Just sew satisfying

Photography Sarah Tuck

Sewing has had a resurgence as a hobby – but why is it so popular?

You might think of sewing as a bit of a frumpy pursuit, something pursued by unfashionable housewives looking to save some money. But these days, you couldn’t be further from the truth. Plenty of people have returned to sewing as a soothing hobby, particularly during the recent lockdowns – and the clothes they’re turning out are nothing short of stylish.

Jeanette Hayes, 59, is one such hobby ‘sewist’. A lawyer by day, she began making her own clothes about four years ago. She had sewed when she was young, like many of her peers. “Girls at that time did home economics at school, and that consisted of cooking and sewing lessons,” she remembers. “It’s a bit different now!” She was also blessed with a mum who was a good seamstress, who encouraged her to make herself simple garments or construct dolls’ clothes as a child.

But like many women of her generation, once she started university – and then entered the workforce and had children – she stopped sewing because of a lack of time. She did have a sewing machine at home, used mainly to mend the children’s clothes or to whip up the occasional fancy dress, but it lay mostly unused.

So, what changed? Jeanette credits not just her children reaching adulthood, but also The Great British Sewing Bee.

“I used to watch that and I just thought, ‘I can do this’,” she says. “About four years ago, I thought I’d give it a go again, and I just completely got hooked.”

Jeanette in a handmade Burda 6802 coat. Photography Sarah Tuck.

Catching the sewing bug

The first garment she made was a Skipper Tunic by Papercut Patterns, an independent pattern company based in Nelson, and it was a revelation. “All I’d ever known of sewing patterns was the Big Four – companies like Vogue and Simplicity, where they give you the pattern with very few instructions,” she says. “I’d never heard of this whole ‘independent’ pattern world, but the first independent pattern I made was a big success.”

She immediately made another Skipper Tunic in a different fabric – and it quickly became an obsession. Now, apart from jeans and the odd jacket, pretty much everything in her wardrobe is handmade. Jeanette often spends a few hours on the weekend working on a sewing project and the hobby has become such a big part of her life, she even collaborates with a few pattern and fabric companies who are interested in diverse age representation for their brands.

Jeanette’s overlocker, loaded and ready to go. Photography Sarah Tuck.

Wardrobe joy

She embraces the fact that sewing your own wardrobe allows you to choose silhouettes and fabrics you like, and says sewing has brought her into closer touch with her own sense of style. “It’s great being able to make something that you really want to wear in a fabric that you love,” she says. “You can put me down as a dress fanatic. I love dresses because they’re easy to wear, and I love that I can make a lot of them if I want to. Weirdly enough, I find they’re also the easiest thing to make and fit.”

Her handmade wardrobe also features plenty of colour and bright patterns, something she loves. “I’ve actually got to force myself to make some plain things to wear all my patterns with,” she laughs.

Jeanette showed me some of the gorgeous garments she’s made – from dresses made from indie and vintage patterns to trousers (notoriously one of the hardest garments to sew) and even a blazer. When we met, she was working on a winter coat for her husband. “I bought the fabric, honestly, about two years ago,” she admits. “I’ve been putting it off and putting it off, because no pattern was the right fit so I’ve had to grade it all… but now all the pieces are cut out at least!”

She tends to favour patterns from a few specific companies because of the size inclusivity of their pattern ranges.

“I think that’s really important – that people of every size should be able to create and feel good in what they’re wearing,” she says. She’s not alone, with many members of the international sewing community calling for greater inclusivity from pattern-makers. Some of her favourites are American pattern-makers Chalk and Notch and Friday Pattern Company; others, such as Muna & Broad, cater specifically for larger bodies.

Jeanette at her sewing desk. Photography Sarah Tuck.

Sewing for mindfulness

What’s so great about sewing? Jeanette says there are multiple draws. First and foremost, it’s a wonderfully mindful creative activity. “At every stage of sewing a garment, right from cutting the fabric out and actually sewing it up, to putting the finishing touches on, all you can concentrate on is what you’re doing,” she says.

“You can’t think about all the extraneous things that are happening in your life, it’s a very meditative process.”

There’s something special about being able to take that time out and problem-solve in a sphere that fundamentally doesn’t matter. Sewing involves a bit of maths and usually a few mistakes – but you can always unpick, and the stakes aren’t too high. And at the end of the process, you come out with something you’ve made, that you can wear and that probably fits you better than anything you could buy in a shop. “I mean, how lovely is that?” says Jeanette. “I always can’t wait to wear what I’ve made.”

Jeanette does most of her sewing at home in Auckland. Photography Sarah Tuck.


Another draw of sewing is its environmental credentials. We all know fast fashion is a problem, and making your own clothes gives you much greater control over exactly what you consume and waste. You can choose natural, less resource-intensive fibres (such as linen and organic cotton). You can make only clothes you absolutely love and will wear to death, so the maximum use is squeezed from the raw resources. You can make only as many clothes as you’re actually going to wear on a regular basis, so you don’t overconsume or fall prey to fleeting trends. And at the end of the process, you can repurpose your fabric scraps, using them to stuff cushions or make colourful quilts, rather than sending them to landfill, as the fashion industry overwhelmingly does.

A spot of sewcialising

Jeanette says that although sewing can be a very solitary, quiet pursuit, there’s also an appealing social side to it. When she started sewing four years ago, she mentioned it casually at her book club and discovered three other members also sewed. They organised a good old-fashioned sewing bee, each bringing their own sewing machines to someone’s house, and enjoyed themselves so much, it’s become a regular occurence. The group have even been away a couple of times for full sewing weekends.

“It’s very companionable,” says Jeanette. “Everyone brings their own project and we share a couple of overlockers [used for finishing raw seams]. We have cups of tea, we have lunch together – and we have drinks at the end of the day. It’s really nice.”

Since picking up the hobby again, Jeanette has been surprised to discover just how many people of all ages sew. “I realised lots of young people are sewing,” she says. “When I started wearing things I’ve made to work, a couple of people said, ‘I like your dress’ and I plucked up the courage to say I’d made it – and a couple of the young girls in the office said they sewed. They’re only in their 20s!”

I’m 26 and part of that group: 90 per cent of my clothes are handmade, and I spend a decent chunk of each weekend happily stitching away on a machine I inherited from my grandma.

As Jeanette explains, part of the joy of sewing is finding other people interested in the same slightly nerdy hobby – and like her, I’ve been surprised at the range of people I’ve come across who are interested in sewing, a group spanning every age, race, gender and personal style. Perhaps oddly, for what seems like such a solitary hobby, it can be a great way to meet people.

Jeanette in a True Bias Shelby Dress. Photography Sarah Tuck.

Sewcial media

Sewing has also brought Jeanette a greater sense of community through social media. The sewing scene on Instagram is famously lovely – one sewist (@the.social.fabric) once aptly described it to me as “probably the nicest corner of the internet”. Jeanette has experienced it similarly. Despite never having had Facebook or Instagram, after getting into sewing, she learnt that some people posted pictures of clothes they’d made on Instagram.

“I started looking at a few people’s accounts and I really liked it,” she remembers. “It’s actually a really nice way to record what you’ve made and see your progression.” It’s also a great way to see if a garment might suit you before you make it: looking through the Instagram hashtags for a particular pattern yields photos of people of all shapes and sizes in the same garment.

She started a private Instagram account, but soon decided to make it public (@netty.hayes.sews). “I was a bit nervous about it, but I so loved seeing what other people had made and I just thought, other people might like to see what I’d made,” she says. “And when you’re on Instagram for a bit you start to get some contact with people. I’ve had a few people say to me, ‘Oh, it’s so nice to see someone with grey hair’ and that’s quite special.”

A box of sewing notions. Photography Sarah Tuck.

A crafter for life

Jeanette can’t imagine her life without sewing now and says it’s a practice that brings her frequent joy. “I’d definitely encourage people to give it a go – it doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive to get started,” she says.

I would back her up on that front – so why not dig out your mum’s old sewing machine and take a look at our favourite sewing resources (below), and tips for getting started (right)?

Jeanette in a handmade pair of Chalk and Notch Crew Trousers and a The Avid Seamstress Raglan Top, with added ruffle sleeves. Photography Sarah Tuck.

Sewing resources

Fabric shops

• Spotlight (nationwide and online at spotlightstores.com; great general store with sewing kit, fabrics and patterns)

• The Fabric Store (Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin and online at thefabricstoreonline.com; gorgeous upmarket fabrics and patterns)

• Drapers (Auckland and online at drapersfabrics.com; eclectic mix of fabrics and notions in a cute space; the best remnants table in Auckland)

• The Fabric Shop (Auckland and online at thefabricshop.nz; beautiful, affordable fabrics and notions)

• Check out your local opshop!

Jeanette in a Simplicity 5921 dress. Photography Sarah Tuck.

Beginner-friendly patterns

• Any of the patterns on DIY Daisy’s site (diydaisy.com) (all sizes)

• LB Pullover by Paper Theory (UK 6-28)

• Ogden Cami by True Bias (US 0-30)

• Saguaro Set by Friday Pattern Company (XS-7XL)

• Lotta Dress by Tilly and the Buttons (UK 6-34)

Jeanette in a Sew Different Sicilian Top. Photography Sarah Tuck.

Instagram inspo – Jeanette’s favourite accounts









She embraces the fact that sewing your own wardrobe allows you to choose silhouettes and fabrics you like, and says sewing has brought her into closer touch with her own sense of style. Photography Sarah Tuck.

Getting started

Never sewed before or returning after a long break? Try these tips for a seamless (no pun intended) experience.

Keep it cheap

Obviously, to start sewing, you need a sewing machine. But you don’t need a top-end model to whip up highly wearable clothes. An entry-level machine from Spotlight will only set you back a couple of hundred dollars – an expense that will quickly pay itself off after you’ve made just a couple of high-quality garments. In addition to a sewing machine, you’ll need some needles, pins and scissors, but you can pick all three up for a song if you keep it basic. You could also consider borrowing or renting a machine to start with, if expense is an issue.

Get some guidance

Learning to sew involves a few basic techniques and it can be helpful to have some guidance while you pick them up. Going to a class is ideal – Google one in your area! – but there’s also a wealth of resources on YouTube, or you could ask a friend or family member or the staff at any fabric store. The most important thing is to give yourself plenty of time and patience to pick up those initial skills.

Start with an achievable project

Start with a project that isn’t too challenging, but still fills you with excitement. Often, beginner sewists are recommended to start with tote bags or napkins – but sewing a simple skirt is just as easy and far more enjoyable because you end up with a garment you can proudly wear out. Still, don’t start with something really difficult: you’ll just end up frustrated, which could put you off sewing altogether. An early win is crucial!

Look for inspiration

Nothing gets you in the mood for sewing quite like a spot of inspo. Instagram is a fount of ideas – check out some of our favourite accounts, listed to the left – or head into your local fabric shop and see which of the textiles or sewing patterns on offer grabs you.

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