Episode 4. Sewing and Self-Care

Listen to the episode

In this episode, we wrap up Mental Health Awareness Month and Asian American Pacific Heritage Month by inviting Asian Sewist Collective team member Erica to discuss self-care. We talk about how our identities shape our thoughts on self-care, and our own self-care practices as they relate to sewing. For show notes and a transcript of this episode, please see: https://asiansewistcollective.com/episode-4-sewing-and-self-care/ If you find our podcast informative and enjoy listening, you can support us by joining our monthly membership or making a one-time donation via Ko-Fi: https://ko-fi.com/asiansewistcollective


Style Sew Me – Nikki Blazer

Paper Theory – Zadie Jumpsuit

Is Self-Care Just a Trend?, written by Dr. Shainna Ali, LMHC

How You Can Honor the Radical History of Self-Care, written by Martha Tesema

Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, written by Dr. Alex Soojung Pang

5 Questions to Help You Practice Intuitive Self-Care, written by Martha Tesema

Job burnout: How to spot it and take action, written by the Mayo Clinic

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, written by Amelia Nagosaki and Emily Nagosaki 

Cultural Diversity and Mental Health: Considerations for Policy and Practice, written by Frontiers in Public Health

Feeling Blah During the Pandemic? It’s Called Languishing, written by Adam Grant

Find Your Sewing Affirmations, Seamwork Radio episode

Affirmations: The Why, What, How, and What If, written by Dr. Kathryn J Lively 

Meditation Positive Daily Affirmations: Is There Science Behind It?, written by Catherine Moore, Psychologist, MBA

Guest editor, Brendel Zarate (Upwork, Instagram)

Show Transcript

Erica: It’s not like we start recording and that’s this is the podcast.

Ada: Welcome to the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. The Asian Sewist Collective is a group of Asian people from around the world brought together by our shared appreciation for fiber and textile arts and our desire to see more Asian representation in the sewing community. In this podcast, we explore the intersection of our identities and our shared sewing practice as we create a space for Asian sewists and our allies. 

I’m your co-host, Ada Chen, and I am recording from Denver, Colorado, Denver with the traditional territory of the Ute, Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples. I’m a marketer turned entrepreneur and these days you’ll find me running my own all natural skincare business called Chuan Skincare. That’s C-H-U-A-N skincare and sharing my marketing tips on my blog, The Cultivate Nethod. Most importantly for this podcast, you can find my sewing at @i.hope.sew (s-e-w) on Instagram.

Nicole: And I’m your co host, Nicole, I’m based outside of Chicago, Illinois, the original homelands of the council of the three fires, the Ojibwe, the Potawatomi, and the Odawa people. I’m a Filipinx American woman and a lawyer by day and a sewing enthusiast the rest of the time. You can find me on Instagram at @NicoleAngelineSews.

Ada: So before we dive into this week’s episode, Nicole, can you tell us a little bit about your current sewing project?

Nicole: Yeah, I’m still working on my first blazer, it’s the Style Sew Me Nikki blazer, because we’re wrapping up Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. I am trying to get this terno sleeve done for the blazer, I’m trying to not in the spirit of self-care, rush myself on it. So I might not get the blazer or the terno done before the end of May. But it’ll be fine. How about you Ada? What are you working on?

Ada: I’m sure it’s gonna look great. I am ending Me Made May strong, I went in with no plan. But I’m ending it strong with a pink twill Zadie Jumpsuit from Paper Theory. I have I thrifted like six yards of this really cool pink twill like months ago, and I still have a lot left. And so listeners if you have suggestions on what to do with three to four more yards of pink twill, we’ll send them my way. But I made a wearable toile of the pattern a few months ago. And then I struggled with adjustments on the pants. So I put it down for a while. And now with the pink version, which was the original one I wanted to make in the first place, I’m at the fit stage. So I’m making some adjustments before I sew up the seams. And I’m learning that it is hard to take volume out of the front of your pants. 

So today’s topic is all about self-care. And we’ve invited one of our podcast team members, Erica Y to join us for the discussion today. Welcome Erica, can you please introduce yourself?

Erica: Thank you. I’m glad to join you today. I’m Chinese American. But now I live in Toronto, Canada. I first started sewing on a sewing machine when I was about eight, on a whim one day when I wanted to know what was in the box in the back of my mother’s closet. So she pulled it out and showed me the basics of how to use it. And from then on, I was hooked on sewing my own clothes through high school. 

Once I left home for college, I stopped sewing and stopped through all of my 20s. And I didn’t pick it up again until after my first child was born. Um, at the time as a new mother, I just decided to put my career on hold after she was born with it and was kept getting diagnosed with a number of medical and neurological issues. So I stopped working. And it was at that time that I picked up sewing again, because I had all this unstructured time in my life. And then I dealt with her issues for a while and went on to have two more kids. Then when they got older, I finally decided to pick up my career again. 

So I felt like I had these large chunks in my life where I had had, I sewed and then I put that on hold and then I devoted, you know my energy to my education and picking up starting my career. And then that was forced upon me to put that on hold. So I picked up sewing again, while I parented. And then so it’s interesting, and then you take these long breaks, and then you come back to things later. It’s interesting to observe how I feel differently about doing something when you take a break and then come back to it.

Ada: And how would you say your sewing practice intersects with your identity?

Erica: Well, since I’ve been sewing since I was a kid, my sewing practice has ebbed and flowed as I figured out my own sense of identity. I’ve always loved clothes and fashion since I was a kid. But my parents did not encourage those interests because they felt that thinking a lot about what you wore was was a frivolous pursuit. And it was a very bourgeois habit to have. So, you know, they didn’t really approve of it. They were both from families with traditions of high academic achievement back in China going back for generations. 

So for me growing up sewing was an acceptable hobby. But my parents did not want me to pursue it as a profession, and did not want me to pursue work that depended on using my hands. So when I was a teenager, I used to put hours and hours into my sewing. And they would definitely comment about how I was spending those those hours of my life. But it was, it was acceptable because it was just a hobby. And when I reflect back, it’s, it’s, oddly enough, it’s the time I spent sewing my own wardrobe as a teenager I felt was almost like an active rebellion against those traditional Confucian values. Although my clothes were far from rebellious looking because I was obsessed at the time with learning about couture sewing techniques. So, you know, thinking back today, I’m not sure I can disentangle some of those feelings of guilt I have when I spend my time sewing.

Nicole: Yeah, late nights sewing is definitely something that I am familiar with as well. And we have talked about you know, sewing habits and self-care. So the three of us and a lot of other members of our podcast team have been talking about self-care for a while. 

So before we dive into some sewing related discussion, let’s define self-care. In psychology Today, Dr. Shaina Ali, a mental health clinician, educator and advocate, defines self-care as, “a holistic process that we all need in order to foster presence, engagement and self love”. She elaborates that self-care is not a singular skill. Instead, it includes a wide, wide variety of tasks that are tailored to meet your diverse needs. So although there may be similarities between self-care strategies, self-care is subjective and tends to vary from person to person. 

Now, she also says that self-care is a continuous process, it’s continuous. And it’s a proactive consideration and tending of your needs in order to maintain your own wellness. And although it’s become more mainstream in the last few years, the term self-care quote unquote, actually spread for the medical community to the larger community in the 1960s, thanks to civil rights advocates, in particular, the Black Panther Party practiced community care, by distributing food, creating health clinics and building education programs. These were not only acts of survival to help the communities that they were in, they also changed the wider narrative about caring for oneself. At the same time, self-care was popularized as a way to counteract activist burnout and allow activists to bring their entire selves into the movement.

Ada: You bring up a good point about survival and community care. Oftentimes, we hear about self-care being compared to like an airline safety video, you have to put on your own oxygen mask first before you can help others. And as we wrap up Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month, it feels appropriate to point out that self-care can also have an effect on mental health as well. Self-care relies on some level of self awareness, which can help those with mental illness or those who are supporting someone with mental illness, recognize triggers or patterns in their emotions or thoughts.

Nicole: Yes, now, as we discussed in episode 2, mental health is an important but often not discussed topic in Asian communities. And as we showed before, Asian Americans are three times less likely to seek mental health services than other Americans. Now, certain groups also within the Asian diaspora have a higher than average risk of suicide and mental illness. When we talk about self-care in the context of our identities, I’m curious, Erica, how do you define self-care? And why is it important for you?

Erica: To me, self-care is a way to cope with daily stress. Stress is going to be inevitable. And I think that doses of it can be really healthy and productive. But there has to be a way that you can get breaks from it. So it doesn’t become overwhelming. To me self-care’s about rest, whether that means active sleep or active time spent pursuing something that’s nourishing to your body, mind and spirit.

Nicole: I think that I aligned with that as well. My more, like narrow, personal definition of self-care is really just giving myself the luxury of focusing on one thing, engaging in one thing, and maybe it’s because I grew up like I was a child of Sesame Street and my attention span is shot, too. But I spend most of my waking hours flitting from one thing to another, and sometimes it’s minute by minute, and it’s handling lots of things at once. It’s not really like multitasking. It’s just just kind of like switching and switching and switching. 

And self-care to me is stopping and focusing. And having time without my phone. I’ll say that like, like there’s focus. And you know, maybe for some people self-care is just enjoying Instagram and like that it has to be phoneless for me watching a movie on the couch and like sitting through it. That’s self-care for me reading a magazine and sipping coffee and you know, and one morning, that’s, that’s self-care to me. I think when people think of self-care, sometimes they think of like bubble baths and relaxing music and candles. And I’d love for that to be my self-care, but probably just fall asleep during that, and I want to be present for myself-care. And I also, you know, for to be self-care. I also need to be alone, to be honest. What about you Ada?

Ada: I think for me, it really does go back to that idea of putting your seatbelt on or your oxygen mask on before helping others. I have personally burned myself out quite a few times trying to do all the things and be all the things for everyone else, including when I was leading some AAPI nonprofits. And it’s part of the reason I took a break from that world because I did need time and space to really focus on me. And it’s taken a few years for me to realize that in order to actually avoid that burnout, I do need to practice self-care and start taking better care of myself physically, mentally, and emotionally. 

So for me, I have different practices that help with that, that I kind of group under my own self-care practice, right? I think some of us are, most of us have something like that, or I hope that we all have something like that, that we can turn to. It’s not bubble baths, either. For me, a common thread between all the activities I do for self-care regularly and even once in a while is that I can be quiet and listen to podcasts during them or listen to soothing voices during the ritual. So running, Pilates, dance, okay, maybe sometimes taking a bath and doing the things walking my dog, and sewing all those activities kind of fall under self-care time for me. 

Nicole: Well, and you work in the self-care and wellness industry, right Ada?

Ada: I do. Yeah, no, I do. And you know, it’s an industry that I followed for a long time before starting a business in it. For listeners, I have a handcrafted all natural skincare line called Chuan Skincare. And before I started that business, I knew that the self-care and wellness industry was overwhelmingly white, like think Goop, there was pretty much a huge lack of representation and lack of accessibility, for people of color, and by lack of accessibility, and primarily talking about representation and also money. Like, in general, a lot of what was billed as self-care is, is just super expensive and not really accessible to, you know, the average person. Again, look at Goop for crying out loud. 

Being in this industry, though, where you’re having products that could be considered part of somebody’s self-care routine, I think you have to bring an extra layer of thoughtfulness into what you’re offering and how you market them and how they’re actually going to be used and benefit somebody, right? Like it’s about knowing that your product is more powerful than just surface benefits of like cleaning your skin, it could be part of somebody’s daily or weekly routine where they get to take 10 minutes to themselves that allows them to have time for self reflection, or even just a moment to breathe between, you know, work or family obligations. And part of the whole reason I got into this industry in the first place was to just show others that self-care isn’t just for the Gwyneth Paltrows of the world like it really is something, anything that we can all practice and we should all have access to. Like there’s a long way to go for folks in the Asian diaspora to go to when it comes to self-care. And we’ve talked about stigmas around mental health in Asian cultures before but I think there’s also something to be said here about certain themes or traits in Asian cultures that maybe drive us away from self-care a lot of the time too.

Nicole: Yeah, I mean, many Asian cultures are also considered to be collectivist. So, collectivist societies tend to emphasize the needs of the group and the goals of the group, as a whole as over the needs and desires of each individual. And you know, individualist is honoring the the needs and goals and desires of the individual. And this, you know, it brings me to one of these hashtags that we often see on Instagram, #selfishsewing. Now, Erica, I know you have some thoughts about this. Can you share?

Erica: Yes. So I would say perhaps the word upsets me is too strong a word, but it definitely it bothers me to see the #selfishsewing. Because sewing is a major part of my scheduled self-care and my week. So I think there’s a stigma and a shame to doing something that is considered selfish. And I don’t consider sewing clothes for myself or that time I spend psychologically alone sowing rather than devoted to the needs of my children. I don’t consider that to be a selfish act. And many mothers already grapple with feelings of guilt when they do things for themselves rather than on behalf of their kids. So I personally don’t want to label myself-care as being selfish.

Nicole: For me, you know, people probably use when they use that hashtag, they use it in different ways, you know, and then the reader takes it as it is and I can see how there’s probably some guilt there, you know, because of that stigma because of the coupling of, you know, selfish and, and bad and selfish and not what we’re supposed to want to be. And I think some folks also use it in defiance of the traditional understandings of the word selfish. So selfish sewing is a way to reclaim you know, the word selfish. And it’s just down to semantics. 

You know, I think we all come from different experiences, which influences you know, how we feel about the word. And, you know, I’m not a mother, so I don’t intend to become one. And I don’t bring the same experiences to the table as you do, Erica. And I like to think that I’m, I’m like the folks in the latter camp, you know, that my personal instinct, I still bristle at the word selfish, probably because I did grow up in that collective mindset. 

And so you know, like Erica said, there’s that stigma and shame associated with being selfish. thinking of yourself first is wrong. Your comfort or discomfort is not a priority. And there are a lot of nuances within that. And just remember, I’m talking about my own experiences, not generalizing, but I do imagine a lot of our Asian listeners, people of Asian descent, they might be able to relate. So I guess for me, I’d like to take back the word selfish. You know, I want to look at the word and say, “Oh, you think me prioritizing myself is a bad thing. Tell me, tell me how I dare you.”

But before we came into recording, I put on my self-care sweatshirt. So it says “self-care is not selfish”. So this is like, I don’t make any sense. Because I, you know, I’d love to reclaim the word selfish. But I also felt like I wanted this billboard on me to like I wanted to share like a self-care shouldn’t be seen as selfish, you know. So what I’m saying is, you know, I’d like to reclaim the word selfish. And yet, I still have that negative connotation with the word.

Erica: It’s complex. Yeah, absolutely.

Ada: It sounds like it’s really down to your relationship with the word selfish, right? Like, I think you both brought up a good point about selfish sewing in relation, quote, unquote, selfish sewing in relation to so as to sew for other people in their lives. And I am curious, like, how does self-care and sewing fit into the context of your life, and what does sewing or what has sewing given to you? 

Erica: For me, I think if I have to summarize how my sewing practice fits into my self-care, I’d say that, for me, personally, sewing offers me three big benefits. And those may or may not ring true for other people. So the first one for me is that it gives me a sense of accomplishment that I did something. So I can start and finish a garment relatively quickly. Unlike the project of parenting three children, or most of my work, which is really long term research based projects, were in those two areas of my life, I feel like I have to artificially construct milestone markers and target goals, and then be able to celebrate those small achievements along the way. 

But when it comes to sewing, I can conceive of a blouse one day, source the fabric and work out the pattern hacks and make it and wear it the next week. So there’s that undeniable, primal sense of satisfaction you get after creating something with your own two hands. But which is very unlike parenting, where I rarely can identify my children’s specific developmental needs, source a solution and see the end result of that in a week or in a short period of time. So it’s really that feels like years and years in the making. But with sewing, I feel like I can I can tackle a project and get quick results. And that’s very satisfying to me. 

Thinking about the second way that sewing relates to my self-care. I feel like it’s, um, it’s my avenue that I get to pursue creative passions. And I feel like it’s a very healthy place to escape to. So no, I know sewing, it’s not for everybody, because but for people who love clothes and love fashion and love doing things with their hands, I think working out construction techniques, like for example, how do you hack a sleeve pattern to create a puff slave or something like that? It’s a great way to let your mind wander into deep concentration and problem solving. So by now, we were all aware that really, sleep and restorative sleep is an important aspect of self-care. 

But I think there’s also ways that we can think about how we can work active rest into our lives. There’s an author called Alex Pang. And he’s written a book about the power of rest. And he writes about the downsides of over identifying with one’s professional work or your other identities, and then the values in pursuing other passions and finding your self worth and other ways. So, you know, in his framework, I feel like sewing is my active rest. 

And then third, finally, I think sewing my own clothes is a practice that I consciously picked up again in my adult life, because it aligns well with my broader values. So when I was a teenager, I loved to do it for different reasons. But as an adult, I found that it’s my way to embrace a slower pace of consuming fashion, and clothing, my family and being more mindful about my consumption. So because I can only sew so fast, so it feels good to be to feel like I’m actively making a choice to consume less stuff. 

Ada: Does it feel like sewing time is ever indulgent for you?

Erica: Yeah, yes. Yes. Sewing feels like eating chocolate cake. Sewing time feels like that indulgent to me, and it’s delicious. And I relish it, and I look forward to the next slice of it. And because it feels so good to me, I’m very protective of my time that when I get to do it, and when I have long stretches of time, when I get to do sewing, I feel like when I return back to the reality of my life, then I feel like I’ve missed my kids. And I also feel like a little bit guilty that I’ve ignored them for that time, but I also feel personally nourished, you know, if I’m lucky, then maybe I have a garment started or have finished, you know, to show for that time I’ve spent. 

So it’s taken me a bunch of years to work out my routine. But for the most part, I have a sewing queue, and sewing schedule. So as we know, most of the time we spend sewing clothes doesn’t actually happen at the sewing machine. So, you know, there’s this, you have to conceive of the garment idea. And then you pick out your pattern and your fabrics and your notions. And then you wash and you prep the fabric and you prep the pattern. And there’s hours of sometimes, you know, tracing and cutting and, and prep work that you have to do before you actually get to the sewing machine. So, so for me, I like to do the prep work in small snippets of time during the week, mostly in the evenings when my kids are in bed. 

And then I like to get all my least favorite parts of sewing out of the way during the week. So that on the weekends, I can look forward to Friday nights pulling off the dust covers off of my machine and then sewing during the weekend. And then on Sunday nights, I have a routine a practice of I clean up the mess that I made sewing and I put the dust covers back on and then I fold away the ironing board and put that away. That works for me from now. This stage of my life is nice, routine. So sewing is something indulgent for me.

Nicole: I wish it was but honestly, no. And I think I should say this, that probably on this call I maybe the worst advocate for self-care because I love encouraging people to do it. And I know the value of it and I so badly want to establish this routine, but I struggle. I had to buy a sweatshirt to like get my mind and to try to encourage myself to prioritize my own self-care. So just putting that out there. Just because I’m talking with you I’m learning from the both of you about self-care more than what I can offer, but no to sewing. 

Sewing hasn’t been indulgent for me only because I think I have not managed my time the way that you know Erica, you protect your time, protect your energy for what you want. And fitting it in still feels chaotic for me. Like, I haven’t done the work that you’ve done Erica, it’s like I so badly want it to be indulgent, I want to savor every stitch. I just need to be better about planning so that I can compartmentalize my time and enjoy it. So. So I’m taking a tan, take all the tips. I’ll take all the self tips. So how about you Ada?

Ada: I mean, I don’t know I’m still working on it too. That is something that I should put out there. Like I am constantly posting on work channels about how you should do self-care. And then sometimes I forget and I think we all get busy and priorities change and life happens. And so I think you have to also give yourself some grace there. 

I have recently thought about this a lot when I started sewing it gave me a lot of energy and confidence and empowerment that I could create the wardrobe of my dreams and do it on my own terms. I was just really, you know, excited to have that skill and ability. And I think part of it changed after my dad passed. I remember getting the call that he had tested positive for COVID on Christmas Eve and then throwing myself into some sewing because then you, you know, in my heart, I was hoping for the best, but I’m preparing myself for the worst. And a few weeks later, when I came back, I took a few weeks off from sewing, obviously to go take care of his final affairs. 

And when I came back, I, you know, because the worst had happened. So it was really helpful in my grief. And it gave, I gave myself a few weeks to kind of just exist in my house, no one was going anywhere at that time, or still. And so it was a helpful productive activity I could kind of throw myself into, and it gave me some sort of purpose. And the act of actually just using my hands, I think to make something was really meditative for me and you know, it was not and is not a replacement for actual therapy. But there is something about the whole problem solving aspect that Erica you brought up and creativity and even the predictive nature of being able to say, I have cut this pattern, and I’m going to sew the seams together. And I know what it will approximately look like that. That provided some stability for me in that time. 

And sometimes you know, it does feel indulgent, like if I choose to sew instead of finishing something for work, but then I remind myself that I’m still sewing for me and in my wardrobe and that I am in control of my schedule here. We’re all adults. And like I said, sewing is one of the many activities that I do. As part of my self-care. I think where it gets tricky is when I sometimes stay up late on the weekends, mostly to finish you know, just one last seam before bed and boom, before you know it, you’ve had podcasts on for four hours, and it’s 1am and you’re yawning. And maybe you’re making more mistakes than you normally would. 

I am privileged enough to also have worked in some sewing into my business. So I can sew those things during the day without feeling too guilty or indulgent. But most of my personal sewing for my wardrobe is still done at night or on the weekends. And those bad habits do kind of pop up a bit.

Nicole: I think, well, maybe not everyone but I certainly can relate to the sewing unhealthy, bad habits apart from something that is, not chastise me, but you know, finger wagging and then not tracing. So apart from not tracing and not doing bad habits. Yes, I know. You know for self-care I get I do get that hyper focused working late into the night. I think the latest I’ve worked is like not where I shouldn’t shouldn’t even be calling at work. I’m like latest I’ve sewn, it was like 2:30 recently in the morning, and I like my sleep. So my seam ripper was getting a lot of work that night, and I knew I should have stopped but I just had this determination and that makes it frustrating and discouraging. And, you know, I need to like take a step back at that point. That’s probably one of my bad but also unhealthy sewing behavior. I know Erica, you were there when I was messaging one, like you were also up or something like one night too, right?

Erica: When I was up late at night. Sure, I can relate into sewing into the wee hours especially on a Friday or Saturday night. Because I really love that. The feeling that I’m by myself. My kids are tucked away in bed, M\my home is quiet and I’m by myself. And if I can stay awake, then it’s a really joyous time. But usually, when I wake up the next morning I sometimes regret having given up that hour or two or three of sleep.

Nicole: And we know it’s coming, we know we’re gonna regret it the next morning and yet we do it anyway. Unhealthy behaviors like this, it seems like it can lead to like even just certain negative feelings about sewing like we were talking about how it’s very precious to us. But these unhealthy habits kind of for me anyway turn sewing against me so to speak like for me at the start you know developing negative body image because of measurements and sizing versus ready to wear that was hard for me to overcome as a person who is larger than your average Filipino woman as well like sighs they’re just numbers right? But it affected me a lot shopping and growing up and at the very beginning, I was like, wait a minute, “I’m a size 22 like what does this mean?” You know and but on the other side of that sewing also just helped me realize these data points and then I don’t have to attach feelings about it. 

I had a perhaps a Freudian slip earlier calling sewing work. I said working until 230 for some people sewing is their job but for me, it’s just not so you know, reframing that and looking at sewing as a joyful and good thing in my life. And yeah, when sewing just someone’s not fun anymore then you know why keep doing it? Is it harmful to just continue to do it and I’d be lying if I said, I didn’t get to a point at some point where I was like, I can’t do this. I can’t and but I still go, you know, I still try to continue with what I’m doing.

Ada: We hear a lot of those too. So for a while, and then like, put it down and come back to it. Almost all of our guests so far, I think I’ve shared that including you, Erica, in your introduction. And, you know, sometimes that has to do with practical things like you don’t have the time or you don’t have the space or, or anything. But I think a lot of the time, what we gloss over is that when something’s not enjoyable anymore, or it causes more stress for us, it can lead to burnout. And burnout is characterized by exhaustion, alienation, cynicism, distancing yourself from something and even reduced performance. 

So if you put that in the context of sewing, we often call it losing your sewjo, right? And most of the time, when we talk about burnout, it has to do with work. And I know there’s that stat from a Deloitte study, like 77% of workers in the US have felt that they have have felt burnt out at their current job. But it’s important to recognize that burnout can also relate to sewing as well, right sewing, burnout or showing frustration can make you want to throw a project at the wall or flip your table full of pins, right? And at least it has for me. 

And I know that when you feel that you feel less inspired or you feel uninspired, or like you don’t want to see other people’s makes or even or their progress. And I’m not saying you have to feel creative or productive all the time, if you are a sewist, but maybe if you’re going through a longer spell of losing your sewjo or not feeling like you want to create anything or, you know, be by your machine, maybe it’s time to consider approaching your sewing differently or consider your what you’re doing for self-care.

Nicole: Absolutely. And taking that step back. It’s just really important. And often the hardest thing, at least for me to do is to separate myself and say, What am I doing here? I listened to this really great podcast from Seamwork Radio. And they talked about sewing affirmations. And as we were preparing for this episode, you know, I thought, “What are some ways that we can address some of our unhealthy selling behaviors?” 

And one of those things is, you know, sewing affirmations. So what is an affirmation? Affirmations are simply statements that are designed to create self change in the individual using them is the definition from Psychology Today, it sounds formulaic. They can serve as inspiration, as well as simple reminders. They can also serve to focus attention on goals throughout the day, which in and of itself has the potential to promote positive and sustained itself change. 

So why do positive affirmations help or work? Studies have found that there are multiple different benefits from positive affirmations, they can help decrease health deteriorating stress, they’ve also been demonstrated to lower both stress and rumination and I struggle with rumination a lot, I’ll get tied up in my own thoughts over and over again, some steps to creating your own affirmations. I’m going to use a recent sewing fail, as an example, if you go to my grid, there’s a picture of a hole. It’s a hole in a dress. Because what happened was, I was so excited to finish my make, I was finishing a seam on my serger and I serged the skirt.

Erica: It happens.

Nicole: Yeah, I’ve been there. There was audible noises that I made when I discovered that and I like I didn’t discover it until I put it on. And I realized that the skirt was like, I’m like what is this? So here are some steps to you know, we’ll set the stage there. So a few steps to creating your own affirmations and you know, relating to sewing. 

So one, you know, it should be written in the first person like “I am”, it should also be written in the present tense so that you’re speaking to yourself right now. It should also be positively oriented. So no negative self talk here. Don’t give yourself the opportunity to include that in your affirmations. 

So for the sewing, fail, and perhaps I should even say fail, I should say opportunity. So a negative statement would be “I need to slow down so I don’t screw up again”, which is exactly what I thought when it first happened. But a positive affirmation would be “I have the creativity and skill to tackle any sewing challenge that comes my way”. 

So the same again, this was talked about in the Seamwork Radio podcast. That’s episode 23 called Finding your Sewing Affirmation. There’s a link to it in the show notes. But I also love how they address how positive affirmations do have the potential for entering into the realm of toxic positivity. 

Sarai, I believe, was the one that said this in the episode, but they said that you should still honor your negative feelings, they’re normal, they’re natural, you don’t have to fight them. Affirmations aren’t shutting down of negative feelings, but rather they are responses to your negative talk, and negative thoughts rather. And for me, it’s weird. It’s weird and unnatural to talk to myself like this. But I trust the science that says it’s helpful. And I’m working on incorporating, you know, affirmations into my sewing practices, because I will mess up again. And I will need those affirmations to you know, reframe how I’m feeling about it. I know Erica, you’ve you’ve read about negative self talk as well, right? 

Erica: In just pursuing my career, again, picking that up again, I’ve been struggling with the negative self talk in that area of my life. And so I’ve recently come across the work of Dr. Kristin Neff, who has a book about self compassion and overcoming negative self talk. And those voices in our heads that say, you know, we’re not good enough. 

But for me, when it comes to sewing, I feel finally coming to a place where now I can just laugh at those mistakes that I make. But I definitely know that when it comes to other areas of my life, that that is something you know, I still struggle with and that I’m working on. But I think we have to remember that we have to be kind to ourselves, and to give ourselves the same kind of compassion that we give to others and that we hope others will give to us. 

So, but I also think it’s important that when we think about sewing as a practice, and I think I hope for many people that I hope it’s a lifelong practice, like yoga, or pursuing many forms of exercise or cooking meals, that you think about how there’s just this unlimited potential, you have to learn and grow your skills in this practice. And so there can be times when you want to take on a challenge, and push yourself to new levels in your sewing practice. But it’s, it’s okay to to just hang back. And there’ll be times when you can just slowly maintain the skills that you already have. 

And for me, because I’m not a professional in sewing, there are no demands on me when I do it, this is a choice that I make. And you know, I can agree to write a guest blog post on a deadline, or I can pattern test on a deadline, or I can make a Halloween costume for a child before October 31. But these are all choices that I can opt into or out of depending on what else is going on in my life. 

So I feel like I try and actively find that, that balance that happy, happy place. So that sewing can hopefully remain in my life for the long haul. for other people. It may not and that’s okay. So for example, you know, I’ve tried to pursue yoga, on and off in my life. And there are times that I’ve done it regularly in times when I’ve let it drop out. And I feel like that’s okay, that’s okay, too. It’s a choice. Fundamentally, and fortunately for us, I feel like sewing is a choice that we make and a privilege that we have, because we can make the time to do it. And so I hope that it’s a positive experience for the people who choose to sew their own wardrobes. Otherwise, we can choose not to do it and we’ll still be able to find clothes to wear.

Nicole: That’s true.

Ada: True, it’s true. We will not be naked. Yeah, yoga as a practice as a part of self-care. It like deserves its own full on episode or series. And I know especially if you are of South Asian descent, you, you probably have some thoughts and feelings about yoga in the Western world. I know, even as somebody who does practice it regularly, I have many thoughts and feelings about that. So maybe we can come back to that in our cultural appropriation part two episode.

But for now, let’s talk about some practical strategies for mindfully approaching your sewing practice when you get to your machine. So for me, I do this like a five question check in now that I learned from just general self-care, advice that I got elsewhere. And so the five questions that I ask when I sit down at my machine or when I’m working on something for my sewing, or you know, cutting, unpicking, etc, I ask myself: how am I feeling right now? Like physically, emotionally or mentally? Am I bringing anything to what I’m doing right now from elsewhere? And do these feelings feel similar to anything I have felt in the past or how have I handled them in the past? And what has served me in the past as well, versus like what won’t serve me right now? And what can I do right now to feel soothed or empowered. And we’ll put those five questions in the show notes as well, so that you can ask them to yourself as well.

Nicole: Right. And if you’ve come to a place where you’re mindfully sewing, and this is part of your self-care, like you’re taking this moment for yourself, you could also ask yourself some questions like, how can I make sewing more beneficial for me? Or why am I doing this? And what does it mean to me? And what do I hope to gain from this as you sit down at your sewing machine? And then, perhaps most importantly, for me, when do I need to step away? And is it no longer serving me?

Ada: That’s a good one. I love, love all of those questions. 

To wrap up the show, I would love to ask both of you, what is one commitment you’re going to make for your own self-care? And I can start first and share:  I think I’m going to try to so slower and really start to take more time or take my time with make so I can really enjoy more of the actual like process of creating.

Erica: I think that’s a good one. Something I’m working on in general is feeling less guilt. So when I focus on one pull in my life, I often feel guilty that I’m not doing something else. So I’m working on having more self compassion about my choices, so I can be present. And each activity I choose to do and each place I choose to be so I can reduce the feelings of guilt when I do so.

Nicole: I think for me, it’s going to continue to use Instagram as inspiration. But not falling into the trap of comparison. I like to think that I don’t do that. And what I take away is inspiration. But sometimes, if I’m feeling for other reasons, for any reason, really down or something, you know, it’s no longer a healthy thing because I start to compare myself to other folks. So my self care commitment is to be more kind to myself and not compare my progress and my skill to others.

Ada: Now that we’ve shared those commitments with each other, and our listeners when this episode comes out, I would love to know how they go. And maybe we can check in on them again in a few months to see how we’re doing. 

Thank you so much for joining us on this week’s episode of the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. Next week, we will be having a conversation about quilting. If you like our show, you can support us by following us on Instagram at @AsianSewistCollective. That’s one word, Asian Sewist Collective. 

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Nicole: This episode was researched by Eileen Leung and Esther Lee, produced by Ada Chen and edited by Brendel Zarate. Thank you so much to the other members of our collective who made this week’s episode a reality. This is the Asian Sewist Collective podcast and we’ll see you next week.