Sewing Real Talk: Can Sewing Improve Your Mental Health?

by - 2/08/2017

A snap from my bedroom
Hi pinups! I recently posted on Instagram (THIS post) putting feelers out there to see if anyone would be interested in some blog posts around the subject of self care and mental health, with a sewing slant. I had such an amazing response I decided to go ahead with it and create a new blog series called 'Sewing Real Talk'. From the conversations I've had with other sewists and the comments I received, it seems there are a lot of us out there who use our sewing projects as a way of improving and maintaining positive mental health and practising self care.

I don't particularly want to talk about my personal mental health story - it's long and complicated. However, sewing has a huge place in my quest for positive mental health and I want to tell you how it's impacted my life since I started selfish sewing & blogging in April 2016.

You may already know, I'm self employed and with that comes it's own struggles. I started planning my business fresh out of university in 2013, launching properly around Summer 2014 whilst working full time and eventually deciding to become self employed at the end of 2015, with business really taking off in the past year.

But rewind a little and every day of the week I was isolated, sewing non stop, not creating or developing, just working like a robot. Along with other personal struggles, this kind of lifestyle is not sustainable and come early 2016 I was burnt out, unmotivated and feeling like I was going nowhere and honestly, pretty much hating sewing.

I started The Crafty Pinup last April, something that I'd be thinking about for a long time but finally started. I've always had a bit of an entrepreneurial mindset and even though it was a hobbyist's blog I wanted to take it seriously and run it with love and care, creating my own sewing space on the internet to share my sewing story with like minded people. The online sewing community was a breath of fresh air and became an endless source of inspiration and encouragement.

I started planning my makes and designing outfits, creating social media profiles to make sewing buddies and designed my blog, with my boyfriend creating me a beautiful header. At first I felt guilty for spending time on something which wasn't making me money and it felt frivolous as a 25 year old woman with a new business setting up a sewing blog. But the days I was spending sewing my own clothes or creating things that weren't lingerie related, those became the days I enjoyed the most. I noticed I was happier, spending my weekends with my boyfriend dressing up for sewing photo shoots and spending my time constantly creating something new and learning & developing my skills as a seamstress.

Whilst I love dress making, my business My Retro Closet are where my priorities lie. With the improvement in my mood and productivity due to a day away from the business, I was able to come back to it with a fresh look. I didn't feel drained day after day sewing babydolls trying to make a living. Instead I felt inspired, designed a new collection, saved for my first professional photoshoot, built a new website and gave it the kick up the butt it needed.

Eventually I scheduled two days a week for The Crafty Pinup, which is pretty much where I'm at now. But I know my moods and my limits and can predict my productivity (something I'll be blogging about another time). On weeks where I work on My Retro Closet 7am - 8pm for 4 days straight, I'll then sew for myself for 2 and have a half a day off. This for me is balance and keeps me sane. Knowing what selfish projects I have lined up always spurs me on.

Within the (almost) year I've had this blog, I now have a beautiful dedicated sewing room for myself and my business, a separate office space for computer work and a varied & creative schedule.

Whilst I received a lot of questions in my Instgram post, I wanted to answer the ones directly relating to mental health in this post. Here they are:

  • I'd love to know how you find the motivation/energy to sew when life just isn't great...

Sometimes I don't. When I've reached my limits, I'll accept that I just need a day to do nothing and recharge. But on the other hand people have paid me for a service and I have to deliver whether I want to or not. Again, it's all about balance. If I don't want to sew, I'll cut out garments or reorganise my workspace ready for a fresh day. Having everything tidy and laid out always has me feeling ready to sew again.

  • Is being self employed is the right choice for you? 

For me yes. But it's not for everyone. People have expectations of self employment of sleeping in, working in pjs and doing whatever you want, when you want. My life isn't like that (well, except for the pjs). I work harder and longer than I ever did in a 9 - 5 job or at university. But it suits me mentally and works with my family. I feel lucky every day I remain self employed and I hope it continues.

  • Does sewing becomes more of a burden than a pleasure when you do it for a living and might be under pressure to deliver? 

Yes. Which is what lead me to create The Crafty Pinup. This bit of the internet is for me and any expectations I put on it are my own. My business is my dream and makes me a living. I have standards I need to meet, but I'm sewing my own designs, my own way for my amazing customers. Plus being surrounded by ruffles at my desk always puts a smile on my face. Like any job, there's pressure, but how you deal with it is what matters.

  • How do you make sure that sewing becomes an act of self care instead of stressing yourself out because you want to learn everything at once/make everything perfect?

This sewing blog is my self care and none of my makes on here are perfect. Since I broke a sewing machine so badly at school it was written off and my mum had to finish my project, it's been an ongoing joke between us that I am the laziest dressmaker ever. Setting out knowing that all my personal makes are a learning curve, keeps me from becoming too frustrated if things don't work out perfectly. I find hammering poppers and jeans buttons particularly therapeutic!

Thank you to everyone who asked questions. I'll be answering more in my upcoming posts.


Here are some of my tips for sewing for mental health...

  • A goal - having a sewing project on the go means you have something ongoing. Even a little bit every day is an accomplishment. If you're new to sewing - start small! You can never have enough cushions or pillow cases in my opinion!
  • Learning new techniques - sewing and crafts is a endless learning curve, however big or small there are projects to suit everyone. From cross stitch & embroidery to dress making & quilting.
  • Accomplishment - no matter what you're making, at least you are making. You're creating something with your own hands and nothing beats that feeling of pride in yourself! (The first dress I made practically fell apart in a week but I wore it all Summer!)
  • Create a sewing space - Creating my own sewing space had a huge impact on my productivity. Whether you're lucky enough to have a whole room or just a cosy corner in the living room, that space is yours, and yours alone.
  • You time - I still feel guilty for not working on customer orders when I'm sewing for myself. But I know it's necessary for me to maintain balance. Taking time for yourself to do something you find joy in is important.
  • Mindfulness - I wasn't sure whether to include this one as personally I find it a bit patronising, but taking the time to focus solely on one thing undoubtedly makes you appreciate the moment (unless you're unpicking!).

Personally, sewing has improved my mental health and my whole lifestyle with knock on effects in the rest of my life. I couldn't imagine living my routine the way it was a year ago.

I hope you've found my first 'Sewing Real Talk' post interesting and I hope that it even might help someone out there who is struggling. Being creative shouldn't be underestimated in the role it plays in positive mental health. From the stories people shared with me on social media, I know I'm not alone in knowing the improvements it's made to my own life.

If you have a story you would like to share about sewing and mental health, please feel free to share in the comments below. You won't be alone in your story.

Thanks for reading, pinups.

For more information and help concerning mental health, please visit

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  1. This was a really interesting post, and I'm so glad mental health is being talked about on social media. As I can certainly relate to some parts of this, especially burning out, its positive to see how well you manage it. It can certainly feel like you need to focus 100% of your being into your business at times, I'm glad you've managed to find a balance! How do you manage eating and exercise around it all too? I have found both theses areas have gone out the window for me now I'm sat down all day!

    1. Thank you so much Danni! It took a while but I go there in the end!
      In regards to eating and exercise, I go to the gym a couple of times a week and alternate days I go for walks, both with my mum. It combines activity with family time. Great for clearing my head too and is a rare hour that I'm thinking about nothing sewing related! Food wise, I plan my meals ahead (usually on Sundays) so I have healthy lunches etc to grab from the fridge. I like the Lean in 15 books for this.

      Hope that helps! Coffee and cake soon please :)

  2. I'd never seen sewing in the light of being therapy until the last couple of years, when work-stress really got me, and brought me to my knees. I was actually getting weird 'retinal migraines' which didn't arrive as a headache, they just made me lose central vision. It was terrifying. I'm now on beta-blockers to stave off the migraines, and I've reduced my working hours. This will be a blow financially, but it's better than dying before retirement!
    My sewing keeps me focussed, makes me feel productive and happy, and also makes lovely clothes for me and my! We started going to steampunk events, which gives me the opportunity to make really crazy stuff=more happy!
    With an audiobook, and a heap of cut-out garments [I like to cut out a dozen or so at a time] I can lose myself for hours. I've just had a marathon PDF taping session, so 7 more patterns are beckoning...must go!

  3. Came across your blog by accident and so glad I did as I don't as a rule "do social media." I live with MPD/DID (Multiple Personalities and we are Not a disorder) and I suffer badly with depression.
    I find all craft activity therapeutic for my mental and physical health (disabled & in a wheelchair outside my home).
    Sewing, especially dressmaking though I find the best for MH. Knowing that I made what I'm wearing, often having adapted the design too reminds me that I do have worth. Being complimented on an outfit can be embarrassing but I'm learning to cope.
    Happy to talk to anyone about the challenges of my/our daily lives if it helps.

  4. Thank you so much for this post. It's one I wish I had read before I started my own business! People can have unrealistic expectations when they start up their business and like you, I've never worked so hard in my life. The pay-off is worth it for me emotionally and physically more than financially!

    The self-care journey is different for everyone but it's important to take a breather sometimes when pressure gets to be too much. It's wonderful to know that the craft/sewing community is so supportive of each other and open and honest about their individual wellness path. I've met many beautiful souls in the online sewing world, and you are definitely one of them! Thanks again!

  5. Yes! We all need that structure and routine. Don't have my own business, but left my full time job to take care of my wonderful baby so now my work is all at home... my everything is all at home if I'm not careful.
    You are so right, gotta be creative about doing something even when you don't feel like you can face the central task at hand (like cutting and organizing when you are not up to sewing), I think I need to implement this more.
    Sewing, and taking a sewing class on Saturdays in San Francisco, gives me motivation and a mental wake-up when I'm feeling just too lonely and monotonous. And the online sewing community is so inspiring- to which you are a wonderful contributor now, by the way :). I found that Seamwork Radio has some interesting podcasts on similar topics, if you ever need something to listen to while working.

  6. I love this post! I can relate, I am self employed and sew to sell which squeezed the fun out of being creative in one way. Coming back to sewing for myself again has been really good for me, it is cheap therapy. I often see your makes pop on Twitter and FB, so finally following your blog now too