Sewing PTSD

(WARNING: This post is long and whiny.  I wrote it a while ago, and debated posting it, because I generally try to keep things… a little more positive on the blog.  However, this blog really was supposed to document my sewing journey, and I suppose that includes the lows, as well as the highs.  So I’m posting it.  I plan on doing a follow-up post in a few days, which I have written more recently, that should be a little less depressing.  But I am sort of at the point where I really just need to say what I’m feeling without interjections of how I should be managing my life, if only to get the thoughts out of my head.  So here it is.  Feel free to ignore this post if you don’t want to deal with the moodiness right now.)

When I started sewing just over 5 years ago, I never thought it would consume my life in the way that it has.  I mean, I know myself well enough to know that I typically get overly excited and obsessed with things that interest me.  I expected sewing to be little more than a fun hobby, a way to exercise my creative tendencies, (perhaps even a way to get pants that actually fit), and a way to temporarily escape from the fears and doubts that only grew during my time at graduate school.  What I didn’t expect was that, sometime down the road,  sewing would stir the same emotions and fears that I have been running from ever since I was preparing for my Advancement to Candidacy.

I suppose the widely held belief is that every blogger eventually wants to use their blogging to achieve fame or make money.  I mean, why else put yourself out there, right?  So I suppose I should feel very lucky and excited that more than a few people in “the real world” recognize me from my blog, and that I get to use my sewing skills to make money.  Except, what do I do if I’m not really all that excited?  What if money and notoriety isn’t really what I wanted when I started all of this?  When I started my blog, real life wasn’t going so well.  I was sad and lonely, and although I told myself this was really just a way to document my sewing journey and participate in the online sewing community, honestly it was really just a desperate attempt at finding friends.  I know a lot of bloggers want to become “known,” and that in today’s world it is all about selling and marketing yourself as a brand.  But what if I never really wanted to be a brand?  What if I just wanted to be a participant in the online sewing community?  What if I just wanted to do something for me?

Sewing for other people started in a sort of accidental, but mostly rather selfish way.  I somehow ended up skating team dance and couldn’t imagine affording a costume from the other seamstresses in the area, so I decided to sew for myself and my dance partner.  Which somehow expanded into me sewing some simple club uniforms for a few other people.  It only took off from there.  Finishing school gave me a lot of extra time, and I liked sewing anyway, plus the extra cash couldn’t hurt, so I figured, why not?

Well, the giant list of “why nots” decided to come smack me upside the head this year.

One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that I am a very spontaneous sewer.  I mean, I can plan and obsess over a project for months years, but the jump from mental planning to fabric cutting is often very spontaneous and usually occurs in a giant flash of inspiration and mojo.  When I am sewing for other people I can’t do that.  Mostly because I am on a deadline, but also because, occasionally more often than I care to admit, I just don’t like the project I am commissioned to make.  Turns out I’m a control freak, and the less control I have over a project, the less I enjoy making it.  It also turns out that copying someone else’s outfit really isn’t my thing (the academic in my brain starts spouting out the p-word, Tourettes style).  I mean, I am more than willing to work with a client, to try and create something they are happy with, but when the process lacks that element of design and creativity it just becomes a lot of uninspired grunt work on a deadline.

This sign is now sitting over my sewing machine.
That is something I never intended to have happen.

The problem then becomes that, at a certain point, I just get so overwhelmed by the list of sewing things that I have to do that I just start to avoid them.  Instead I just want to make something nice and elegant and pretty.  Which usually results in wasting hours planning projects I don’t have time to make or fabric buying which ends up in my ridiculously overstuffed stash or the occasional frenzied project that ends up being for me.  Which makes me feel ridiculously guilty.  Nearly all of my favorite creations this year have been for me – mostly because when I made them I didn’t have any outside influence and just got to create what I wanted, when I wanted, as I wanted.  And the projects turned out the way I envisioned, and I was pleased with the results.  Except that every time I have sewn something for myself it has been at the expense of finishing something for someone else.  It was motivation to get back in front of the sewing machine, which was critically important, but it was also time I didn’t have to waste.  I haven’t been able to feel pride in any of my work this year, because (with one or two notable exceptions) I am not proud of the quality or design of my commissions, and I feel incredible guilt when I look at anything I made for myself.

It hasn’t helped that very few of the things I’ve made seem to have turned out right this year.  There have been more than a few times when I’ve been disgusted by my own sloppy technique (I feel like I’ve spent more time making alterations than actually creating new pieces), and one of my garments may have been so bad that in its unfinished state it reduced a grown woman to tears.  Plus, skating being skating, it wouldn’t be right if the audience weren’t full of snide commentary about every little flaw.  And, yes, if I can’t take it I shouldn’t dish it out, but it has really gotten to the point where, if this were Project Runway, I would have just gotten auf’d because I let my client take over the design during the “real people as models” challenge.

All of this is to say, I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even know if I like sewing anymore.  The worlds “I hate sewing!” may have crossed my lips (more than once) in the past few months.  In a moment of utter frustration I may have chucked a water bottle across the rink lobby.  And there may have been at least one total meltdown that left me as a dissolved, sobbing, puddle of goo waist deep in sequins and chiffon.  I am not proud of my behavior, indeed, it has ranged somewhere between shameful and abominable these past few months.  I am not happy with myself, and, honestly, I haven’t been in quite some time.  I’ve been trying to make lifestyle changes (mainly with my diet), which have helped in many ways, but when it gets down to it, at the end of the day, I’m still not happy.

I was recently listening to a podcast (Revolution Health Radio with Chris Kresser) about productivity.  You can listen to Part I here and Part II here if you are interested.  Anyway, one of his tips for being productive is to have a hobby that you do only for the sake of doing it.  Sewing used to be that for me, but now it isn’t.  Now it is work.  Now it is a job.  Actually, at this point almost everything I do is a job, or is sort of starting to feel like one.  I’m tired, burnt out, and I can’t find the joy in things anymore.  I’ve been feeling this way since I was in grad school, and I assumed it would get better once I had finished, but it hasn’t.  In fact, in a lot of ways, I think it has only gotten worse.

I’ve thought about it a lot (because I overanalyze everything) and the main problem, when I just get down to it, is that I don’t know what I want anymore.  Not just with sewing, but with life in general.  I’ve always been the person who had the next (two or three) steps in mind.  I’ve always had a plan.  And I’ve never been good at rethinking the plan.  I mean, sure, there were backup plans, but they were mostly different routes to the same destination.  The problem is I made it to the destination, but I was so exhausted from the journey that I didn’t want to get off the bus.  And I don’t regret that.  But now I’m not going anywhere.  I’m just sitting on the bus, lost, watching the world through the windows.

How long should a person fail before they stop trying?  Failing at reaching goals, failing at personal growth, failing at finding a desire to do more.  I’ve never really known when to say when, and it’s cost me.  I thought I would have learned a lesson from that, modified my behavior, grown, and reconfigured my life.  But I haven’t.  I’m still the same, stubborn, and unwilling to let go of the things that I decided were important at one point of my life or another.  The problem is that I don’t have any new goals or desires being added to them.  Things are stagnant.  And, as one who has never been fond of change, you would think that I would be ok with this.  But I’m not.

I want things to change.  I want to find new goals.  I want to want things again.  People say things will happen when they are meant to happen, and that time and distance will heal the pain.  But it hasn’t.  I mean, perhaps things aren’t meant to happen right now.  And maybe I haven’t allowed enough time to heal.  But I’ve never been real good about letting things happen on their own, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life waiting for something when I don’t even know what I’m waiting for.  I need to find the something.  I need to find the ambition, the desire, the plan.  Trouble is, I’ve been looking, and I’m still just as lost as I was a year ago, or two.  I’m still stuck on the same goals I’ve been stuck on for the past two years.  I’m still stuck in an uncreative sewing rut, waist-deep in sequins and chiffon, making things for other people.  I’m still stuck on all the wrong choices I’ve made that have led me down this path.  I’m still stuck on that bus, lost in my own thoughts, sitting, watching, and waiting.

15 thoughts on “Sewing PTSD

  1. Wow. I need to think about this before I post a proper response. It's happened to me too, taking a hobby and letting it become a have to with committees and Things That Have to Be Done by. One of the problems with working from home is you never have time off without the thing sitting there and looking at you reproachfully. And for you it's taken over both sewing and skating… It's a hard time. Hang in there, and you do have a supportive community of sewing friends!


  2. I know what it's like to feel overwhelmed and as an educator I would constantly say, “I don't know what I want to be when I grow up.” Well, what happened was I became ill. To you, my friend, I would say stop taking orders, contact the customers and reschedule a long range date of completion or send them to someone else. It's time for a change. Get a job outside of the house so you can make yourself a garment a month. If you decide to continue to sew for others don't overbook. Give yourself some time in between. We want to remain whole and not hang on by a thread.


  3. This is just my thoughts – I may be wrong but I think the problem is worldwide and that is – you are just frustrated and sick of you “job”. It is not the sewing per se – it is the “work”. Turning a hobby into a profession has its own rewards but also its own risk.

    I have my own business as a business trainer and many a time I would get overwhelmed by the amount of work I had waiting for me as I didn't want to say no as it was money. At the time I changed jobs as it wasn't fun anymore. I have since gone back to it but it took 2 years away.

    I must say I totally disagree with you about most sewing bloggers getting into it for money or fame. I also don't think it is a widely held belief. I know quite a few bloggers IRL and sew with them on a regular basis and I know that they got into it for the same reason I did. A love of sewing and a way to document what they create. More of a creative journal. I would say there may be a small amount that do get into it for that reason (I don't know any) but mostly sewing bloggers just love sharing what they have created. Also it is a way to reach out and make friends and connections with other like minded people.

    A hobby is usually something to give us a break from our work and our day to day lives. No wonder you feel overwhelmed. You are getting no break and feeling like what you want to do is making you guilty as it is taking you away from you work. For my two bob I would say find either something else to make your money with or a different hobby – keep a distinction between work and play otherwise it will all be work.

    Hope you feel better soon and get your sewjo back.


  4. My friends cannot understand why I refuse to sew for money. Now I know what to say to them. I usually insist it should simply be a hobby. And it is YOU who should have control over your hobbies.
    Dorothy is right, stop taking orders. Maybe go on a holiday, to a place you've never been before?
    I hope thing get better for you!!


  5. I am not sure who blogs for fame and money and recognition – certainly not me. I'm just happy to meet other sewers, have a chat, share knowledge, have a quiet bit of me time (yes, sitting and blogging is a way to relax as well).

    Life is like this now – plans cannot always be fulfilled. And yes, I've been down the path of higher study as well. Blogging is a way of sometimes meeting a need for plans and goals. That is what my blog was also for – I learnt that I will not be able to do what I want in life as well. I was 10 years on that bus, waiting. Then I decided to enjoy the ride – not the sort of thing I thought I could do – but it was the best decision I made. Letting go and acceptance are very hard things to do.

    As for sewing for others, it is tedious, and I refuse to do it. I have done it, and found it consumed my life as I did not set boundaries. If you are not enjoying it, as Agnes says, take control.

    I also have a drama degree, so I try and make life play as much as possible. It's a good way of countering obsessional anxiety for me. I also have a psychology degree.

    I hope you start feeling more enjoyment in life soon. Take a break, set some boundaries, and start making new priorities in life. New and achievable goals to help you through this transition. Something you have always wanted to do perhaps – now might be a good time to do that.


  6. Ph been there some that. I totally understand where you are coming from. Seriously. I used to bellydance and learned how to sew for that. While going to grad school also and then as a post doc. I started to hate dance with running a troupe, sewing costumes, and being the main creative director. It just got so much and then I started to hate it but I know I truly love t deep down. I was burnt out. Honestly the thing that helped was me was moving. I got a job opportunity and left. I left it all. It was a huge burden lifted from my chest. I know that is not plausible with you. But it helped. But some people in my troupe had the nerve to ask me if I was going to keep up with the emails and scheduling bc you they were busy and had kids. I don't have kids so automatically I sit and twirl my hair. I told them to grow up and if we wanted to count how many work hours I had versus her I worked 10-15 hours more a week plus with everything else. But I was just floored. So I pulle


  7. Sorry phone got weird. But some people don't get it and never will. This break now going on 2 years is exactly what I needed. I just do stuff for me right now since I spent so much time always worrying about others. Sewing has become a love again tho every now and then a crazy pattern will just drain. Me. It happens. Take a break. You need it and you deserve it!!
    Also I started a blog to really keep a journal of what I did because I constantly forget. Constantly forget. I don't want any sort of fame or branding. I just don't want to forget 🙂
    Cheer it. It will get better. How long is truly unknown with how long it might take


  8. I read the entire post…so much to say but I wont bore you with my rambling! I understand how you feel and I pray that you can get back to you…and find a way to appreciate you….I hope you find freedom from all that is weighing you down.. Its okay to say no


  9. I totally understand, too. Back in my 20s, when I was taking a break from my job, I started sewing for money. I finally had to stop after a woman refused to let me measure her (“I'll be that size”), only to have the dress not fit properly. It took me YEARS to want to sew for anyone else. When I started skating in 2009, and making my own costumes, my husband (who I was not married to in my 20s) asked me why I didn't make up some cards and start soliciting for skating sewing at the rink. I told him I wanted to remain sane and enjoy designing costumes for just myself.

    As it turns out, I have made a couple of skating dresses for a very close skating friend, but she has given me carte blanche on the design an we were both pleased with the outcome. But, nope, I don't want to sew for anyone else. I've sewn for over 50 years and I want to keep enjoying it.

    Hang in there, close your sewing machine to anyone else and give yourself time to fall in love with sewing again.


  10. It completely makes sense that things are overwhelming and stressful fo you. Now that you've recognised it, your next step can be to take action – the other commenters all have some good suggestions.

    I also understand blogging as a way to reach out. I mainly blog to document the “non-work” things that I do, as well as to be part of a community (if sewing became my work, I'd have a lot less to blog about). Moving overseas alone as an adult means that I never quite fit in. Talking to other bloggers reminds me that I'm not totally alone. I hope you can talk to us, to bounce ideas off us as much as you need to. If you want to email me privately, I'm at katjacksonnz at gmail dot com.

    Wishing you some more relaxed and happy times ahead 🙂


  11. I blog to “meet” other sewers. I have a friend that writes/blogs for money and she really pushes me to monetize my blog but I just don't want to. I want visitors and readers for the interaction; not to be “known”. And in fact, the short time that I've been in the sewing blog community there are a couple of blogs that I no longer follow because they went from “sewing blog” to one that is all about pushing the patterns they've gotten for free and the stores they get fabric from for free. Bleh.

    The start of your post really resonated with me. I am an obsessive. I became obsessed with crochet, obsessed with knitting, obsessed with sewing. I turned my crochet skills into “work” and eventually hated it. You know what, I quit selling my work. I just did not enjoy it anymore. (I can't crochet now due to tendonitis and carpal tunnel issues).

    Sewing for me is FUN. It's an outlet, a stress reliever and I get cool garments too. I do not and will not sew for money. Not even something simple. I just do not want to.

    I think, if you haven't gotten yourself into a corner where you NEED the money from sewing, that you should take a break. Don't accept anymore orders for at least the rest of 2014 and reexamine how you feel at the start of the new year.


  12. Consider this a hug, it sounds like you need one.

    I agree with most of the other commenters, stop sewing for others and maybe even yourself for a little while. The joy of sewing will return with time

    Take care of yourself. ♥


  13. I'm sorry you're feeling low. 😦 I think you know what you need to do with sewing (stop doing it for other people, let it lie fallow for a while) but I'll address the finishing school thing. When I finished law school and my two clerkships suddenly…I had no more goals, no more plans, nothing more to strive for, nothing more to achieve. It was horrible. It didn't help that I was unhappy in my job (80 hour weeks are not for me), but I really, really had not expected how utterly devastating it would be to “succeed.” I accomplished all the goals I'd set for myself–shouldn't that have made me happy?

    I don't even have any advice, because it took me a long time to learn to just exist, and to find joy and pride in living well day to day, just being happy and taking care of myself and nurturing friendships (and doing well at work, too, but that is definitely not everything to me). It's a really hard transition that absolutely nobody mentions to you while you're still in school. I guess that's what the Quarter Life Crisis is about for people who come out of college, but I think (in my own biased opinion) that it's magnified for people with graduate degrees, who are likely to have been even more goal- and achievement-oriented.

    Take heart. For me, that trough was the lowest period in my life. It has been all uphill since then.


  14. Thank you for sharing this – I completely agree with so much of what you have said, and it really helps to see that it isn't just me who has these rather counter-intuitive emotions after major life events. I do think this sort of thing affects graduate students more – there is always the sense that, no matter what you do, it is not enough, and will never be enough. And, if you somehow manage to actually get something done, it still isn't as good as it should have been. It is hard not to let this sort of thinking seep into other aspects of life… It is a struggle. Learning to “just exist” really is what I need to do. Hopefully it will get better for me too.


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