‘Chasing meaning is better for your health than trying to avoid discomfort’. These words are the summation of Kelly McGonigal’s Ted Talk on stress and they hit me like an auditory gut punch. Because in that moment, I realised that running away from everything that is causing me pain, will not put a stop to my mental turbulence. No matter what alter-life I jettison myself too, stressors will arise and my attitude towards them is inextricably linked with my emotional experience.

One morning, whilst cycling to work, I found myself asking what mattered the most to me and the words connection and meaning lodged themselves in my brain. A quick life inventory and I was heartened to find I had both in abundance. And yet … I was mired in a darkness I’ve come to appreciate is part of experiencing the whole range of emotions, rather than just an aspirational slice. My mental health was on a familiar downward spiral and I knew I had to take action.

Minimalist tendencies called me to simplify - dispense with the extraneous and pare everything back to the essentials. In 2017, the Royal Society for Public Health & Young Health Movement, published #StatusOfMind - a report examining the positive and negative effects of social media on young people’s health. And whilst I’m not the demographic they had in mind, I’ve become increasingly aware of my obsessive compulsion to check-in and numb out. Inspired by #ScrollFreeSeptember, I took Instagram off my phone and pondered a creative variation of the philosophical question: ‘If I sew in my own home and social media is not around to witness, are the products of my endeavours still valid?’

Unobserved, I embarked on the Renfrew Top - a basic tee from Sewaholic Patterns which has long been on my radar. When I first started sewing, it was all about the whistles and bells - maximum impact for minimum effort. Now I’ve racked up a few years, my outlook has changed and I’m eschewing shiny new for tried and true. The Marks and Spencer Heatgen Thermal is a key component of my daily uniform but the fabric is underwhelming and I’ve been keen to fashion my own in fancy threads. And material doesn’t come much fancier than Art Gallery Fabrics and their jersey knits. Minerva has a huge range to choose from, so the first hurdle was deciding which AGF knit would make the cut. Eventually I opted for this beautiful blue cross hatch design Fabric which is a treat for the eyes, never mind the touch - it’s ridiculously soft to the skin and perfect for the changing seasons. 

I checked my body measurements on the back of the pattern envelope and stop the press, you should have seen my amaze face - for the first time ever, my proportions fitted into an actual size rather than spanning three. After making a quick toile from some jersey leftovers, I decided to shorten both the sleeves and body by 4cm. The assembly instructions are beautifully simple and a delight to follow. In the past, my keeness for a sprint finish, has prevented me from fully embracing new techniques. The wisdom of retrospect and experience has taught me joy is in the journey and I took my time with the shoulders. I sewed the twill tape before seaming as described in this post and the results are satisfyingly sturdy.

The neckband is attached before bringing the body together - a psychological boon, as cracking the neckline early on sets you up for a home run. Construction was straightforward thanks to the stability of the fabric, which is perfect for anyone tentatively contemplating their virgin voyage with knits. I’m inching my way towards greater confidence with the overlocker and thanks to the following technique, the finish at the circular joins is getting better with each iteration. 

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with my first attempt at the Renfrew but there’s room for improvement and that’s where I’m hoping the sewing hive will come to the rescue. At a distance and under my Ramona Cardigan, it’s everything I hoped for. But zoom in and you’ll see a bit of puckering under the arm at the bust and the neckband hasn’t settled into the flat figure hugging shape of my Heatgen rip off dreams. My measurements were bang on size 10 and apart from the odd bit of grading, I’m a complete novice when it comes making adjustments to the fit of a garment. Which brings me to one of many things I’ve missed about social media - how generous spirited the sewing community are when you ask for help.

According to #StatusOfMind, rates of anxiety and depression have increased 70% in the past 25 years. These are just a couple of the negative outcomes of using social media identified in the report. For someone with ample serving sizes of both, doing anything to load my plate further seems counter intuitive. I started off the month adamant that I wouldn’t share what I was up to or seek out what others were doing. As the weeks went by my resolve started to ebb and I sneaked a quick look on laptop. Towards the end of the month the frequency of my sneakiness escalated and I became curious about the triggers. I have a weekly wellbeing podcast prescription I listen to whilst running and during the latest episode of Spiritualish, Meadow references a Steven Pressfield quote which literally stopped me in my tracks:

‘The pay off is incapacity’.

She extrapolates, ‘that the payoff of addiction of any sort is incapacity … because it basically gets you off the hook, so you don’t have to do the hard thing’.

These words encapsulate what I’ve learned from a brief examination of my own relationship with social - I turn to my phone as a panacea for the discomfort I’m constantly trying to dodge. And whilst there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a temporary time out, the frequency of my usage and the effect on my mental health was urging me to take stock. My mind was anywhere other than present and the proliferation of messages were adding to a sense of fragmentation. To be completely honest, moderation is not a line I often tread and I’m not sure if my aspiration will pan out. But the creative connections I’ve made on-line have been a huge source of inspiration, encouragement and support. I’m loathe to completely sever ties and my hope is to use Instagram as a creative tool, rather than a habitual time out, without losing sight of the greater question ‘Where is my mind?’.