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Review: In 'Sewing Happiness,' Seattle writer Sanae Ishida Finds Mindfulness in Simple Sewing Projects

Sanae Ishida says sewing requires an acceptance of imperfecttion.

Michelle Porter

When I was a little girl, my Grandma in Ohio taught me the basics of sewing, but we lived in Oregon so my lessons were few and far between. By the time I got to middle school and had the option of learning sewing at school, the elective Home Economics seemed way too un-cool, and I opted for band instead (yes, I see the irony in this sentence).


As an adult, I have returned time and again to my (basic) sewing roots, lamenting my lack of skills, but celebrating each seam my machine churns out on whatever projects (straight-edged only) I dare to take on. I have become a master of pillowcases and panel curtains. I have also become rather bored. Kids, responsibilities, sewing doldrums, and sheer laziness might have kept me sewing straight lines (or none at all) for the rest of my days if it weren’t for Sanae Ishida.


I met Sanae, who lives in North Seattle with her husband and 4th grade daughter, when when she was in the throes of publishing her first book, Little Kunoichi, The Ninja Girl (for children), reviewed here when it came out Spring of 2015. At the time, she said she was already working on her second book, but this one was for grown-ups and it was about sewing. Sewing? I asked. Like a how-to book? Kind of, she replied. 


Sewing Happiness: a Year of Simple Projects for Living Well, published by Sasquatch Books, was released this April and I understand her answer now. The book is part sewing tutorial for rank beginners, part projects with variations to please experienced needle enthusiasts, and—as the stitching that holds it all together—part memoir.  


Lest you think this book is the work of a master seamstress with years of experience, let me set you straight right now. Sanae’s sewing ability was much like mine, until three years ago when a chronic illness and an abrupt exit from corporate America threw her into a tailspin and an identity crisis. What followed was a complete lifestyle change that allowed her to explore a creativity that had been buried by her previous responsibilities. 


Sewing, Sanae says, unlike so many things in our modern fast-paced world, requires commitment and undivided attention. It lends itself to mindfulness and a slower speed. It forces patience and practice. It requires an acceptance of imperfections, which can be difficult in a world so enamored with Pinterest and Photoshop.  She also says that it is this act of being present in the moment and casting aside the preconceived notions of perfection that brings satisfaction and contentment. As a bonus, sewing provides tangible proof of success, something we don’t get in many other aspects of life. 


"If I can do this, so can you," Sanae said confidently to a customer at her book launch who expressed doubt over her own sewing abilities. And she’s right. Don’t let the beautiful images (mostly photographed by Sanae), soothing Japanese aesthetic, and elegant prose scare you. Sanae takes you through each pattern (averaging 10-12 steps) with simple sketches, fabric recommendations, and easy-to-understand instructions.

So schedule some time for yourself in your busy calendar, gather your sewing supplies and your copy of Sewing Happiness, and be content with whatever you get done in that window.  Know that you’ll have to become good friends with a seam ripper and be ok with that. Eventually, Sanae promises, you will find your confidence emerge on the other side of the presser foot and it will bring you sewing happiness. 


Do you know a kid who likes making gifts?   Maybe another grown-up can help them make a gift for mom with Sanae’s simple and sweet sachet project, created exclusively for Seattle’s Child.


For more projects, musings, artwork, and haikus, check out Sanae’s blog at http://sanaeishida.com

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