‘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).

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

Pride:

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.

Calm:

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.

Summary:

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.

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