What Sewing Taught Me about Creativity (Pandemic Edition)

I started sewing when I was a little girl under the watchful eye of my mother. Watchful, because she knew I was accident prone. We made dresses and curtains and costumes and pajama pants out of the fabric stash she kept in a giant tote bin in our basement. I have a whole category of warm memories dedicated to crafting with my mom.

When I started (slowly) working through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, I was challenged to draw upon those good childhood memories and retry some of the hobbies that brought me joy as a kid. So, I got my sewing machine out.

During this time of uncertainty, it has felt nearly impossible to be creative. My short stories have all been about being trapped in the house or the airport or other various locations (they say write what you know), and I’ve been left feeling frustrated with myself.

I picked up sewing again out of desperation, to do something with my hands when my brain felt numb from constant stress. As I regain some semblance of our new “normal,” my clumsy sewing projects have taught me a lot about myself and my creativity.

Creativity is a practice…but doesn’t look the same every time

Something I always tell my students is that creativity is a practice. The more you engage in creative activities, the more creative you feel.

Where I went wrong in the past was limiting myself to literary-related activities. Don’t feel like writing? Read a book. Don’t feel like reading? Do a writing exercise. Pretty soon, the activities that I once enjoyed now felt like work.

Recently a senior writing student asked, “Will I ever feel like writing again?” My response to him was, “Give it time.”

Sometimes, we need a break even from the things we love to do. Having an additional option for creative expression during these times becomes vital.

Sewing has become that third option for me (that and taking care of my Animal Crossing island). I still try to schedule in reading and writing time every day, but adding in other creative activities has made me feel excited about being creative again.

Maybe for you that’s painting or cooking or gardening. I’ve started making a list of activities that give me that spark of creative energy. When the stay-at-home doldrums hit, I run down the list. If all else fails, I take a walk (in my backyard) and start again.

Making mistakes is part of the process

I never considered myself a perfectionist, at least not where other people were concerned. It wasn’t until I was hit with a months-long crippling writer’s block that I realized I might have a problem with myself.

During those months, I had started and stopped a dozen stories and essays because they weren’t “good enough” or they weren’t going the direction I wanted them to. I would start a sentence then erase it ad nauseam.

When I launched back into sewing again this year, I went into it banking on my childhood knowledge. I thought I remembered how to thread a sewing machine until the thread started to birdnest and knot. I thought I would remember how to read a pattern, but after several YouTube tutorials, I recognized I did not. I made mistake after mistake, ripped out seams and sewed them again only to realize that I sewed it with the wrong side in. I tried, without previous attempts, to pleat something…which is all that needs to be said.

In the frustration, something shifted in me. Every time I made a mistake and chose to fix it rather than give up, I learned something. I became more aware of my process and the gaps in my knowledge. And I learned when to ask for help.

During this time of creative drought, we need to be open to failure more than ever. We need to take a few risks, try new mediums, and make room for play. Maybe if writing feels laborious, try it from a new point of view or in another form (a letter, a diary entry, a story in texts). And if it doesn’t go as planned, remember that the detours are an avenue to get us to where we need to go.

It doesn’t have to be perfect to be good

The most important lesson that sewing has taught me has also become my mantra for the year:

It doesn’t have to be perfect to be good.

I wanted to make a skirt as my first sewing project. I should have started with a scrunchie because it took me over 5 hours. By the end of it, my workspace was covered in thread and the hem was not straight, but I put that skirt on and I looked in the mirror, overjoyed to see it completed. It wasn’t perfect. Not even close. But it was good. Who cares if it had thread tails and uneven seams? I still finished what I set out to do.

I think the desire for perfection (or at the very least, the fear of doing things wrong) has held me back from a lot of things in my life. It has most assuredly affected my writing life and it took a botched sewing project to help me to realize it.

 Maybe in the coming weeks, I don’t meet my word-count goals, but 20 minutes of “bad” writing is better than 0 minutes. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be good.

Maybe my first draft has plot holes and typos in it. You have to have words to edit them! It doesn’t have to be perfect to be good.

Maybe you pick up a new hobby or work on a new story during your time at home or maybe you don’t. Maybe you just focus on staying healthy (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually). It doesn’t have to be perfect to be good.

Wherever you’re at in this creative journey, give yourself some grace and remember that your best is good enough during these unusual times.

-HEB 

Published by Hannah Benefield

Writer at hebenefield.com and professor at a university in central Florida.

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