A Philosophy of Sewing

Or, why I took a break from sewing, and why I got back to it.

I worked myself raw in the years after Lachlan’s birth and first two heart surgeries. I filmed my Craftsy course, came out with a ton of new patterns, and attended my first Quilt Market. Sew Liberated was our primary source of income while Patrick was in grad school, and since we had such high medical bills, it needed to grow. Sewing became work – something that took me away from my little family. But Sew Liberated wasn’t cutting it. We made the decision for Patrick to teach himself programming so he could jump off the history PhD ship that was sailing to oblivion. We needed to be able to stay near Duke for Lachlan’s cardiology needs, and we needed a more stable income. When he landed a programming job, I became a full-time mom, and no longer had the time to work on Sew Liberated, even if I had wanted to.

Lachlan’s third open heart surgery was on the horizon, and I did a ton of mental work to prepare myself for that sickening moment when I handed my baby off to scrubbed and masked strangers. I meditated. I did yoga.  I tried to get us out into nature as much as possible. Tried to create a nurturing cocoon of a home. Tried to do anything in my power to equip my little ones with love, attention, and good memories. I birthed a sweet baby girl. I felt my ability to focus on anything other than my family slipping away into a pleasant, homey blur. My family became my creative outlet. Months went by, and I didn’t touch my sewing machine. Then a year passed. I didn’t miss it. It was work. I didn’t want anything to do with it.

I didn’t miss that rushed feeling of trying to sew “just one more seam” before the baby awoke. I didn’t miss feeling frustrated when I didn’t finish a project in the allotted time frame. I didn’t miss the constant stream of project ideas that would hound my thoughts when I could have been enjoying the present moment with my kids. I didn’t miss the creative to-do list. I didn’t miss the stacks of yet-to-be-used fabric, beckoning me from the shelf. They used to cast a shadow of resentment over my children for their incessant needs that took me away from being a more productive creative person. 

The surgery day dawned. If I hadn’t focused on Sew Liberated since before Sadie was born, now I didn’t even give it one thought. Facing the tender, fleeting, mortal nature of being human gives you tunnel vision. This little boy of mine had his heart mended by a tailor far more skilled than me. His surgeon’s skilled hands touched Lachlan’s heart, stitching pieces of previously-used human cloth onto my baby’s own fresh tissue. Weaving gortex with muscle, he re-designed a circulatory system that would, for the first time, provide Lachlan with near-normal blood oxygenation levels and the energy of a typical three year-old. Lachlan’s heart is re-purposed. Fully functional, yet beautifully flawed, like (in)visible mending. 

Nearly six weeks later, after battling with accumulating fluid on his lungs and the subsequent dehydration of his treatment, Lachlan’s little mended heart slowed and stopped. I was at home, nursing a stuffy-nosed baby and feeding lunch to my five year-old. Patrick was with him as they rushed him to the pediatric cardiac ICU, soon starting chest compressions. When I got the call, I was eating a veggie quesadilla, which I spit out while I screamed and fell to the floor. I thought he was dead. I guess, in a way, he was. Had he been at home, 30 minutes from the hospital, he wouldn’t have survived. (Hence our eventual move downtown. Covering bases, you know.) 

Lachlan recovered. But what does it mean to recover? To cover again. To mend. The mending is visible. Like his heart, life for our family would never be quite the same. There is a patch that covers our physical and psychological wounds. There is stitching that holds it together. Sometimes the stitching is pristine, in other places it is knotted with fear and anger. But we are functional. And achingly, imperfectly beautiful. 

We are still mending. A well-rubbed piece of cloth will, eventually, break down. When it does, we take up a needle and thread and piece it together any way we can. In my family, the cloth is often made threadbare by sibling bickering, hidden scary medical memories, and parental stress. But it can always be mended. Re-covered. Made functional. Unique.

At some point, perhaps when that subtle shift occurred and my toddler started to spend long stretches playing with her dollhouse, a few minutes opened up in my days. I wanted to make her clothes as a gift of love. I cut into some soft cloth. She sat on my lap and removed the pins as I sewed. It was slow. But it brought me so much joy. I didn’t take pictures of it. I didn’t have to market the design. It was just that, a physical manifestation of love.

And then the real ah-hah moment: I could sew myself clothes as an act of love for myself, for my body and mind, as it is right now. I could sew as a way to heal from my trauma. I could also get dressed as an act of love and healing, and start to show up in the world as my “new,” somewhat broken, but beautifully mended self.

Sewing has an important place in my life again, along with writing. But I have a personal manifesto that I now follow.

  1. Begin each project with the intention of expressing love and gratitude for the intended recipient, be it myself or others.
  2. Breathe deeply while cutting. Breathe deeply while sewing. Sewing is slow, and the act of slowing down is a gift of mindfulness. Accept any interruption in the process as a gift to be present. Find joy in the process, and appreciation for the amount of time it takes.
  3. Bring creativity not just to sewing, but to the act of getting dressed. Use sustainability as a creative parameter by styling what is already in your closet in new ways. Thrift what you need but don’t have time to sew. When clothing wears down, mend it.

If I returned to my old way of sewing – the resentment, the oppressive to-make list, the feeling of being squeezed for creative time, I would need to stop and reassess. With this healthier creative practice, I can mend my heart as well.

I made these Rainbow Shorts for Lachlan using the Basic Pocket Pants pattern in my book. It took me two weeks to sew them – a seam here, a seam there. He helped me. So did Sadie. He is clothed with love.

Years later, my kids are thriving – including Lachlan – and still love wearing Mama-made (and Mama-mended) clothes. In the photo above, they are wearing Mini Hudson pants and Flashback Skinny Tees. Sewing is an act of love.

Responses

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  1. My family is a heart family too. This post really spoke to me, opened up such compassion for my Mum – thank you.

    You see, my little brother – well, he’s not so little anymore, he’ll be, gosh, 49 in a few short months! had his first major surgery after being flown away by air ambulance at just 8 hours old. His most recent surgery was a heart transplant, coming up for three years ago now. (He’s doing really great, even working permanent part time in a job he loves).

    And that first surgery? My Mum already had me and my sister to look after.
    Yes, I remember the many times Mum and my brother had to fly to the big city from our country town for him to have treatment or checkups. But I also remember my Mum always making us new clothes for special occasions, mending play clothes, adding another band to a favourite dress as we grew, turning the collars on Dad’s shirts to get a bit more wear from them, patiently sitting with me at the Elna sewing machine as I learned to sew spirals on paper…

    Mum and I still connect with our shared love of sewing. As we slow down now, and clear out our sewing rooms, we are both sewing more mindfully, thinking more carefully about each piece we make, each pattern we buy.

    We’re both back to mending, turning collars on shirts for our husbands.

    I’m rambling. But I wanted to let you know that from one lifetime sewist to another, from a sister of a heart patient, your post meant something to me.

  2. I have just came back to sewing from decades away. This time, as for you, it is self care. Buying the fabric for the project that I love, not just what is cheapest. What colors do I love, what fit, what feel. Watching tutorials. Replacing my 40 year old, broken, machine, with a brand new one. Lovingly setting up a sewing room. Taking true measurements for my mannequin, not the size I wish I was, but the beautiful me of now. Slowing down to read, and reread directions. The sewing world has evolved beyond my wildest dream, and all the sewist proudly showing their makes, expires me daily. It is therapy. It is totally, totally self care.

  3. A wonderful blog to reading this am and such cute pictures. It’s OK to stop our creative activities when needed, it’s women doing self-care when it calls; women are nurturers but at times we need to self-care in order to continue that. Happy to read he’s doing well and enjoying all the things his friends do. I live near Duke and know their heart department is well known.

    Morphe

  4. This made me cry. I’m trying to be a mom through adoption and the process is emotionally draining. Sewing is keeping me sane. I am so glad your little family is thriving!

    1. Gina, thanks for reaching out to share that. I hope you and your family are through this draining process soon, and that sewing indeed keeps you sane. Big hugs from us! (I’m Meg’s husband)

  5. Loved reading this and so happy your boy is well. It illustrated to me how all encompassing maternal love (and maternal worrying) is and how our creativity ebbs and flows during our lives. So glad to hear you’ve recovered your “sewjo” and found ways and time to express yourself even if only in short bursts. You have beautiful children! Enjoy them in whatever age they are-even teens can be fun to have around! All the best.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am so happy for you and your beautiful family that life looks just awesome. Enjoy every moment youve got, I havent seen my 2 kids and grandchildren for more then 15 years. I even don’t know how much grandchildren I have, only the two oldest, now 23 and almost 21 I know, but my daughters first born I never met, I only know his name. Maybe she got more children…I don’t know. But maybe one day I’ll wiil meet them. I always made clothes for my children when they where small and just picked up sewing again last year…now for myself.

    1. Oh Riya, that sounds like it must be a complicated and sad circumstance for you. I’m so glad that you are finding sewing again as a way to take care of yourself.

  7. I don’t often take the time to read emails/blogs such as yours Meg, but I’m glad I did this time. Good to be reminded of the reasons for which we should sew and to lose the rush, hurry and yep, the dreaded sewing to-do list. A great read… Thank you! X

  8. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful story, Meg. I came across Sew Liberated while looking for instructions on ice dying, which lead me to another of your courses, which triggered lovely letters from you and Meredith, which lead me to your blog. I am so touched by your story and so very glad you and your family are thriving is now such a sustaining and creative joy for you. I copied your manifesto to read when I need to and will create my own. As someone with many, many creative outlets, some of which are for sale, these are very important thoughts for me to remember.
    I love the philosophy and energy of your business and the feeling of connection of people that work with you. You all seem to write so beautifully too. I’m so very glad to have found you! Thanks so much for the inspiration – in so many ways! All the very best to you and yours.

  9. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It is such a brave thing to do. What a warrior you are raising 💙
    My story is slightly different but just as brave. I started sewing in September 2021, a few months after my precious boy died by suicide. Lewis was just 20 years young, a sensitive, gentle soul who loved and cared for others more than he could for himself. Sewing has literally kept me alive. In the moments where I thought my head would explode with the “what if’s” and “what could I have done to save him”, sewing was like respite. I knew nothing so had to to really concentrate. The shift in focus for a few minutes gave my head and heart a rest. As a mum, my job was to protect my child, and I didn’t. It’s a lot to carry. Sewing is a central part of my self care, and the outcome is less important than the process.

    1. Kirstie,

      I can’t give you a hug right now, but I hope I can communicate back to you the human connection that your typed words made me feel. I so appreciate you sharing your story and even more that you have been wise about self-care in the aftermath of such a loss. Sewing brings us sewists into a community as well as into healing states of flow, and I’m glad to be in community with you. My heart goes out to you, and I hope you are able to continue to find that essential time for self-care. With love,

      Meg

  10. What a lovely family you have. Love Lachlan’s “heart breaker” tee. He looks like a heart breaker in more than one way. May he and the rest of your family continue to thrive.

  11. This is so beautiful and something I really needed to see, and learn, right now. Thank you so much for sharing. God bless you and all your family, and the gift of learning to live well with the talents you have.

  12. Your family is beautiful, thank you for sharing your story. Just to let you know Lachlan has a dopple ganger (someone who looks just like him)…it’s my nephew who lives in Canada with his mothers. He is happy and spoiled (probably like your kids ;c). Living slowly is a wonderful thing…we rush way too much in this country. All the very best to you and your family.

  13. This was beautiful to read Meg. I first started reading your blog when you were in Mexico and had your Montessori blog. It was a constant source of inspiration to me as I navigated home educating my children – there was nothing here in the UK at the time. You also got me back into sewing, something I hadn’t done since at college! I bought your reading pillow, apron and messenger bag patterns, even though I had didn’t have the time to sew them😆. I remember the joy as you first became pregnant with Finn and then Lachlan and the shock I felt when reading about Lachlan’s heart condition. How does one deal with such stress, especially with a toddler as well. The truth is I will never truly know what you went through but reading this piece helped me understand a little better and I loved hearing how sewing helped you to heal. You and Patrick have created such a wonderful environment for your family, so full of love. Sometimes the healing of scars make us stronger.

  14. A story that needs telling! I’m a grandmother bringing up 3 grandchildren after 3 children of my own. It has been an incredibly difficult 10 years but I wouldn’t have it any other way. They all have deep scars but they continue to amaze me every day and I couldn’t be prouder of them. I have never learned to sew my own clothes but I am an avid hand embroiderer and that slow rocking of needle through cloth is what has given me the quietness that I have needed so much bringing up these children. It is both a meditation and a saviour.

  15. Thank you for sharing as I too have ( had ) a Down syndrome daughter with VS ( ventricular—defect ) this was in 1976 . I can’t remember the words for the defect – I was in another world as we went through years of sickness. But God blessed me to be Stacy’s mommy for 18 years. You sound like an amazing mommy to me and Lachlan is blessed to have you ❤️

  16. Thank you for writing this. My teen has trisomy 13q with epilepsy and a sleep disorder so severe that I think we have given deep insecurities to several sleep specialists over the years. It’s really difficult to explain things to people, like why we can’t move too far away from the hospital, and what having medical complications in the family does to your career possibilities and social connections. But also that joy like, wow kid, you are here and you are awesome.

  17. Oh what a story of love! Thank you for sharing. Your words speak to me. I don’t consider my self a person that knows how to make clothes, so I hesitate. I found you looking for some patterns that I could make when I have moments of time. I don’t like the have to do it right now or hurry attitude. I just signed up yesterday and then your post came this morning. Perfect for me! Thank you!

  18. Thank you for sharing this beautiful emotional part of your life. I am just coming out of madness sewing and have begun the love approach to my makes. I now smile if I need to unpick and love the fact that my new project took me a week and I love it. Bless you and your family.

  19. This is such a beautiful story. So happy that your son is doing well. I hope I can find your type of spirit to get me thru some things. Right now, I just sit by my sewing machines telling myself to sew, but it hasn’t worked yet.

  20. Oh my goodness. I had no idea. As the mom of two grown daughters and the gramma to four wonderful kiddos, my heart sank when Lachlan’s heart stopped beating. 🙁 Grateful he is doing well. And as a recent purchaser of your new petrichor pinafore pattern, I vow to work on this garment sewing venture mindfully. Bless you!

  21. You have a beautiful family! Appreciate your thoughts on slowing down and sewing with intention. I do try, but feel pressured (by myself!) to do more due to being older, and feeling like I have less time left. Your mantra is a good one for all of us. Sending positive thoughts for the continued health of your son.

    1. Thank you for the kind words and thoughts Gloria! It’s an ongoing struggle for me too, one where I’m sometimes winning and sometimes not

  22. I’m in tears as this perfectly describes the act of sewing for me. It is such therapy. And when people say “oh you could sell that!” I just say “no thanks” I too, stressed myself out trying to market my things before and going through family trauma. I now sew for those I love. I can grasp so much relatability in this post. Thank you for sharing.

  23. Meg, thank you so much for sharing your story and the journey you’ve been on that led you here. It is an honor to receive this glimpse into such a deeply personal part of your life. Your family is beautiful and it’s a blessing to know that Lachlan and his siblings are all thriving.
    I wanted to share something with you after reading your story… This weekend I joined The Mindful Wardrobe Project and when I watched your video where you mentioned being a heart mom I wondered if your family had been impacted by HLHS. The reason that came to mind is because I’ve actually known about HLHS for most of my life, but for a very different reason. My father, Dr. Edward L. Bove, is the person who pioneered the surgical procedure that is commonly used today to rebuild babies hearts who are born with HLHS. Each time I come across a story such as yours I am yet again awestruck and incredibly grateful for the lives saved by this procedure, many who have now grown to adulthood and have children of their own. In many ways it’s truly a small world. 😊
    Again, thank you for sharing your story. I look forward to learning from you throughout the Mindful Wardrobe Project and perhaps getting to know you a little more along the way. Much love, joy and continued good health to you and your family.

    1. Susan, thanks for sharing this and for the kind words! I just read some of the history of your father’s incredible work. He has our deep gratitude. He has made so many lives possible. (And now the children of those patients!) I know the early steps along this road were difficult, for the surgeons as well as the families and babies. I thank him for persevering. Every day with our son is a gift.

      And welcome to the Mindful Wardrobe Project! I hope you get a lot from it. Sending love, joy and health back to you! xxoo, Meg