Thank you to everyone who read, commented and contacted me privately to talk about my last post on debunking the studio. I was bowled over by the response; it was a powerful reminder that, to be inclusive, we need to see – and therefore show – all aspects of the sewing life.
I want to see the fabulous and the mundane, the eye-wateringly expensive and the cobbled together with an elastic band and a knitting needle. I want to see it all: everyone represented, everyone included, whatever the budget, whatever the skill.
A striking thing to emerge from numerous conversations over the past few days is how some felt uncomfortable sharing sewing spaces because of a sense they’re not good enough. We are the victims of The Filter: no, not the one we tap to prettify before we post, but the one that stops us making the post altogether. It’s not the dreaded algorithm that gives us a skewed idea of everyone else’s perfection, it’s our own self-censorship.
We don’t see our sewing habits reflected in the feed, so we censor ourselves and, in turn, inadvertently encourage others to do the same. There is nothing intentional about it, but in sensing that this thing or that make is not good enough, we create a vicious circle where, in the end, very few things become good enough. The bottom line is that the only posts we see are the beautifully-shot razzle dazzle highlights.
Given that the fancy stuff rarely gets a look in during day-to-day life, why not give more attention to the things that do: the basic tees, the joggers, the top that went awry, the odd socks, the pile of grey school trousers that need mending. Not to mention the work table that doubles as a sewing space and triples as a dining table. The mundane everyday side of sewing has as much of a place as the fabulous stuff of dreams.
I grew up in an environment where the ‘studio’ (both my parents are artists) sprawled into every nook and cranny of the house. For me, the intrigue of a busy studio never pales. I love the fancy ones, I love the basic ones, I desperately want to rifle through the messy ones, and I love seeing how people make spaces multitask so they can pursue their passion whenever they get the chance. I really enjoyed seeing so many more interesting spaces shared on Instagram this week, and learning about what piece of kit came from where, what was bagged for a song in a charity shop, or received just because someone heard you loved to sew.
Clearly, The Filter is not limited to the spaces in which we sew. Its main purpose, it seems, is to invalidate our makes before we even consider posting them. We all know how Instagram stories have driven everyday ‘throwaway’ (marketeering language, not mine) content away from the grid, which is supposed to house only a carefully curated selection. It’s a vicious circle where all we ever see are artfully edited visions of perfection, and we therefore feel we should only show our best shots, which in turn influences others to follow suit. It’s an ever-narrowing whirlpool.
As a result, many of us refrain from sharing because we feel like our makes are too dull, that our lifestyle is not sufficiently alluring.
Is this all in our heads? Of course it is! Instagram is programmed to mess with your head and turn you into a wreck. And then maybe buy some stuff. Its hailed as a place for creatives, but when creativity is censored because it is not sufficiently exciting – it is novelty that sells, don’t forget – then it is more of an impediment than an aide.
In praise of dull sewing
It’s a bit naughty of me to call this dull sewing; it’s the sewing I like and I am, therefore, being self-deprecating and thus laying the path for The Filter to do its dastardly work.
Let’s just say that ‘dull’ is how I affectionately refer to my more recent sewing direction, and that it does make me question my relevancy to the ‘gram.
I’ve been gradually changing the way I sew since the end of 2019. I realised that much of what I’d sewn over the previous year was driven not by my own tastes and needs, but rather by the free fabric that had been made available to me. I wasn’t working at the time, so writing blogs in return for fabric helped me maintain practice – both sewing and writing. My makes were also driven – and it makes me cringe to admit this – by a sense of what would be appealing on the grid.
Over the course of 2019 I made a few things I now know I will never wear. After an initial outing that usually resulted in the squirming feeling of something just not being right, I hung them back in the wardrobe. There they remained, untouched, for months. I felt guilty and wasteful.
At the end of the year I got a new job and realised I would no longer have the time to sew frequently. So, if I was going to sew, it needed to count. I began to reassess why I was sewing and who I was really sewing for.
I stripped out the dormant garments, folded them up and put them in a trunk in my daughter’s bedroom. Some things I’ve since retrieved. The others will be refashioned into clothes for her as and when she needs them. A few things were good enough to go to the charity shop.
From then on I sewed a lot of basic monochrome items of clothing. I embraced the colours that make me feel good (cobalt blue, emerald green, fuscia pink) rather than the ones that were in fashion. Khaki, mustard, orange: I love you, but you make me look like cat sick.
As a result, my grid became far more subdued. I began to feel slightly irrelevant. The Filter was hard at work: the temptation to pump it up with some novel print of the moment in the latest indie pattern release was strong! But I knew I wouldn’t wear it. So why bother?
Picture, if you will, the filmic montage: woman wades across treacherous river strewn with floral prom dresses, heaves herself up onto the bank on the other side and surveys the normcore horizon. Furrowed brow softens to wry smile, as she pulls a technicolour thread from her beige shirt. Yes I’m overegging it. And no, I’m unlikely to achieve normcore heights a la Larry. But do you know what? From the other side, my newly embraced sewing itinerary seems just fine.
This year Me Made May during lockdown gave me a chance to further reassess and boil down what it is I actually want to wear, and what I might need to make. The answer was: not very much. My desire to make clothes dwindled to bare essentials and I spent a lot of time making basic tees and planning a summer rain coat I’ve been lacking for the past five years (surprise surprise, it’s going to be black). I tried to take photos but decided they were not good enough to share. So bland! Who would be interested? And this decision was made in spite of the fact I derived a huge amount of enjoyment from the process of planning and making.
The truth is, I should share them. If I don’t, it simply reinforces the idea that everybody everywhere is constantly sewing fantastical clobber with enormous dollops of frosting. While it’s wonderful, it shouldn’t be the only kind of sewing that is worthy of anyone else’s attention.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is, if you think your makes are too boring for Instagram, then please think again. I for one would like to see them. I would like to see everyday sewing become just that – something we see everyday. That means everything you make on a day-to-day basis, everything you repair and mend, everything you remake and refashion. I’m here for all of it. And maybe, just maybe, if we start to share the things we consider too dull for others’ eyes, we might begin to see the wonder in ourselves.
So, tell me – have you refrained from sharing your work or your sewing space online because you feel it does not live up to the glamour on your feed? Or do you share everything and not give a jot? I’d love to hear from you and maybe we can egg each other on to embrace all of our sewing, not just the fancy bits.