Hobbies often undulate throughout lifetimes. Almost everyone has a leftover supply or tool from some project or creative endeavor from years ago hiding in a corner somewhere. Sometimes we find these little reminders, reminisce on the past, and move on to pursue new adventures. Other times, we stumble upon these cleverly hidden notions and rediscover a passion for a craft we thought we had left behind.
Since I can remember, sewing has always played a role, no matter how small, in my life. I remember my mom altering my childhood dance costumes right before the recital. I learned at a young age how to sew the ties onto my pointe shoes for ballet because Mom insisted that I take some ownership in the most expensive part of my costume. Of course, dance was not my only outlet for my excessive energy; I was also a gymnast. I clocked far more hours at the gym than the dance studio. When I was on team long enough to order grips for bars, a grip bag was an obvious necessity (not just an accessory). While my teammates shelled out ridiculous amounts of money for the latest branded grip bags, I was busily customized my own handmade grip bag. This was no exceptional feat, but my bag was unique, and I had created it, which left me feeling accomplished in a different way. I went on to make countless scrunchies for myself and a few friends before drifting away from the realm of sewing for a while.
The next wave of sewing hit when I took Family and Consumer Science in junior high school. We learned about sewing and cooking, and we made a pillow. It was a basic shape, but I was hooked for a while. I even convinced my mom that we could rip apart one of my old leotards and use it as a pattern to create a new leotard together. We never really saw that plan come to fruition, but I sewed various projects and paid much more attention when my mom made clothes and mended our clothing. It was awe-inspiring to watch a shapeless piece of fabric become a wearable shirt, dress, or pair of shorts. I never imagined then that I would sew enough clothing to successfully make it through a #MeMadeMay wearing at least one article of clothing that I had made myself every single day in the month of May.
For whatever reason, I placed sewing on the back burner again for some time. Then, I randomly saw an article about handmade Mother’s Day gifts. The project that drew my eye was a purse organizer consisting of a potholder and some Ziploc bags. It looked easy enough and only required a straight stitch, but it also seemed incredibly practical. Since it wouldn’t work to borrow Mom’s sewing machine to make a gift for her, I purchased a cheap basic sewing machine for like $40. I made the Mother’s Day purse organizer for my mom, and she loved it. I realized that sewing soothed my soul in a way nothing else really did. I worked myriad jobs and was busy all the time, but sewing forced me to slow down and enjoy me time while expressing myself through fabric selection, thread choice, and pattern design. I quickly recognized that I required more sewing in my life.
Not long after my Mother’s Day sewing adventure, my husband proposed. I had spent most of my life swearing that I would never marry or have kids. Because of this, neither I nor my parents had any money tucked away for a wedding. It quickly became apparent that our rather large families would make our wedding rather expensive. I found it impossible to pay an excessive amount of money for my attire or to require friends and family, who were in the wedding party, to buy outrageously priced clothing for the affair. I saw a Groupon ad for an infinity dress and knew instantly that I would inject more sewing into my daily life due to necessity. I found an infinity dress pattern and made all my bridesmaid dresses. I also made my mom’s dress, which fit her surprisingly well. It was the start of something wonderful.
Then, my gloriously cheap sewing machine started skipping stitches here and there. The bobbin thread kept increasing its own tension. I must admit, I put that little machine through quite a lot. Luckily, my husband’s best friend moved literally down the street from our house and kept some of his possessions in storage at our house. Among his many random items was a Singer sewing machine in excellent condition. He said I was welcome to use the beautiful machine since it was at my house. This news filled me with joy since it was unclear whether we could fix my first machine, and I hadn’t yet devised a way to bustle my wedding dress. By this point, I was also collecting some other patterns to try aside from the necessary wedding attire. Whenever I became stressed with work, I would start a sewing project and find a new tranquility.
My husband clearly noticed this because he bought me a sewing machine for my birthday! I was overwhelmed--ecstatic but also concerned with how much money he might have spent. He assured me that he had gotten a good bargain on the machine and that I deserved it. With that, I began sewing on a regular basis. It was calming, and it satisfied me in a way unlike other adventures or hobbies. Today is our five-year wedding anniversary, and I can honestly say that once I had my own sewing machine, I never looked back.
I started perusing some online sewing communities and pattern designers. I found a designer that listed a tester call on its website. I thought they would never choose me, but I applied anyway. A day or so later, I received an email stating that I was part of the tester pool. I was excited beyond belief but also a little nervous. What if my sewing was not good enough, or I didn’t understand all the directions? I picked out some fabric from my stash and started to sew the pattern. I finished the piece without any major mishaps and took some photos for the designer. I was unsure if they would suffice, but I received word that they were fine. When the pattern released, one of the pictures of my dress was part of the pattern! It was such an adrenaline rush. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I knew that more pattern testing was likely in my future.
I began looking for testing opportunities instead of finding them by accident on the designer’s website. I applied for many pattern tests. Some accepted me while others chose different candidates. My husband tells me I am crazy for testing for pattern designers for “free.” I have tried to explain to him that it’s not free if I receive the pattern, which I would have bought anyway. Plus, being part of the creative process in the pattern design and release simply overjoys and inspires me. I love belonging to a community that works together and creates beautiful works of art with incredibly practical uses. I continue to pattern test with several fantastic companies, and I love every minute of it. I couldn’t ask for a better way to relieve stress and exercise my creativity simultaneously.
I do not remember how I found the 52-Week Sewing Challenge on Facebook, but it has tremendously changed my hobby for the better. Each week includes a different sewing challenge that members can accept or reject. Each week also includes sponsors, typically fabric companies or pattern designers. Participating in this challenge fostered my growth exponentially as a sewist. I have tried patterns and fabrics that I never would have chosen on my own. Additionally, the challenge exposes me to so many wonderful fabric companies, pattern companies, and communities of sewists worldwide. I am very grateful to have found such a caring and supportive group of people, who are ready to help others simply because they have the knowledge, skills, or insight that someone needs. Participating in this challenge has compelled me to evolve into not only a better sewist, but also a better person. It has also forced me to exit my comfort zone and try numerous new experiences.
One of these new experiences was participating in #MeMadeMay. In the past, I had heard about the event and seen some posts related to it, but I didn’t really participate. This year, I went all in. I was determined to only leave my house during the month of May wearing at least one me-made article of clothing. I also decided to catalogue this journey via both Facebook and Instagram. I never expected the incredible amount of love and appreciation I received from these channels. I really participated to validate my efforts in sewing and prove to myself that I could accept the #MeMadeMay challenge. I had no idea how many people would really pay attention to it. I received messages and comments from friends and family that I hadn’t connected with in a while. One or two of my colleagues mentioned how awesome it was that I had really made all the items I posted. Some of my students even expressed their newfound respect for me when they learned that I was participating in #MeMadeMay. My husband thought it was silly, but for me it was a form of self-expression that truly resonates with who I am and what makes me feel accomplished.
Earlier in the school year, we implemented a social-emotional learning component. During one of the tasks we completed, I mentioned that a goal of mine would be to have an entirely me-made wardrobe. At the time, it seemed like a ridiculously lofty and probably unachievable goal. However, as I reflect on my first #MeMadeMay, I clearly see which wardrobe staples are lacking in my me-made clothes. It seems more of a possibility than I ever considered that I truly could create a sustainable me-made wardrobe. It blows my mind to imagine this goal within reach.