When I was taught by mum how to sew, it wasn't something I gave much thought to. My mum studied at the London College of Fashion in the 60s and she was always sewing. She made all her own clothes and all those for me, my sister and brother including hats, hair accessories, swimwear, pyjamas, everything. So much so, in fact, that if we ever got something that wasn't made by her that quickly became a favourite item of clothing just because of the novelty - oh how ungrateful and fickle we were.
So it was natural that she would teach me how to sew, particularly due to the fact that I was as tall as I am now (6 foot) when I was 12 and literally nothing fitted me, so making trousers, and maxi skirts long enough for me to trip over was the only way.
We made lots of trousers together. And dresses, including a highly dubious pink trumpet sleeved affair of my design that I wore to my school leavers ball. (Thankfully all photos are far far away from here.) And then I went to university and aside from a chocolate brown satin floor length gown I made for my grad ball, sewing didn't feature.
Then it was the late 90s and I moved to London and the whole ladette thing was in full swing and sewing just wasn't something you did because there was too much of the 'little woman' thing associated with it which just didn't fit with the strong messages of female empowerment and independence that were so important to us at that time. I made the odd thing; a red knee-length jacket for a wedding, an icicle outfit for a 'Titanic' party (it was as dubious as it sounds) but really I didn't sew regularly for about ten years.
In the last few years as 'make do and mend' has become a phrase that is common once again home-sewing has become increasingly popular. Many many people (if the success of the Great British Sewing Bee is anything to go by - or indeed has it fed the trend?) are taking up a needle as they discover sewing your own clothes is really enjoyable. But more than that; it's a way to stand out, to be individual, to make a statement against mass production and the homogeneity of fashion and also to be more responsible; reducing landfill, knowing where your clothes came from and who made them and the responsible practices that are associated with that, particularly if you are very selective about where your fabric comes from. In many ways, I feel it is more empowering than the culture of women trying to emulate men in the 80s and 90s (not that all people who sew are women, but the larger percentage quite clearly are.)
When watching GBSB or reading the many sewing blogs that fill my feed, I often wonder what led that person to take up sewing.
For me, though I'd like to say it was because I want to be environmentally and socially responsible, it's other things, some financial (if one's fabric habit is kept under control (!) it is often cheaper to sew quality clothing than buy it), some fit related, but mainly it was wanting to re-find a creative outlet that had got completely lost in the whirlwind of a very busy job and babies that prompted me to dust off my machine. To have something just for me.
Incidentally, I hate the term 'selfish sewing'. It is not selfish to sew for oneself. When you spend 95% of your time doing things for other people (whether caring for children or working for someone else), how is it selfish to take a small amount of time to do something you enjoy and create something you will get satisfaction out of using or wearing?
When my son was four weeks old, I was feeding him in the middle of the night and, as was my habit, randomly searching the web and I came across Tilly and the Buttons' blog (having watched her on GBSB) and quickly I became immersed in this amazing community of sewing blogs and was totally inspired. However, the state of overwhelmed that is having a toddler and a newborn was not conducive with having free time to sew.
Then a month or so later I was diagnosed with post-natal depression and recommended CBT. One of the first things this suggests is finding a hobby or something you can do that is constructive and focuses you. The only thing I could think of that meant I didn't have to leave the house and I had the resources handy and I was actually vaguely interested in doing was sewing and so, when the children were asleep I forced myself away from Homes under the Hammer and started making stuff - little things - some baby pants, a skirt for my daughter, a pin cushion for my mum.
When my baby was 5 months old we moved to Brooklyn and by this time the sewing bug had well and truly bitten and because the voltage difference meant my machine - my grandmother's 1960s Frister Rossman - doesn't work here I had to go and get a new machine and well that, combined with the Garment District, means I now sew at every opportunity (still mainly when the babies are sleeping). I love it and I do find it incredibly therapeutic.
I think most people would say the same; that their reasons for sewing are complex and varied but the overriding feeling is a sense of accomplishment; being able to see your progression with a certain skill; a tangible return for your efforts and having an end result that is unique and individual. It is also highly personal and a creative outlet. And finally, because you put so much time and effort into it, the item will be cherished and looked after and a second thought will be given when it perhaps becomes time for it to go to The Great Wardrobe in the Sky (of course that means goodwill, or charity shop, or eBay, or free cycle, or dress-up box etc - not landfill ...)
I'm always interested to know where the other sewers / sewists / seamstresses I have come to know learnt to sew and why they do it.
If I had to distill it, I would say I sew for: sanity, creativity, individuality and something that I can't quite find the words for, but as some kind of homage to my mum.
What led you to your first machine and what still prompts you to turn it on? I'd love to know.