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Dayo of ByDaiyami on Sew-viving Academia

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.

Dayo on Me Made Monday

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.

glass paperweights on pattern Dayo

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.

Dayo in historical costume

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.

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  1. amen to all of that. everyone i knew in grad school who maintained any amount of sanity did it through creative endeavors. when i started grad school i sewed, knit, dyed, spun, etc. In the middle, in the worst parts, i just couldn’t handle any of it and stopped doing any crafts. then i joined a dance troupe and started sewing the costumes, which really helped me make it through the end. i couldn’t have finished my thesis without creative hobbies to balance it! it took me a couple of years to recover, but i am finally just getting my “crafty groove” back and feeling creative again. yay!

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  2. Wonderful story! In a culture of tenure track or bust it can be so hard to get out of that rat race and still feel worthwhile. Good for you!

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