Think #Smyly thoughts | Sewing Makes You Love Yourself Challenge 2018

#SMYLY2018 Challenge

January is such a navel-gazing month, isn’t it? All that goal setting, planning, resolution-ing just makes us analyse our feelings, habits, relationships, you name it. Well, this January, three brave ladies (Athina, Lisa and Hattie) have decided to put their stories out there and challenged the rest of us in the sewing community to do the same. Together they created the #smyly2018 challenge, which stands for Sewing Makes You Love Yourself. I think the clue is in the name, but in a nutshell, they are asking the sewing community to share their sewing stories, especially around how it helped us with issues of body positivity, mental health difficulties and dealing with tough situations with the help of our beloved hobby. The challenge also includes making a project that makes you feel beautiful and happy.

My January sewing queue is just insane, I have a lot of commitments and also a lot of plans that got postponed because of my sewing room revamp in late November and my loooong holiday in December. So there was no way I could take on another project to be able to take part in this challenge the proper way.

However, having read so many touching, sad, intimate, raw and emotional stories since the beginning of the challenge, I really wanted to give a shout out to all the people who already laid it all bare and spread the word on behalf of the organisers, as well as making my own small contribution.

Claire from Penguin & Pear in her absolutely heartbreaking post was saying that we all have some degree of issues and I think that’s true, but I feel mine pale into insignificance compared to some of the stories I have been reading and watching on Youtube.

So I almost did not write this post.

But then I listened to Helen and Caroline on this week’s Love to Sew podcast and it made me think that each story can have a significance for someone, who might find something to relate to.

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So… I want to talk to you about clothes, my relationship with them and how sewing changed that for me.

I have very vivid memories as a 5 or 6-year-old throwing tantrums because my mum wanted me to wear something that I just didn’t want to put on.  Even as a child, I had a clear idea that clothes said something about me. What exactly, I can’t remember, but I wanted to make sure I made my own choices.

Growing up in post-communist Romania in the 90s, there were not many options for fashionable clothes. Cheap imports from Turkey, domestic communist-like production and second-hand aid from Western Europe. Yet, as a teenager, it was so important to define myself through clothes, through my own interpretation of the burgeoning MTV style, or from cable TV shows. I remember being ever so envious of friends who had mums, grans or aunts who could sew and made copies of looks we saw in magazines or TV. But due to budget and just lack of availability, and since no one in my family could sew, I did not have a lot of choices.

As I grew older and started having more and more money of my own, there were also many more options. And I felt the need to make up for all the years I felt I was lacking because now I could. Now, there were just too many choices.

This triggered a sort of newness addiction. It was that insane thrill of going into a shop and going through every single rack, every single shelf, every single shred of textiles available. I wanted them all! On my first visit to London in 2009, I went to Primark every single day of my 10 days holiday! Insane!

With this came a bulging wardrobe full of clothes I did not wear, I did not necessarily like and that were not of a particularly great quality. Also, a confused sense of style and an increasing sense of guilt.


When, after moving to the UK I started working in sustainability, I learned more and more about the impact of fashion on the planet, I knew I could not go on shopping like I had.

Also, by then my sewing improved tremendously and I finally felt like I had a choice! I could still express myself through my clothes and feed my (now reduced) need for new shiny things, but at the same time, take control over what I wore, where my clothes came from and who made them.

Maybe that’s not enough, no, this definitely is not enough, but one thing is for sure: I cannot sew as fast as I can buy! I know exactly who sews my clothes: me. I can also choose to sew with reclaimed fabric, or organic or sustainably sourced. I can choose to take my time and slow down my home sewing production because I am not accountable to anyone but me (no shareholders, no stock exchange).

No one tells me what clothes I should wear anymore!

Since 2015, I have not bought any new clothes at all (with one emergency exception). I have sewn every item of clothing that made it into my wardrobe, but also, I started thinking more about what I want and why, what I like, what my style is and what suits my lifestyle. Colette’s Wardrobe Architect really helped kickstart this process in 2015, and although I did not complete it, it meant a step-change in the way I began to think about clothes. It’s really interesting that it never occurred to me to do a capsule wardrobe, a minimalist wardrobe or a style overhaul before I started sewing…

Red Ginger Jeans (2016) #04

Sewing is also so much more empowering that shopping ever was. When I finished my first pair of Ginger Jeans, flawed as they were, I felt like I completed a marathon! I am making a coat now and I know I will continue to tackle more and more difficult projects. Yes, I need a bit of a push to vanquish my procrastination, but the bottom line is, that should I choose to do so, I can sew anything! I made my blinkin’ wedding dress, for goodness’ sake!

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Yes, I know there are people out there who do more (like only using reclaimed fabric, only refashioning, natural dyeing etc), and I aim to do some of this as well. I still have a bit of a fabric habit, which I am really pushing myself to curb (newness junkie again!). I still get on bandwagons and sew patterns that I’m not that keen on and end up not wearing the garments (though I have noticed so much less of that in the last couple of years). I still sew junk food projects to have something to post on the blog.

But it’s a step forward compared to my previous life, and I’m continuously pushing myself to do better.

So yes, sewing makes me love myself because it gives me the choice to express who I am through clothing in a different way, it makes me be the tiny bit of a better person, and I love it even more for it!

The fact that it really helps with expressing my creativity, it makes my brain work harder through creative problem solving and it’s my blanket of mindfulness when I’m looking to escape hard times at work, or anxiety well, that’s just an added bonus.








  1. 24 January 2018 / 9:14 AM

    Your post really resonates with me, because like you I love sewing but don’t associate a personal journey with it like other sewists do. So, like you, I thought I wouldn’t take part in this challenge, feeling almost like a fraud. But maybe now

    • Alex
      24 January 2018 / 9:17 AM

      I always love your posts Chris, so funny and a different perspective! I wanted to write this post mainly to talk about the challenge and spread the word, so I think it does help if we talk about it, even without a shattering story to share.

  2. 24 January 2018 / 9:14 AM

    I will share my story, unassuming as it is.

  3. PsychicSewerKathleen
    24 January 2018 / 2:14 PM

    Yes I’m participating in the SMYLY challenge (although I really consider it a celebration as opposed to a challenge 🙂 ) I have my outline all ready on my white board and my pics all taken – it’s just a matter of getting her done! I enjoyed reading your post because SO much of it resonated with me 🙂 congratulations for following your motivation to express YOURSELF and for being true to your values of sustainability at the same time. I always love to see your makes!

  4. 25 January 2018 / 11:32 AM

    This is the first I’ve heard about the SMYLY challenge (I work way too much!). I enjoyed reading your story and didn’t find it insignificant at all – everybody’s story is important! I’m in complete amazement that you have been making all of your own clothes. I can only hope to get to that point some day. I need to circle back to Collette’s Wardrobe Architect again and try to finish it this time. Thanks again for the sewing inspiration.

    • Alex
      25 January 2018 / 11:44 AM

      My absolute pleasure, and thank you for taking the time to read and connect.
      I would also recommend The Curated Wardrobe abs the Into Mind blog by Anoushka Reid.
      Re making all of my own clothes, that’s the fun part. I still have loads of RTW from my past that I still struggle to get rid of. I constantly give to charity or to friends, and it just doesn’t seem to go diminish. My minimalist wardrobe is still so far away, alas!

  5. 26 January 2018 / 3:50 AM

    Thanks for telling me about this challenge! I’m always reading blogs and following folks on Instagram but missed this one! Thanks for sharing your story!

    • Alex
      29 January 2018 / 9:18 PM

      Thank you for commenting and reading. Hope you enjoyed reading stories related to this challenge.

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