Sewing as Social Action

by SaraD on May 18, 2011

Sewing a button by handAs I browse through the sewing news I’m struck by the impact sewing is having on society. Every day there’s an article about a group that is sewing for someone in need. Or an organization that is teaching women in third world countries to sew as a means to lift themselves out of poverty. Or an idea for upcycling an old blouse that came from a thrift store. On Earth Day there was an article full of ideas for using up all those fabric scraps that accumulate in the corners. What is emerging for me is an entirely new view of sewing.

For most of my life, sewing has been an individual  creative endeavor—often a necessary one. I learned to sew as a kid because it was cheaper than buying clothes. I sewed my first pair of pants in 5th grade and never looked back. Every August we’d buy shoes and a coat for the coming school year, then head to fabric store for everything else. As I grew older (and taller), sewing became a necessity because I just simply couldn’t find shirts and pants that were long enough.

Then I became engaged with work and family and was just too busy to sew. I made do with long sleeve tshirts that instantly transformed into 3/4 length sleeves after the first wash. I bought my sweaters in the men’s department. There just was no time. Others must have felt the same way because  I watched as most of the fabric stores went out of business. Now there are just a few.

But lately I’ve been realizing that a piece of me is missing. There’s a creativity in sewing that feeds my soul. When I actually do sit down to the sewing machine, my whole being heaves a sigh of relief and my creative juices start flowing.

Sewing has been a very personal experience for me. And so it’s been so fascinating to look around and see what is happening in the world of sewing. There is a resurgence of interest in sewing, not only as a creative expression, but also a sort of global connection. Here are just a few examples:

Donna Karan — In this video, designer Donna Karan talks about the creativity of the women in Haiti and Africa in a panel discussion at the Elizabeth Jordan Art Sale at Urban Zen.

Island of Fiji – This article talks about the efforts to help women develop employable skills: Unemployed women urged to learn sewing

Quilts 4 Japan – This organization is collecting quilts for the victims of the earthquake in Japan:
“We want to collect thousands of quilts from all over the country to comfort and warm the grieving victims of the multiple disasters in Japan—and we’d like to make it personal.”

What’s amazing to me about the Internet is the incredible power of connection.  As we come together around interests and issues we care about, we start to realize that we are more alike than we thought. We find out that our fellow sewists across the world are making beautiful things for themselves, their loved ones and even for people they’ve never met. Funny how something as simple as a needle and thread can not only meet our basic need for clothing, but can open up a whole world of connection.

Now when I sit down to my sewing machine, I know I’m not alone. I’m connected to women and men around the world who are making their own lives better as well as the lives of those around them.

We sew as necessity. We sew as expression. We sew for ourselves and we sew for each other. We don’t just stitch with thread, we stitch with love.


kristina golmohammadi May 18, 2011 at 12:59 pm

I really like what you wrote about the connections we can make through our common interests and how we can relate to each other that way.
Although your technical advice and ideas are way above my sewing talents I do appreciate the inspiration it provides.

Eve Kushner May 18, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Lovely article, showing that a needle and thread stitch people together as much as they join pieces of fabric! Thanks for mentioning Quilts4Japan!

Rebecca June 19, 2011 at 1:37 pm

I really enjoyed how you wrote about this subject. I agree about the internet being useful in building sewing communities. Part of sewing for me now is taking photos of what I have created and sharing this with others. It is encouraging and keeps me motivated and inspired.

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