January blues hit hard this year. It was weird. As the new year rolled in I had a heavy sense of “here we go again”. I felt weary.
Human beings are so complex, highs can be quickly superceded by lows. Hopefulness can soon fade into discouragement. And bursts of energy can soon turn to weariness. I am thankful that I have good mental health, so I can recover quickly from low mood. A good pace is what I need, as well as a good memory. Reminding myself that I’ve been in this place before and have got through it is a big step towards peace. Doing things I enjoy just for the sake of enjoyment is also a sweet thing and a privilege. I’ve also been more intentional about adopting a Shirley Hughes approach to life.
Ms Hughes is my favourite children’s author. She got me through my own childhood. Way ahead of her time, her picture books included children who looked like me and others in my class. She also helped me get through the day parenting my girls when they were young, with her fun yet very ordinary and relatable stories. She totally got what it’s like to be a parent and saw into the minds of toddlers and young kids, genius.
In one of her books for preschoolers she writes: “it’s fun to run very fast or to be slow. The red light says stop, the green light says go.” It’s become a bit of a mantra for me.
It’s fine to be at a go slow place, or even to stop. Running very fast or always being on the go, is fun but not sustainable. Sometimes life calls for slowness and reflection and that is okay, needful. Sometimes in life we’re looking for fast action, other times it’s the slow burn. I’ll leave your imagination to go where it will with that thought.
I made three tops in January through to February. Two were super quick, the Fielder by Merchant and Mills and the Pearl by Tilly and the Buttons. Both were great makes which I enjoyed, but alongside these I was slowly working on a Marie shirt by By Hand London. The pattern is for a smock style shirt or dress with an array of romantic details.
I was gifted some brushed, recycled cotton by Offset Warehouse, an online fabric store with beautiful, ethical textiles at the heart of what they do. They really are worth checking out and treating yourself to some fabric with a good conscience.
When my fabric arrived I was so impressed by its softness and drape. I had an idea to pair it with the By Hand London Marie shirt, a romantic, smock shirt with pintucks and ruffles. I thought it might be fun to use this material often associated with pyjamas or 90s grunge over shirts, to make something a little more delicate.
Checks seem to be every where at the moment and I’m loving them. There also seems to be a great appreciation of brushed cotton and flannel right now. I did a little research into what the difference was between them. Basically, cotton is a fibre, flannel is a fabric originally made with wool, but now often made with cotton and synthetic fibres. Brushed cotton is brushed only on one side whereas flannel is brushed on the right and wrong side resulting in a thicker, fuzzier cloth.
My brushed cotton was so soft and warm and a lovely, cosy shirt weight. There were several times during planning it that I thought about using it for pyjamas afterall. But the thing is, I’m not really a pyjamas person, plus I felt this fabric deserved to be seen and worn regularly.
It was apt I think, that I decided this shirt would be a slow make. Working with some thoughtfully produced fabric made from recycled cotton and polyester, suited a slow and deliberate sewing pace.
I took my inspiration from the shirt below by Endelea designs.
I cut a UK 14 even though with hindsight I could have managed a 12. I’m currently shape-shifting and I haven’t got to grips with my new shape yet so I’m generally erring towards the larger size instead of confidently trusting my tape measure. So the shirt’s a little big, but I’m okay with that. The shirt falls at my hip and has lovely movement.
Like I said earlier, this was a slow burn make, from the cutting out to the gathering to the handstitching. I cut the pieces out with the fabric unfolded to get things matching just right and I’m really pleased with the matching across the body and sleeves.
There are so many lovely details to this shirt which inevitably slowed the sewing and meant I was able to enjoy each process. Pin tucks were new to me, I’ve avoided them in my sewing journey as they looked fiddly and scary. I had to watch a YouTube video to help get my head around it. I love the texture and shape pintucks give to this garment and they were actually pleasing to make.
There was also a fair bit of gathering which normally I would have groaned about, but this time I leaned into it thinking of the beautiful ruffles and puffed sleeves that they would help create. I remembered to lower my tension, and patiently sewed two rows of gathering stitches each time without moaning, and my threads didn’t snap, all good.
The sleeves on this shirt are a thing of beauty. They were plenty long enough, unusually for me, I didn’t have to lengthen them. The cuff with the band and ruffle were straightforward to construct and so effective. The shirt collar is also made in a similarly gorgeous way.
Another thing that slowed this make down was the hand stitching. The last step of the collar required some neat slip stitching, then there were nine buttons to sew. I always hand sew my buttons. I left all the hand stitching till the end and sat with my shirt spread over my lap like a blanket. Hand stitching gave me a further opportunity to enjoy the feel of this fabric, and the monotony of the sewing allowed me space to think.
It is often said that sewing is therapy but some people think that saying this belittles therapy and the people who need it. I’m not sure it does. Sewing for me can be a type of therapy allowing me to clear my head, choose to focus on something other than my problems, produce something beautiful and practical and find joy. Slow sewing can give me time to think and space to speak truth to myself.
I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed making this shirt. A strange pairing perhaps. A crisp poplin or lawn may have been a better choice, I still plan to make a white Marie shirt, probably from a cotton poplin. But the soft brushed cotton feels so warm and comforting, the perfect pick up from the January blues. It also makes the blouse look more casual, which means I’m more likely to wear it often.
As spring soon dawns I’m hoping to continue to make space for slow sewing in between faster projects. There’s a wonderful poem in the bible that you may well recognise as a song by The Byrds, it reminds us that “there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven” and that God is in control. I believe that, so I’m hoping to be gentle with myself as I go through the different seasons of life. One line in the poem says “there is a time to tear, and a time to sew” – I love that! It’s certainly time to tear up the “work, work, busy, busy” playlist of life for me anyway, and give time to sewing, slowly.
If you’re following my make nine for the year (see last post), I have now completed two of the projects. Looking hopeful!