What does sewing mean to you?

University of Bristol School for Policy Studies

Exploring the experiences of people (aged 40 years and younger) who sew as a hobby and the role sewing has played in their lives

My name is Naomi Clarke and I am at the University of Bristol studying for an MSc in Social Work Research.

“What is the research about?”

As part of my MSc I am doing a research project about younger people’s (40 years of age and younger) experiences of sewing as a hobby.

“Why only people who are 40 years and under?”

There have been several research studies already and the participants have typically been those who are over 40 years. I am trying to explore the resurgence in sewing and handicrafts in younger people, their reasons for sewing, and what benefits they feel it offers.

“What is involved?”

I am really interested in exploring people’s stories. This might include what brought you to sewing, when sewing has been particularly meaningful for you, what has kept you sewing, what you enjoy about sewing, and also any potential benefits you feel sewing offers.

I would like people (aged 40 years and under) who sew as a hobby to either make a textile piece or share a photo of a piece already made which is meaningful to you (I have included two examples at the end of this post). It may explain why you sew, what sewing means to you, what you enjoy about sewing, what benefits you feel sewing as a hobby has offered to you or all of these points! I would then ask you to send me a photo of this piece (ideally in a high resolution format) with a short explanation of the piece and your age. It does not have to be a large piece if you do not wish it to be and I have no presuppositions about criteria for this textile piece except I am interested in the meanings that you have ascribed to your piece and to sewing more generally. I have included two examples: one is a photo of a piece which I had previously made and which is meaningful to me (example 1) and one is a photo of a piece I have made specifically for this project when thinking about what sewing means to me (example 2).

“Why am I being asked to make a textile piece? Wouldn’t a survey suffice?”

I wanted to use a creative, participatory activity to explore people’s reasons for sewing. If I used a survey I am concerned that I am giving you a limited number of options from which to select your answer about what sewing offers. I hope that by inviting you to make or share a textile piece in a communication method you feel connected with (sewing) it will provide a richer, in-depth understanding of what sewing offers in a way that surveys and numbers would be unable to do. The focus is not so much on the textile piece you share; this textile piece is to act as a visual aid in getting you to think about why you enjoy sewing and what it means to you.

Your textile piece can be anything: clothes, embroidery, cross-stitch, kantha, quilts, textile art…anything which is textiles and is meaningful to you!

“What will happen to the photo and my explanation?”

These will be treated in confidence unless I am concerned for your safety or the safety of others. If this happens, then I will need to talk about this with my supervisor but I would discuss this with you before doing so. All of the photos and explanations will be stored on a password-protected device and anonymised before being used in the final project report. I have to write a report about this project and I may use your thoughts, experiences and photos of your work. I will not use your name, your email address or any other identifying information.

“When do I need to have the photo and explanation with you by?”

Ideally, as soon as possible but by the 1st August at the very latest.

“What next?”

If you are happy to take part in the project, understand the purposes of the project and how I will use, store and anonymise your data then please make contact with me through email at nc12824@my.bristol.ac.uk

We can then discuss your textile piece and involvement in the project.

Further information: 

If you would like to know any more about the project I am more than happy to talk with you. My contact details and my dissertation supervisor’s details (Dr Debbie Watson) are available below. I have received DBS clearance and ethical approval from the School for Policy Studies Ethics Committee at the University of Bristol.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post.

Yours sincerely,

Naomi Clarke

Dissertation supervisor:

Dr Debbie Watson


Example 1: an already made textile piece which is poignant to me.


This is one of my first pieces of textiles which I made some years ago. My life in stitches often feels similar to ‘crazy patchwork’ with (seemingly) haphazard and irregular colours (often with darker tones), pieces of fabrics and experiences held together by a series of stitches. But, upon closer inspection, these stitches are brighter in colour, they are repetitive and rhythmic and they are strong in contributing to the stability of the piece. Without these stitches the ‘crazy patchwork’ would fall apart…echoing how I often feel about my life: stitching, and it’s continuity and regularity, are the brighter parts of my life that have acted as my one constant and have continued to contribute to what is holding me together through life’s many differing experiences and challenges.

Example 2: a textile piece that I made for the research project.


This is a piece I made one evening whilst thinking about what sewing means for me. The words I have stitched capture some of the things I feel sewing offers me. I am 26 years old and have been sewing on and off since the age of 7. It is only in the past few years sewing has become a real rock for me. I find the repetitive, rhythmic movement of hand stitching calming and almost therapeutic. I tend to stitch more during times of stress as it helps me to feel constructive in making something beautiful and meaningful to me during situations which are difficult and may be beyond my control.


‘What does sewing mean to you?’ dissertation summary

First off, I want to say a MASSIVE thank you to everyone who has participated in my MSc dissertation exploring the experiences of people aged 40 years and under who engage in sewing as a leisure activity! I had 79 people aged from 6 years to 40 years who took part from all over the world (Australia, Canada, Germany, Holland, Italy, New Zealand, Turkey, UK, United Arab Emirates and the USA). Whilst I had not sought out to explore women’s experiences specifically it was only women that responded (I know you sewing men are out there!) This is obviously a large limitation of my research and one which I have written about in the dissertation itself.

It was a real honour to hear people’s experiences of sewing and to see such a beautiful range of images. I wanted to share a short summary of the findings as so many of you requested that I do so. Please note that this is a very brief summary and doesn’t reflect the depth and richness of the data that I received. I have also chosen not to share the direct quotes within this blog post so as to protect participants’ anonymity and the confidentiality that I offered. I am, however, sharing a collage of some of the images that were shared with me. I stitched these together into a patchwork photo piece to represent the multiplicity of people’s sewing experiences whilst also being linked by one thread. I have received permission from participants to share this photo collage. If you would like further information about any specific area then please contact me directly on nc12824@my.bristol.ac.uk to discuss it further (although I will be unable to share direct quotes or photos due to anonymity and confidentiality).


Despite such a geographic dispersion there were key themes that emerged from people’s responses.


57 of the 79 participants spoke of the sense of pride and accomplishment that sewing offered. This could come from mastering specific techniques, seeing a recipient’s pleasure at receiving a sewn item, finishing a piece of sewing as well as having a tangible item to show for their effort and time.


51 of the 79 participants spoke of sewing providing them with calm. This was sometimes due to the low demands of sewing as it is a manageable activity which was not overwhelming. Some participants spoke of the repetitive hand motion of hand sewing as being calming. Lastly, for some participants the calm came from having ‘me-time’ where they could engage in an activity that made them stop from our ever fast-paced world.

Social interactions:

36 of the 79 participants spoke of sewing providing them with opportunities for social interactions. This included the interactions they experienced through having shared interests, the connections they experienced when sewing alongside one another, the social connections they felt when giving a sewn item to someone as a tangible object of care, and also connections with a larger part of women’s historical involvement in craft.

Sewing and self-awareness:

24 of the 79 participants described a deeper awareness of oneself which they have developed through sewing. This was often from participant’s who engaged in dressmaking as it gave them greater opportunities to reject societal expectations of size and style and allowed them to embrace their own bodies through creating the clothes they wanted.


All 79 participants spoke of plentiful benefits to engaging in sewing as a leisure activity and these often related to social and emotional health, pride, achievement, constancy, permanency, social opportunities, self-awareness, personal growth, reflexivity, relaxation and purposeful distractions. Participants’ had varying reasons for what brought them to sewing as a leisure activity yet it was clear that sewing has played an important, multi-faceted role in the lives of many. Sewing seems to hold large potential as an activity which is both creative and enjoyable whilst also providing relaxation and purposeful interactions. It appears to offer a powerful opportunity for assisting people in mastery, achievement, social interactions and self-development.

Tilda blog hop

So firstly, before any sewing began, I simply had to stroke the fabrics! Getting a bundle of FQs in the post is incredibly exciting but even more so when it is such gorgeous fabric like this! The new Circus Collection by Tilda is soft and beautiful to work with! I especially loved the floral prints! 

From left to right the fabrics are Tilda Clown Flower Linen, Tilda Circus Rose Blue, Tilda Forget Me Not Teal, Tilda Summer Picnic Blue, and Tilda Circus Life Green.

I also may have ‘accidentally’ treated myself to some new Aurifil thread (2720) for sewing the petals together… 

There’s something quite daunting about
cutting into such gorgeous fabric isn’t there?! So, after giving myself a good talking to, I finally made the first cut into the fabrics. Setting aside the elephant print fabric (Tilda Circus Life Green) for the backing of the cushion and the centre circle, I cut four dresden petals from each of the four floral prints finishing with a total of sixteen petals:

Then, I started sewing these petals together into groups of four:

I then finished the final dresden circle by sewing these groups of four together (one ‘group’ at a time)! 

When sewing the dresden together my main priority was to make sure the petals matched on the curve at the top. Obviously, in an ideal world, it would have matched perfectly at the bottom corner too but my thinking was that, as a first timer to dresden plates, the final circle could cover a multitude of sins… 😉 

Then, for that centre circle, I fussy cut an elephant from the Tilda Circus Life Green FQ that I placed to one side at the start. This fabric works perfectly for mastering fussy cutting and also in acting as a focal point for the dresden centre. The colours match perfectly…but that’s no surprise from such an expert brand as Tilda! 

Then comes the joining part (although I have to admit that I never find this as much fun as the actual english paper piecing)! I ironed and removed the basting stitches and papers from the petals before sewing the circle onto the centre of the petals. Then I ironed and removed the basting stitches and papers from the circle. Next, I appliqued the dresden plate as a whole onto a square of fabric before using the rest of the Tilda Circus Life Green to make the cushion back. And voila! One Tilda Circus Dresden Plate Cushion! 

November sewing!

I find it so hard to function in this horribly cold weather! So this month has been a bit of a ‘finishing off’ month as I have mainly stayed indoors!!

I finished the quilting and binding on my Christmas epp quilt (which I blogged about last month). This cold, cold weather has meant that the Christmas quilt has already had a LOT of use already!

I also managed to do the final 3 blocks for Mum’s quilt (which I blogged about in August) which gives me just under a month to quilt it and bind it!

This block was made using the 2 fat quarters I bought after our trip to Festival of Quilts in August:

This block was made using the 2 fat quarters I bought after Mum and I went to the West Country Quilt and Textile Show at the start of November:

The show was utterly fantastic and it was great that it all took place so locally!! I bought lots of gorgeous new fabrics and threads (the threads in particular I cannot wait to start using for a Kantha piece which I will blog about in the new year)!

The final block for Mum’s quilt was made using 2 fat quarters that I bought from Social Fabric when Mum and I went to Totnes:

Then, finally, I have also managed by November block for my 2016 blog quilt where I have sought to learn a new patchwork block each month! 11 done…1 more to go and then I can piece them all together!

I hope you are all well and staying warm in this horribly cold weather. I am off back to hibernation with a cuppa and a hot water bottle! Speak to you soon.

N x

February Valentine’s scrappy hearts

So this has been a really positive (although really long) week for me! I’ve had three days of lectures exploring further qualitative research methods which has been both fascinating and tiring all in one! I’ve also received the marks on two of my essays (which were really challenging…quantitative research…need I say more?!) and received marks which surpassed my expectations! Cue celebrations!

I also received some scraps from Creative Quilting in Surrey ( http://www.creativequilting.co.uk/ ). They have incredibly beautiful fabrics and were so friendly and lovely. There is so much negativity and division within our world at the moment and yet they reminded me the power of ‘random acts of kindness’. It was so lovely to experience someone demonstrating such kindness and generosity to make someone happy with no hidden agenda. So a massive, massive thank you to Creative Quilting!

So this weekend I have celebrated by sewing with scraps!!

I ironed some bondaweb onto squares of felt. Then I placed (and ironed) some of the scraps onto the bondaweb. I made 3 squares using straight lines and one square with a more random placing of the scraps  (but even then, my random is pretty planned – that’s the nature of being a list/ordered girl I guess!). 

I then loaded my machine up with Gütermann Sulky Rayon 30 and free-motioned on top of the pink squares until I knew each edge was incredibly secure! 

With Valentine’s in mind I wanted to try some hearts out so I cut out a total of 18 hearts from my 2 pink squares and laid them onto white cotton! 

Now to hand stitch them into place…!

N x

January #1yearofstitches 

Happy January 31st! I’ve definitely upped my blog challenge by trying to do a stitch a day! I probably did this anyway with my English Paper Piecing but there is something different about having some linen in an embroidery hoop waiting for something creative and beautiful to be embroidered upon it (maybe it doesn’t need to be creative or beautiful – these are probably the limits/pressures I have placed upon myself!)

So here is a collage of my January embroidery for my year in stitches challenge: 

 There are varying shades of greens and turquoises and I keep being drawn to DMC 907 so I might have to restock soon! 

I have also kept a diary each day of the thread I used, the stitch I made, and any accompanying thoughts/feelings. These include things like stitching a heart for my Dad’s birthday on January 5th, stitching small circle using a running stitch because I had started a new kantha circles piece on January 15th, and using a DMC Jewel Effects thread because I was feeling a bit blue and wanted something glitzy to brighten my day on January 17th!

Here is a closer photo of my January embroidery for my year in stitches: 

See you next month!

N x

A new year…a new challenge!

So I have seen a few groups on Facebook encouraging ‘a stitch a day’ and as much as I love my English Paper Piecing, hand stitching will remain my first love. So,inspired by this, I have joined the group ‘1 year in stitches:2017’. 

Cross stitch was the first stitch I learnt (aged 7!) and for many, many years I found respite in cross stitch. It enabled me to feel creative whilst also feeling held and secure through following the structure of a specified pattern. It allowed me to get lost in the continuous rhythm of simply going up and down to form a repetitive cross. It also allowed me to feel constructive during times of passivity. So I felt a cross stitch was the perfect stitch for starting this new year’s challenge!! I chose the colour green after seeing it is the Pantone colour of the year 2017 (plus I am also biased as it is my favourite colour!)

So for January 1st I did a small row of cross stitches on linen:

For January 2nd I did a straight stitch over each cross: 

 I am excited to see how it progresses but don’t worry, it won’t be daily updates!

I hope you all had a lovely new year!

N x