Finally finishing graduate school this year was the hardest thing that I have done in my life. Working through the challenge, I learned so much about myself. Part of that was learning how important it is to me to sew – to work with my hands, to design, and to create. Sewing is my rock that gets me through hard times. Curious to see if others have had similar experiences, I asked some other sewists to share their personal connections between sewing and making it through graduate school. I’m excited to introduce Ph.D. historian and seamstress Dayo, who tweets as ByDaiyami.
I didn’t sew in grad school. My roommate had a machine, but it seemed like an odd curiosity. In grad school, I maintained sanity through taking African dance, and training to teach aerobics. Dance, aerobics, sewing: these are the three mileposts on the way to comfort with my body. I had thought that after teaching aerobics—sweating, in a sports bra and shorts, with all eyes watching me move—that I had no further to travel on that journey. Sewing taught me I was wrong, that there were still more claims I could lay to owning my body.
I didn’t sew when I was a professor, teaching history. If I wanted to get tenure, then I needed to be writing. I channeled my love of beautiful fabrics into dozens and dozens of colorful scarves that I hoped made me look like a professor, instead of a young, brown, female student.
Then I resigned from the tenure-track, and I said to myself “wait, I can have hobbies now.” First I signed up for glassblowing. I made nine paperweights (because you can’t mess up a paperweight, and I have no natural talent for glass) and now they are my pattern weights. Six months later, I happened to see a beginning sewing class offered—just one evening, make a zipper bag, machines provided, suitable for the complete novice—and I was hooked. I bought my own machine two months after that, as a birthday present to myself.
Sewing is the emblem of the freedom that I claimed by walking away from academia. It is the signal that I control my time — if I want to spend my entire weekend making a dress, that’s my choice. Sewing has expanded my identity. I am not only a historian; I’ve discovered I have elements of the engineer and the designer. I loved the archives and am still fascinated by the histories of empire and slavery, but history felt intangible, weightless — sewing gives me creations I can touch.
I’m a student again, taking one night class at a time in the fashion design program at the community college down the road. I’ve started to close the loop with wee ventures into historical sewing. I’ve come full-circle, and I wouldn’t trade the journey for anything.