The sewing we don’t share: challenging our own Instagram filter

I made quite a lot during the period represented in this Insta ennead: not very much of it made it to the grid…

Thank you to everyone who read, commented and contacted me privately to talk about my last post on debunking the studio. I was bowled over by the response; it was a powerful reminder that, to be inclusive, we need to see – and therefore show – all aspects of the sewing life.

I want to see the fabulous and the mundane, the eye-wateringly expensive and the cobbled together with an elastic band and a knitting needle. I want to see it all: everyone represented, everyone included, whatever the budget, whatever the skill.

A striking thing to emerge from numerous conversations over the past few days is how some felt uncomfortable sharing sewing spaces because of a sense they’re not good enough. We are the victims of The Filter: no, not the one we tap to prettify before we post, but the one that stops us making the post altogether. It’s not the dreaded algorithm that gives us a skewed idea of everyone else’s perfection, it’s our own self-censorship.

We don’t see our sewing habits reflected in the feed, so we censor ourselves and, in turn, inadvertently encourage others to do the same. There is nothing intentional about it, but in sensing that this thing or that make is not good enough, we create a vicious circle where, in the end, very few things become good enough. The bottom line is that the only posts we see are the beautifully-shot razzle dazzle highlights.

Screenshot of Instagram grid - nine small square pictures of a face, sewing space, art materials, Ogden Cami, Nina Lee Kew dress
A top that didn’t work out. Loved the colour and cut; felt like an alien. It never saw the light of day

Given that the fancy stuff rarely gets a look in during day-to-day life, why not give more attention to the things that do: the basic tees, the joggers, the top that went awry, the odd socks, the pile of grey school trousers that need mending. Not to mention the work table that doubles as a sewing space and triples as a dining table. The mundane everyday side of sewing has as much of a place as the fabulous stuff of dreams.

I grew up in an environment where the ‘studio’ (both my parents are artists) sprawled into every nook and cranny of the house. For me, the intrigue of a busy studio never pales. I love the fancy ones, I love the basic ones, I desperately want to rifle through the messy ones, and I love seeing how people make spaces multitask so they can pursue their passion whenever they get the chance. I really enjoyed seeing so many more interesting spaces shared on Instagram this week, and learning about what piece of kit came from where, what was bagged for a song in a charity shop, or received just because someone heard you loved to sew.

Clearly, The Filter is not limited to the spaces in which we sew. Its main purpose, it seems, is to invalidate our makes before we even consider posting them. We all know how Instagram stories have driven everyday ‘throwaway’ (marketeering language, not mine) content away from the grid, which is supposed to house only a carefully curated selection. It’s a vicious circle where all we ever see are artfully edited visions of perfection, and we therefore feel we should only show our best shots, which in turn influences others to follow suit. It’s an ever-narrowing whirlpool.

As a result, many of us refrain from sharing because we feel like our makes are too dull, that our lifestyle is not sufficiently alluring.

Is this all in our heads? Of course it is! Instagram is programmed to mess with your head and turn you into a wreck. And then maybe buy some stuff. Its hailed as a place for creatives, but when creativity is censored because it is not sufficiently exciting – it is novelty that sells, don’t forget – then it is more of an impediment than an aide.

In praise of dull sewing

It’s a bit naughty of me to call this dull sewing; it’s the sewing I like and I am, therefore, being self-deprecating and thus laying the path for The Filter to do its dastardly work.

A thrilling tank top! One of many that I can’t seem to post

Let’s just say that ‘dull’ is how I affectionately refer to my more recent sewing direction, and that it does make me question my relevancy to the ‘gram.

I’ve been gradually changing the way I sew since the end of 2019. I realised that much of what I’d sewn over the previous year was driven not by my own tastes and needs, but rather by the free fabric that had been made available to me. I wasn’t working at the time, so writing blogs in return for fabric helped me maintain practice – both sewing and writing. My makes were also driven – and it makes me cringe to admit this – by a sense of what would be appealing on the grid.

Over the course of 2019 I made a few things I now know I will never wear. After an initial outing that usually resulted in the squirming feeling of something just not being right, I hung them back in the wardrobe. There they remained, untouched, for months. I felt guilty and wasteful.

At the end of the year I got a new job and realised I would no longer have the time to sew frequently. So, if I was going to sew, it needed to count. I began to reassess why I was sewing and who I was really sewing for.

I stripped out the dormant garments, folded them up and put them in a trunk in my daughter’s bedroom. Some things I’ve since retrieved. The others will be refashioned into clothes for her as and when she needs them. A few things were good enough to go to the charity shop.

From then on I sewed a lot of basic monochrome items of clothing. I embraced the colours that make me feel good (cobalt blue, emerald green, fuscia pink) rather than the ones that were in fashion. Khaki, mustard, orange: I love you, but you make me look like cat sick.

As a result, my grid became far more subdued. I began to feel slightly irrelevant. The Filter was hard at work: the temptation to pump it up with some novel print of the moment in the latest indie pattern release was strong! But I knew I wouldn’t wear it. So why bother?

A self-drafted black top in leftover stretch crepe, finally getting the light of day on the interweb

Picture, if you will, the filmic montage: woman wades across treacherous river strewn with floral prom dresses, heaves herself up onto the bank on the other side and surveys the normcore horizon. Furrowed brow softens to wry smile, as she pulls a technicolour thread from her beige shirt. Yes I’m overegging it. And no, I’m unlikely to achieve normcore heights a la Larry. But do you know what? From the other side, my newly embraced sewing itinerary seems just fine.

This year Me Made May during lockdown gave me a chance to further reassess and boil down what it is I actually want to wear, and what I might need to make. The answer was: not very much. My desire to make clothes dwindled to bare essentials and I spent a lot of time making basic tees and planning a summer rain coat I’ve been lacking for the past five years (surprise surprise, it’s going to be black). I tried to take photos but decided they were not good enough to share. So bland! Who would be interested? And this decision was made in spite of the fact I derived a huge amount of enjoyment from the process of planning and making.

The truth is, I should share them. If I don’t, it simply reinforces the idea that everybody everywhere is constantly sewing fantastical clobber with enormous dollops of frosting. While it’s wonderful, it shouldn’t be the only kind of sewing that is worthy of anyone else’s attention.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is, if you think your makes are too boring for Instagram, then please think again. I for one would like to see them. I would like to see everyday sewing become just that – something we see everyday. That means everything you make on a day-to-day basis, everything you repair and mend, everything you remake and refashion. I’m here for all of it. And maybe, just maybe, if we start to share the things we consider too dull for others’ eyes, we might begin to see the wonder in ourselves.

So, tell me – have you refrained from sharing your work or your sewing space online because you feel it does not live up to the glamour on your feed? Or do you share everything and not give a jot? I’d love to hear from you and maybe we can egg each other on to embrace all of our sewing, not just the fancy bits.

14 thoughts on “The sewing we don’t share: challenging our own Instagram filter

  1. Another interesting post. My sewing has changed alot in lockdown as I have been thinking about sewing what I actually need not just dresses I like but are not going to wear much. I have enjoyed it much more thinking of practical additions that I need in my wardrobe and many of them are easy and enjoyable makes. Would love to hear more about these kind of makes on your blog.

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    1. Thank you Shelley. I think lockdown has precipitated a change in sewing habits for many of us. I am also really enjoying taking more time over things and thinking seriously about whether I really need a garment before I commit to sewing it. I will definitely be posting some of these on the blog soon…

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  2. I absolutely have refrained from sharing my under stairs sewing station because of my own hang ups about it. But upon reflection, like you, i love to see all types of sewing spaces, and all types of makes for that matter. Excellent food for thought as usual.

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  3. I treat my Instagram as my personal log of what I’ve made as I like to see what I’ve made and how I’m progressing as a sewist. Hence the increasing number of silene tees on there 😁
    Of course it’s a great boost when you get more people commenting on what you’ve made, but that’s secondary for me.
    I’m also definitely trying to see more basics, and trying to wear more of my dresses everyday rather than saving them for special occasions. Life is too short to not wear all the dresses!

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    1. Treating it as a log is a great idea. Sometimes its hard not to get sidetracked by the other stuff, but worth it for that record. Also love that you wear ‘best’ everyday. I really try and do this and I have to admit I do find it challenging. But amazing how wearing a favourite make can really lift your mood…

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  4. Ah this is great. Really made me smile. I’m sitting here in my solid colour, wearable-toile dull AF Hudson pants raising my mug of tea to you while the great British summer rains on outside. Good stuff. If only there were a less polished corner of Instagram to share the humble yet most-worn makes… 😉

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  5. Thank you for your honesty, Ruth. I always want to see what people are making. I am there for the basics as much as the frosting. I’m just nuts about anything handmade!!

    I’ve never refrained from sharing a make, but I have definitely taken a while to find the energy for photos of the simpler makes. Here’s looking at you, City Gym Shorts pair #2 that I made a couple of weeks ago.

    One thing I considered for the YouTube channel (that I may or may not be bothered to do), was a sewing fails episode from time to time. I thought it could be relatable and encouraging to hear about the projects that didn’t work out for some reason or other, or to even highlight the errors that I’ve decided to leave in finished garments. But my husband thought it sounded really negative.

    And it reminded me of when you make something, get a complement, and then you immediately start talking about what’s wrong with it. I don’t want to be like that because nobody is perfect, but that doesn’t make our creations any less wonderful. It’s hard to strike that balance. I’ve decided that if I make videos of everything I’d made in a month or two, I’ll include anything that didn’t work. Seems like a reasonable way to approach my mishaps.

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    1. Thank you Theresa. I think taking photos has been a struggle lately… maybe that’s part of it (looking forward to seeing those shorts!). I really like that idea for the YouTube channel. It’s interesting that your husband would see that as negative. To create, you need to fail. Success is always built on the back of failure. It’s just that creative and successful people don’t see failure as a negative – it’s part of the process. That whole ‘fail harder’ thing. In making, all the things that go wrong teach us something, and lead us to be better makers. I feel another blog coming on… ha ha!

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  6. What an interesting article! I too love to see all the makes and all the spaces. I started sewing to make things for myself that I couldn’t buy but needed in everyday life. I have sometimes thought my makes are a little pedestrian and somewhat embarrassed of my scruffy old conservatory where I comandeered space to sew last year and feel very rightly incredibly lucky to have. However, I’ve posted anyway. I also see it as a bit of a sewing diary and sometimes will check back to see if I made a note about a pattern I made on Instagram. Your article has made me feel better about not sewing pretty dresses, as lovely as they are they’d never get worn.

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    1. Thank you Lisa. You are so wise to stick with what you know you will wear. And I love the variety you bring into the garments you love, it’s really interesting seeing you develop ideas using the palette and patterns you enjoy. I definitely could have taken a leaf out of your book last year. There are dresses I look back on now and wonder what on earth I was thinking! But it taught me a lot, and I guess that’s why we do this. Always learning, moving forwards…

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      1. Thanks so much! I do love how we can take a simple pattern and give it so many different looks by just a few easy adjustments. 😄

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