On Sewing and Identity

I had an undeniable passion when I was growing up. Anyone who knew me would have been able to tell you what it was. I was a gymnast. I competed first provincially and later nationally from the age of 8 through 18. I started coaching at 16 and I was a choreographer, but I remained an adult gymnast until I was 31 because it was DOING the sport that was my passion. At the height of my training I was at the gym six days a week, before school and after school, putting in over 26 hours a week.

Still in the gym – 2007

If anyone asked me to describe myself during that time, the first thing I said was “I am a gymnast”. Gymnastics was so much a part of my identity that when my body started to fail me in pretty major, very painful ways, it was a huge blow. My first strategy was denial but as it became clearer that my issues were not injuries, but joint problems that are likely genetic and were only growing worse, I knew I had to quit. My self-esteem and my feeling of self-worth were so tied to my abilities as a gymnast that I was devastated when I finally had to stop going to the gym. I felt like my body had abandoned me. I hated myself and I especially hated my body.

I spent my early 30’s grasping for something new to fill the gaping hole in my identity, my workout regime and my wardrobe. I really struggled around this time. I had moved to a new city and a new job. I didn’t have friends or places that I felt comfortable. I also had to give up wearing high heels because my joints would no longer allow it. As a short person, I had built an entire wardrobe around my shoes and giving them up was another huge blow to my self-esteem. Most of my clothes wouldn’t work with flats and I began to hate how I looked and the restrictions that my body was demanding of me.

Around this time (the early 2010’s), there was also a huge cultural push toward “finding your passion” and “working in your passion” and I felt completely left out. There was nothing that I wanted to do. I felt like my passion had come and gone and I was convinced that I would never find another one. I struggled with depression. I tried though. I got heavily into nail art for a while and I loved it, but it was fleeting. After a week, all I had to show for my hours of work was a picture (I have a lot of pictures – a whole blog’s worth for four years). I got good at it but it didn’t fill the hole and it didn’t help with my wardrobe issues. It wasn’t my identity.

Then I bought myself a sewing machine on a whim in January 2014.

My first sewing machine of my own – January 2014

I had sewed as a teenager so it was pretty easy to jump back into it. Using my new sewing machine, I began altering the clothes in my closet to fit me better. I took in the legs of my wide leg pants to work with the flats that I now had to wear.  I shortened all of my dresses and skirts to better fit my height (and flat shoes). I cropped t’s and tanks to wear with high-waisted jeans and skirts so my body would look taller and slimmer. I had fun. I loved my new creations and after a couple of years I had altered every alterable piece of clothing in my closet. It was time to venture into sewing garments from scratch.

2014 – Altering RTW clothes to fit my VERY short-waisted self
2015 – Making my own clothes from copied RTW garments

Fast forward another two years and it’s 2018 and I sew as often as I can. I’ve learned to fit clothes to my proportions and I have a kick-ass wardrobe full of me-made clothes. I also have a large collection of cute flat shoes. Most of the time, I’m pretty happy with the way that I look too and that is a new feeling for me. I am almost 38. I am getting married later this year to the best possible match I could have found for myself. I love my chosen city and my post-gymnastics life and I think that sewing has a lot to do with that. I’ve been happier and more self-confident since I started sewing than at any previous time in my life.

My latest makes: another DIY knit pencil skirt cropped short enough to wear with flats with a Seamwork Addison tank widened at the armscyes to fit my ex-gymnast shoulders.

I’m still dealing with the premature decline of all my major joints and am struggling to learn to live with chronic pain and a vastly reduced activity level compared to other people my age, but I’m trying to hate my body less for that. I know there is nothing I could have done to stop it. Even not doing gymnastics would not have saved my knees and hips. My mom is currently waiting for her second hip replacement and once she recovers, will have to get both knees replaced. Three of her four brothers are needing new hips as well and none of them did gymnastics. Genetics are a bitch but I can still do handstands sometime so at least I got to keep something good from all of my hours in the gym!

Still handstanding in 2017 in my first Seamwork Astoria

I’ve also learned a lot of tools to help my mental health. I stay away from main stream advertising as much as I can because I’ve learned how horrible it is for my body image. I try not to listen to the latest fads in personal wellness and happiness because many of them just make me feel worse about myself (Everyone: “Be active! Exercise more!”… Me: “no thank you!”). The Instagram sewing community is the only place I go now to “shop online” for clothes. I love seeing the creativity and the body positivity there and am so happy to be slowly becoming a part of this community.

Sewing gives me purpose, a creative outlet and an activity that is, hopefully, sustainable for my body long-term. Sewing has helped me love being myself again and I am incredibly thankful for that. I’m careful not to hang my identity entirely on being a sewist though. I learned my lesson about that. Now it’s probably only the second or third thing I say when I’m describing myself, after extreme introvert and pescatarian. Sewing is my happy place. Sewing is my sanity. Sewing is my passion.

Thank you to Hattie, Athina and Lisa for bringing Sewing Makes You Love Yourself (#smyly2018) to the online sewing community!

And thank you for reading.

~ Lindsay

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