Why I sew…

 In Unimenta Blog

A guest post for National Sewing Machine Day.


“So what do you like to do?” asked my aunt. I hadn’t seen her for 40 years and we were catching up enthusiastically.
“Well, I like patchwork and quilting,” I heard coming out of my mouth. Why I said that, I don’t know, but it opened the doors to a world so full of magic and wonder, I can only think it was the universe talking through me.

I have always sewn – my own wedding dress, clothes for my three girls and curtains for the many and various houses we lived in. I enjoyed it, but its purpose was always more or less utilitarian. But that morning at the kitchen table in my aunt’s house in Canada I was put on a path that I am still strolling along most joyfully today.

Visiting my first fabric and quilting shop with my aunt, I knew instantly that this was something I had been looking for. There is something very deep in me that loves, almost viscerally, the look and feel of fabric. It’s cool and smooth and soft and pliant and utterly beautiful. As I moved slowly around the walls of the shop, stroking and marvelling at the jewel-like bolts of cotton lined up on shelves stacked high, my aunt said, “You look so happy. You haven’t stopped smiling.” And that is still true today – put me in a fabric shop and I am filled with gentle, quiet excitement. Selecting bolts to match and blend, unfurling metres of gloriously vibrant florals or soft, pretty pastels, dreaming of the quilts I’ll make can fill many contented hours as the world outside slips away leaving me happily surrounded by textile treasures and alone with my thoughts.

Keeping up with this noisy, busy world is exhausting – not only physically, but spiritually too. Time for ourselves, time for reflection, time to come to the centre of ourselves and time itself has become a scarce and precious commodity. It is the only thing we can’t get more of, or buy, or save up. The increase in movements to redress this points to a deep-seated need in all of us to escape, be still and just be. Yoga, meditation, the call to be in the present moment and reminders to be mindful all work to guide us towards stilling the mind and bringing us back to our centre.

I have found my perfect refuge in sewing and all that it brings with it. Creating is an inherent human desire. Surrounded by glorious fabrics that I have chosen, I free my imagination and create new quilts – design, colour and pattern shift and swirl, match and blend and play until I have created something uniquely mine. Next, measuring and slicing with ruler and sharp rotary cutter. The demand for accuracy and precision keeps me focussed and present – lining up the fabric to keep it straight, running the rotary cutter down the edge of the ruler, counting and sorting and stacking the pieces into rainbow piles, ready to take their place in my creation, feeds the joy of “doing”. This is followed by the slow, careful process of joining of the pieces under the needle of the machine. Focussing only on the working surfaces – the needle as it goes up and down to a rhythm I control, the fabric as it slides through, being bound together with perfect stitches and my hands, guiding assuredly – is as mindful an activity as any I’ve ever found. There is no agenda, there is no deadline, there is no judgment. And as the quilt grows and emerges from under the machine and my hands, There’s just me and this thing I am making – and a quiet sense of fulfilment.

And I am not alone. Since the wonder of the Internet, I have found a community of like-minded people. We all understand the need to stroke and touch fabric, we all love our machines and their quirks and foibles, we all happily share our creative experiences – great triumphs and even greater “almost there” moments – and everyone is accepted and encouraged and given unconditional permission to do what pleases them.

Although the pressures and urgencies of life today persist, and even though I still need to rush to work through noisy, busy cities, and although time seems to be more and more limited, as I sit down at my machine at the end of the day, the calm sense of mindful purpose brings me to my centre and stills my spirit. And I shall be ever grateful to the universe for speaking to my aunt on my behalf.

Guest blogger: Candy van Olst arrived in the UK from South Africa 21 years ago. Since then, she has been teaching and training professionals who do business in English – mostly in companies in the motor industry and online to academics and business people.

When she isn’t teaching, Candy spends her time sewing and quilting avidly.