I’m so delighted to share Rebecca’s words with you today. I found her on Sewing Pattern Review and invited her to write about how she learned how to sew, what it’s like to sew for a post-mastectomy body, what she has learned along the way, and whatever else she’d like to share. Thank you so much, Rebecca, for letting us have a glimpse into your life! If you or someone you know would like to write about their experiences sewing for a post-mastectomy body, please contact me (brendamarkssstudio at yahoo dot com). The rest of this post contains her words.
I began sewing when I was about 15. I went to a store, bought a pattern and fabric and brought it home. I still remember laying the pattern pieces and the fabric out on the living room floor and trying to figure out what to do with them.
It was a tough go, teaching myself to sew. I used my grandmother’s antique Singer from before the turn of the 20th century and basically just muddled through. Over time, I developed the ability to make all of my own clothing.
I lost interest in sewing after I grew up and started making enough money to buy ready-made clothing. I tried it again briefly when I was in my 30s, but had the misfortune to buy a bad machine. I don’t know what happened to that machine. I do know that I quit sewing again and didn’t re-start until just recently.
The trigger for my renewed interest was a breast cancer diagnosis and the realization that I would have a mastectomy. I never considered reconstructive surgery — too many un-needed surgeries, too much unnecessary pain — and I realized that I would never be an off-the-rack girl again.
When I started sewing again after the mastectomy, I had a terrible time fitting myself. I’m overweight. Before the surgery, I was a generous hour glass. After the surgery, I was more of a beaker. Now, after a lot of mistakes and a long learning curve, I’ve gotten better at the fitting, but I’m still way out there when it comes to developing a style that fits my personality and taste and still flatters my new body.
I really wish there was more focus on what works for flat and fabulous women from professional designers and stylists. But I think that is a vain hope, considering that they don’t even spend much time designing and styling for women who haven’t had mastectomies but who have normal, female curves. I don’t have a very high opinion of the fashion industry because of this. I view it as a form of misogyny.
Pattern Review has been a wonderful source of both sewing information and inspiration. It has informed me about everything from sewing basics to the kinds of sewing machines out there to buy. I also use the classes on the Craftsy platform to learn more about sewing.
I realize now that I never knew much about sewing back when I was young. I just plowed in there and taught myself. I learned to avoid difficult patterns and to focus on fabric to get the wow factor in what I made. It worked, but I didn’t really know much. At the same time, some of the techniques I figured out for myself, such as ez ways to put in zippers, I now see being touted as “advanced” techniques used by “industry professionals.” Me, I was just making up cheats to make my life easier.
The biggest differences between my sewing then and now are that (1) I’m enjoying it now, whereas I pretty much hated it back then. I just did it so I would have clothes to wear because we couldn’t afford them any other way, and (2) I have the right equipment now. I didn’t even have a pair of sharp scissors back when I was a kid. I remember my hands would be swollen, with dents from the scissors in them after each pattern I cut out. Today, if I need it, I buy it. The right tools make sewing much easier and more rewarding. They make it fun.
I haven’t found any patterns that I would call faves yet. I have found patterns that work, but they aren’t really where I want to end up. I am taking note of what flatters and developing ideas about how to incorporate that into an ultimate “look” that works for me. I am also learning sewing skills. Since I’m enjoying sewing so much, the journey is part of the reward.
This return to sewing has helped me process the trauma of the cancer and its treatment. It has been a way that I can regain control of my life and do something to regain what I’ve lost, plus add a few points to the total. Now that I’ve started on a weight loss journey (Weight Watchers) and combined that with working out six days a week, I’m discovering that this, too, is a way of regaining control and self-esteem.
I felt ugly for a long time after the surgery. I don’t think it was the loss of my breasts. That would be simple to fix with prosthetics. it went deeper than that. I lost something, some part of myself, and it wasn’t a physical attribute. I guess it was the sense of personal invulnerability and a future. I left one big-name hospital and some very high-powered doctors because I found the experience there demeaning. They saw me as a cancer; not a person, not even a patient — just a cancer. That whole experience hurt me deeply.
Sewing, working out, getting fit and strong again, all these things give me back part of what that medical center took from me, which is to say my sense of control and personal autonomy. At their deepest level, they help me assert that I am a person, not a disease.