Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sewing as Meditation

Finally! After three months away from my sewing machine due to life events, health challenges (chronic back pain) and my looming book deadline (read more about that in my next post), I've been sewing again!  And, after a very long hiatus, I've returned to meditating. That the two "events" coincide is a joy to contemplate, and in doing so, I've found how related they are. Serendipity? Perhaps!

In the process, I've quietly re-discovered that sewing can have the same qualities as a quiet meditation. In meditation, you try to turn your attention to your breath—breathing in and breathing out—returning to that rhythmic rotation when your mind wanders.

When you sew by machine, the needle goes up and down, up and down, just as the breath goes in and out, in and out. The calmer you are when you sew, the slower you go, ensuring seams that are true and stitches that are straight. With hand sewing, which I find even more meditative, it's the hand moving the needle into and then out of the fabric in a soothing, rhythmic pattern that creates the "meditation."

If you are at all like me, it's not uncommon to find yourself "multi-tasking" while you meditate or while you sew. The mind wanders while you meditate, while you continue to see where it goes and then lovingly bring it back to the breath. And while sewing, whether by hand or machine, it's easy to lose focus on the in-and-out or the up-and-down of the needle as you the needle or the fabric with your hands. What's for dinner:, what will I make next; how fast can I get this thing finished; why can't I get this right? And so many more distracting questions and observations. Your focus gets fractured and the results of your stitching just don't measure up to your expectations. Worst of all, frustration sets in because you must rip out and redo seams.

When I was teaching sewing seminars all over the country in the early 1980s, one of things I talked about was learning "how to sew fast," so the sponsoring stores could sell more fabric and the sew-ers could make more clothes. (Note: I use sew-ers instead of sewers, for obvious reasons of pronunciation; I just don't like the new word "sewist" that everyone seems to be adopting. I'm a traditionalist, through and through.)

Now I realize that more wasn't really better and I wasn't really enjoying the process—because inevitably, I spent lots of time ripping out bad stitching. Now I know that slowing down and breathing in and out along with the up-and-down or in-and-out of the needle as I go, may mean I get less done, but I'm happier with the results because I've eliminated the frustration of sewing do-overs! And, ultimately, slowing down means less unstitching.

I used to advise students to turn on upbeat music to help speed up their work. Now, instead, I choose chants and classical music to help calm my mind and subtly influence the sewing experience.
Ah, just stitch and breathe, stitch and breathe, stitch and breathe, and enjoy the journey!

When I take the time to slow down, breathe and allow myself to "live" the process, I enjoy it more and I am happier with the results—plus sewing do-overs are fewer and I don't have to spend the time for them!

Ah, just stitch and breathe, stitch and breathe, stitch and breathe--and enjoy the journey! I think I'll just go and do that right now!

Until next time!
Keep smiling and sewing,