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Interview with Kate Ward: Self-Care with Hand Sewing

The holidays bring warm and beautiful moments shared with family and friends. But with all of the parties, cooking, cleaning, shopping, and traveling, the holidays are also very stressful for many. 

Studies have shown that working with your hands stimulates your brain and increases pleasure while decreasing stress levels. As a sewist and quilter, hand stitching is important in my self-care practice.

I had the opportunity to interview the textile artist, Kate Ward from ZenStitching. Kate combines her love of textiles with her desire for a slow, intentional life. She is also passionate about the planet and the environment, which led her to become a sashiko stitcher and mender.

With the busyness of the holidays upon us, I wanted to learn from Kate why hand stitching helps our mental state and how to get started!

ST: How did you become interested in mindful mending and Zen Stitching?

Kate: Zen Stitching is really a combination of passions for me. I’ve always been interested in all kinds of art - my grandmother taught me how to knit when I was four years old (though it took a while to do it without holes), and my mother taught me sewing and embroidery when I was growing up. Studying textiles at art school was a natural progression, and art has been a huge part of my life ever since.

I’m also passionate about living a meaningful life and doing my part for the planet. Textile waste and fast fashion are a huge detriment to the environment, so using my background in textile arts to repair clothing and reduce my consumption was a natural extension of my lifestyle. This led me to share my techniques with others through Zen Stitching.

ST: How do you find the act of sewing encourages mindfulness?

Kate: There are so many things I could say about this! First and foremost, hand stitching is a form of active meditation. The repetitive motions are soothing, and while your hands are busy, your mind has a chance to untangle itself. It’s also a tactile experience, allowing you to focus on the present moment by noticing things like how your thread and fabric feel.

But stitching encourages mindfulness in other ways, too. When you’ve taken the time to sew a garment, either by hand or by machine, it breeds a new appreciation for the people who make our clothes and encourages us to make decisions about what we bring into our wardrobes a bit more carefully. Similarly, when we’ve mended something that we love and aren’t ready to part with, it makes us feel more connected to our clothing and more likely to take better care of it.

ST: The holidays can be a stressful time of the year. How can our readers slow down and practice self-care with stitching?

Kate: My best recommendation is to schedule time for it! It may feel a little silly to block out time to do some hand stitching, but when we don’t prioritize our creative practices, it’s so easy to put them on the back burner. This is especially true when we most need a creative outlet - like when we’re caught up in the bustle of the holiday season.

One way to ease some of the holiday stress and to be creative at the same time is to have a go at making some of your gifts! This can save you a trip into town, which can be especially stressful this time of year. It also helps you cross something off your list, which can help put you at ease. Not to mention the meditative benefits and waste reduction! 

If you’re not confident in stitching your gifts, try something small and low-pressure, like adding stitching to a holiday card or making a cloth wrap for your gifts to use in place of standard, non-recyclable wrapping paper. 

ST: For someone that has never done sashiko or mindful mending, where should they start?

Kate: Start where you are with what you have! If you have some embroidery thread and scraps of fabric, it’s worth trying your hand at stitching with those to make sure you enjoy the process before investing in any specialized materials - though I think you’ll find you enjoy it! 

If you’re feeling stuck and don’t know where to begin, I have a great guide for Sashiko for Beginners available for free on my website. And if you need some inspiration, we have a Making Zen Facebook Group where people always share ideas and post about what they’re working on!

ST: I attended your last online retreat, Making Zen, and found it very inspiring. Could you tell us about Making Zen and the inspiration behind it?

Kate: Making Zen started in October 2021 as a way to create meaningful connections between textile artists of all experience levels and backgrounds while dealing with the restrictions imposed during the pandemic. I’ve held three Making Zen retreats and am currently planning a fourth!

Making Zen is a five-day online retreat where we gather approximately 20 artists from the broad world of textile arts to give specialized workshops with topics ranging from improv quilting to visible mending to textile collages and just about everything in between.

I try to make the event as accessible as possible, which means there’s the opportunity to view the workshops for free, as well as offering paid lifetime access. I also try to make sure there are topics suitable for all experience levels, whether you’re an absolute beginner or you’ve been doing textile arts for years and want to try something new.

This retreat is close to my heart because it allows me and the other presenters to connect to the community more deeply. It’s heartwarming to see people posting and commenting about how the retreat inspired or renewed their love of stitching. Plus, the proceeds help me give back to several causes that are important to me, like:

  • CareAustralia - who put women at the heart of our work to end worldwide poverty
  • WIREs - animal welfare
  • Colchester East Hants Health Center Foundation - health and wellbeing
  • Mouth and Foot painting artists - because everyone should be able to experience the joy of art

ST: Where can our readers learn more about you and your classes?

Kate: My website is www.zenstitching.ca, which details all the classes I currently offer! You can also find me as @zenstitching on Instagram and Facebook. 

If you’d like to know more about the benefits of stitching, check out Kate's blog posts here:

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