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.


January Block – The Pinwheel

So no matter how good my intentions were for starting a patchwork block during the first week of January (or maybe it’s a case of being a bit over eager?!) – I only started on Thu 21st! I kept putting it off because I just had no idea where to start but I saw a workshop advertised for a Pinwheel Cushion at Make and Do in Bristol ( http://www.mymakeanddo.co.uk ) and it was a fantastic starting point! Despite the inevitable nerves at going somewhere new, I had a great evening, the people on the workshop were incredibly friendly and I can’t rate the place highly enough! !
We started by choosing two fabrics for our pinwheels before using the sizzix machine to cut out half square triangles (if you haven’t tried the sizzix it is a must!). Then we would sew a triangle from each fabric together to make 4 squares. This is when you must pay attention to the tutor because if you don’t, you may make the mistake I did by sewing the squares together wrongly thereby missing the pinwheel effect altogether!!


So. Time for take 2! Back to the sizzix machine to cut out 4 triangles from each of the two fabrics, sewing the triangles together to make 4 squares and then MAKING SURE I SEW THEM TOGETHER CORRECTLY!! Ta-da!!


I’ve been itching to make more and I tried playing with a different fabric with a directional pattern – talk about making extra work eh?! I had to pay extra attention when cutting it out to make sure the direction of the pattern stayed constant…not a task to try whilst watching anything good on the telly!


Now back to the fabric stash to try and find something suitable for the other 4 triangles….or maybe I’ll have to treat myself to something new!! A girl can never have too much eh?! Can’t wait for the second part of the Pinwheel workshop this coming Thursday where we add the sashing before turning it into a cushion! Watch this space…. xx

The first stitch is always the hardest…

…or so I find!! so I have set myself a challenge. It is coming up to the new year and instead of giving something up (which I always tend to fail at by the 3rd Jan!) I am going to take something up for the new year – patchwork and quilting!

I am going to try and push myself beyond my usual running stitch and learn a patchwork block each month. My aim is that by the end of the year I will have 12 patchwork blocks and a whole new range of skills beyond the beautiful running stitch that has been my go-to for a while now!!

For now though, I think I will get back to my small kantha squares (it is only the 28th of December!!) and begin to think about where on earth to possibly start as my first stitch for patchwork block number 1 – January!! Any ideas will be most welcome!!

N x