Sewing to refill the creative well
Written by Maya Linnell for The Writers Den blog, August 2020
Most writers are united by a love of reading, but it’s the extra creativity-fuelling hobbies that always pique my interest. When my writing’s done for the day, and I’m not running around after my young bookworms, I turn to baking, gardening and sewing.
I grew up watching my mum and both my grandmothers sew. Barely a birthday went past without a hand-sewn or hand-knitted gift, and as a young girl I squirreled away scraps of fabric, just like I now squirrel away little phrases and plot ideas for my novels.
Back when I was a cadet journalist on minimum wage, I picked up an old Janome for $50 at a garage sale. It’s the machine I still use today, and together we’ve attended patchwork classes, stitched quilts for friend’s babies, my own babies and my precious newborn niece who never made it home from hospital. We’ve made ragdolls for my daughters, a tea cosy for Dad to keep his Earl Grey warm, and enough skirts to last me at least two books tours.
Sewing, and the giving of handmade gifts, brings me joy. Whenever I pop the Janome on the kitchen table and pull out my scissors and fabric stash, I know I’m in for a treat. I’ve never been good at reading patterns, but I can sew a straight line and if I mess up, there’s always the Quick-Unpick tool, the sewers equivalent of a delete button.
Even though I’ve sewed dozens of zippers, and written thousands, maybe millions of words, there’s always days when I’ll unpick a zipper THREE times, throw my hands in the air, threaten to toss the Janome in the rubbish bin, watch a YouTube tutorial for assistance and apologise to said machine. It’s the same sense of frustration when I follow a subplot for a few chapters, drop it in the second half of the manuscript, remove it in the next draft and then painstakingly weave it back in three drafts later when I realise it’s an integral part of the story I’m trying to tell.
My sewing machine spent many years in the cupboard while the children were little and we were building our house. Then, with my inaugural book tour looming, the Janome was a Godsend. My budget didn’t stretch to a whole new wardrobe and I wasn’t keen to wear the same thing at every event, so out with the sewing machine and off to the fabric store I went. I whiled away my pre-launch nerves creating unique skirts with pretty material that made me smile, and just like that, my author wardrobe was off to a great start.
Sewing (and writing) takes patience, perseverance and confidence, and it attracts a hefty dose of doubt, too. Will people notice my wonky hem? Will readers empathise with the characters I’ve created? Will the donut-print fabric that was fun and quirky in the sewing store look ridiculous at my book launch? Will my character’s actions offend, annoy or upset someone?
Sewing’s a lot like writing, really. I’m far from perfect at either, but years of doing both have given me enough confidence to know that if I keep writing then I’ll complete the first draft. If I keep sewing, then eventually I’ll finish hemming, mending and gathering. Even if I don’t know where my story is heading, or whether anyone will like the finished product, I have to trust in my ability to string a sentence together that’ll please my readers. And if I’m lucky, those readers will also have a soft spot for donut-print skirts and things made with love.
Are you a sewer, photographer, surfer, artist, baker or gardener? Drop me at line at www.mayalinnell.com to share your favourite way of replenishing your creative well.
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