This might sound ridiculous, but today I am convinced that patchwork and sewing actually saved my life. Patchwork became a form of therapy for me. I had always done a bit of sewing, but nothing too serious. I even got a basic sewing machine from my grandparents for Christmas once. But only in my thirties I really picked up sewing as a passion and only then patchwork literally saved my life. Let me tell you how!
Too much work & too little life
After I finished school, I was too busy studying and I had no time for pursuing any kind of hobbies. I think it is then that I developed the habit of constantly working or studying.
As I studied Arabic as a minor I spent hours and hours revising vocabulary and grammar rules. I knew the language book so well that I could tell which rule was cited in which unit and which word was introduced in which context. Insane! And did it help me? No! Today – after having lived more than 10 years in the Arab Gulf my Arabic is worse than ever before. But I guess this is a different story.
Then I started working. Or better I had the chance to do an internship that led directly into a job while I was still studying in parallel. So for one and a half years I was working in Abu Dhabi (UAE) and was preparing myself for my final exams at my university in Germany in parallel. So even less time for hobbies, or a life!
When I finished my studies I just stayed in Abu Dhabi for the job, because I liked what I was doing and because it was a safe choice. My boyfriend at the time was living in Germany while I kept working and working in Abu Dhabi for a future that never came. When he broke up with me after more than 7 years into our long-distance relationship, I felt like falling into a huge hole and had a mental breakdown.
I started sewing when I felt worse than ever before
Within 10 days, I prepared everything in Abu Dhabi to be away for more than just the holiday that had been planned anyway. I handed over my projects at work and made sure everything would run smoothly at the office. I organized my flat and briefed my flatmates on everything they needed to know about the flat during my absence. Then I asked my mum to book weekly therapy and relaxation sessions for me in Germany.
But I went home to Germany with no idea what would come next. Seeing absolutely no sense in my life and what I had done so far, I was not sure how long I would need to feel better. This sounds less dramatic in writing now than it actually was at the time. And I am actually quite surprised that I can write about it with so much distance today. Having had a long history of depression, I understood my situation pretty well. I felt so burned out at the time and my usual coping mechanism (i.e. to work and be busy) to deal with my sadness was working anymore.
The last three years before my breakdown had been a constant up and down and only work was what was bringing me back up every single time. I needed to feel productive! I needed to do things, to produce things, to finish things off… all for seeing a reason for being in this world.
Subconsciously I had wanted to sew
Funnily enough, it was also three years prior to my breakdown that I had bought three patchwork charm packs* and the book ‘Pillow Pop’ on patchwork cushions in what would become my favorite quilt shop. At the time I also had a flatmate who was sewing (most probably because it had become trendy 😉 ). And on a trip to Dubai, I showed her this fabric shop that I had come across by coincidence a year or two before. Little did I know at the time about patchwork helping me to overcome depression.
I wish I had a photo of these charm packs today. But I don’t! What I have today are many more charm packs though! 🙂
I had neither touched these charm packs during these three years nor did I know at that time they were called ‘charm packs’. 🙂 But when I packed for Germany and prepared for my therapy, I remembered them and put them together with the ‘Pillow Pop’ book in my suitcase.
My Patchwork Therapy
This is how it all started! In the next five weeks, I completely changed my life and who I was. I went to therapy sessions several times a week. I tried to get rid of all that ballast I had accumulated over the years.
And for not going insane between these things and I guess also for feeling kind of productive… I restarted sewing! This is how I managed to overcome my depression. Patchwork literally became a form of therapy at the time.
Below you see a few of my first creations from 2014. The very first patchwork cushion I did is the red-and-blue one on the right. There I learned my first lesson! You should never mix up inch and centimeter! Don’t ask me how I did it, but instead of 50 cm by 50 cm, my final cushion was 60 cm by 60 cm. I guess my seams were not the standard 1/4-inch seams that are a must for quilters. After that, I downloaded an app on my phone that did the calculations until I finally got an inch measuring tape later on.
My new life as a quilter
After about five weeks I decided it is time to go back to work and start a new and more balanced work life. I booked my flight back to Abu Dhabi and started living there for the first time! And I loved my new life! I was still busy at work and I would even become busier only two years later. But I always made sure that I had enough time for creative endeavors.
I became a quilter. A patchwork enthusiast. A geometry fan. And so much more!
I have been very open about what caused my breakdown. Whenever someone asked me I talked about it without shame or regret. The worst thing about burnout or depression is that they are still taboo for so many people. But for me, it is not a sign of weakness to be vulnerable. It is a natural thing for us to feel overwhelmed sometimes. And to overcome it shows resilience and strength.
Today I would always ask for help if I don’t know how to get on with things in my life! Only if we ask for help others will help us!
So this is how patchwork saved my life! Having a dedicated craft room helped me find a new work-life balance. I write about it in my blog post Me + My Craftroom.
* For those of you who are not familiar with quilter’s terminology: A charm pack is one of the precuts for quilters. According to sew4hom.com, it is a selection of fabrics that work well with each other cut into 5 x 5 inches.