Sewing, Silence, and Solitude

It was exactly two years ago I first started this post.   It must have been a cold, snowy day – the sort when it is best to stay in and settle down with a sewing project – for me to be prompted to write about this subject.   Then I must have gotten distracted – or maybe I just ran out of things to say – but I never finished writing it.  Now seems like a good time to do so…

A dear friend of mine who spends her sewing hours making beautiful quilts once lamented to me, “It’s a shame sewing is such a solitary activity.”  She certainly has a point.  There is just no way around the fact that most of us spend hours and hours alone with our sewing; it is just the nature of the enterprise, being for the most part not a collaborative effort, but one in which each of us is the main decision-maker and craftswoman.

Sewing takes space, preferably a separate space, removed from the hustle and bustle of a normal household, where that inevitable sewing mess can be tolerated.  Being removed, despite its inherent joys, usually means being alone (except for pet visits – what is it about sewing that is so inviting to pets?)

Despite the hours and hours of time I spend by myself in my sewing room, I never really feel lonely.  Granted, I do listen to the radio or music most of the time, so that the silence is muffled by other voices or melodies.  But I am still definitely alone – with only my thoughts for dialogue.

That self-dialogue can be demanding – solving problems, perpetual decision-making, irritation with oneself when things go awry, and continued re-dedication towards a specific, often time-consuming goal.

I feel so fortunate to have this collection of French Milliner’s Heads, assembled over many years, to keep vigilance over me in my sewing room. What tales they could tell if only they could talk…

Then, of course, it is not just the active process of sewing to consider; hours of thought, effort, and planning often go into your project long before the first stitch is taken.  And did I mention daydreaming?  What dedicated dressmaker does not devote lots of her personal daydreaming thoughts to this outfit, including what shoes will work with it, what handbag to carry, what jewelry will complement it?

And now – here we are in March of 2020.   Strangely, this solitude that is self-imposed, this solitude that we, who choose to be alone and sew, are accustomed to – is suddenly almost universal and mandated.  It is a strange phenomenon.  And also now, in such a visceral way, I do feel lonely – but so grateful to have this exceptional interest and passion which helps me while away the hours.  I am so grateful for the expansive global sewing community which connects with one another across so many online platforms.  But most of all, I am so grateful to have this blog and you, my lovely readers – many of you have become my dear friends, confidantes, advisers, and sewing soulmates.  Many a silent hour in my life is devoted to thinking of you as I plan what to share and write here at Fifty Dresses, always hoping it will be interesting and worthwhile to you.  Thank you, thank you for adding so much focus, joy, fun and friendship to my solitary and silent sewing life, and especially now when the world is so topsy-turvy.

This little lady has the most endearing expression on her well-worn face. Her tiny secret smile seems to be one of gentle reassurance.

I fervently wish you all good health and perseverance at this difficult time as we stitch our way through our shared loneliness to better times, filled with optimism – and lots of places to wear our newly-made pretty frocks.




Filed under Love of sewing, Uncategorized

40 responses to “Sewing, Silence, and Solitude

  1. Your insight is razor sharp! Sewing gives us sweet solitude. These times are very scary and I hope all of us and our families survive this pandemic. I did get out yesterday to purchase a few zippers and thread so that I could sit and sew my fingers to the bone. I have a long-buried sewing project that I will resurrect and complete. My best wishes to you and my fellow sewing enthusiasts as we all stay home.

    • Best wishes to you, too, Peggy. I’d say this is a good time to keep fabric purchases at bay, but then there are so many online sales and enticements! My big excitement lately is going to the mailbox…

  2. deborinadel

    I was thinking the exact same thing this morning. We are so fortunate to have this skill set! Thank you for all you share, Karen!

  3. Betsy Aikens

    I was thinking of you, Karen, as I binge-watched the third season of Mrs. Maisel over the past couple of days. She has such a great wardrobe and I imagined that you could make any of the dresses and especially the coats(!) that she wears. Not thinking about the women in the factory that is shown in the show, I imagined how the designers and costume makers must have such fun with the fabrics and the construction just as you do. I hope you and your family stay healthy!

    • Hi Betsy! It’s about time for me to start binge watching Mrs. Maisel, too. What fun – and terrific inspiration! Hoping to see you on the other side of “this” sooner rather than later. Stay well!

  4. Mamma

    I was thinking of you, Karen, as I binge-watched the third season of Mrs. Maisel over the past couple of days. She has such a great wardrobe and I imagined that you could make any of the dresses and especially the coats(!) that she wears. Not thinking about the women in the factory that is shown in the show, I imagined how the designers and costume makers must have such fun with the fabrics and the construction just as you do. I hope you and your family stay healthy!

  5. Whitney B Donnelly

    Very well said!

  6. It’s odd to hear someone like your friend characterize the solitude of sewing as “a shame.” It’s one of the things I love about the process.

    It’s quite amazing to me how little this new self-imposed, partial isolation has changed the way my husband and I live our lives. We are not community-focused in any way. We function best when left to our own devices, just the two of us, or us as individuals pursuing our individual work and other projects.

    My hours alone with my sewing are some of the most life-affirming ones I ever spend.

  7. PatB

    Thank you, I can really relate. On reflection I cannot imagine my life without sewing and wonder what filled other people’s heads and time when I was planning and sewing. All the best to You and Yours

    • You do kind of wonder what other people do to fill all their hours if they don’t sew! It is such a vital part of my life; aren’t we lucky to be so inclined? All the best to you as well. Thank you!

  8. Arleen Lovering

    Beautifully written and so true Karen.

  9. What a beautiful post. Hope all of our fellow sewists are well and weather this storm.

  10. Nancy Priest

    This is a lovely post. Thank you.

  11. Sweet solitude indeed! The creative process is so life affirming, and I find joy in the stitches, no matter what the project. So glad to hear all is well for you, thanks you for the lovely post.

  12. Patricia Ross

    Karen, just when I was thinking how lucky you are to have such a passion, also wondering when? how long? before we all have the chance to put on the lovely clothes and venture out again. Stay well, your post is beautiful and appreciated.

  13. Very well said Karen. While we all treasure our solitary time sewing, we don’t wish to emerge from the sewing room fearful ourselves to loved ones will succumb to this virus. Everyone stay well.

  14. Cheryl

    I must open this comment by expressing the joy that your milliners’ heads gave me. What good fortune to have come across these! I certainly connected with your sentiments. Unfortunately for me, I find the time that I have in my craft room is increasingly taken up with unanticipated family needs, but in a way that just makes my precious “me time” all the more precious. I like to listen to podcasts from Australian ABC, which never fails to make my time alone so much richer. I really don’t know how I can manage to listen to an in depth interview with Hannah Kent, for example, while turning a very difficult corner in a collar, but it happens. the current global challenges are frustrating, but the fact that I still have a “me time” project to turn to means that these will be alright in the end – just like that recalcitrant collar corner.

    • It is a strange time indeed, with many family needs and readjustments. I so appreciate your analogy of our current plight to that stubborn collar corner, coming out right in the end.
      Thank you for your appreciation of those milliner’s heads. I can’t begin to tell you how much joy they give me, propped up very ladylike as I work away in my sewing room. I really do wish they could tell me their tales.
      Lovely to hear from you, Cheryl.

  15. Mery

    Your milliners heads are charming, especially the one with the Mona Lisa smile.

    I learned to sew in a 4H group. Some was done alone but with much camaraderie. Sewing in high school didn’t seem isolating. Sewing a shift dress in an evening wasn’t very much time alone with the radio. As I sewed more wardrobes I enjoyed some time with my dreams. When I was helping another of college roommate’s bridesmaids sew her bridesmaid dress we listened to her mother’s records. She kept apologizing, but I enjoyed it and continue to enjoy very romantic music from all eras while sewing. The enjoyment was associated with looking forward to something good. This big unknown is not so much fun. Oh, well, I’d like to live until I die, so I’ll try to keep a hopeful mood with sewing.

    • Yes, Mery, here’s to a hopeful mood for us all in the midst of this bewildering time. Music and sewing certainly help…, as do those milliner’s heads, with their untold secrets. Perhaps they have seen worse times, but are still able to maintain their serenity and poise, role models all.

  16. What a lovely post! I cannot imagine the solitariness of sewing being a ‘shame’. I crave the alone time in my sewing area, and as it occupies one corner of a very busy basement, I am often ‘forced’ to watch movies or listen to endless YouTube nonsense being streamed just behind me. What I wouldn’t give to have the attic opened up into my own private space!

    That said, stay well to you and all your readers! I’ll say it again, as I do every day until people get annoyed with me: Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, and be diligent about social distancing.

  17. Marguerite

    Hi Karen, I guess we are all sewing soul sisters after all. I do wonder what those without an indoor hobby are doing on these shelter in place days. Our sewing and dreaming about new projects is a blessing as is the wonderful sewing community we can connect to. Stay safe and keep us in the loop of your beautiful creations.

    • We are indeed fortunate and blessed to have an “indoor” activity which can help keep us focused and busy and happy during these strange times. And how lovely that we can so easily be connected to all our fashion sewing “sisters,” whom we have met through online sites and happily often in person though shared classes. Aren’t we so lucky? Take care, Marguerite and stay well!

  18. Elizabeth H Wellons

    Thank you, Karen, for sharing your thoughts on this shared passion! I do feel lucky, as so many of my friends report being at loose ends and bored. Not the case here! Hoping we all stay busy, sane and safe during these uncertain times! Cissie

    • It is a strange time, isn’t it? I have been a little bit at loose ends with my sewing, as several projects I had planned were intended for a trip in early May, which obviously is not going to happen. Now that I am past that disappointment, I am refocusing and determined to take advantge of this extended sewing time. Stay well, Cissie! Happy Sewing!

  19. Betty Morgan

    I like turning on an old 1930s black and white movie. One that I have seen so many times I don’t have to pay much notice except to look up and “oh that is such a pretty dress”. I love 1930s fashion.

  20. Janet

    I cannot imagine this strange time of our lives suspended, without my sewing projects! It is productive but creative and absorbing….and comforting. Karen, you have expressed it beautifully as always. Take care.

  21. beads2yarn

    Wow, this post was right on!! 👍🙋‍♀️

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