So much has happened since March 2020 when we were told to ‘avoid unnecessary social contact’ and a week later that we must ‘stay at home’. Who knows from now, what the next few months have in store but I thought it was time for me to reflect on the last 6 months and the journey that All About The Sew has taken.
In early March 2020, I was in full swing of my Spring workshop timetable. Workshops were as they always had been – face to face in village halls in and around Solihull. For every workshop I would pack up my car with all my gear – often this was 7 sewing machines, 2 ironing boards, 2 irons, boxes of fabric, refreshments including all my own mugs and provisions, workshop kits – in fact everything except the kitchen sink, or at least it felt like it!! I would open up the village halls and set the room up – moving tables and chairs, setting machines and ironing boards up, putting bunting up and generally transforming what can be quite a plain room into a welcoming and safe sewing workshop environment.
More often than not, I was scrabbling around on the floor, still plugging machines into extension leads when my workshop attendees started arriving! After the workshop this would all happen in reverse so all I can say is that it was hard work but totally worth it. I would still say it was worth it, even on the days when it was pouring with rain, freezing cold in the halls, not being able to find keys to the halls, rooms being double booked, arriving at the wrong hall altogether and having people walk into my workshops mid flow, one time complete with a dog on the loose under the tables (I am not kidding you!). So like I said – All About The Sew was in full swing!
Mid March there was so much uncertainty in our lives – we didn’t know then what we know now, but I had a feeling that changes were coming. My head was all over the place and I knew that I wasn’t alone. I did however think, like a lot of people that the time frame would be weeks that we were thinking of, not months. I knew that this uncertainty was going to have an effect on people’s mental health and so I started to think about what I could do with my workshops if they had to stop.
An integral part of All About The Sew is bringing people together, socialising, learning with others and benefitting from that all important social interaction. On Friday 13th March, I remember sitting in my car about to set up for a face to face workshop (which would be my last face to face one, although I didn’t know that at the time), writing a Facebook post about my idea of doing some live sew along classes online. I wanted my customers to have something to look forward to, something for me to plan and still try and do some sewing ‘together’. The idea terrified me because lets face it – very few of us like change, but I thought if I wrote the idea down that it would some how make me accountable and spur me on to put thoughts into actions! I even went as far as setting a date and time for 2 days later!!! Was I mad??!!
The response to my Facebook post was so positive with comments like:
“this type of thing is really going to be such a support to those in isolation and house bound right now”
“Great idea, particularly with all the horrible news and events around us”
“I can’t be the only one who has a sewing machine still in its original box. It would be the perfect time to make the time and get sewing”.
“Great idea, lots of discussions at the moment about ensuring we don’t exacerbate social isolation due to the virus and how social media can be positive”
So my first Facebook live sew-along was on Sunday 15th March. I only planned this first one – I had no idea whether anyone would join in, watch or engage. I thought if it went well and there was a good response then I would do another one. I set up our camping table in our living room, precariously strapped my iPad to the back of a dining room chair which was raised up on towers of books and wondered whether the technology would work in my favour.
It was lovely to see people tune in with a cuppa, join in sewing and make a tote bag under my direction. Some proudly shared their creations in my Facebook group and I heard from people that watched the sew along back later as they couldn’t join in live. I reflected on how unexpected events can lead you to go outside of your comfort zone. I had thought about the possibility of offering online learning at some point in the future but definitely wouldn’t have done this so soon if it wasn’t for Covid-19.
A Facebook review I received following my first Facebook live:
“The live sew together was absolutely brilliant! Really clear instructions and great to follow the video. The large amount of people watching and commenting shows how much what you did cheered us up in a difficult time .Thank you Lorna for being generous with your time and knowledge. Hopefully you will be kind enough to do another one xxx”
The very next day we were told by the Prime Minister to limit non essential contact. I knew then that my face to face workshops had to stop but the problem was – for how long? I cancelled workshops over the subsequent few weeks including a much looked forward to event of a social sewing day with afternoon tea – oh how that sounds like a thing of the past now!!
Over the next 6 weeks when the UK was in full lockdown I did a live sew along each weekend. I began having ideas about developing more structured paid online workshops in small groups but to be honest, during that period I was in the midst of home schooling and juggling other family commitments, meaning the preparation and delivery of the weekly sew alongs was all that I felt I could commit too. Although I couldn’t deliver my normal level of workshops, it was still really important for me to keep in touch with my customers and keep things going as much as possible.
My goals with these sessions were to provide a distraction for people during the very uncertain, stressful and isolating time and to encourage people to set aside some time in their day to take part in the mindful activity of sewing. Everyone had their own personal challenges and experiences during lockdown. People were confined to their homes, not seeing their family and friends, not attending any regular social activities and may have had worries about jobs, money and health. It was really important that people looked after their mental health even more so during this time. If I could help even a handful of people to switch off from the news, social media and any worries they had, and instead to relax, feel a sense of community and gain a sense of achievement through their makes then it was worth it. It also gave me another distraction and something to focus on so it was a win win situation for all. I had people sewing along together, with their kids, using the sew alongs to refer to after and to teach other people using them. This is really where the spreading my passion for sewing goes even further.
Towards the end of April, things began to settle down a bit at home and I felt it was time to move the business forwards. I was able to commit some more time to developing some virtual workshops delivered via Zoom. I held a pilot workshop to test the idea, the technology and gain some feedback! The pilot went well. The session was different to the Facebook live sessions as through Zoom, all members of the group can see each other and talk to each other, whereas on the Facebook lives it was just me talking to people watching. The extra dynamic allowing 2 way communication meant that the experience was a lot more personal and sociable.
People chatted, shared each others makes and I was able to effectively demonstrate the skills of appliqué to the group. People didn’t had to travel, were in the comfort of their own homes and using their own machines so lots of bonuses to the teaching model too!! It really felt like a couple of hours away from it all! For me it was a test of the technology, camera angles, juggling electronic devices and managing kids home schooling too!
Following the launch of more online workshops I began to get bookings from people more further afield. I had opened up the market to a new audience which was really exciting. Classes have included learning to sew with olicloth, making a lined tote bag, learning to insert zips, understanding commercial sewing patterns and more recently, learning to sew pyjama trousers or shorts. For a lot of the workshops, kits containing all or some of the materials needed are sent out in advance, making it as easy s possible for people to access. The classes are proving to be really popular with the majority of classes selling out. I do miss the in person, face to face interaction but that just isn’t possible at the moment. That being said, the ability to teach sewing live, online via the video platform Zoom is just incredible and I am really thankful for it. You do still get that social interaction by being able to have conversations with everyone and I have a variety of camera angles set up to be able to demonstrate techniques and steps effectively.
Whilst the situation is still so uncertain, I don’t have any plans to return to face to face workshops at the moment. I know that this way of learning isn’t for everyone but unfortunately returning to face to face workshops just isn’t a viable option for me currently. I look forward to expanding the range of online classes I offer and continuing to inspire people to sew through All About The Sew workshops. My customers and I will be able to access classes from the safety and comfort of our homes, whatever the restrictions may be.
Thank you to all of the people that have continued to support All About The Sew throughout this period. It really is a tough time for everyone at the moment especially small businesses. I feel really lucky to have such lovely, loyal customers.
A couple of lovely reviews I have received:
I attended the online workshop for beginners and absolutely loved it. Lorna, you were so enthusiastic and encouraging. At the same time, so clear and helpful with your instructions that it was easy to copy what you were doing. A well needed “time out” session for me which I found very therapeutic. And a new cushion for the youngest’s lockdown den, is a bonus!! Thank you so much Lorna.Sarah, Facebook review, May 2020
Sewing is my therapy and my joy. I have learned so many skills with Lorna and All About The Sew. Live workshops and now Zoom workshops are always paced so that every participant has made anything from a cushion cover to a dress. Lorna is patient, unflappable and has such a wealth of knowledge and experience to share. Join a workshop today and use your own machine in your own home to make new friends, learn new skills and produce a handmade project. You will never regret it and I cannot recommend it highly enough.Jeanette, Facebook review, September 2020
Let’s hope 2021 is a better year for all.