Meet Brianna

Meet Brianna Ooms

Tuesday 2 March 2021: Brianna is a Sewcialists team member and she’s sharing her sewing accessible life to kick off the March and April theme for Sewcialists.

Brianna Ooms shares her sewing accessible life for Sewcialists podcast

Here is Brianna’s story.

What physiological conditions influence/impact your sewing?

I have fibromyalgia and ADHD.

Fibromyalgia is a nerve disorder where the brain can’t always tell the difference between painful and nonpainful signals. For me the result is high levels of musculoskeletal pain throughout my body, as well as a lot of fatigue, and difficulties with sleep and memory and sometimes other basic functions. Basically due to trauma, my nervous system is on vigilant high alert. In trying to protect my brain and body, my nerves categorize most stimuli as a threat, usually triggering some sort of compounding pain response.
From Mayoclinic: Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain and spinal cord process painful and nonpainful signals.Symptoms often begin after an event, such as physical trauma, surgery, infection or significant psychological stress. In other cases, symptoms gradually accumulate over time with no single triggering event.

ADHD is a type of neurodivergence. Adults with ADHD are often characterized as inattentive, impulsive and unreliable. However, ADHD is also associated with out-of-the-box thinking and creative problem solving. I love the ADHD aspects of how my brain works. It’s different, and that difference is often perceived as underperformance or lack of skill. I have comorbiditive ADHD, meaning I have both the inattentive and hyperactive forms (though for me the hyperactivity presents itself in my mind rather than in my body, as well as hyperfocus). So yes, I often need help with prioritization, time management and remembering to eat, but I’m also wonderfully creative. I think my ADHD is intrinsically tied to my creativity and identity.

From Mayoclinic: Adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health disorder that includes a combination of persistent problems, such as difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. Adult ADHD can lead to unstable relationships, poor work or school performance, low self-esteem, and other problems.

Though it’s called adult ADHD, symptoms start in early childhood and continue into adulthood. In some cases, ADHD is not recognized or diagnosed until the person is an adult. Adult ADHD symptoms may not be as clear as ADHD symptoms in children. In adults, hyperactivity may decrease, but struggles with impulsiveness, restlessness and difficulty paying attention may continue.

How does your condition impact your sewing? (Negative? Positive?)

Neither of my conditions directly impact my sewing, but as we always talk about at Sewcialists, our sewing practice is always influenced by who we are and the things that shape us. My sewing is almost always at odds with my pain and energy levels. Ironing and cutting are often particularly painful. I think it’s really my ADHD and the unrelenting drive to create that keeps me sewing.

Brianna’s magnetic pin cushion adjusted to make her life easier

What accommodations do you make to make sewing more accessible for you?

  • Work with timers to care for my body when my ADHD hyperfocus wants to take over. I won’t commit to stopping when the timer goes off, but I try to honestly assess how I’m feeling and make the call from there. It also helps me remember to pee, drink water and stretch.
  • Wrapped my magnetic pin cushion in fabric because the sound of the pins clinking together hurts my head.
  • Only using patterns with built-in FBAs. My energy is so limited, I’m not going to spend it doing something I hate when I can use a pattern that already has it done for me.
  • Reimagine pattern construction to better fit my time/pain/energy capacities.
  • Swatch services to feel fabrics

What needs remain unmet?

Cutting projects is quite difficult.

Are there tangible ways sewing business and/or the sewing community could improve?

I’ve loved seeing the sewing community warming up to accessibility. I think huge shout outs are needed for Andie of @SewPrettyInPink, Sam of @PurpleSewingCloud and Gina of @SewDisabled among many others. And of course the businesses that have started including us in representation. I still think there’s a long way to go for disabled and neurodivergent folks to be considered valued members of the sewing community.

In general, I’d like to see more education on ableism. Specifically I’d like to see patterns in extended sizes with bust options. I just feel like grading and FBAs are unacceptable time barriers for people with disabilities. Also, as we look toward a post-covid world, I’d like extra sensitivity around those of us who come out of lockdown slower, if at all. When sewing events start back up, please include accessibility information about the event, It doesn’t have to be perfectly accessible for everyone (that doesn’t exist), but by communicating what is available, organizers are letting us know that they’re considering us and that they’re likely more open to making accommodations.

Brianna uses patterns that reflect who she is

Are there things (big or small) that sewing businesses already do that make sewing easier for you?

Absolutely!

  • I’ve already mentioned bust cups on patterns. (Yes I will die on this hill.)
  • I love when online fabric stores offer swatch services. Since I’m so sensitive, fabric feel is extra important for me.
  • Pattern companies that present instructions in more than one way, so I can figure what modifications are going to work best for my brain. The more photos/illustrations, the better. Extra bonus when they do technique videos or sew-alongs!
  • Patterns with clearly differentiated size lines. Sometimes if they’re too similar looking, it can trigger headaches or migraines.

What aspects of sewing bring joy?

Creating and curating my wardrobe has become so important to me. Sewing is the means to the end of presenting myself in the most accurate reflection of who I am. I always can tell if a make was a success or not if I feel more like myself when I wear it. The dream is to have all my clothes affirm me in that way. It makes such a difference on bad pain days to put on something that I made that fits both my body and my expression.

So for me, it’s really in the planning and the wearing that I find the most joy. My colour-coded, mile-long list of sewing plans is evidence of how much I love thinking through how patterns and fabrics go together and how they could represent me in my wardrobe.

What aspects don’t? Is it related to accessibility and/or the limitations of your condition?

Basically everything between planning and wearing…I’ve come to terms with the fact that I don’t really like sewing. (Though there are certain techniques that I find really satisfying.) It’s definitely in part due to the hurdle of pain and energy management, compounded with some ADHD frustration about having to take breaks and everything generally taking too long.

Pieces from Brianna’s gorgeous curated makes

Does your condition influence what you make? (Prioritizing elastic waist for weight fluctuation, etc)

Definitely! My ADHD basically says I need to keep it simple. Spending too long on a project can cause me to lose interest. It helps to have a proposed timeline, but it also means not taking on advanced projects with couture techniques. There’s also adjustments I make for my sensory issues. I almost never use back zips because they hurt my spine when seated. I sometimes have trouble breathing due to anxiety and the muscle tightness across my back and ribs, so I often add extra ease to that area to try to prevent that from being unnecessarily triggered. Lastly, I almost always go for an elastic waist or a waistless option. It’s the best way for me to be mindful about my making to try to wear garments season after season.

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