Joyful Sewing: 12 Tips for Enjoying a Stress-free Hobby

If you read the title of this post you might be thinking, I LOVE sewing! Why would anyone think it was stressful? Of course most of the time it probably isn’t and it might never be for you, but the truth is that I get many emails, comments on the blog, questions in my classes, and even phone calls that lead me to believe a lot of people experience at least some stress and anxiety about sewing as a hobby. Even browsing through social media I can tell that some people are weighed down by their craft in that they have too many projects, too much fabric, not enough time, and not enough self-confidence. Sewing isn’t bringing them the joy and satisfaction a fun hobby should.

I’m certainly not perfect and I carry my fair share of stress and negative thoughts. I’m working on being a more mindful parent, but I still go to bed sometimes with regrets about how I interacted with my kids. I’m working on being nicer to myself about my appearance, but it’s hard to undo a lifetime of self-bullying. I try to be mature and real in all my relationships, but sometimes I feel as insecure and sensitive as I did when I was 16. I’m a work in progress in a million ways, but I do feel good, calm, centered, and confident when it comes to sewing. I think I have a more relaxed attitude about it than most people would expect given my job. I do spend a lot of time thinking about sewing, how to engage more people, and how to help them become passionate about the craft, so here are my thoughts, coalesced into 12 gentle suggestions.

  1. Tackle one project at a time…OK, maybe two. I know you love new fabric, new sew-alongs, and new patterns–we all do. But having a box, or shelf, or room full of unfinished projects can be burdensome and doesn’t really make a lot of sense financially. It’s more satisfying and less stressful to finish what you start. I try to limit my WIPs to two–a big project like a quilt, and something smaller like a bag. I’m ok with taking a month or two to finish a quilt, but I try to knock out a bag or a garment in just a few sewing room sessions. If you dread working on a partially-completed project, consider letting it go by recycling the pieces, passing it along to someone who will finish it, or just throwing it out.
  2. Enjoy the process and the ritual. There is a zen proverb that goes, “when walking, walk.” It’s a reminder to live in the moment rather than worrying, planning, or multi-tasking. Try not to cook, help the kids with their homework, or take phone calls while you’re sewing. Give your full and complete attention to setting up your supplies, prepping your fabric, and putting together your project. You might enjoy it more and see better results.
  3. Give yourself permission to do things your own way. In one of my Craftsy videos I’m seen inserting pins in the fabric parallel to the edge. In the comments, several people were astonished that I pin the wrong way! Others came to the defense of the right way! Clearly you have to do whatever works for you. Learn different techniques and talk to people about their methods, then experiment. Whether it’s cutting your fabric, basting a quilt, sewing binding, or finishing seams, there are usually several different ways to get the job done and none of them are the “right” way–some of them simply work better for different people in different situations.
  4. Accept the imperfections. I recently made a quilt block for a book blog hop. My block was far from perfect–my corners didn’t match up in several places and I think the overall size was a 1/4″ smaller than it should have been, but I didn’t change it for my blog post. I think it’s important to show each other our imperfect work. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t strive to improve your skills, but I am saying you should accept the fact that mistakes are part of the journey to becoming a better sewist. I still haven’t reached Destination Matched Points, but I’ll keep at it.
  5. Don’t box yourself in with a label. Modern or traditional. Quilter or generalist. Seamstress or sewist. Team pachycephalosaurus or team ankylosaurus. There aren’t any rules, so be who you want to be.
  6. Banish the language of fear. I often hear people say they’re “terrified of zippers” or “scared of buttonholes”. Really? It might be daunting, but are you really afraid? What’s the worst that could happen? Eliminate words and ideas from your thoughts that are holding you back and replace them with positive affirmations–“I don’t know how to sew a zipper yet but I’ll figure it out” or “I’m gonna rock the button-down shirt by the end of the year!”
  7. Destash. Those tubs and shelves and piles of fabric that you aren’t using and will never use might be stressing you out. If they’re making you feel guilty or burdened or overwhelmed, get rid of them. If it makes you feel better, sell them. If you can swing it, give them to a school or charity organization. You’ll breathe easier and feel lighter with them gone.
  8. Make time. It’s hard to just “find” the time to sew. If you wait for a break in your schedule to finish a project, you might be waiting for weeks or longer. I like to get my sewing on the calendar and on my family’s radar. I try to have sew days with friends, and every once in awhile I arrange with my husband to get the kids out of the house so I can sew uninterrupted. These aren’t the only times I sew, but they are days I know I can count on it. Making your hobby a priority not only makes it possible for you to get things done, but it reinforces with your family and yourself that your needs are a priority too.
  9. Learn and teach. No matter where you are in your journey to becoming a better sewist, you have something to learn and something to teach. It’s a wonderful hobby in that way–with thousands of applications and techniques, the possibilities are endless. Keep learning–the internet and and the rising popularity of neighborhood sewing studios are making it easier every day. And don’t forget that even if you consider yourself a beginner, you have something to teach. Write blog posts, participate in online sewing discussions, and teach your kids. I sew and weave with kinders once a month and it’s one of the most rewarding things I do.
  10. Be happy for other people. This gets to the point that as humans we tend to compare ourselves to others, and sewists, bloggers, authors, and designers are no exception. If you participate regularly in the online sewing community, it’s hard not to occasionally feel jealous of someone else’s book deal, sensational fabric line, award-winning quilt, or top-ranking blog. Keep in mind that their success does not diminish your awesomeness in any way. Being green with envy, however, does. Next time something wonderful happens to an online friend, rejoice with them! I believe karma is real in the sense that you get back what you focus on, so spend your energy on the good, hopeful, positive things–you’ll never regret it.
  11. Make something for yourself. As much as we all love to sew for other people, when we’re only sewing for our families it can begin to feel like a chore or duty rather than an enjoyable hobby. Take the time to make something wonderful for yourself often, whether it be a quilt, a bag, or a garment. No one will appreciate the amazing sense of style and incredible talent that went into the construction more than you!
  12. Don’t take it too seriously. Remember, you don’t have to sew. You can probably buy the things you need for less money than it takes to make them. Have fun! Try new things and don’t be too hard on yourself when you make mistakes. It’s an incredibly rewarding craft and creative outlet that can help you relieve stress, so if it seems like it’s adding to it, step back and try to figure out what’s bringing you down. Pull out out your sewing supplies and photograph them with plastic dinosaurs.

What stresses you out about sewing? Do you have other suggestions? Thoughts about these 12 tips? We’d love to read your thoughts in the comments!

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