Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Ease into Motherhood


Sewing and small children. In many ways, they seem to be sworn enemies of one another. Finding the physical and mental space to sew, whilst being present and available for kids who depend on you for pretty much everything sounds like an impossible task, or at least a recipe for disappointment and frustration. I often hear of women who used to sew before they had children, then stopped, and are trying to get back into it now that their children are older. I can totally understand the decision to not even bother trying to get any sewing done for the duration of your children's early childhoods. But for me, that's not an option, sewing is too big a part of my life. So today I want to talk about why and how I manage to sew whilst being a mum to two tiny peops. 

The prompt for this post came from an invitation to take part in 'Ease-in to Motherhood': a sewists' celebration of motherhood and the changes it brings to our lives, created and hosted by Monserratt, Jodi and Erin. Read here for the full details of this important and beautiful initiative. The motivation to create connection between mothers who sew is similar to my own reasons for setting up the recent dribble bib sewing swap (check out #greatsewingbibswap on Instagram). Anyways, the organisers of Ease-in Motherhood have left it super open about what to write about in relation to these topics, and at first I felt pretty overwhelmed as I have SO MUCH I want to say about all of it! A couple of months ago I felt a blog post brewing about my disgust at the damaging concept of 'bouncing back' after a pregnancy and birth, but I just read Jodi's touching piece on this subject in which she handles it with much more grace than my bile-filled rant probably would have done! So on with my contribution...

Somehow, I've become a stay-at-home-mum who does bits of paid work at the weekends. I never planned to be a SAHM. When Pat and I talked about how we saw our family operating before we had Dolores, we agreed to share the childcare and our freelance work endeavours 50/50, and to keep our child/children home with us rather than in childcare until they were about three years old. But the financial realities were such that two part-time freelance-whatever-you'd-call-what-we-do/did wasn't bringing in enough to live in this pricey part of a pricey country. So I ended up taking on the lion share of the childcare as Pat went out to work full-time, and things will probably stay this way until they are both at school. And the truth is, being a stay-at-home-mum is freaking hard, the hardest job I've ever, and will ever do, I have no doubt. One of the things about being a SAHM (or a SAHD, or any other type of full-time carer), is that no matter how many playdates, playgroups, playgrounds, classes or activities you get involved in, there is A LOT of being stuck at home involved. What's more, you are ALWAYS on call. I find it can be incredibly claustrophobic, and as an escape I have sewing. 

(Frankie caught trying to mess with my sewing machine)

So, sewing. I have to admit that my current relationship with sewing is bordering on compulsive. Working on sewing projects, having something to push forward with, has become even more important to me since having children than before. I'm not sure if the amount I think about (if not actively doing) sewing is healthy, but it is helping me get through this insanely intense part of motherhood so I can't see it changing for the foreseeable future. Sewing accesses a creative part of myself, a need to make stuff with my hands, that has always been part of who I am. And clothing has been the main way that I interpret and have a dialogue with society and popular culture since I was a teenager. 

But why has my need to sew amped up so much since becoming a mum? Partly, I think it's the desire to do something that doesn't get almost immediately undone (laundry, washing up, tidying etc.) but I'm also guessing that it's because I don't have much else to get my teeth into at the moment: my 'career' has somewhat stalled, I'm not developing any new classes to teach and I no longer organise the craft market I set up in 2010. And the other things I'm really inspired to do, like planning and going on trips and experimenting with growing food, are currently hampered by a lack of funds and any outside space. 

And then there's the final product. I get a lot of joy and pride from opening up my wardrobe and seeing that more than 90% has been made by me: that I have chosen how I wish to present myself to the world (which I then temper with the realities of my day-to-day life) and made it myself. Or to watch my kids running around having a crazy time, or contentedly chewing on a lego brick, whilst wearing something I made them. 

However, it's hard to square all this sewing that I'm doing (or planning to do) with my desire to live a vaguely sustainable life that does NOT include the constant acquisition of 'stuff'. So in an attempt to justify my out-put, I'm very careful to only work on garments and accessories for myself and my kids that will get used a lot, and I try to sew with my existing fabric stash or with secondhand textiles for a good proportion of my projects (which I know I could do better at). 

(sleepy faces selfie)

So how do I get the sewing get done with these small peops about? Mainly in my head. I'm mentally present when I'm with my kids and they want me to engage with them, but when I'm doing boring SAHM-related stuff like cleaning the kitchen, or breastfeeding in the middle of the night, I'll often be mulling over the next few steps of my current sewing project, or what I should use a certain piece of fabric for. So when they are in bed, or when one is at nursery and other is napping, I can ATTACK. I'm sure most people, including new(-ish) parents, will tell you that they are so much more productive with their spare time once it has become severely limited. 

But breaking it down further, I'd say that I find two types of chances for sewing. There's the longer stretches lasting an hour or two, like after they're in bed and the tidying up is done, or during a Frankie-nap on a Dolores-nursery day. (The annoying thing is that Frankie sleeps in our bedroom, which is where my sewing table also lives, so I have to remember to take everything that I'll need for the sewing sesh out of there and into the lounge before putting him down.) And then there's the micro-sewing opportunities. These are the teensy windows of time in which you can do something small to aid your project. Like the incredibly rare times that they are both playing and no one needs me, I might change over the threads on my overlocker. Or whilst I'm waiting for the potatoes to boil, I might pin a sleeve into an armhole. Often I'll do other SAHM-related activities in those micro-windows, but the thing is that there are always SAHM-related activities you could find to do, so sometimes I claim the windows for myself and my mental health instead.

I've written this blog post like I undertake my sewing projects: in chunks of time here and there, so it's been on my mind for a while. And my conclusion is that I have not drawn a conclusion. I don't know if my current relationship with sewing is entirely positive, but it seems to be serving a necessary purpose. And I guess there could be worse things to be addicted to!

I'd love to know your thoughts on your relationship to sewing, particularly through motherhood. Did you manage to maintain one? If so, any tips? How has it changed as your kids have got older? Did you ever find yourself getting a bit obsessed with sewing when you were going through a particularly tricky or intense stage of your life? 

15 comments:

Knitlass said...

I still struggle to fit sewing in, even though my children are a bit older now - aged 10, 7 and 4. Of course now they are older they go to bed later, so the evenings that I used to use to sew have almost evaporated (they still need 'help' with bedtime!) I can nab time in the day though (e.g. at weekends), in a way that I couldn't before because they can play or amuse themselves for quite a while without adult intervention.

Like you, I do think about things a lot before actually doing them. I also work step by step and batch when I can - e.g. cutting out three t-shirts or two sets of leggings, or doing all the overlocking for a group of projects. I found some posts somewhere (Sew Mama Sew, or Collette?) about industrial sewing and how to use those approaches to make the most of sewing time at home. That was helpful, and I have absorbed these things into my sewing time.

The other thing for me is that the head space I used to have to take on complicated patterns has virtually disappeared. I would love to make myself some dresses (with fitted bodices), but there are too many other things to do, and not enough time/confidence to lavish on myself. Ah. Such is life!

Gillian said...

I'm loving this series - it's such an interesting and honest insight into people's lives! Sounds like sewing is helping you a lot, so I wouldn't stress about if it's the optimal healthy relationship or not - this is a time for getting through as best you can, with as much joy as possible! :)

Samantha Schmidt said...

I LOVE this! I just had a baby and recently committed to sewing little bit every day. I'm learning to "micro-sew" as you call it. Sewing has always been a super immersive activity for me - I'd spend entire weekends pumping out a garment from start to finish, barely eating or speaking to my husband. I'd love to see more posts with specific tips on how to "micro-sew"!

monserrattlopez said...

Thank you for sharing Zoe!

It's so important to get some outlet to your thoughts and find the time to make things that will not be messed up right away!! It's amazing how fast things get undone in the house and how far the mess goes!!

As a very creative person, I totally understand that you need that time to keep yourself in a more happy mindstate.

For me, I do sew during nap time and also a bit during the night, and I just recently had a few hours for myself without anybody else to work on things I want to. This I think I will claim as "time I need for myself". I found that because I take this time, for myselfI I felt so much more fulfilled and happpy during the day.

Thanks for sharing! :)

M

emily said...

Such an important post, Zoe. Thank you.
My problem is energy. During the day I often get hit with inspiration of things i want to make, I started a little notebook with thumbnail sketches to keep track of them, but once the kids are in bed, more often than not I flop on the couch.
Even thoughI enjoy the feeling of accomplishment having made something I'm happy with, actually getting myself up the stairs to my sewing machine is sometimes too long a journey!
I would like to develop a habit of 'little and often' even if it's just 15mins an evening.

Sian said...

Reading your thoughtful post has brought back so many memories, Zoe. I have been a SAHM for twenty years and my youngest is shortly to sit his final exams before hopefully heading off to university in January. When I was doing those busy baby and toddler years, as you are now, I thought that they would never end. But now, with the benefit of hindsight, I realise how quickly they passed by.
I started sewing garments again about ten years ago when I joined a weekly sewing group held at a local fabric store. I still attend every Tuesday. Our teacher, a retired professional, offers helpful advice and direction as we work on our own projects. Prior to that, I had shifted my sewing focus from garments to quilts as the thought of being organised enough to actually complete something while running around after little people made my head feel like exploding. The beauty of quilts was that they could be sewn in tiny amounts and in any way that suited. Machine piecing, hand sewing, appliqué, embroidery: there were plenty of new techniques to learn which made it stimulating and interesting. Sometimes, just finishing a block 30cms square was enough to give me a sewing high. What's more, it was portable. So, further down the track, when you are taking children to ballet classes, soccer practise, flute lessons, etc, you have something to do with your hands while you wait in the car or by the side of a playing field. That you are continuing to sew and managing to accomplish things is fantastic. At the end of the day, it really doesn't matter if it takes a week or a month to finish an item; as long as you and your loved ones are happy and muddling along, that is all that matters.

Kristen said...

Your comments about how often you think about sewing really resonate with me. Since having my daughter (who is now almost 3), I have become very immersed in the babywearing communities online, especially the DIY side of it. It has become a way of feeling creative and productive when I'm not actually creating or producing the type of sewing I was doing or would otherwise like to do (ie for myself, haha!) I have found opportunities to make items for wearing my girl, but I have also spent an extraordinary amount of time reading and learning and thinking about and sharing information about it. I'm just drawn to it, and I think it's largely related to what you're talking about here, too. There's a tension between all the needs of just taking care of a home and family (whatever that looks like for anyone) and trying to have some sort of outlet, and the changes that come with young children can be really unbalancing. I love this thought of easing into motherhood and finding ways to help one another do so, finding the ways that others do so.

Fiona said...

Thank you so much for writing this article. I've tried to keep sewing since my son has been born and have been largely successful- perhaps even more so than when I was working full time, but the hardest part is sometimes finding the motivation when he is asleep to get on with it as often I just want to do nothing but then am annoyed with myself for not sewing when he is napping! I think this stems from the fact that before he was born I would take whole days at the weekend or in the holidays (I'm a teacher) to sew, and I find it incredibly difficult to stop mid-flow, so I think it has been about changing my frame of mind and realising that I can still sew but it may take a few days or a week on one project rather than having all that time on a weekend. I've also found that I've had to unfollow some users on instagram as it was making me upset that I did not have the time and energy to sew. I have dreams to sell baby clothes on line but this is a long time coming I think. As Kristen mentions above, there is also the tension between all the needs of taking care of the family and home, and I often feel guilty for sewing if my little boy is happily playing, even though I shouldn't feel this way! It's so nice to read a blog from other mothers who sew in a realistic way and to see other's experiences, so, thank you.

annajosews said...

Sewing kept me sane after child #2, who I had when my daughter was nine. I might not have got much done in the early days, but once he was sleeping through the night (9 months, give or take) it got easier to concentrate and actually plan projects. I'm consistently amazed by how easily sewing a garment breaks down into small chunks of time. Even five minutes is enough to sew a dart or seam, or get some pinning done. It helps if you can leave your projects out. This got more problematic in the curious toddler stage, but now Gabriel is 2 and a half he's better at following instructions about what he is and isn't allowed to touch. So I'm getting more sewing done now. Keeping a sewing journal has been really helpful too. The notes I make while sewing make it easier for my tired brain to write blog posts!

Naomi said...

I have three little kids and also love sewing as it gives me a sense of achievement and purpose amongst all the cleaning, cooking and sorting out fights. I can relate to being at a stage of feeling like I need to be more sustainable with this hobby of mine as I’m not big on consumerism and have read so many articles about the damage done in fabric production. It causes inner turmoil though as there is such pleasure in creating and I feel like I’ve been through a long period of hideous maternity/postnatal clothing and really need a good wardrobe replenishment! I am trying to find a balance between buying sustainably and also just buying things I really love and will treasure for a long time.

Fabric Tragic said...

Thanks for sharing lovely! This series is of course timely for me! I don't think you should feel unease about how much you think about something you are passionate about. Obviously at this point in your life sewing provides a little escapism and there's worse things to be daydreaming about when peeling potatos or folding washing. For me I'll be giving up our spare room, which is overflowing with my sewing stuff and already my beloved knows I'm going to need a little space of my own to ensure I can keep on with what makes me happy when our little one arrives. So we plan and ponder and I try to use up as much fabric as I can in the next few months! Bless him he thinks I'm going to have hours of spare time and being sewing all day!

Philippa said...

Oh, I did enjoy reading this! Motherhood alters our relationship to any hobbies, pass times we might have, so much! Especially if you are the 'main carer'. I had three children and sewed loads before I had them, pretty much all for myself! With each child I sewed less, and from time to time had periods of not sewing at all. However I was always pulled back - to do alterations, to make a special dress (I made a bridesmaids dress for one of my daughters, which I was very proud of!). Now my youngest is nearly 18 my career has become more important, so I still struggle with time, but you are right, it is all about priorities and a mother who is happy and fulfilled creatively can probably give more to her children when she's with them than one who is full of frustration!

Mother of Reinvention said...

This is such an interesting post and really made me think about motherhood and how you just have to muddle though doing the best that you can without vanishing in the process. We don't half get a lot of bullshit to live up to as Mum's, especially as portrayed on social media. The amazing house, the spotless kids with home-grown, organic everything including the hand-made clothes by us. I think that it presents us with a set of completely unreal expectations. Motherhood is bloody hard and we will spend most of the first decade frazzled and in need of intravenous wine. Fair play to you looking after 2 little ones and still making time for yourself and your sewing. I still haven't managed to get my sewing mojo back juggling my all work & no-life balance and doing mum-things. Hope that you get some sewing "me" time and not just "mum" time. Xx

Kirstin said...

Everything about this! I've wondered the same about whether the amount of headspace that sewing takes up is a bit over the top, but I can't help but feel like, if I have a free moment (which, as you know, are few and far between), I want to use it on something I truly enjoy and want to prioritize. My two kids are around the same age as yours (4 1/2 and 1 1/2) so it's not totally feasible to sneak off for a 15-minute sew break, it's more like you said, I have 10 minutes now to review my next project idea and make a list of notions I need to get, or line up the PDF files I'm going to print so that I can tape and cut them out tonight, or look up an instagram hashtag of the next pattern I want to sew to see other versions of it. Or, it doesn't feel like it's necessarily contributing to my own projects, but just catching up on sewing blogs/vlogs/instagrams and being able to leave a quick comment (like this one!) feels enormously positive.

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