Five Things I Learned While Searching For My Sew-Jo

Five Things I Learned While Searching For My Sew-Jo

Three years ago I was a busy clothing shop owner fortunate enough to spend most of my working time behind my beloved machines.  I loved every minute of it. I called it my therapy and looked at it as a form of self-care. But as the pandemic set in and the world as I knew it turned upside down, I found myself facing new challenges that infringed on my time in the sewing room. I was helping my son persevere through distance learning. I was dealing with arthritis in my fingers.  I was managing all new levels of stress and feeling it settle into my aching neck and shoulders. Before I knew it, the pull I always felt towards my sewing machines had evaporated.  

It’s inevitable. It happens to all of us at one point or another. It’s the dreaded lack of motivation, lack of inspiration, lack of desire to do what we love most. In the sewing community it’s known colloquially as losing your sew-jo, but it happens in every hobby imaginable. So what do we do about it?  How do we get our sew-jo, back once it’s gone?  Can we even get it back?  

Here are five things I learned as I navigated and rode out this new chapter of my sewing journey:

  •  It’s ok to take a break. 
  • Sometimes we just need rest, even from the things we love the most.  I always thought I needed my sewing time as self-care but I realized that as it took a toll on my body and my mental health, rest became necessary. It’s not self-care once it starts costing us our peace of mind.  Sometimes our priorities need to be rearranged and taking time off from anything can be a good thing. Breaks allow our nervous systems to reset, our bodies to breathe, and our minds to calm.  No one can go 1000 miles per hour without eventually running out of fuel. We wouldn’t expect that of others so why do we sometimes expect it of ourselves?  For me this meant that through the pandemic I needed to take sewing off of my plate entirely while I focused on my family’s and my immediate needs. At first I wasn’t sure what a break meant for me long term, but I eventually realized that I enjoyed the freedom of sewing what I want when I wanted without the pressure of deadlines and waiting clients. I ultimately closed my shop in favor of sewing for myself more, and I honestly haven’t looked back. That won’t necessarily be the answer for everyone, but taking a break will make room for the mental clarity to find your own answer for yourself. 

  • It helps to change direction.  
  • While I took a break I wanted to fill the quiet moments I had with something creative. I am, after all, a maker at heart. I needed something that I could easily take with me while I waited for my son at his tutor’s and that wouldn’t require a huge financial investment. It was actually my (then 9 year old) son that inspired me. While at Joann picking up supplies for a school project, he eyed a cross-stitch kit and asked if I could teach him how to do it. “Why don’t we learn together?” I said. We each picked a simple kit and spent the better part of a weekend stitching (and unpicking and re-stitching) our projects. It was a wonderful bonding experience for us and I found my need to create temporarily fulfilled in a new skill that I could indulge with minimal investment.  That little sew-Jo flame in me ignited again.   






    But it doesn’t have to be cross stitch for you.  The possibilities here are endless. Maybe you’re a sewist who works with knits and you want to try a simple woven pattern. Maybe you’ve never installed a zipper and want to try. Maybe you have always marveled at the talent of the bagmakers you see on social media and want to take a stab at it. Or maybe you want to try a new craft tangentially related: crocheting, embroidery, or darning.  Sometimes we need something new to respark our interest in something familiar. Go for it. Trying something new may just be what you need to find your interest again.  

  • Big projects are broken into steps for a reason. 
  • I think the idea of diving back in headfirst can be overwhelming when you’ve been away.  Back in pre-pandemic times, I took so much pride in starting and finishing a project in a single day, if not just a couple of hours. The more stuff I churned out, the more accomplished I felt. But that was a lot of pressure to put on myself, when what I really needed was to just get my feet wet again. Giving myself permission to sew for short bursts really helped me adjust to getting back into the sewing room. In fact, I have a jacket on my sewing table right now. It’s been there for a week. I haven’t worked on it for more than an hour on any given day and most days I put in 15 minutes here or there. There’s no deadline (except that I might want to enter it into the county fair this year, but that’s another blog for another day.). 

    There’s nothing wrong with breaking your project into smaller tasks.  Set time limits or goals for yourself. Maybe just plan to sew for as long as it takes that one load of towels to dry. Or maybe give yourself permission to just install the neckband, or attach the sleeves, or assemble the pocket before you put it down until next time. Get back into it slowly. One step at a time. Five or ten or fifteen minutes of work is still progress. Let your sew-jo grow back at its own pace. 

  • It’s ok to start fresh.
  • When my sew-jo evaporated I had orders to fulfill and had to push through to complete those obligations before I could throw in the towel. But I still had a couple of personal projects that I had cut and prepped to work on.  I was dejected to see them sitting there for weeks, then months when I felt no draw to go and work on them. It was like the muse that lived in me had gone dormant.  It wasn’t like me to leave unfinished projects. A lot of sewists do struggle to finish one project before moving on to the next and I know a fair share who have a project graveyard of sorts where half-done jobs pile up, all but forgotten. Not me though. I’m a completionist through and through, which made this lack of motivation even more frustrating.  Eventually I accepted that there was no rule that those projects had to be completed first. What sewing handbook said that I couldn’t move on towards whatever called my name next?  I ended up abandoning them all together and eventually when I felt even the echo of a call to sew I let my creativity lead the way. I wound up with a gorgeous hoodie that I have worn exactly once, for pictures. 

    But that hoodie accomplished such big things for me. It broke my sewing fast.  Don’t let those unfinished, insipid projects prevent you from getting back to it. Put them away while you foster your budding sew-jo with something that makes you feel passionate again. It’s ok to move on.  Find that pattern release that intrigues you and get started. Or go back to your Pinterest board to see what you might be excited to recreate. Make something ridiculous or over the top just because you can. If it inspires you, it’s worth it.

  • Cleaning your space can also cleanse your mind.  
  • I saved my favorite one for the end. This tip was a secret weapon for me. After the chaos of stay-at-home orders and distance learning had long ago subsided, my sewing space had been severely neglected. It had acted as a catch all for mail and school art projects. The cat had claimed the ironing board as her new throne. My beautiful machines were buried under papers and unopened fabrics. It was in a sad state. Unlike the previous disasters it had endured, this was not a state of creative disorder caused by a whirlwind of a sewist in her natural habitat. It was a jungle of neglect and dilapidation. Out of necessity I found myself cleaning it out and organizing my once beloved materials and tools. I washed fabrics that had become dusty. I refolded my stash and reorganized my notions. I oiled and maintained my machines. As I worked I found myself re-inspired by prints that I had bought with projects in mind. I started to remember what plans I had for various fabrics. Under all the mess and discarded scraps I found my sew-Jo there waiting for me.  It didn’t hold any grudges for my time away. It didn’t harbor any negativity towards me for taking so long to reconnect. It just waited like an old friend for me to be ready to return. 

    You never know, yours may be hiding there too. So go ahead, re-fold your stash. Clean out that pile of scraps you’ve saved with all the best intentions. Sharpen your scissors and put new blades in your rotary cutters. Wipe down that area under your sewing machine where you know there are linty bits and a few stray pins. You will find yourself a little relieved, if not invigorated, refreshed, and motivated. Your sew-jo might be hiding in there, waiting for you too. 


    Back to blog

    Leave a comment

    Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.