to/and should hormones spoil everything…anyone have some good tips for gently, lovingly seeing projects through to the end. I imagine the Sew-alongs could help. Other thoughts for me?


Hi Karen, In response to your request for ideas on how to complete a project after you have “lost steam”; this is what I have learned in the past year after much reading and pondering. Make sewing if only for 20 or 30 minutes a routine just as brushing your teeth or anything else, a “habit”. Keep your machine ready; I have mine right in my living room, no one really cares. Choose your music or TV to listen to, hint: sew during your favorite weekly program? It’s OK to work on two maybe even three projects, rotating so you are not bored. Get to the point of hand work then sit & hand sew in the late evening or when on the phone. Limit & time your self on the computer to an hour, rotate reading each day. Keep your next wow sewing project right in sight; ready to go, close to your “work area” so you can see what you’re working towards. Pick one or two inspirational blogs to read each day on sewing. Finally; a book I picked up, that is an old one but really great: Weekend Sewers Guide to Dresses, time saving sewing with a creative touch. written by Kate Mathews. Good Luck! :)


I think it’s like being a writer. They say to be a writer, you just have to write every day, whether or not you want to. I keep myself motivated by doing a project in segments that are comfortable for me, which may be based on how much time I have available, or what the next step is, for examples. One strategy that helps is I stop before I get tired or make a mistake. And I try to mix up the type of projects from one to the next, or work on more than one at a time. It’s okay to put a project into stasis for a while. When you come back to it it seems frsh again. If not, maybe just toss it! I had cut out a short sleeved blouse in one size and out it aside. Two years later, I pulled it out, and had to cut it down 2 sizes because I lost weight. But I did eventually finish it and have worn it many times.

The only time I feel bad about not finishing a project is when it was intended as a gift for someone. I once made a winter coat for my 9 year old niece, and intended to make one for her 7 year old sister, but couldn’t get past a cutting mistake, and it was never finished. That was 20-some years ago and it still irritates me!


I have this problem, too. I’ll get really excited about a project, do the first few stages, and then lose steam because I’ve encountered a challenging bit, or it’s just not turning out the way I thought. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with setting things aside for a while to get some perspective, but when it becomes chronic, that can be a real problem (and a real creativity-suck). I have 7 projects going right now, 5 of which are sewing-related, but I keep getting distracted by shinier or more instantly-gratifying projects.

I’d say that a good strategy might be to set a rule for yourself (and for myself!) – for every project you start, you must go back and revisit a project you set aside. This doesn’t necessarily mean *finishing* the project you set aside, but spending 15-20 minutes with it figuring out its issues might just be the push you need to get it finished. This has happened to me once or twice lately – sometimes I just need some space, and once I get it, I can return to the project with fresh eyes and a renewed sense of determination. Good luck!


When I do shop ready to wear (which is quite rare now adays) I try to be very objective about my purchases and stick to some guidelines-1) Something I can’t or don’t want to make (a great structured jacket/cute cardigan/etc) or 2) Something I need right now that I won’t have time to sew (surprise up coming event) or 3) Made out of such amazingly wonderful fabric that I will never, ever be able to find something similar. It must also fit, not involve polyester and be in budget.

It does help, however, that I’m not really in to the stuff that is fashionable right now.


I love these guidelines! I think these run through my head when I’m out shopping, but I love the way you spell them out :-).

Kate McIvor

Thanks Sarai! So insightful. Work has been very very stressful for the past 6 months, and I’ve been wondering why I need to check Facebook and Bloglovin’ every couple of hours. Now I get it — dopamine hit! I no longer shop for clothes, except for the few things I don’t want to make. I get a ton of pleasure envisioning what I’ll make out of each piece of fabric, and that pleasure lasts throughout the sewing process. Most of the time, I am happy with how my home mades turn out, but sometimes I end up disappointed. Even if I am disappointed, the process is satisfying!


Such a great piece!
I do shop for clothes from time to time because I don’t want sewing to become an obligation. I don’t want to force myself to sew a bunch of things I need, but that I’m not particularly interested in making. So I buy basics mostly, and shopping for those items isn’t much of a thrill anyway. I do love to window shop and to inspect garments that are well constructed. There’s learning involved and that is satisfying to me. I’ll sometimes purchase a garment I like, mostly when I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to find a similar fabric, but the truth is those garments will never bring me as much satisfaction as things I’ve made. Slipping into something I made feels almost like wearing a second skin. Dressing is part of how we present ourselves to the world but it’s also very intimate. We wear the clothes on our bare skins, after all! And a purchased garment will most likely always feel a little foreign, if that makes any sense. I agree with you about how creating brings happiness, and I think making what we wear also gives us a sense of empowerment because we don’t depend on the garment industry for this necessary thing: clothing ourselves.


I feel the same way about not wanting sewing to feel like a burden or obligation. That’s why I still buy some RTW, though these days I try to make sure I know where and how my clothes are made (to the extent it’s possible).


So insightful. Your blog should be subtitled “The Fashion Blog for Critical Thinkers.” Love that you inspire your readers to create, sew, and THINK.


This is so true! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve forwarded articles to non-sewing friends because of the information and critical thinking.

This is timely for me, too. I’ve shifted my quick fix to buying fabric and what I really need to do is sew all the beautiful clothes I’ve got floating around my brain. There’s always that feeling of accomplishment when that happens, too.

Also, totally guilty of the checking facebook when with friends. I’ve started hiding the phone in my purse.


Thanks, you guys!

Jet Set Sewing

I think the urge to decorate yourself to be unique or fit in with a clan is very deep in our DNA. So is creating useful items. Up until 100 years ago, those two urges used to intersect, and making something to wear or use was deeply empowering. I just wrote about a quilt exhibition at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts that really brought that home to me, because the women making the quilts 150 years ago spent so much extra time to make them beautiful, despite all the other things they had to do.
Shopping used to bring people that pleasure as well, when the items in the stores were well-made and designed. Over the past 20 years, “fast-fashion” and fashion marketing have ruined shopping for people like me. That’s why a lot of boomer women, who learned to sew as kids, are going back to sewing now.


I totally agree. When you look even at garments from pre-agricultural peoples–hunters and gatherers–and the limited tools and materials they had at their disposal, the constant pressure of survival, the need to be able to carry everything with you, and yet their clothing is beautiful. Embellished, dyed, beaded, fringed, embroidered. The need for beauty must be very, very deep in humanity.


I think it’s at least partly (mostly?) a need for connection to other people, which for humans really is a matter of survival. Personal adornment says so much about status, about belonging, about values.


That’s true. But if it were just connection, then everyone could make the same ugly bowl/shoes/coat/house in the same way, and still feel a part of their group. But they don’t. They put enormous time and care into making things beautiful in a way that’s not functional at all.

The style of the adornment is very much about connection and status and belonging, in other words, yes. But the aesthetics of the adornment itself says something else about people to me–that a neolithic farmer with five kids and no modern tools and a very real chance of starvation would put the effort and energy into cultivating, harvesting, and eventually dyeing with woad, for instance, is incredible.

If it were only about belonging, or even mostly, they could have put that effort into cultivating something edible and leaving their clothing plain. Or at least dyeing with something easier to find and use, but less attractive. But instead they went for a very difficult, time-consuming and incredibly pretty blue.


Yes, there’s definitely a need to create and express there as well, you’re right. We’ve been creating art for a very long time, and to see it as just a communication tool probably does rob it of something more powerful and essential.

But perhaps that common need to beautify and express also is a way of drawing us together.


Great post and something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. Apparently we all have a ‘decision making budget’ – once we’ve made a certain amount of choices, we get exhausted; which is probably why shopping can be so exhausting at the end of the trip. I was reading how Obama routinises everything that isn’t ‘important’ to his day such as wearing only a blue or grey suit. He says that he has to make too many decisions during the day that he doesn’t want to waste mental energy on breakfast – interesting! I think sometimes too much choice is truly a waste of mental energy – have you *seen* the shampoo isle at the supermarket? Now really… :)


I find this to be true as well. That’s a very interesting fact about the POTUS.


Like you, shopping stresses me out as well. I get so overwhelmed by all of the options and I especially get mad when things I admire from a far feel cheap and icky up close. Unfortunately, since I don’t like to shop and don’t build up my wardrobe, I wear clothes until they fall apart and I have to shop and purchase clothes I don’t really want to buy. Thankfully, I’m not experiencing that right now and when I do walk into a store it’s usually to admire something, check the fabric used and to wonder if it’s something I can make in the future (I just started teaching myself how to sew). I also do this with online shopping. I have folders of images that I stash away for inspiration and I’m noticing how my taste are simplifying and are not all over the place.

Katie Schulz

I have that same problem with fabrics. You admire something from across the store or from the thumbnail pic on the website but when you feel the fabric or look at fabric content disappointment abounds. I have been known to get angry. “They want to charge me how much for cheep polyester/nylon blend?!! F**k them!”
Needless to say, I don’t go shopping often.


Your words created an aha moment for me. Does anyone else spend way too much time “shopping” blogs, rather than actually ever doing the creating. I’m a sewer and a knitter when I can tear myself away from this computer.

Jennifer in KS

Debra – I agree, we often trade one type of compulsion for another. And the dizzying array of creative blogs can also paralyze us with indecision …”what should I create?”

Sarai – this is so insightful. You should work these thoughts up into a book proposal! Talk about creating! :-)

Jennifer in KS


I spend way more time on pattern websites than there is any rational need for, yes.


So much! I have an 11-month old baby, so it is easier right now to imagine being creative (by looking at blogs/pintrist/ravelry/online fabric stores) than to actually be creative. I had to make a “no internet when baby is sleeping” rule for myself to ensure that I use my free time in a way that makes me feel good.

It is especially easy to get lost in the planning phase of creativity for me since the planning and buying supplies is more rewarding (dopamine!) than the doing.


I cut way back on all of that too. Pinterest is especially bad for inspiration overload.

Nowadays, most blogs I read are chosen because they have something interesting to say rather than just pretty pictures. Pretty pictures are cheap, they’re everywhere all the time!

(And by “pretty pictures” I mean of the design inspiration variety. Not, for example, a photography blog with original photos, which would fall under the “something interesting to say” category for me.)


I’m definitely guilty of this. It helps/hurts that I have a lot of down time at work, so I’m always looking for more and more blogs to follow/read during the day, in the hopes that they’ll inspire me to get off the couch and MAKE things when I get home. I usually only let myself read the sewing blogs while I’m at work (not that I don’t have other internet-related distractions at home…). I still need to work on my procrastination/general laziness, but I’ve created 5x as many garments this year as ever before, so they must be helping, right??


Great post, thanks! I stopped shopping at all about two years ago (except for socks). I was never very satisfied with the clothes on the market and with their fitting. I don´t like to go with trends and was always annoyed by the narrow selection the stores offered. When I´m planning and sewing my own clothes, I have the freedom to choose between thousands of fabrics, colours, pattern, …I love it! And I love wearing a an all me made outfit! And in addition I enjoy the “I don´t have anything to wear for tomorrows occasion – let´s whip something up!” :-)

sj kurtz

I stopped buying new clothes in stores some years ago, the stuff didn’t fit me. Sadly, this includes shoes, which I don’t make.

I never stopped shopping. As I keep telling my boys: shopping isn’t buying. Shopping is hunting! Stalking the wild pair of shoes I will never fit anyway. Pretty shoes! And purses! Pretty pretty purses! Purses that cost what I make in a year. Pretty!


Great entry! I think you sum it up very well when you say: “humans are terribly bad at predicting what will make them happy”. Biggest truth.


Shopping is so, so stressful. Too many options, too much room to fail, and too little quality. I am not a heavy duty sewist, only finishing 1-2 projects a year, but I follow the sewing blogosphere religiously and I’ve picked up a lot of knowledge along the way that I take along to the mall. Seeing serged seams on a sheer $79 blouse bums me out, you know?

The beautiful finished products that you enormously talented bloggers and designers write about is a major clue for me that there’s something more out there for me that I can ethically and financially get behind. Whether that means getting comfortable with secondhand clothing or stepping up my sewing game, I’m not quite sure yet.

My impulse purchases now consist of $4 caramel macchiatos when I feel like I need to buy something but don’t want to spend a lot of money. I get a dopamine hit when the credit card comes out, a delicious caffeine hit, and then a nap later when I crash. And no buyers remorse! Can’t say I’ve had that experience with clothes shopping recently.


My love/hate relationship with shopping has inspired me to take up sewing. As a 6.2. woman who was a size EU48 and now is a size EU40, I used to hate shopping: nothing fitted me, plus size clothing was expensive and not on trend and I hated the fact that I couldn’t buy what other 20 somethings were buying. In my mid 20’s I lost the weight…but still couldn’t find anything that fitted well due to my length. Or boobs :) Or simply because it isn’t my taste, color, price range, etc.

Since taking up sewing last year I have rediscovered my love for clothing but most importantly: well fitting clothes! I love looking at fabrics, patterns, embelishments and love dreaming up my favorite wardrobe. Even though my sewing skills aren’t up there yet since I only started sewing 6 months ago. I can feel this is the beginning a beautiful friendship :) Shopping is something I now only do occasionaly and it isn’t as frustrating as before since now I can relax knowing that someday I will be able to make my own perfect wardrobe.


My shopping trips used to end with every single cent of the budget spent and huge bags full of clothes. But ever since I went back to sewing (mostly objects for my Etsy shop), my shopping habits totally changed. I still love shopping, but I don’t buy as many items and do try to purchase from local designers. My guess is that my creative side used to need the shopping for clothes to express itself. Now it’s filled creating objets, sewing, designing.

Betty Jordan Wester

I have always disliked clothes shopping, even as a child. And as an adult, the dread of knowing that anything I put on is going to be a so-so fit at best takes all the fun out of it. Sewing and altering definitely alleviate the stress. But with sewing you’re spending time instead of money, which can also be incredibly stressful.

I also feel very guilty when I go into a store and don’t buy something, so I usually just avoid stores in general. I think that’s why Pinterest is so fun for me. I get to look at all sorts of lovely things. I don’t have to worry about price or fit. And there’s no one there that I feel like I’m wasting their time.

miss agnes

Finding your blog has encouraged me to learn how to sew. A sweet friend of mine just lended me an old Singer yesterday, so off I am. A summer of great discoveries.
I love window shopping more than shopping itself: I could spend hours looking at the trends and imagining outfits, and what would go with what in my wardrobe, but with experience I’ve learned not to act on everything that I like.
Learning about what can motivate us or how we are being manipuled to trigger see-want-buy automatic responses is a great step towards freeing ourselves. Another step is to actually work on de-activating these responses in our brains. Often being aware of something is not enough to change, action has to be taken on the body itself to de-activate or change the brain patterns that can lead to addiction. There are several types of therapy that can address this, from PNL to bio-molecular nutrition. It is a fascinating domain. Thanks for making your readers aware of the hidden mechanisms that lead us to compulsive buying, or any other form of addiction.


That’s a great point, that awareness doesn’t always lead to positive changes in behavior. That’s the next step, I guess.


I do the same thing, but not with physically shopping. I hate actually going to a mall; it’s crowded and noisy and stressful. Blah.

But I’ll happily buy a magazine or two and take an hour or so to flip through and tear out images of things with interesting details that I’d like to try. Different styles of embroidery, interesting pleats or darts, fun sleeves or fit, or whatever. The best thing is that I’m not restricted by price range. I can rip out a picture of a $2000 dress for the one thing about it that I like and know that I’m never going to buy it, but that’s ok, because I can mimic what I like best about it in something I made myself.


This is really a beautifully written piece, thank you!

I find that sewing has changed my shopping a lot: I used to make quick decisions, now I notice flaws that might make something not end up getting worn: too short, baggy here, itchy there. These are things I wouldn’t have noticed before being so intimately connected with the makeup of my clothing. My eye is a lot more critical.

It also makes things a bit stressful: it’s hard to find the perfect thing that I actually want to buy!


Thank you for this post. I’ve often had the same problem when I see someone wearing something cute (why don’t I have that??!! I need to find a cropped black leather jacket nowww!). I’m trying to learn to give my well-dressed friend a compliment and move on without scouring the internet for exactly what she’s wearing.

I have the same problem with vintage sewing patterns– if I see something I even slightly like, I have an impulse to purchase it. I’m trying to see my Pinterest and Etsy favorites as inspiration rather than a shopping list. Maybe thinking this way will finally get my credit card paid off.

Just need to remind myself that I’m no longer the poor kid whose classmates made fun of her lack of trendy clothes and that I’m already well-dressed enough as it is (I don’t mean that in a vain way, just that I already have enough).


It’s a really good feeling when I look at my closet and think, “it’s not perfect, but I’m satisfied anyway.”

emily marie

Thanks for this good read, Sarai. I love your insight on sewing equating a lifelong friendship; it satisfies what fast fashion (or an impulsive Facebook check) cannot.

Marie Roche

Very well said! Thank you for explaining your insight as clearly as you did. You helped me feel better about the pleasure I derive from being creative.


Thank you for your post. I agree totally, since I started to sew again for myself my shopping habits have changed completely. If I buy something now (it happens rarely) I want to be sure of the quality of the fabric and the sewing. However also in the sewing community I observe what we can call fast sewing. It can be addictive as well. Madalynne recently wrote a post about it (I can’t find the link now). The increasing offer of indie patterns and fabric choice can lead to the same dopamine effect, I myself felt the urge to take out my credit card to buy the last trendy pattern and the perfect fabric. This is why your Wardrobe Architect series was so helpful for me. With a clear image in my mind now of what I wear and what I need, I can navigate in the sewing blogosfera feeling with buy impulse less often than before, it is still a work in progress.


Great post thank you. With sewing I’ve found the creative outlet I’ve been looking for years. I also now only shop for things I would rather not or couldn’t make. I don’t knit for intance, though maybe that’s next. The urge to create and play with beautiful fabric and colour though, does mean I’m acquiring rather too many clothes. Need to find a solution to that.


Thank you for this piece! One way (for me) to channel desire is to focus on the feeling I feel afterward. When I see candy, I think about its aftertaste in my mouth, when I feel the urge to do an impulse buy, I think about the clutter in my house. It helps!

Alice Elliot

So true! I love checking out the many small high-end shops in the SF Bay Area to discover details and styles, etc. Then I can copy what I like and satisfy my creativity and desire for fashion! But when I pass the ice cream store I really have to concentrate on how my belly feels after eating it.


Thank you for this piece! I’ve always wondered why I like shopping but am not fulfilled when it arrives. Makes me feel shallow! But I’m really happy when sewing. Thanks for sharing your heart with us!


This twigs a distant psychology reference for me. I recall reading that there is a reason we remember ‘doing’ things but not immediate gratification. When you search your memory banks, you cannot recall the pleasurable sensation related to a purchase even though at the time of purchase the sensation might have been close to euphoric (we fabric shoppers are not immune!). However, you can recall bike riding along a bridle path or swimming naked, quite specifically. I wonder if sewing appeals to that longer term recall in us? The pleasurable sensation lasts longer possibly due to the swearing and seam ripping that brings us to the finished product?!!


That’s a really interesting angle to look at it from as well! Perhaps this is why they say that people who value experiences over things tend to be happier?


I have almost the exact same relationship to shopping. I have really cut down on the shopping I do for the reasons you mention, and try to be very, very targeted about my shopping (why am I here? what do I want and why do I need it? what are my criteria for my purchase? is it OK to do look at other things while I’m here or do I need to get in and out?).

When I don’t shop in this targeted, mindful way, I can spend hours at stores, and then come home feeling awful. Usually I don’t even buy that much (or anything!), but I get sick at all the time I’ve wasted that could have been spent achieving something at home or spent relaxing in a more enjoyable way.


Wow, what a great and thought-provoking post Sarai! Really interesting to look at various addictions/compulsions as desire for a brain-chemical hit rather than the thing itself. I don’t even have a ‘smart phone’, a very deliberate choice because I’m over-attached to my laptop as it is – and I don’t need to add Instagram to my list of addictions. Sewing for myself means I really never ‘shop for pleasure’, for clothes, anyhow. Come to think of it, although I don’t make shoes, my attitude to them has also evolved: I will buy maybe two pairs a year now and only those that are built to last (lifetime friendships!).

Margi Macdonald

This is a lovely, thoughtful post… I’m enjoying the “neurotransmitter-creativity” ideas… And the shared experiences of everyone here.


I think that the process of mending what I already have makes me feel better. Just like sewing what I need makes me feel better. First & foremost I question if what I am about to buy is something I can make. Sure it takes time yet, it’s something I can do for me. That is the act of taking care of myself & it’s my self reliance that adds to enjoyment if sewing.


I think that the process of mending what I already have makes me feel better. Just like sewing what I need makes me feel better. First & foremost I question if what I am about to buy is something I can make. Sure it takes time yet, it’s something I can do for me. That is the act of taking care of myself & it’s my self reliance that adds to enjoyment of sewing.


Fascinating insights. And serendipitous for me, as I’ve been struggling with the same issues. For instance, shopping for new pajamas for my toddler makes me anxious, but finding a cute print on an organic interlock fills me with a sense of possibility and excitement. I think sewing (and creating in general) satisfies an aspect of that “gathering resources” need that shopping doesn’t. We are creative creatures by nature, and, for me, cutting that out of meeting my basic needs leaves me feeling hollow, while the rush I get from creating something, and using something that I’ve created, as well as the challenge of working on a project, fills me up in a lasting way.


Very interesting ideas. I do not like shopping, but I do get that dopamine jolt from acquiring things–even things I don’ t need or even want. So, I have to be aware. Sewing definitely changes how I shop. I tend not to want to buy anything made with cheap fabric, made in countries known to treat workers badly, or that looks easy enough to make myself. I will buy things that we need that are made well, made locally, or made with fabrics I cannot/will not work with yet (athletic fabrics, swimsuits, etc.). I have become much more selective about my purchases. I was packing one of my daughter’s suitcase for a trip last week and realized she really needed at least one t-shirt without writing/pictures on it (we get a lot of hand-me-downs). I thought, “I could spend an hour and a half going to Target and shopping, or I could spend the hour and a half making her a t-shirt from some organic cotton (light pink) that I have on hand.” So that’s what I did, and she loved it.


“And creativity, I believe, is one of the greatest sources of happiness.”

I couldn’t agree with you more. Sure, shopping gives me a temporary high – the high of buying something in the store, and maybe a high the first time I wear it or use it. But without creativity, that high would be incredibly fleeting. Not only do I derive pleasure in the moment of creating (in fact, I’ve often wondered/feared for what would happen if I were unable to create – arthritis being the #1 concern, even though I’m only in my 20s), but that pleasure/happiness stays with me long after I’ve finished my make. Every time someone compliments something I’ve made (a dresser I re-painted, a scrapbook I put together, a blanket I knitted), and every time I wear something I’ve sewn, that high lasts. It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, like my hard work has paid off.

I think I’ll always love shopping – hunting for a bargain, finding something new – but the shopping I most enjoy now is shopping for things with which I can *create* something…and then making sure to put those things to use instead of stashing them around my apartment!

Thanks very much for this post, it was very well-said!


That’s interesting. My first great sewing undertaking was a gown… a from-scratch, designed by me, floor length, fish tail, silk dupioni and lace gown. Why? Because I couldn’t afford a $1,5000 Alice & Olivia gown. Instead, I tried on a few $1,000- $2,000 gowns carefully examining the design and finishing techniques. Then, I made my own, and it looked like a dream- all because I wanted the quality, but couldn’t afford it.


Wow, thanks for posting this! You have sparked such an interesting conversation. I am tempted to read all of the comments in their entirety but must tear myself away to sew and knit. But before I go, I can totally relate to the dopamine hits that come from browsing blogs, Instagram, the internet in general. There might be some short term gratification, but afterwards I just feel awful and often despairingly think of all the sewing or knitting I could have done in that time. In saying that, I really appreciate your thought-provoking writing. Time on your blog is time well spent! Ok now I’m putting this away.


Love this post! It made me think of this quote by Dieter F. Uchtdorf:

“The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. No matter our talents, education, backgrounds, or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before.

“Everyone can create. You don’t need money, position, or influence in order to create something of substance or beauty.

“Creation brings deep satisfaction and fulfillment. We develop ourselves and others when we take unorganized matter into our hands and mold it into something of beauty.”

Sewing has made me be so much more intentional about what I wear and how I spend my time!


What a wonderful thread (unintentional pun)! I have always wondered why anxiety skyrockets when I walk into a mall. With your permission, I am moving my sewing machine to the dining room table.
Thank you


I cannot tell you how relieved I am to learn that I’m not the only one who experiences such anxiety over clothes shopping. Certainly, I’ve met many people IRL who share this. But on the web, you can hear from people from all over. I’d like to add a few small points I haven’t seen in this discussion already, but I did take the time to read *all* the comments.

My personal shopping anxieties these days seem to stem from a particular trigger: The feeling that I don’t deserve the nice new thing even when all the objective criteria are met–it is decently made, it is comfortable and flattering on me, it would make a good addition to my wardrobe and I can afford it without trouble. Then I still often cannot get myself to make the purchase. Because I don’t deserve it. As a result I end up in the same boat as others here have mentioned — wearing out the nice items I have managed to acquire, until I really don’t have wearable items left and am forced into hurried shopping, which itself is stressful.

It’s notable that when it’s something that is unarguably necessary, like a decent winter coat for those of us here in Minnesota, the “I don’t deserve it” feelings tend to vanish.

Shopping live in local stores still serves some important purposes for me. When a different silhouette appears in the new trends, I can’t tell if it’s going to be flattering for me or not. Not until I try it on (I’m lucky in that I can usually find a sufficiently good fit for this purpose). A few disastrous purchases from the past when I didn’t try on before buying, and a few recent close calls where trying on saved me from wasting my money, continually reinforces this idea. I’m also fortunate in having a couple of local stores where I can often find reasonable things to buy. So to make sure I can continue the practice of trying on first, I make sure to occasionally buy something, so those stores will still be there. Then I don’t feel guilty on the days I go in to try on but don’t happen to buy. And in general, I like to shop local as much as is feasible. It’s one of the few social goods I can muster the energy to support.

I don’t regularly sew these days, much as I’d like to, as I haven’t been able to carve out creating time from the knitting, spinning, painting and writing. I’ll get back to it one of these days. But the point is, I used to sew quite a bit. And even then I didn’t allow myself into the habit of stashing fabric (except for the sales at the mill-ends outlet store, which has now disappeared). Probably due to my upbringing. Whatever the reason, it meant that any new garment project meant *at least* one trip to the fabric store, which could often equal the time spent on a run to the clothing store. So even though the actual sewing time counted as “fun”, and fabric store shopping is less stressful than clothing store shopping, on the matter of time spent it often evened out for me. I’m not sure I would allow myself to stash fabric even now, as I’ve seen how my yarn stash has grown, and that’s a burden in its own way.


This was so fascinating! When I reached the point where you were describing the feeling of discomfort, of being uncomfortable due to the lack of something, I realised that’s exactly what I feel whenever I’m idly browsing through online shops. There’s always a need to buy something RIGHT NOW because it might not be there tomorrow.

Lately, though, most of my purchases are either wool or fabric, which are exciting because I know they’re going to be turned into something amazing. All I need to do is sit back and ask myself: Do I really need this? Shouldn’t I make use of the wool I already have?

If we know how our own minds work, it’s definitely a good thing.

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