Saturday Musings: Selfish Sewing

What is Selfish Sewing?

Before you answer that, let me ask some other questions. Have you heard of selfish basketball playing? Selfish tinkering in the garage? Selfish poker night?

I grew up with a very, very strong-willed mother. Not a single mother, mind you — my parents have been married over forty years now — but a Boss nonetheless. I expected to grow up and be the same. But I was a little conflicted: at school, I noticed that boys could go off and do whatever they wanted, but girls had to sit nice and quietly and behave. I wanted to be free! I wanted to be wild! I wanted to be a Boss like my mother — but my microcosm said no. And once puberty hit, I said no, too.

Fast forward to the present: reading sewing blogs, digging through the archives of blogs I really like, clicking links to other blogs. Basically, reading lots of thoughts and opinions of others, mainly women. One of the thoughts that kept popping up was ‘selfish sewing’. There was even a blog called the The Selfish Seamstress.

Interestingly, The Selfish Seamstress sewed designer-inspired pieces for herself — basically, applying her talents to giving herself the very best. But the term ‘selfish sewing’ usually refers to “stealing” one’s own time and energy to make something awesome for oneself. *side eye* Of course, the irony is that most women who sew clothes typically sew for themselves, anyway.

It’s a contradiction: we ladies sew for ourselves, but feel guilty putting so much time and energy into doing something purely for ourselves. So we set aside time to ‘selfish sew’, to make it occasionally okay to self-indulge to the max. I tell you, sewers, this decidedly un-Boss way of thinking chaps my hide! Not because I’m angry with this socially feminine train of thought, but because it’s sad that anyone feels they need to gain karmic permission to treat themselves well.

* * *

On a personal note, my journey to this point has been a long one. Very long, if you consider I designed my first dress at the age of thirteen for a school dance. That turned out to be a disaster, then I had another disastrous sewing experience that turned me off sewing for many years — but I continued to design clothes as a secret hobby. Secret, because I put the ugly in ugly duckling — pretty clothes were not for someone like me. I had a lot of body shame and a lot of artistic insecurity, and still do. But I also want to make and design clothing. When will I be ready? I ask myself. I look for signs, for permission from the universe, to answer this question. Do I have to dress a certain way? Be the best seamstress ever?

You know how they say that what you don’t like in others is what you actually don’t like in yourself, but can’t face? It’s true. Because my questions are a decidedly un-Boss way of thinking, and it chaps my hide!

Starting a sewing and design business is what I want to do, for me, and I don’t need permission to throw my hat into the ring. I don’t need to wait for a sign that it is time. It’s not selfish to try — or sew, or do anything else that we love and experience satisfaction doing. If anything, doing what we love is the embodiment of generosity! I’ve read and watched and learned so much from sewing bloggers, sewing professionals, sewing writers, some of whom are no longer blogging, or writing, or working, but left their mark nonetheless. Look at this five year old tip for matching plaids from The Selfish Seamstress; or this more recent tip for getting bias tape in the right color from black label. My favorite patternmaking book was published in 1959; the author, Adele P. Margolis, has since passed. And my favorite designer has long been Betsey Johnson, whose use of color has always inspired my own.

No, my friends, I think the real selfish sewing isn’t spending time and energy sewing for yourself; I think the real selfish sewing, the real selfish anything, is withholding from it. Withholding your energy, your intellect, your unique approach. Avoiding embracing your endeavor and making it a new facet of your personality and life experience. Happily, there are many, many, non-selfish sewers holding things down online, and I look forward to the day when I join the ranks of non-selfish sewing/fashion professionals!


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  1. Awesome and #Nakisha has it right …“They are your priority but not your only thing”. So I’ve always unapologetically maintained my “own thing”.

    My own thing has always uniquely made me – ME. That is not something you lose. My hubby and kids and I are not a collective or borg with one brain/one mind – we are all individuals, unique individuals. I encourage my kids to find that thing that is theirs “their own thing”. Hubby and I have always encouraged each other in that way. And at 20, 17, 13 and 11 they are doing really well at finding, knowing and loving themselves

  2. Ooh great topic! When I see “selfish sewing” it makes me crazy because even if it is said jokingly, there’s still an undertone of guilt and like you’re a Bad Person if you make things that only benefit you and not your husband/children/mother/neighbor etc. I think it is a dangerous mindset because I see SO MANY WOMEN that spend every spare moment and dollar they have catering to their husband and children, often while working a full time job. They’re exhausted, both physically and emotionally, and worst of all, devalued. Meanwhile the man is encouraged to go off on weekend hunting trips, retreat to a “man cave”, and have an unlimited budget for his hobbies. Judge Judy said in one of her books that women often choose being liked over being respected and it harms them in so many ways. Ever since I adopted the mindset that I would rather be respected than liked my life has easier and much more satisfying! So I guess I’m a Boss now too. Tom fully believes that if I’m not happy, NO ONE will be happy! :)

    1. HAHA! You got yourself a winner, Anne. He knows how it goes!

      I think I also read that Judge Judy book, and she had me cracking up — but a lot of what she said is truth, and really good to keep in mind. I’m definitely guilty of trying to be nice, but an upside of my current job is that nice doesn’t always pay — so I’ve been learning to use my tough side.

  3. Very thought provoking Ebi!

    I think many of us use the term tounge in cheek. Or at least I hope so ;)

    I was fortunate enough to have parents who gave is their all without giving us their everything. And when I became a mother ensured me that my world, in fact does NOT revolve around them. “They are your priority but not your only thing”. So I’ve always unapologetically maintained my “own thing”. Whatever that’s been over the years.

    Also, I love Betsey Johnson too :) everything she does has so much LIFE and an energy to it!

    1. Aha, good point! I hope you’re right, too. :p I think I like your family’s approach to childrearing: ‘your priority but not your only thing’. And Betsey does have a lot of life (and a lot of cartwheels) in her, hah!

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