Guest series :: Sewing with the flow

by Admin on 04/07/2012

in Beauty+Health, Community + Creativity, Guest series 2012

Guest series 2012: I asked fellow bloggers, makers and creators to write on their creativity and focus their essay on one of four topics: creativity and health, creativity and business, creativity and parenting or creativity and process. I am very excited to have a wonderful lot of fellow creative folk guest posting here at over the next couple of months. Please welcome…

Maryanne lives in Sydney Australia. She wears many hats – a wife, a mother, a doctor, a sewing addict and sewing teacher. She shares a blog and a sewing school with her sister Caroline. Their sewing school is called Sew Together. When Maryanne is being a doctor she likes to spend her time not only treating illness, but helping to keep people both physically and psychologically well.

There is no doubt that sewing makes me feel good. It makes me feel fulfilled, calm and productive. It excites and enthuses me. When I am not sewing and I have a spare moment in my day – driving the car, under the shower or drifting off to sleep I am thinking about sewing – processing the projects I am currently working on or planning the next one. As I was growing up I saw my mother doing the same thing and now I see my sister thinking similarly. I am sure WhipUp unites many others who feel the same way.

The question is why do we all feel like this? Maybe it is a gene knitted tightly into some people’s DNA but I am sure there is more to it than that.

Research about sewing and wellbeing is fairly thin on the ground. Anyone who sews regularly will tell you it makes them feel good but there isn’t much science out there to prove it or explain why. If you are interested in looking at what is available, I would encourage you to check out Stitchlinks a fantastic organization that supports people who use knitting and stitching to improve their wellbeing, performs research into the benefits of crafts, in particular knitting, and provides information to clinicians, teachers, the craft trade and others who wish to use therapeutic knitting and run therapeutic knitting groups.

For me, I think a lot of it comes down to the idea of flow. Yes, there is pleasure in making something beautiful to wear or display but there is something in the actual process of designing and sewing that keeps me coming back.

Flow is a concept that was developed in the 1990s by the psychologist Dr Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Cziksentmihalyi defines flow as “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it”. The more flow we experience in our daily lives, the happier we feel overall.

He identifies a number of different conditions that lead to flow:

  • There are clear goals every step of the way.
  • There is immediate feedback to one’s actions.
  • There is a balance between challenges and skills.
  • Action and awareness are merged.
  • Distractions are excluded from consciousness.
  • There is no worry of failure.
  • Self-consciousness disappears.
  • The sense of time becomes distorted.
  • The activity becomes an end in itself.

Check out the article Happiness and Creativity by Cziksentmihalyi for more details.

Sometimes I sew by the book – pick a pattern I like and sew it up. It’s enjoyable but I don’t get that totally immersed–lost in time feeling. But when I “Sew with the flow” I tick every item on Cziksentmihalyi’s list. Let me give you some examples.

A little purse (for which there is a tutorial on our blog) was so enjoyable to work out. I had an exact idea of how I wanted it to look but no pattern. Combining the skills I had with some maths and an A4 piece of paper, I drafted up a pattern and it turned out exactly as I had hoped. Some people wouldn’t experience flow with a project like this – maybe they have no interest, or it would be just too easy. But for me it hit the spot – challenging, absorbing, immediate feedback, yes it was for our blog but it was more about the process behind it than writing a post. And when it all worked out and I had worked out directions to make this little zippered purse in any size I was pretty happy with myself.

This dress was created by Caroline and me for Project Run and Play a children’s clothing design and sewing competition we are currently competing in. We drafted it from scratch – a double circle skirt with colour blocking attached to a fitted bodice. We are new to pattern drafting so it was certainly challenging and absorbing. But I think I would call this project ‘sewing with the flow with an added bonus’ and that bonus would be social connectedness. Social connectedness is another key component to well being. I could connect with my sister while making it and share in the excitement of pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone. It also connected us with the worldwide sewing community via the internet and we received some great feedback about our work. I think we all know that this has the ability to make us feel pretty good and is therefore somewhat addictive!

Finally I want to share with you something I call “70 squares” (see image at the top). I made this for my Mum for her 70th birthday. Each of the 70 squares represent something important to my Mum – her family and friends, places she has travelled, places she has lived and other parts of her life. I found the process of creating this quite meditative. It is a slower project than what I usually do and this gave me lots of time to think about my Mum, my family and our history. It connected me with her friends and more distant family when I contacted them to find out how they would like to be represented. And it made my Mum so happy when I gave it to her.

So, to quote Csikszentmihalyi: “For many people happiness comes from creating new things and making discoveries. Enhancing one’s creativity may therefore enhance well being.”

I think there would be many of us who would confidently say that the “may” in the second sentence is redundant…

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Colleen July 5, 2012 at 5:11 am

I’ve been thinking about this exact topic a lot lately. I’ve bookmarked all the links to have a proper read later. Thanks so much.


2 Webbing Supplier July 7, 2012 at 7:02 pm

That little girl is an adorable model. What a nice dress!


3 Justine August 3, 2012 at 12:48 pm

I love the Sew Together Blog! This was a wonderful post.


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