Set aside the obvious benefits: no missing buttons, or dropped hems… more money in the bank because we make more of our own clothes… and an up-to-date wardrobe because refashioning last season’s buys is so easy.
There is one more overwhelming reason why picking up a needle and thread is so good for us. It makes us feel good! The question is – why?
At its most basic, sewing requires us to focus both physically and mentally on a task. It’s hard to sew if you’re not paying attention – many a pricked finger stands testament to this. So if you’re concentrating on your sewing you can’t be worrying about what to give the kids for supper, or fretting about problems at work.
And that hand-eye coordination is good for our brains and for keeping our fingers nimble. Having agile minds and bodies tend to make us feel more agile and alert. Plus being able to make and mend does wonders for our self –esteem.
There is also something wonderful about pointing to a new dress or a restyled jacket and saying: “I did that.” So much of modern activity doesn’t have a physical end result. Many of us work in jobs where our ‘output’ can’t be shown off in the same way.
Sewing skills can also open up your social life. Courses are a great way to meet new people as well as acquire new skills. And once you’ve acquired or updated your sewing skills with a course, the socialising doesn’t have to stop. “Sewing circles” are coming back into fashion. They operate a bit like book clubs, with a group of friends taking it in turns to choose projects, host evenings and lay on refreshments.
A recent article splashed across several UK national newspapers highlighted the advantages of quilting, after researchers found it benefited people in ways that physical or outdoor pursuits didn’t. This included improving cognitive, emotional and social wellbeing.
The University of Glasgow team behind the research said that the social network that developed fostered the formation of strong friendships. “Affirmation from others boosted self-esteem and increased motivation for skill development. Quilts were often given altruistically and gave quilting added purpose.”
Elsewhere, the Wellbeing Project, a social enterprise set up in 2006 in Halton and St Helens in the UK, provided a range of community-based activities aimed at improving mental wellbeing. This included sewing classes, such as “Sew Your Own,” 6 week course working with recycled fashion and including hand and sewing machine skills, as well as how to customise clothing and make bags, cushions and accessories.
Sewing also brings positive benefits for older people, including those with dementia, as it is a familiar activity that older people often remember how to do, even if other activities have become more daunting.
For example, the Craft Cafe on a housing estate in Glasgow was set up to combat social isolation among older residents. The skills on offer included sewing and knitting and the initiative proved so effective that local doctors referred older patients to the cafe and another project set up in Govan as a therapeutic approach to long-term illness.
Knitting as well
And you don’t have to stop at sewing. For example, knitting is a celebrity past time (fans include Madonna, Russell Crowe and Meryl Streep) and a great way to de-stress.
Betsan Corkhill, a former NHS physiotherapist, realised that even maximum doses of medication were relatively ineffective if the core issues of loneliness, low self-esteem, anxiety and “an unoccupied mind left to ruminate on problems” were not provided for.
Disheartened by the lack of interest in these problems, Betsan left the NHS in 2002 and went to work on craft magazines. To her surprise she discovered “huge amounts” of emails and letters extolling the health benefits of cross-stitching and knitting, saying they had help alleviate even suicidal depression and had allowed people to reduce some pain medication. Fascinated and inspired Betsan started to research the therapeutic effects of knitting and stitching.
Findings to date suggest that knitting has a neurochemical effect on the brain. Monica Baird, pain specialist at the Royal United Hospital Bath states “It changes brain chemistry for the better, possibly by decreasing stress hormones and increasing feel-good serotonin and dopamine.”
This article has been provided by Make it and Mend it. Make it and Mend was an online resource for people who want to make and mend more and throw away less. Sadly the site is no more but their book is still available on Amazon.