Stitch Therapy, or How I Survived the Pandemic 2020

What a year this has been, and we are barely halfway through it. The new year 2020 was supposed to be the “good year,” you know, the one without the fire and the fire clean-up, without the snowstorm and the snow clean-up.

And now we are having to deal with the coronavirus. Just to let you know, my life isn’t bad. My husband still has a job, although he’s working at home along with our adult son. I still go to my tailoring shop every day, but instead of being slammed with wedding gowns, bridesmaid dresses, and suits, as I normally would at this time of year, I am making masks, scrub caps, and hospital gowns. It’s eerie how quiet the phone is. But we are healthy, employed, and not in any physical or financial danger.

Nonetheless, I still feel the overall stress and general malaise that everyone else seems to have. The disruption in our everyday lives makes us feel uncertain about the present and the future. Will we be able to see our families in Los Angeles and San Francisco? Will we be able to take a vacation? Will we run out of meat or toilet paper? Will I have to close my shop and retire? At what point does my shop become an expensive hobby room?

To combat these nervous feelings, I have been doing my share of stress-eating and drinking. But to keep myself from gaining 50 pounds, I decided to do something else to relieve my stress.

As it happens, right before the lockdown started, I took a workshop on Sashiko at the Redding Fashion Alliance. I have always wanted to so some and when I saw the advertisement on Facebook, I signed up. Desirea Lock taught the workshop and we spent the afternoon learning this beautiful art form along with several other stitchers.

Sashiko is a Japanese form of embroidery. It is traditionally done with white thread on indigo fabric. Indigo is the deep blue found in many Japanese garments. Originally used by peasants in the Edo era (1615 – 1868) to repair clothing, the stitching was then used to repair and reinforce the heavy uniforms of martial artists and firemen. It eventually became an art form. Sashiko can be very intricate or it can be quite simple, for example, to repair jeans. Eileen Fisher even sells the repair kits for ripped jeans.

To practice my stitching, I took some denim swatches and played around with several patterns. These are very simple compared to the elaborate samplers and hangings that Sashiko artists create. But now I want a hole in my jeans so I can use one of these patches!

Denim Patches with Sashiko Stitching

This is how my stitch therapy started and it really helped me at the beginning of the pandemic.

The other “therapy” I employed during this time was getting in touch with my Polish roots with traditional foods: cabbage, anything pickled, and meat…LOTS of meat!

It was my obsession with the YouTube sensation “Polish your Kitchen” (long O), which led to an interest in Polish embroidery (don’t ask!) While Sashiko tends to be geometric, Poles love nature: vines, and flowers, and leaves. Lots of color.

I was also making a lot of masks…LOTS of masks. Once I filled hundreds of orders for family and friends, I found I had time to embellish the masks with…yep, you guessed it: embroidery!

I prefer the dish toweling for a mask. It’s lightweight and breathable and 83% effective against the coronavirus. It’s also perfect for embroidery! I started out by stitching blue sashiko thread on white masks. Sashiko comes in many colors but blue and white are the traditional ones.

I continued by combining traditional Sashiko materials with Polish patterns.

 My favorite mask!

My creativity then exploded into multi-colors and patterns! Little half flowers with beads and French knots! Multi-colored blanket stitches in swirls! And what I call “tailor stitches.” It’s actually a cross stitch but you see them in many upscale tailored garments.

Cross Stitch on plain white mask

 Half Flowers with French knots.

 Multi-color half flowers with beads

While I was spending my days running my shop and making hospital gowns with the other gals at the Redding Fashion Alliance, I looked forward to coming home and working on my embroidery. It is very satisfying and a lot less calories than Manhattans and M&Ms! And if we must wear masks, which it looks like we will for a while, we might as well have a little fun with them.

If you are interested in learning embroidery, there are many on-line tutorials. And keep an eye out for workshops to come back to Redding Fashion Alliance. You may find you like stitching better than chocolate!

Barbara Stone

Barbara Stone is the owner of Barbara Stone Designs, a full-service tailoring and dressmaking business at 5200 Churn Creek Road, Suite P, Redding, CA, 96002. She can be reached at (530) 222-1340 or bstonedesigns@sbcglobal.net.

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