Stitching as therapy?


Have you ever pondered what exactly it is that makes sewing so addictive, and so therapeutic?

Yes, there’s the giddy excitement of fabric shopping, and the high that comes from having something new to wear. But there are cheaper, easier ways to add to your wardrobe. What is it about the process of sewing (and not just the results) that encourages us to keep going, even after a disaster or two?

I love finding out how the human (or even the canine) mind works, and there are two books I’ve read on this subject that explore the psychology of working with your hands.

In The Case For Working With Your Hands (Or Why Office Work Is Bad For Us And Fixing Things Is Good), Matthew Crawford sets out why he believes we find skilled manual tasks so satisfying. He’s a former management consultant, who found he much prefers working as a motorcycle mechanic.

He argues that office work can be incredibly unsatisfying – simply moving paper from place to place – or (even worse) firing off electronic communications all day. With no tangible end result, and no way to engage our senses in our work, it’s no surprise that so many of us seek these things in our hobbies.

I read this book three years ago, and it really struck a chord with me. My first graduate job was as a tax adviser, and when we switched from sending paper tax returns to electronic filing even that simple change, from a tangible to an intangible output, affected my job satisfaction. Somehow an electronic output wasn’t as final or as satisfying.

Before Christmas, I finished reading The Organized Mind by Daniel Levitin. What I took away from it was his insistence that multi-tasking is a waste of time, and that actually it’s only when we stop juggling and try to do one thing well that we get results.

And if the task you’re working on is a bit mindless – like hand-sewing a hem, say, don’t worry. This is when you get what Levitin describes as ‘mind-wandering’ time – a period for your brain to assimilate new information and start to germinate creative ideas. Possibly the best argument I’ve heard yet for turning off the TV and doing something more boring instead.

If you’re in need of some lighter sewing-related reading after all that, then the Colette book club starts this month – I’m hurrying to get finish the first book before the discussion starts on Monday evening.


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