Working with your hands can keep you in the moment and your mind at ease.

Journal Gen X: Find Calm in the Stitch

Published Date: 2019-06-21

I had wanted to make dolls for years but never knew where to start, it seemed so daunting. I took the plunge in 2018 when I checked out some books on doll-making from my local library. I ended up purchasing a couple of them because they served as wonderful references when I was stuck on a technique. The author did such a great job giving technical, step-by-step instructions that it allowed me to develop my own path, rather than simply copying the ones in the book.

After a bit of time drawing out patterns, turning, stuffing and assembling practice dolls, I just started sewing. At first, I had no idea what I was doing, and the dolls turned out oddly shaped, with legs going in different directions and faces that weren’t quite what I wanted them to be. Each time I begin a new doll I get that same feeling. But after a few minutes, I fall into a rhythm and the trepidation is gone, and now several dolls later I feel more comfortable that they will turn out the way I envisioned in the beginning.

The whole process of making a doll transports me into the creative world with its vast possibilities. I’m inspired by fabric, yarn, ribbons, and other embellishment. Sometimes a doll starts with one single button and grows from there. I spend time thinking about what this new doll will be; her name, what she has to offer. My dolls are predominantly named after goddesses and queens, and they each have a story.

After I’ve gotten through choosing the fabric and the rest of the embellishments including her hair, I start sewing, and the normal stresses of life fall away. My mind is forced to focus on each stitch; to ensure evenness and adherence with the shape of what I’m making. During this time, I’m giving myself permission to turn off my otherwise very active mind and center my attention on what is happening in the present.

A few months ago, though, my hobby started to feel like a distraction to all the other things that were competing for my attention. Whether it was television, apps on my phone, social media, or any number of other activities, I was finding I had less and less time to make art. I wasn’t sure why, but I had hit a creative rut. It coincided with a time that I was incredibly busy at work and at home, and before I knew it, a month went by and I hadn’t stepped foot in my studio. I needed to reconnect to what I loved about my art but wasn’t sure how. So, I started searching online for people who were or had been in similar situations.

That’s when I came across a 2015 article in The Washington Post that explored the meditative quality of making art. The article cites four reasons why making art is good for us: it’s a vehicle for meditation and self-connection, it provides a feeling of flow and freedom, it allows for true self-expression and it helps us become steady and centered. One of my favorite quotes in the article comes from Eckhart Tolle: “All true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness.”

Had I lost my inner stillness- was that it? I noticed that I hadn’t been meditating as much as usual. Meditation is something I’m trying to make into a daily habit. I use an app called Insight Timer and try to meditate for at least five minutes in the morning, every day. It’s not a habit yet, but in thinking through my creative rut, I noticed that I hadn’t meditated at all for about two weeks. I also noticed that I had recently allowed my perfectionism to creep in with the dolls I was making, and it was impeding starting anything new. I would assemble what I thought would be a good collection of things to make the next doll, then I’d start second guessing myself; asking all sorts of questions about whether or not that ribbon really did go with that fabric, and what if she shouldn’t have this color hair? And before I knew it, I had lost interest in the doll, and allowed something else to take my attention.

I wanted to get back to the thrill of early discovery and the satisfaction that follows a finished piece. I wanted to create more opportunities to fall into that state of flow with my art. I remembered a quote from E.B. White in Ann Handley’s book Everybody Writes: “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” I realized I was waiting for those ideal conditions, for the epiphany, and what I needed to do instead was simply show up.

So, I walked into my studio and shut the door. And I started drawing and cutting patterns. I kept drawing and cutting until I had the parts for six complete dolls. The next day, I started sewing again. I had gotten out of the rut, thanks to some inspirational words and some good old-fashioned discipline.

I love creating something from nothing; taking fabric, buttons, ribbon, yarn and other random objects and assembling them together into something that has a personality and a story. When I stitch, I reconnect with my real self, the one that is unencumbered by the distractions of everyday life. Eventually I find myself in a state of flow, and hours can go by without my notice. I am happily back on track and will remember what put me there the next time I veer off course.

TAGS: sewing, books