You know, as much as I adore working my sewing shed there are still moments when I lift my head from the cutting table and realise that I haven’t meaningfully left my house in several days. I will have shuttled back n forth between said house and said shed as well as done the odd ten minute school run but at no point have I actually had actual conversations with actual people to whom I am not actually related. That’s when I shove my hand embroidery into my slouch bag and flounce into the big wide world to sew in public instead.
It sounds a bit tittish, to sew in public, but stick with me while I explain. I want to spend all day sewing but I don’t always want to spend all day on my own so it makes sense to head to my fave coffee shop, whip out a skein of embroidery floss, and crack on with whatever feminist message or anatomical delight I fancy. Yet the sewing itself is actually a means to an end because when I do sew in public it invariably leads to a conversation with a complete stranger.
You see, when I sew in public I tend to stand out from the crowd. Picture your average coffee shop and the people therein. They tend to be glued to gadgetry of all shapes and tastes: phones, laptops, Kindles, iPads and whatever other knobbery-pokery Apple has come up with lately. Yet there I am with my needle, thread and embroidery hoop, looking as if I’ve entered the coffee shop through a wormhole from 1865. And, yeah, it catches the attention of strangers but from where I sew that’s never a bad thing.
Now, some people will just crane their necks quickly to find out what I’m up to and others will keep looking, glancing away when I spot them . Some, though, actually come up to see what I’m doing or they’ll start a conversation with me from the next table. They are all tentative (because, let’s be fair, I could be a foaming psychopath with a scissors close at hand) but invariably these little visits will turn into conversations not just about my work but about their own experiences of sewing. I’ve heard everything from, “Oh, I haven’t sewn anything since school!” and “I am sooooo crap at sewing!” through to “I had a new sewing machine for Christmas!” and “I’ve been making dresses for ages!”.
My favourite convo was with a woman who was eating lunch alone at the table next to me in Sainsbury’s cafe. She leaned over and asked what I was doing and I showed her my embroidery of the muscles of the face. She said all the right things about it (rather then just run off screaming while clawing at a security guard) and then segued into her own medical history which included several IVF attempts and a successful pregnancy before telling me about her husband (20 years older), her job (CEO of a business) and her son (who was killing her because he was 8 years of age compared to her 55).
Even better is what results from these chats. People offer suggestions of things I could make, they’ll nudge me to look at my work in a different way or they’ll just inspire me to attempt something that scares the shit out of me. Without exception they all make me feel as if I’m doing something valuable, even if it’s just piquing their interest in a hobby they haven’t tried for decades.
Yet I’d have had none of these chats if I had stayed in my sewing shed, telling myself that no-one, just no-one, sews in public these days. Even though the first time I did it I felt about as conspicuous as Kim Kardashian in a queue at a Job Centre, I’ve kept on doing it and it’s become an actual tool in my sewing kit whenever I need inspiration, ideas or just gossip. Now I’ll whip out my work anywhere and everywhere and revel in the fact that I can indulge in my most therapeutic pursuit wherever I am.
So if you’re ever out n about and you see a woman poking at an embroidery hoop while swearing and sucking the blood from her finger, come on over and say hello. Even better, buy me a coffee and ask me as many questions as you like. You might learn something new and make my day all at the same time, a pretty good result from simply buying a cup of Joe, don’t you think? So I’ll keep up my public sewing for some time yet. Now, do you think the local coffee shop will mind if I take in my sewing machine…?