The twelve year project

I don’t remember taking this photo twelve years ago

Like many moments in the weeks after I gave birth to my first baby, this moment dissolved into the floodwaters of intense emotion that characterized that time in my life. I was falling in love with and nurturing my baby while also nurturing a body I no longer recognized – and a mind that was forever changed.

I remember my Mom coming to help me out during the week that my husband, Patrick, would be away doing research at some archives in DC. I felt this pang of jealousy, noting that he was heading away for a week of “normal” – uninterrupted sleep, the same body he’d always had, and plentiful mental space to follow a thought from idea to completion, like an aged professor at a wine and cheese party.

I, on the other hand, was leaking profusely from both my breasts and my eyeballs, with nothing to do but feed my little one and try to get through menial tasks like laundry and grocery shopping before the baby I was wearing started to fuss.

Like most new mothers, I was a mess, and I hadn’t the slightest idea of how to put my bits and pieces of self-conception back on their shelves, because the old shelves had crumbled, and the new ones hadn’t been built yet.

Knowing that I could use some distraction in the form of handwork, my mom brought a gift – a hand sewing kit to make a reverse appliqued swing skirt from Alabama Chanin.

Sewing was one of the few activities that tied me to my past life, before parenthood. Although the time I had to spend on this hobby was definitively less, and any hand sewing (or knitting) was accomplished while standing and swaying with a baby in a wrap, it was doable, at a time when formulating a coherent thought seemed an insurmountable task.

But I doubted that the finished skirt would ever fit me

My mom had purchased a size small kit, perhaps remembering my compact frame pre-baby, but I had gained over forty pounds during that pregnancy, and I just didn’t think I’d ever return to my pre-pregnancy size. I was just fine with that, and began stitching with the intention to gift the skirt to someone it would fit.

But there was always a part of me that really wanted to fit into the skirt. I loved the color. I loved the style. Maybe one day, I told myself. And so I started stitching, very slowly.

Over the years, the four reverse-appliqued skirt panels would occasionally find themselves tucked in a project bag while on vacation. (I ended up running after toddlers instead.) I would occasionally pull out a panel and stitch around a few leaves while at home, but sitting down as a mother of small children is like setting off an alarm: Mama isn’t doing anything! Mama isn’t doing anything!

The progress was slooooooow

But it wasn’t agonizing. Every time I picked it up, as the years passed, I would be reminded of those nebulous early days of motherhood.

And I still didn’t know if the skirt would fit. (How many of you put off sewing clothes altogether – or only sew clothes with plentiful ease – because you’re nervous about them fitting? I think all of us have been there.) This particular style is straight out of 1998, a low-waist, hip skimming a-line, and as such, I started to think that, perhaps, my daughter would end up wearing it one day. So I kept on stitching, between the years that the project bag was lost in the back of a closet.

I rediscovered that project bag during our recent move. I held it up to my waist, now 7.5 years post childbirth. Maybe, I thought. I packed the nearly finished panels in my luggage and headed West with my now 12 year-old son to visit my grandmother for the first time since before the pandemic.

Now that tiny baby of mine is as tall as I am

He rarely complains during travel, his face buried in a book or his tablet. He runs after my Dad, his grandfather, who takes a wrong turn in the airport – a consequence of his journey through Altzheimer’s disease. That baby of mine guided my childlike father back on course.

As I put the finishing touches on the panels the other day, I realized that I had been right. This skirt was not meant for that new mom. This skirt was for me, the woman she would both struggle and ease into being over the course of a dozen years.

This skirt was a twelve year project

My mind was a twelve year project. My body was a twelve year project. And you are, too. Every little stitch is part of a large, beautiful project of YOU.

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  1. Thank you for this. I am 3.5 years into motherhood and also 1 year postpartum with my second kid. I feel so lost sometimes. I need the reminder to cherish what I can about this time and look forward to what I’ll be in a few years 🙂

  2. Thank you for sharing your story and emotions that are so universal for us mommas and makers.

  3. Beautiful. I will return to this as needed. Thank you for sharing, as I too have a swing skirt many years in progress now.

  4. What a wonderful post in so many ways. Thank you. I bought your Strata top pattern awhile back and hope to finish it someday soon! You look fabulous in the skirt!

  5. This hit the nail on the head for me. The minute I gave birth to my first born, the ‘old me’ was gone forever. Eleven years later, I am feeling like she is creeping back. Just a bit. Thank you for sharing this. =)

  6. I feel so seen right now that I have tears in my eyes! Thank you for this! This is the perfect post to read as I start off on module 1 on the Mindful Wardrobe Project. My kids are 6 & 8 now and I am so changed from who I was before becoming a mom. I mean the core is still me but wow . . . so many changes. Those early years are sooooo dang challenging. It’s getting easier now and I am finding my way to my new self.

  7. Goodness, this was just a perfect read this morning. I too have started this exact skirt as a new mom (12 years ago in November), in fact… I decided to use the fabric of my moby wrap, but I pieced it together before I made the leaves… anxious to have something that I could actually finish. But did I finish it?? Of course not, but seeing your completed project has me mad jealous… now I think I just may find it again and finish it off. BEAUTIFUL on you. It is so meaningful to talk about how the old you gets shattered, but the new you isn’t built yet. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Thank you for sharing this. Really.

    I just had my 3rd baby in 4 years. I feel like I’m looking up from a fog of motherhood and asking “who even am I now?” All the things I loved to do and be just aren’t right now with toddlers and baby things. I’ve learned new things (sewing and knitting) which are great, but it’s definitely remaking myself as “mom”- home chasing babies and starting homeschooling- rather than slipping into my natural self. (I backpacked around the world studying languages and doing humanitarian aid projects- then I found out I was having a baby. It’s definitely a change of pace)

  9. I too have projects that have stayed with me for year’s being picked up and down forgotten and remember – thanks for sharing yours. These projects hold such big stories.

  10. I never sewed when my kids were little because I had somehow convinced myself that my iron would fall on one of their heads and kill them! Years later they had the pleasure of seeing mom as a happy(manic) sewer, and the sound of my machine zooming along happily😀

  11. This skirt is amazing! I am so glad you finished it. I have this swing skirt pattern too..but never bought fabric for it. Your motherhood thoughts are so beautiful. I have twin 9 year olds and a 3 year old. Thank you for taking the time to do blog posts! I really enjoy them.

  12. I started this same skirt pattern sometime before my second was born (5 years ago) and have not finished it. I guess I have 7 more years to get it done?!

  13. This is so beautiful and as a mum of four, now teens, it gave me serious goosebumps!🥰🥰🥰

  14. You are an amazing writer. I’ve enjoyed this gift of your story. I love Alabama Chanin projects. I am almost fine with a navy negative reverse appliqué dress using the Anna’s garden stencil. I plan to wear it to my precious mom’s funeral. She is terminally ill. The weird thing I think is—-if I finish it, that means her funeral will be eminent. So….. I am dragging out the last bit. I hope it will take me 12 years to complete ❤️

  15. This was a beautiful story. Inspired by your skirt’s journey, thoughtful reflection and gentleness to yourself. As always, your writing is a joy to read!

  16. What a lovely story. I recalled the "mess" of being a new mother and having an emergency C-section to boot. Your skirt is beautiful as are your thoughts along the journey. Thank you for sharing:)

  17. Well, I am not a mother (okay, I am a stepmother), but your story resonated on so many levels. Thank you for your beautiful writing and sharing your very personal, very universal experience.

  18. You are an inspiration! Thank you for sharing this heartfelt post with us. Your spirit and your skirt are beautiful. For me, slow stitching is calming and keeps me present. I had a cross stitch pattern I began when my youngest was born (she’s now 31). I completed that twinkle twinkle little star pattern when she was a teenager. And yes, she was too old to want it hung in her bedroom at that time. However, years later, she framed it and has it hanging proudly on a bedroom wall in her home.

  19. Your story made me teary eyed! My oldest is 13 now and so much of your journey resonates. I am just getting back to sewing, in part as a way to hopefully honor my body as it is now with clothes that really fit and feel good. Thank you for these words!

  20. Thank you so much for writing this. I think this post came at a good time for me. I have a 3 year old son and during these 3 years have had ups and downs in my sewing. Currently, it’s been a long time since I’ve been in my sewing room. The past 3 planned dedicated sewing times have abruptly changed to not sewing and I really miss it. As I think about a future child #2, I feel like I should just lock the door to my sewing room and open in years from now! (While that is a little exaggerated, it’s how I’m feeling right now!) Your post has given me perspective. I do hand embroidery to keep my hands busy in the small off moments (similar to how you worked on your skirt!) I won’t close the door on my sewing room yet, but accept the small moments I do get in it and enjoy every moment I get with my son! Thank you

  21. wow! so beautiful! you have captured a part of motherhood so well! thank you for sharing… i love your skirt! stay well 🙂

  22. I never post comments, but this made me cry. Thank you for reminding me that the journey is beautiful.

  23. thank you for this. you will never know how much i needed this

  24. Beautiful. Thanks so much for sharing your life and your wisdom with us.

  25. I think this is the best blog post I have ever read. It’s my first babies seventh birthday today and although I am happy I feel like I no longer know who I was, who I am or who I’m going to be. Thanks for sharing.

  26. Oh my goodness!! this made me cry!! What a beautiful story, and I love your skirt ❤

  27. I may or may not have tears in my eyes. What a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing!

  28. Love this and can relate to it on SO MANY levels. Those years with littles were so hard and heart-wrenching (heart-growing) and joyful. We were ALL growing up, I just didn’t know it about myself back then. Beautifully written. So grateful for your willingness to share. And interestingly enough, I also have a reverse applique project from Alabama Chanin that I started when my children were young and every now and then will pick up and work on. It’s not quite 12 years old, but at the rate I’m going…

  29. Beautiful post. As a full-time mother of two under two, and a full-time seamstress on the side (wee hours of the morning and naps when dishes aren’t calling,) this spoke to me in the season so intensely. I take each project like Anne Lamott’s writing, "bird by bird." Oh so slowly. Especially when clients are priority and sometimes my own clothing feels like it will never be finished… much less fit!? Thank you for the encouragement! Here’s to the makers–of babies and clothing! 😉

  30. Thanks for writing this. My daughter starts kindergarten next week and I still feel like I haven’t found my balance or gotten used to my postpartum body. Apparently I was a little overambitious with my goals, lol. I’ll get there some day, I hope.

  31. You are a beautiful writer! And I LOVE everything Alabama Chanin! I loved reading this because it mirrors much of my experience. Only my "babies" will be 34 and 38 years old this year! I am not sure how that happened, but it did. I am now inspired to make my own AC skirt. It has been on my sewing bucket list for years (not quite 12, but close)! Thank you for the beautiful sentiments, and may you continue to write such beautiful words! XOXO

  32. Beautiful post, thank you for sharing. Your words brought back so many memories of my own babies and my own creative maker journey. What a journey it is!

  33. This is just beautiful-and so honest. Thank you. You’re son looks a lovely boy to be proud of- and you look simply wonderful in that skirt. We should wear our stories more- whether a special gift, a wonderful piece of fabric- or a wonderful memory of something worn at a special time. Your story is exciting, and yet calming at the same time. ☺️☺️☺️

  34. It’s a wonderful make with an even more wonderful story! Thank you for sharing this story.

  35. Thank you so much for sharing this. Just beautiful–the writing, the skirt, the you.

  36. What a lovely post! Your skirt looks fantastic. (And there’s hope for my Alabama Chanin Car Coat project… I’m only 4 years in!)

  37. Thank you.
    I am sitting here with my week old baby girl on my chest, just weeping.
    💛

  38. Oh this is so amazing! My son is a few months younger than yours. I hand stitched this same skirt when he was a tiny nursing baby. I would sit and nurse him and hold him while he slept (because he could not be put down) and sew. I wore it for a while but I didn’t sew the elastic well and it never really stayed up. Then my weight went up with a new baby and I didn’t want to stretch it out with pregnancy, then way down with nursing, then back up to a little above my pre-baby self where it seems to want to stay. The style felt weird for a while when it did fit in that roller coaster of weight. The other day I pulled it out and thought "there is no way this fits or looks good but I will try" and it was perfect. That too loose elastic is the perfect fitting waistband now!

    Reading this I realize I must have been inspired to make this skirt by you, I read your blog religiously then. I had bought the book many years earlier and wanted to make something from it and must have pulled it out when you blogged about it thinking it was a manageable way to craft with a baby. I didn’t remember that. It’s funny how both skirts ended up on the same journey and now can actually be worn! Thank you for 12 years of inspiration 🙂

  39. Your post reminded me of a similar project bag of an Alabama Chanin hand stitched skirt somewhere in my closet. I’ve really doubted that it would still fit but you’ve encouraged me to dig it out and finish it anyway.

  40. I made an Alabama Chanin skirt very much like that one, but in blue and gray! It looks great on you. Mine also took a verrrrry long time to finish and for the same reasons, the babies. Luckily that skirt has an elastic waist otherwise it wouldn’t quite fit anymore. But then, my after 50 rule seems to be elastic waist or no waist!

  41. It is great to know that after such a long time you lost the weight and could get back into a size S again. The close up of your tummy and hips really bring this point accross.
    Bodies change through life, from birth to death, but not everybody can go back to a size S. Well done.

  42. Thank You! A great reminder of how fast time goes by and to reflect on how much we have actually accomplished…. Raising our babies for one. 💕

  43. thank you so much for this blog it has reminded me of items that have taken me so long too but it is a beautuful thing to have finished…

  44. Your Mother showed wisdom, and knowledge of you, by choosing that project. How wonderful !