How Knitting and Sewing Have Helped My Mental Health <3

A couple years ago I stumbled upon a beginner’s knitting kit at a Barnes & Noble around the holidays. It was on sale and looked like a fun project to start while I had some time off from work.

Learning a new skill is daunting, and it takes some dedication and patience to really get started. So, not surprisingly, it was a few weeks before I even opened the kit. Much to my dismay, it didn’t include any instructions for actually learning how to knit. Instead, it came with a booklet of some patterns. I had no idea what any of it meant!

So I decided to refer to Youtube for video tutorials for casting on and learning the basic stitches. And I was hooked! I was giddy with excitement for learning something new, and was proud of completing even the most simple tasks. I carried my needles and orange practice yarn with me wherever I went, making nothing in particular but simply enjoying the movements of knitting.

But soon eager to make something super cool, I was dead set on learning how to knit the waffle stitch. Unfortunately it was too much too soon, and I just couldn’t get it. Frustrated, I eventually lost interest in knitting for several months.

Last fall though, I came back to knitting with renewed energy and more patience. I took things step by step and gradually built my skills by working on projects with increasing difficulty, but careful not to get too far ahead of myself. And I was hooked yet again! This time, I think it will last 🙂

I was very crafty as a child, but I somehow got away from it as I got older. I used to be chock full of DIY projects: hand sewing pillows, making pencil holders, making magazine holders. I even made a doll house, complete with handmade furniture, out of cardboard!

Once I started knitting again last fall, I feel like I tapped into my childhood energy and enthusiasm/obsession for creativity. The more I knitted, the more I wanted to knit. And I was itching to learn even more! Last winter I bought a sewing machine and took a couple sewing classes, and now I’m sewing clothes for myself too.

I’ve never really thought of myself as artsy or creative, but there’s a real art to creating patterns, combining colors,  selecting yarn and fabric, and naming/describing my Etsy products. The possibilities are endless and the world is a blank canvas waiting to be painted in whatever strokes and colors I choose.

And this creativity instills a new confidence in me. I’ve struggled with depression in the past, and anxiety remains a daily battle for me. I’ve had periods of deep depression for as long as a year at a time. The kind of depression when your whole body aches and it takes so much strength just to get out of bed in the morning. When you can’t bring yourself to eat, and when you find yourself alone every single day, alone with your irrational worries, and relieved when the day is finally over.

But it’s been almost 8 years now since I’ve been hit with a depression like that. I slowly started taking more control of my life: I got into the graduate program I wanted and moved to beautiful Madison; met the love of my life; spent a year living in the incomparable Turkey; moved to beautiful San Francisco where adventures are always awaiting; got a job that is deeply fulfilling and is so connected to the core of who I am; started seeing a therapist; surrounded myself with friends who always have my back. And now I have my crafting to keep my mind occupied and that above all, helps me feel like I have a talent.

Crafting has become my latest building block of resiliency, adding to a wall that is getting increasingly higher as time goes on. As Brené Brown mentions in “The Gifts of Imperfection,” we have the tendency to become anxious and fearful when we feel happy about something, for fear of losing it. But the trick is actually to relish the good times, because holding on to that is what will get us through the inevitable tough times that are to come. <3

I opened an Etsy shop!

Ever since I started knitting obsessively about a year ago, I have been talking about opening up an Etsy shop. I thought I could give myself about a year to get some practice and skills under my belt, and planned to launch this fall (2016), in time for the busy holiday shopping season. And last weekend, I finally launched!

Check out my shop here: www.etsy.com/shop/AnisaJahan

As I’m sure is the case with most crafters, I got so busy knitting gifts for family and friends that I could hardly find the time to devote to knitting things to sell. But over Labor Day weekend this year, I caught up with a friend in DC who had recently begun making her own jewelry and also had plans to open an Etsy shop! We excitedly brainstormed ideas for our respective shops: names, prices, marketing strategies, etc. We set a deadline for a launch date (early October), and also agreed to keep each other posted on our progress. Having a friend going through the same process made it even more fun! (Check out Whitney’s shop here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/MinimalistElegance)

To launch by early October, I had a lot to do in a short period of time. Thankfully, lots of friends gave me some great advice. One who previously had an Etsy shop recommended this book: The Handmade Marketplace. I actually haven’t even finished it yet, but it’s full of great tips for launching a business of handmade items. Another friend has been coming up with great ideas for marketing and promoting my listings. And yet another friend, who is a photographer, offered to do a photo shoot of my products!

Last weekend, my photographer friend and I got together to photograph my items. I had been wanting to learn more about photography anyway, so it worked out perfectly! And now I know a little more about fiddling around with my own camera for the future.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at our photo shoot:

Perfecting the display of the Tahoe Blue Hat
Perfecting the display of the Tahoe Blue Hat (Photo credit: Alex Orozco)
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My sweets adjusting my bangs 🙂 (Photo credit: Alex Orozco)

We thought it would be helpful to not only have photos of the items laying flat, but also some photos of me modeling them as well. As you can see with my recent posts, I’ve gotten my feet wet with modeling outfits, so I didn’t mind modeling my knits at all.

I’m starting out with four listings on my shop, but I will soon have more up, since I knit just about every day :). After I get a few more items completed, my friend and I plan to do another photo shoot.

While opening the shop alone was a huge personal success, it also symbolizes so much more for me…stay tuned for my next post describing how crafting has helped improve my mental health.

 

Sewing with Knits: Elmira Wrap from Seamwork :)

Ever since I started sewing back in April, I’d heard that sewing with knits (versus woven fabrics) was a lot more challenging. As a result I have been avoiding patterns working with knits and had built it up in my head to be something so challenging that it would take a long time to be ready for it.

But then along came the Elmira wrap by Seamwork–I fell in love with it and decided to give it a shot. I picked out a marled gray lightweight knit from Fabric Outlet in San Francisco, where good deals are abundant 🙂

Seamwork patterns are designed to be completed in 3 hours or less, but being fairly new to sewing it takes me much longer! I’d been working on this wrap almost every day since last weekend, and finally did the finishing touches this morning. I’m so happy with how it turned out! Turns out working with knits isn’t so bad after all 🙂

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Tips that helped me

One of the biggest things that helped me was using ballpoint pins and needles–these have slightly rounded tips that help prevent the fabric from tearing.

Another helpful tip was using a zigzag stitch rather than a straight stitch, which helps prevent the seams from coming out.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

Sleeve cuffs: This pattern has sleeve cuffs that are sewn on, but I had a hard time keeping them even because my seams wouldn’t be exactly straight. The first cuff I sewed the edge of the sleeve slipped out from the seam, and when I tried to salvage it, I accidentally made the sleeve way too small. The pattern instructs you to stretch the fabric slightly as you go, but I forgot to do that. In the end I spent almost an hour taking off the cuff (I had already finished the seams!) and re-doing it. Neither sleeve cuff was perfectly even, but at least they weren’t too small anymore.

Back neckline: This was the first time I sewed with a twin needle, which is really simple and gives the garment a more professional look. I misinterpreted the directions though and folded the back neckline over just a quarter inch too much, which meant that the shoulder seams didn’t exactly match up. I ended up with small gaps on each shoulder and decided to hand stitch them. It looks a little messy but it’s not very noticeable anyway.

I love that with each new pattern I make, I learn new skills. With the Elmira wrap I not only learned to sew with knits, but also how to sew with a twin needle, and how to make a thread chain (for the button loops).

AND knowing now that I can sew with knits, this opens up so many more opportunities of patterns to try! Can’t wait!