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How Sewing Helped Me Find A Home In My Body

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Sewing was a skill I learned when I was young and kept in my back pocket for many years. I would pull out my sewing machine like a party trick, occasionally making pillows and small accessories like zipper bags. I had the knowledge and the ability to sew garments, bestowed upon me by my grandmother when I was young. However, I didn’t find a necessity in sewing until I got fat.

If you’re going to boil the history of my body down to its flesh and bones, it starts with being a teenage athlete. I rode horses religiously for my entire adolescence, and I stopped suddenly when I was 17. At my smallest adult size, I was a size 8, a C-cup bra, and 5’9” tall. To be honest, I always thought I was fat, even then. I was so self-conscious and riddled with undiagnosed anxiety that I had just decided for the sake of my own mental health I was fat and undesirable. I think it was easier for my teenage self to think of my body as undesirable than as a sex object. When I went to college, I fed myself as cheaply as possible, and this habit partnered with emotional eating provoked by an abusive relationship lead to inevitable weight gain. When I left for college, I remember being a size 12 at most fast fashion chains, and I graduated college in 2015 somewhere between a size 14-16.

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static1.squarespace 1Me at my thinnest, in the summer of 2009. At this time I was riding every day for multiple hours.

To me, this did not seem radical. I had always been bigger than my very small friends, so being two or three sizes larger didn't have a huge effect on how I saw myself. It’s important to remember for this story that I always felt large, lumbering, and undesirable. The thing that changed in 2015 was that suddenly everyone agreed with me. My family tried to sit down intervention me out of being fat (in case anyone is inspired by this: it’s a very bad idea), and I got “anonymous” messages on my blog at the time asking how I had managed to get so fat and ugly.

These things were infuriating and soul crushing, but honestly the most difficult thing to deal with when it came to being a size 14/16 was the fact that I could no longer easily buy clothing, even in New York. I have always been a very expressive dresser. I was never comfortable in clothes that felt bland or uniform. Suddenly, I was herded into a subset of fashion retail where very little was paid attention to when it came to standard sizing or self expression. Dresses were suddenly “Fat Girl Dresses,” and there was very specific rules for a Fat Girl Dress. Large floral prints, tropical colors, V neck necklines. Basically, it felt like every Fat Girl Dress on the market was for a Fat Girl Character. You know the archetype: loud, maternal, sarcastic, always the best friend, never the main character. The other issue with plus sizes was the complete lack for uniform sizing between brands. I remember trying to find a dress for graduation from college; I ordered 3 dresses from Modcloth and they were all drastically too big or too small. I felt like an oddball, like I had slipped through the cracks of fashion and suddenly, by gaining weight, I was unable to express myself.

It was in the very beginning of 2015 that I began to dabble in sewing garments again. I got a job at a hig-hend yarn and fabric store in Soho, and after manning that fabric cutting table for a few weeks, I began to look at sewing as a more accessible craft. I believe it was here that someone heard me complaining about the aforementioned three unsuccessful graduation dresses and suggested I just make my own dress. I knew how to sew. I had access to some of the best fabric in the world. For some reason these things didn’t add up in my mind, but I tried anyways.

Let me set this scene: I felt peak unattractive in may of 2015. I was newly fat, recently dumped, and in the woes of said dumping, I paid a stranger in the Lower East Side to cut all of my hair off for $20. I did feel cute. But I made a trapeze dress out of this really lovely Liberty of London fabric. I am 90% sure I set the sleeves in backwards, but gosh darn if that dress didn’t fit and look alright.

static1.squarespace 2Aforementioned Merchant and Mills Trapeze dress in some seasonal Liberty of London. Also a bad haircut.

Just like that, I was addicted. I could finally make exactly what I had been looking for the whole time, and skip all the troublesome steps of searching and buying and trying on and returning. Up until this point, fitting rooms had been the bane of my entire existence. I’ve been crying in dressing rooms for my entire life, and now I didn’t even have to guess at my size anymore. I didn’t have to think about my “size” at all anymore. My body was no longer defined by arbitrary numbers that fluctuated from store to store. My style was not defined by fast fashion trends, by designers, by bloggers, by anybody but me. If I wanted a dress that made me look like a twee watermelon, I could make it and have it. I did make it, as a mater of fact. My first year and a half of sewing garments in my adult life was spent sewing poorly constructed party dresses, because for the first time in my life, I could afford to own a party dress.

Slowly, I realized life is not all about party dresses. Shocking, I know. The more I sewed for myself, the more time I spent unfazed by trends or the fast fashion market, the more myself I felt when I looked in the mirror. I would look at myself and see a girl whose clothes fit, a girl who could express herself, and a girl who had a million possibilities. I was a girl who had the entire world at my finger tips. I also started to think I was really genuinely attractive for the first time in my entire life. I had confidence, real confidence that made the opinions of others roll off me like beads of water off of a rain jacket.

static1.squarespace"Sweet Yellow Sixties: Tilly and the Buttons Francoise Dress"

I can pinpoint exactly when all of this hit me, too. I was in a new relationship that was getting very serious, very fast, and I was not into it. I literally was not attracted to this person at all, and I didn’t like much about their personality either. Up until this point, I had always felt like I owed it to people who were attracted to me. I was using dating as a self destructive behavior to try to boost my self esteem, but it turns out that when people who you don’t like show you affection, you feel worse and not better. One day the pot of self esteem was just suddenly full. I didn’t owe anyone anything except myself, and my own journey to self love.

I dumped that dude, and took a year off dating to figure my shit out. I sewed a lot during that year. I had ups and downs with my body and with my self esteem, but everything seemed brighter in my mental health when I started to have more respect for my mind and my body. I unironically think I'm hot as shit now. I know I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, but in the words of the great Dita, “You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.”

DSC 0047"Dark Femme Floral: Tilly and the Buttons Arielle Skirt"

Almost a year to the date of taking a year off to figure out how to love myself, I started to date Sam. I don’t believe in signs or god or karma or any of that shit, but it doesn’t feel like a coincidence that I’d meet the love of my life at the perfect time. He’s exactly the kind of person I had always wanted but never thought I deserved until now.

I don’t think I could have figured out so much about myself if I hadn't started sewing. My mind has always solved problems by moving my hands and making something, so it feels completely true to my self to have figured out self love by leaning over a sewing machine. Sewing brought me love, confidence, and breathed life into what felt like a hopeless time in my life. I will always be thankful to the lovely community of sewists i’ve met, online and off, who are always there for a pep talk. Sometimes you have to be your own biggest fan, and now, for the first time, I can say I am.

This post originally appeared on littlelambstudios.com and is reprinted here with permission.

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Mary Rockcastle is a florist, illustrator, and craftswoman living in Rochester, New York. She’s the sole founder of Little Lamb Studios, and #1 biggest fan of all dogs.

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