Sewing, Zen, and the Art of Diabetes Management

Since I got my sewing machine for Christmas, I have been learning to sew. So far, in addition to the little meter case, I've also made a book cover, some pillows (LOTS of pillows), and a few other little things before I started on the big stuff: Clothes for myself. So far, I've made sweat pants, shorts, pajama bottoms, a simple top, and then a couple of more complicated tops, all of which look pretty good on me. It's the last two projects, though, that have got me thinking the most and that I want to share with everyone.

After I made a couple of tops, it was time to try my hand at a pair of dress shorts. They were part of the "Inspired by Project Runway" collection. Up until then, all of the clothing I'd made was as small as the pattern would allow. At 4'8" and 95 lbs, there's really not a heck of a lot of me. So, wouldn't it make sense that everything I'd cut out would be the smallest size on the pattern that it could be? I have to admit, too, that it has been a point of pride for me, since there once was a time when I could not make that claim. Yet, when I cut out this pattern and tried to size it, I found myself not in the size 4 I expected. Sizes 6, 8, and 10 were also too small. Stunned, I pinned the pattern pieces together at the largest size available: A size 12. I hadn't worn anything labled a size 12 since...well, since my diabetes diagnosis nearly 20 years ago. I even had to learn to play some games with pleats and darts in order to ensure I'd be comfortable in the shorts.

I was not happy. I decided, though, that the sizing had to be because it was "designer" sizing and the contestants on Project Runway usually work with an extremely limited body type -- you know, the 5'10" and 110 lb model type, the type I most assuredly am not. I decided I could suck up my pride and still make the shorts. And I did. And they turned out quite nice, though I still see them as being quite a bit bigger than I had anticipated.

Now, it was time to move on to the first dress and I had found a nice looking maxi dress for the summer and I found a pretty, stretchy knit fabric I thought would look good on me. The best part: the unlined jacket included in the pattern which I could use with other dresses that are already in my closet.

When I opened up the envelope and took out the pattern, the first thing I noticed was the dress was taller than me! I knew then I was going to have some serious adjustments to the dress (like, more than a half a foot off the length!), but when I went to pin the pattern around me at the size 6 marking, I was shocked. It didn't fit. It was too small. Size 8 also was too small. Again, it seemed the only size that was going to fit was a size 12. Again, I was not a happy camper, but I sewed away anyhow.

I fought a bit with the dress, simple though it was. Turning the ragged edge under on a knit fabric isn't easy, nor was keeping this fabric from sliding all over my work table! I was proud, though, when I finally got the dress to the point where I could try it on to see how it was progressing. I emphasize was because the moment I got it on, I realized several things had gone wrong. For instance, the shoulder straps were too long and the neckline was showing far than I am comfortable showing. It also appeared that the dress was too large on me. At least, it didn't quite have that "sleekness" that I associated with the photograph on the pattern envelope. Disappointment was starting to reign supreme.

I went to my mother, who is the one teaching me to sew. Her response was simply, "Looks great except for the shoulders and that can be fixed easily!" What about the fact that it looks more like a mumu and not a tank top turned into a dress? "Eh, if it's tight, you'll just show your belly and you don't want that!" That one simple comment, which I'm sure was meant with the best intentions (e.g. you're thin, but not model thin; loose knits are cooler and more comfortable than tight knits), but for me, having been overweight as a child and for part of my young adult years, it felt like a smack in the face. Now, I really didn't want to finish up the dress.

It wasn't until just a bit ago that I started looking at this situation differently, comparing sewing to diabetes, that I started to change my thinking about the dress in particular and clothes in general. One thing I learned is that many things (though not all) can be fixed -- and it is OK to fix things. The straps on the dress can be shortened and the sides can be taken in. I can fix the dress to be more of what I want. Most mistakes in diabetes management, such as misjudging the number of carbs in a doughnut, can also be fixed.

Another important insight: No matter what I do, I am NOT going to look like the model for that pattern! My guess is she's more than a foot taller than I am. Of course clothes are going to hang differently on her than on me! The same goes for diabetes management. We all have a model of how our bgs ought to react when we inject X units of insulin, of how high we can spike when we eat dinner rolls, of how long we ought to exercise in order to "take care of" the popcorn we had at the movie theater. The models are pretty and neat....and do not quite match up to reality.

Last (though certainly not least), I have to fess up here. Confession time. In making this dress, I comitted the same sort of sin I have begged people not to do with their diabetes: I let a number determine my self-worth. I felt really good about myself when I had those size 4-6 clothes, but was none-too-happy when those numbers read 12! Hmm, since I started participating in the DOC years and years ago, I've read posts from people who refuse to test because they don't like being judged. They feel less worthy when they have too many highs or too many lows, and for years I've repeated the mantra: The numbers are not an indication of how "good" or "bad" you are. The numbers are simply an indication of how much glucose is in your blood at the moment. It's a guide to what you should do now (take insulin, eat some bread, run around the block) and a small piece of information you can use to make decisions in the future. Instead of using the information productively, such as simply accepting whatever size I needed in order to get my goal acomplished, I wasted time by getting upset because I didn't want to accept that larger number, because to me, that larger number meant "bad". I did the same thing with my sewing as people do with bg numbers. And what I found is that it is a terrible waste of my limited resources. It makes me wonder: Do I try to keep such tight control over my diabetes in part because, on some level, I might just fear being "bad"?

At least now I am aware of this tendency and, if I do see it cropping up in my diabetes management, maybe I'll be able to whack myself over the head with a goofy stick to get myself back on track. ;)

Who knew sewing could have lessons for diabetes management?!

Congratulations on your new sewing skills. Remember to factor in the type of fabric you use, check types of fabric recommended for each pattern, it can save a lot of time and disappointment. If you are using an expensive fabric you can make up a sample in some cheap stuff just to check if it fits you nicely. Happy stitching!

Interesting story! Re diabetes, I'm not concernced about "being bad" as much as the more ghastly complications? I do plenty of other things that are bad?

Thanks for sharing this life lesson. BTW love your Flickr photos !

BadMoonT2, AR, and Pastelpainter: Thank you for the encouragement! AR, perhaps its how I grew up, in a chaotic household with alcoholics in which my life or safety was often in danger that leads me to not wanting to be seen as being "bad" by anyone. I also hate failing, and not being "in control" of my diabetes is, to me, "failing" -- a BAD thought process, since there's really no way to fully control diabetes. Complications would just be another way of saying "You failed!" and thus, "You're bad!" Stupid way of thinking, and one I've got to learn to manage better.

BadMoon, thank you for the compliment on the Flickr stream! I'm going to upload a few more photos soon; we've got some lovely flowers growing around the house and bunches of bunnies that have decided to take up residence in our yard. Oh, and a robin hatched in a nest embedded in the roses -- and we got baby photos!

Pastelpainter -- your first comment about the type of fabric is spot-on. While I picked a knit, just like the pattern called for, I didn't realize just how heavy this particular jersey was, and that did turn out to be a problem, as it pulled the neckline (in particular) down. Thankfully, this was a fabric that came from the clearance area at JoAnn's and the clearance fabrics were 50% off. I was pretty proud of the fact that I was going to make a dress for less than $18!

Anyhow, here I am in the dress, now that I've finally finished it, after taking in at least 1/2" from each side and from shoulder strap! ![|512x480](upload://Alsv4q1Jc7lkDJnMdzXjHhjysBC.jpeg)