Our Virtual Community

posted in: Inspiration | 31

The Internet has only been available since 1990, the year my youngest son was born.

I remember being shown that I was on it in 1996 (via my job) and feeling astonished. But I soon embraced email and gradually began to learn how to “surf”. (One day I will learn how to actually surf IRL, or as my other son tells me, “AFK”).

So you will appreciate my surprise when I first heard my young sons, in about 1997, talking to what sounded like grown men people with strong German and American accents, who were (luckily) not even in their room. Their gaming consoles enabled not just a virtual game; it connected them to people all over the globe, who they were speaking to and playing with!

My own non-work breakthrough came through joining an international home exchange website, Homeforexchange.com,  around this time, which enabled us to travel to Australia, New Zealand, India, Denmark, Paris, Amsterdam, Rio, Buenos Aires, New York, Florida, Seville, Bath, the Cotswolds (and that experience led to us buying a home in the area), and many other places. Leaving our own central London flat in the hands of our swappers, we universally met warm hospitality, often being invited into the homes, parties and outings of the neighbours. Our families and their families got involved. People referred others. The joy of spending time in someone else’s community, sharing local’s tips, walking around a city with the key to your home in your pocket. For Nick and I it was a life enhancing experience.

Home exchange to Seville

If our kids were early adopters or digital natives, my elderly parents had an interesting reaction.

You need to appreciate their different approaches to technology first. My father was rather scientific, enjoyed machines and how things were made, and he loved gadgets and novelty. My mother, on the other hand has no interest in technology and enjoys her less rational take on matters (especially politics). One day father brought home a microwave oven and proceeded to demonstrate the marvellous technology that turned a mug of water into a mug of hot water. We all watched, delighted, my mother saying she would never use it. She didn’t want fast and convenient, she had little use for heating up food and she enjoyed cooking. My father never really progressed beyond the mug of hot water, although to be honest he found out how to make lemon cheese (aka lemon curd) in the microwave which was really rather good.

So when my father got a computer and started to really enjoy it, my mother would get a bit miffed. One day he was showing me how he was able to listen to Tina Turner via the internet, my mother dropped a pan with a huge clatter. My father explained that whenever Mum felt he had spent too much time on-line she would break a plate or drop something so that he would need to move away from his keyboard and investigate!

I used Google a great deal at home and at work in order to find things out, or get information on opening times. I may have done a little shopping, but not much. And then, in about 2013, I got into blogging.

Firstly in search of information about dressmaking I Googled. And, somewhat to my surprise, I found much of what I wanted to know through non-commercial sites, set up by enthusiasts like myself. There were sites specifically for a community – like Artisans’ Square and Mumsnet. But there were also millions of individual bloggers who freely shared what they had learned. But there was much more to it. I just loved to read people’s stories about how they made clothes, their inspiration, their struggles (the what-went-wrong stories are always the best), their context – the wedding, making for men, the up-cycling before and after pictures, the stories so rich in interest and emotion. Then in a daring move I started to leave little comments, especially when the writers asked a question. But I rarely got a response which made it feel like a one-sided conversation.

Blogging on a homeforexchange holiday

Then, in 2015, I conceived the idea of setting up my own blog so I could write about what interested me “fit and fashion, style and stitching”). And it has sustained me ever since. I love writing and making things and being connected. To me sewing and related blogs have created a space where people with similar interests can congregate, learn from each other, entertain each other, bond with each other. Later on I also embraced Instagram which is ideal for those with less time. Both blogging and IG are positive friendly spaces where the community lifts each other up. It is life affirming. (I have disengaged with Twitter as it is full of negative people who like to do others down).

Sue, from New Zealand

But the biggest breakthrough was when I started meeting the women behind the blogs, or my “followers” (I find that a patronising term. They are more like friends and supporters). Just like the home swapping we connected through the internet, got to know each other, and found we had so much in common. One of the most beautiful parts of my life today is not just enjoying little chats with other bloggers and instagrammers. It is spending time with each and every one of them. Friends from the US, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Scotland, the North, the Midlands, Northern Ireland, and lots who are local, have all made a special effort to meet me, and it has been one of the nicest things ever. The older generation are so skilled and able and have taught me so much. The younger ones share their digital skills, design excitement and shopping tips. I have made so many really wonderful new friends in this way and encourage anyone to give it a go. This generous, gregarious, gorgeous community is ready to embrace you. Join in!

31 Responses

  1. Paola

    If it wasn’t for discovering sewing blogs almost 10 years ago to the day, I seriously doubt I would have started sewing in the first place. There is so much information and inspiration out there. Now, whenever someone asks me where to start with sewing I tell them to get online.

    Homes for exchange sounds fantastic…going to investigate that!

  2. eimear

    when I was in school and college I knew more people who sewed and gradually over time got to know less ‘makers’,I hadn’t noticed until I started reading sewing blogs how much I enjoy reading about other sews, and sharing tips-I also would not have otherwise known. It inspired me to get back sewing more, and in turn also to try and meet up with makers where I live. not many sew-ers but a group of knit/crochet and stitchers and we now all meet weekly

  3. Theresa in Tucson

    I discovered sewing blogs when I discovered Carolyn’s blog, “Diary of a Sewing Fanatic” and found your blog from her blog roll. For me, that’s coming up on ten years now as well. I agree that it is a large and vibrant community. I have always been a stitcher but like Eimer, above, found fewer and fewer people who sew. The internet has been wonderful, has it not?

    • fabrickated

      Hi Theresa in Tuscon! Yes dear Carolyn was one of the first blogs I found. She is amazing – so productive, able, generous and very encouraging of others. I love seeing what she makes. And her gorgeous grandchildren.

  4. Anne

    Yes, I was inspired by blog posts from other like-minded sewers and have enjoyed meeting a few (including you) irl. I joined IG in 2017 but have found tha it was taking up a bit too much of my time and I was reading and commenting on blogs less than previously and I will reverse that in 2018.
    As for home swaps – it’s a great idea but I doubt we’d ever pluck up the courage!

    • fabrickated

      I do feel a tension between IG and blogs. I try to pay attention to both but it is hard to find the correct amount of time. To be honest Anne the house swaps have always been amazing and you get back so much – and the risk is very small. In seven or eight years of doing it we had one ruined towel (hair dye), one broken lamp – where the breaker left £80 for a replacement! In terms of our experience one French trip was disappointing in that the property was in a poor state of repair and missing basic items, but all the others massively exceeded our expectations. There is always a small risk in staying anywhere, but the relationships have been fantastic.

  5. Rathmore

    Your blog and “friends” brighten my day. I was an expert at sewing, but now have little need for good clothes; it’s mostly jeans and sweaters. I taught myself to knit with YouTube and have become passionate about it. The internet is life changing and I, too, have made wonderful friends in the knitting community.

    • fabrickated

      Thank you Rathmore. I love the comments people leave here – it is so uplifting. Like a proper chat over the garden fence or a tea party. I would never have approached knitting if it weren’t for lots of people supporting me as I stumbled. Now I love it.

  6. Ellen

    What a heartwarming post! I don’t blog but I sure do appreciate yours and others I follow–I know only one or two other people who see locally, but having this extended community makes it so much more fun!

  7. Marie-Noëlle Lafosse

    Yes Internet has brought me back to sewing too and has incredibly improved my sewing skills. I hear people around me complaining about negativity on FB or other social networks but I must say that I never experienced it in the social community.

    • fabrickated

      That is so true Marie-Noelle. There is so much generosity and kindness. I agree very much with you that the general view that too much social media is a bad thing is ill informed and very one sided.

  8. Mary

    I really enjoyed reading your lovely thoughts. It made me wonder if I should create a ‘sewing home exchange’ website for those of us who enjoy sewing on holiday! I think because we are part of a gentle and thoughtful community of sewists we reside in a kind and collaborative part of the internet. It has been a real treat for me to meet people in real life who I have met on Instagram. And like you, I don’t see these people as followers but as supporters and that is how I see myself. Hopefully I find myself in London soon and get to have a real life meet with you!

      • Mary

        You flatter and charm! I would love to meet you and it looks like a trip is coming together for London in July. Lots to figure out with kids and husband but a plan is coming together. I’ll keep you posted!

  9. Ruth

    I was sewing long before the Internet but it has definitely boosted my knowledge, confidence, styles new to me and a world-wide friendship circle. Like you, my world has expanded and I truly appreciate every moment and every contact. BTW I still remember life before Internet and I do know what AFK means…..even if I am digital immigrant.

  10. Kim

    Like Ruth I have been sewing way longer than the internet has been available. I’ve enjoyed the camaraderie of the online sewing community, and thoroughly enjoyed meeting some of my online friends when I or they are travelling. The generosity of the online community never fails to make me very happy – and the world is richer for it ?.
    (I have no idea what AFK means…….)

    • fabrickated

      It means Away from Keyboard Kim! And yes I agree it has brought richness to our lives. A whole extra dimension. In the past it may have been pen friends, neighbours sharing holiday snaps, drinks after work, or long telephone conversations with a girlfriend – but this is even better, IMO. (ha ha)

  11. KS Sews

    So fun. I can’t remember when I started using the internet routinely. I graduated HS in 1997 so we were surely using it to some extent. But I was not an early adopter of much. I got my first cell phone in around 2001 and dvd player in like 2005.

  12. Judy

    I don’t have any friends who follow my interests of sewing, quilting, knitting and crochet. The internet is my social group. It is warm, encouraging, knowledgeable and helpful. I always smile when I see one of your posts. Thank you.

  13. Carolyn

    I started my blog in 2006, so I must have found Sewing World the precursor to Artisans Square in 2004. I know we got our first computer in 2005 and I had so much angst about it since I had teenagers in the house and there were all the stories about how computers let evil into your house. But the sewing side of the Internet intrigued me so I’ve had a computer for the last 13 years.

    I love the online sewing community. I’ve found my sewing sisters here, people who love sewing and fabric and patterns as much as I do. People who understand my desire to create and I’ve learned so much.

    • fabrickated

      It is interesting how mobile phones were seen as causing cancer, and microwave ovens could cook your liver (inside you – not with bacon). It is just another form of communication, but a very nice one. Thank you for all your encouragement sweet Carolyn.

  14. Sam

    Thank you, I am getting back into sewing and really enjoying reading about ‘real’ people on their sewing journeys buy rarely comment. New ideas and different ways of constructing projects together with looking at things I would never contemplate making, but do so enjoy reading about, can keep me occupied for hours – LOL.
    Computer usage is also a familiar task for me after 20+ years in Education but I must get into ‘Insta’.
    My learning journey continues. Sam the Aussie

  15. Kerry

    I remember lugging my ‘laptop’ (it was heavy!) home from work back in the mid-1990’s and I remember getting our first home computer in 1996 and being able to plan parts of our first family overseas holiday. How things have changed. I love how the internet has made information so much easier to access along with providing us with visual images of all sorts of things. This has been so essential in creating virtual friends and communities. But it is thanks to brave and generous people like yourself, Kate, that these communities exist and thrive. I enjoy your enthusiasm and willingness to share your creative experiences (along with touches of your every day life) and it encourages me out of my shell to comment from time to time. Thank you, Kate!

    • fabrickated

      Thank you for connecting Kerry and your lovely comment. Yes! Laptops were so heavy and clunky. I felt like a snail with one in my ruck sac. The phone is so much more convenient. And yes – it is the ability to share photos so easily and therefore show rather than tell that makes blogging, videos and instagram so compelling.

  16. Jennifer Miller

    I’ve started sewing again after a very long absence. My “return” has been slower and less productive than I’d hoped, due to multiple situations and circumstances, but I’m finally getting fully back into the swing of sewing. I don’t believe I’d have made any progress at all were it not for info on the internet, and the acceptance and encouragement from many in this wonderful online community.

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