#needleworkmonday | Sewing Retreat: How to Build a Consistent Sewing Practice
Leicestershire, UK, early April 2022, about 4.15pm
I was flipping through my feed one day last week when I came across an invitation to a sewing retreat. It was this weekend, for four days for an hour, and its purpose was to take some time out, a retreat, to learn how to build a consistent sewing practice, so that sewing becomes part of what you do, who you are.
It was about sewing because the woman who hosted it, Cathy Hay, is a seamstress and costumier. She had attended a similar workshop for fine artists, taught by a friend of hers, that was designed to help painters to develop their studio practice, to improve and develop their skills and become a (better) painter.
Cathy thought it would be great to have a similar programme for people, often women, who sew. The principles we learned on the retreat could be applied to any kind of creative practice, or any new thing that you want to bring into your life.
The retreat itself was a lovely experience. It started at 6pm UTC+1 (BST) and was a livestream, happening as you were watching it, with a chat box where everyone could leave comments for Cathy and each other. There were a few minutes at the beginning with everyone arriving and finding their way around the technology. I believe several hundred people took part, from all around the world. The livestream was also posted, so anyone who was asleep at the time could watch it later.
The different sessions of the retreat covered the five stages of creating a habit: building sewing or creative practice into your life so that it becomes a normal everyday thing, like cleaning your teeth. You don't really think about it, you just do it.
Five Stages of Habit Forming
This was about exploring why you want to build a consistent sewing practice in your life and about what it means to you. The focus was on the process - what is it like for you, when you are sewing - rather than the results of sewing or being driven by a deadline.
This part of the discussion became quite deep and spiritual, but essentially it was about becoming you, who you are, creating yourself and your future self and having an inner creative authority. In many ways, I found this the most interesting part of the retreat.
Another, more prosaic, way of looking at this stage was about setting goals and being accountable.
CUES, ANCHORS AND HABIT STACKING
These were the triggers for your sewing practice, the things that would make sewing practice automatic, a habit, that you do naturally as part of your life, in the same way that you clean your teeth before you go to bed. We talked about the following:
- time - when might you fit sewing practice into your life? is it a set time, or do you have a floating cue (important for shift workers and carers, for example)? when would it be easy?
- place - where would your sewing practice take place? was it always the same place? how did it need to be to make it easy for you to use?
- cues - these included things like lighting a candle, preparing and drinking a beverage, having a special chair, or quilt or cushion, some healthy snacks.
We were encouraged to consider all the senses in creating cues - touch, taste, vision, hearing, smell - so that practice became associated with those specific smells, sounds and sights.
Another element to help build consistent practice was to stack this new habit with an existing one. So that when thing happened, maybe returning home after classes, that was the trigger for practice.
This was about creating rewards that were appropriate in this context (especially rewards that were healthy and contributed to a enriched life). Some were very simple but very effective:
- positive feedback from friends and family.
- community sharing, maybe through social media.
- the sticker book: literally give yourself a gold star.
- putting notes to your future self in a jar.
- saving small amounts of money towards a material treat (a tool or yarn).
I wrote more about rewards and some of the challenges in yesterday's post. Mainly, it is about finding the right thing for you.
REFLECTION AND ADJUSTMENT
The last section was reflecting on your practice and how it is working, then thinking about what might need changing to make it easier and more deeply satisfying and to prevent your practice being derailed by life.
Two analogies were used to help explain the process - riding a bike and surfing - in both you have to constantly respond to your environment to maintain your balance and keep moving towards where you want to go. So, in your practice, you need to become both proficient and agile in responding to your environment, and just like riding a bike, perhaps even more so for surfing, to takes practice to become proficient.
This was really important because, just like riding a bike, you might not be very good at it at the beginning, but being kind to yourself, you get up and keep going (or maybe come back the next day and have another go). The discussion about reflection and adjusting kept circling back to the "why" - why do you want to develop a consistent sewing practice? What are your goals, what do you want for yourself, who do you want to be.
Thoughts About the Retreat
I really enjoyed this, taking an hour each day to sit and reflect. The timing was perfect for me, I usually come in from a walk about 5pm, so there was time to put away shopping and do some preparation for the evening meal, before sitting down with a cup of tea for an hour.
I was mainly knitting each day, quite slowly, I noticed last night. You were asked to bring a journal and pen and I made some notes. In the last session, I also lit a candle: it's made from soy oil with a wooden wick and smells of wood sage and seasalt. It sits on my table, but I don't always remember to light it.
There was a comments box during the live stream where participants were responding to Cathy or to each other. Many people were dealing with challenges, including living with ADHD, and there was lots of support for them from other commenters, some of whom were also living with similar challenges.
One of the best parts of the retreat for me was near the beginning of the first session where Cathy asked everyone how they were feeling. She helped everyone feel present, in the moment, where, regardless of what has happened in the past, or what may happen in the future, for this moment, we are mostly okay. I found that experience very liberating, both relaxing and energising, at the same time.
The last session is tonight, and all the recorded sessions will be available until Friday 29 April:
Retreat Day 1: The Power of Habit
Retreat Day 2: How to Stack Cues to Form New Habits
Retreat Day 3: Rewards are Powerful because they Satisfy Cravings
Retreat Day 4: Reflection is a vital part of achieving your goals
Three things newbies should do in their first week and, for most things, forever afterwards!