Intentional Sewing

Welcome to our first instalment in a year of stories about sewing and creativity.  Each month, the Twig + Tale Storytellers team comprised of 32 members of our sewing community, will be exploring a different open-ended theme, sharing reflections and stories, and inviting discussion with the sewing community.  

Our first theme is Intention.  Here, Angela shares some reflections about what intentional sewing means to her.  

What does being intentional mean to you?  How does it apply to your sewing and creative practices?  Do you ever set intentions for your sewing?  

I know I’m not alone in saying that the last couple of years have been… a lot.  We have been challenged and stretched in so many fundamental, life-changing ways.  In the moment, it can feel overwhelming - there has been so much to carry, and limited mental and emotional space to hold it all.

But I’ve also come to recognize that challenges allow us to define and focus on what is truly important.  I feel like my personal values are more clearly defined than they ever were before.  With that clarity, comes the desire to make changes and ensure that my actions align with my values.

Here's a small part of my story...

I live in a small town in the mountains of Western Canada, where 2021 was marked by a string of extreme weather events and devastating wildfires.  The heat dome in July was a stark reminder of the realities of climate change.  I had never experienced such hot weather in my life.  My family developed a precisely-choreographed routine that involved opening and closing windows and doors to capitalize on the cooler early morning air, moving fans from one window to another, and hanging wet sheets in doorways, but ultimately, our home is not equipped to deal with extreme heat.  News of forest fires weighed heavily on me, grieving for those who had lost their lives and homes, and knowing the tinder dry conditions in our local area meant that in the intense heat, a fire could start at any moment.  We packed go-bags, assembled important papers, and made sure we were ready to move on short notice. 

In the midst of a pandemic, our small world became even smaller.  We spent much of the summer trapped inside, living under a pall of thick wildfire smoke.  Sometime in mid-August, when the long-awaited rain came, my daughter and I went outside and danced barefoot in the puddles on the street.  The smoke eventually cleared and everyone - human, animal, and plant alike - seemed to take a deep breath of relief.

What did not dissipate with the smoke was a lingering feeling of uncertainty and vulnerability, and a conviction that we need to do better.  In order to feel like I was doing something positive and constructive, I decided it was time to start making more intentional choices about sustainability and overconsumption.

Making Intentional Choices

Being a maker - a sewist, knitter, embroiderer, mender - is central to my identity, and is something I do because it feels authentic to who I am.  I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment and resourcefulness that comes from creating something practical and beautiful.  Naturally, I want the things I make, and my reasons for making them, to reflect my beliefs about sustainability.  Being intentional about what I choose to sew and the materials I use feels like an important step.  

Looking back, the choices I have made when sewing have not always been particularly intentional - I am easily swayed by pretty fabric (that often ends up languishing in a storage box) and prone to abandoning projects part way when the fit isn’t right.  I have also created a fair number of random garments that don’t end up coordinating with anything else in my wardrobe, and rarely see the light of day.  Does any of that sound familiar to you?

Moving forward, I plan to make more intentional choices that better reflect my values relating to sustainability and consumption. Here are some of the areas that I will focus on that may resonate with other sewists as well:

  • Slow down.  Take a little bit longer to finish a project.  Invest time and attention in a garment, being fully present and mindful for every step of the process.
  • Fit garments properly.  Sew a muslin and learn how to do the alterations that will ensure handmade clothing fits properly.  It may seem intimidating at first, but the reward is comfortable clothing that will be worn and loved.
  • Explore the possibilities of a single pattern.  When a pattern fits well, play with it by exploring all the pattern options, trying out simple hacks, or perhaps adding embroidery.
  • Avoid stockpiling.  Avoid impulse buying materials, even if they're on sale.  For me, the emotional burden of knowing that I have boxes of unused fabric weighs on me.  I would rather have the mental and physical space than stacks of fabric.
  • Sew from your stash.  Related to the point above about stockpiling, commit to using the fabric stash, or pass it along to someone who can use it.
  • Upcycle.  There's a huge amount of textile waste in the world, so try to reuse materials whenever possible.
  • Learn about fabric manufacturing.  Do some research, and make an effort to shop for fabrics that have less of an ecological impact.  
  • Focus.  Like many creative people, I have more ideas than time.  I will record ideas in a notebook, then focus on making the things that will be used.  I'll avoid impulse buying materials until I know that I will have time to carry through with a project. 
  • Make time for sewing and creativity.  Sewing brings joy to my life, so I will commit to making time for it on a regular basis.

Setting Intentions

Related to the idea of making intentional choices is the concept of setting intentions.  Setting intentions can be a powerful practice that allows us to align our values with our actions.  Unlike a goal, an intention serves as a guide, helping us to proceed mindfully and with purpose.

I’d like to share some intentions for my sewing practice that I’m planning to incorporate this year, which relate to sustainability and being conscious about resources:

  • I intend to include hand-stitching in my projects.  This may be a hand-stitched hem, or an embroidered detail.  When I stitch something by hand, I feel more invested in a project.  We’ve passed hours together, and by the time it’s finished, the garment already feels like an old friend.
  • I intend to use fabrics from my stash and upcycled textiles.  Not only does this help to address my concerns about overconsumption, but I'm excited to explore the ways that limitations can fuel creativity!   
  • I intend to create space in my days to enjoy the process of slow sewing.  Sewing brings me joy, and that is reason enough.  

      I hope that these observations provide some food for thought.  I invite you to consider your own reasons for sewing, and the values that guide the choices you make in your sewing and creative practice.  In what ways do you feel like you could be more intentional in your sewing?  Does the idea of setting intentions that reflect your values appeal to you?

      Angela lives in a little town in the mountains of British Columbia with her daughter and husband. She can usually be found sewing or with knitting needles in her hands, but she also enjoys exploring forests, lakes, and rivers with her family.  You can find her here.