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Bookmonger: Building happiness a stitch at a time

“Sewing Happiness” by Sanae Ishida

Sleep, chop, walk. That’s the mantra Sanae Ishida adopted as she tried to recover from an insanely-paced lifestyle that had annihilated her health and jeopardized her relationships.

Ishida talks about her journey back to wellness and fulfillment in “Sewing Happiness,” a new book that mixes memoir with 20 basic sewing projects.

Just a few years ago, Ishida was pulling down a six-figure income as an executive at a high-octane Seattle start-up. After spending a few years out of the work fray as a stay-at-home mom, she was gleeful to land such a great position. But as 80-hour work-weeks started becoming the norm, she barely saw her husband and daughter. Family dinners gave way to a diet that relied on vending machine offerings and take-out eaten at her work station.

Ishida already had been diagnosed with a thyroid condition. The stress aggravated it to an alarming degree.

Her ill health led her to miss work, which led her to skip sleep when she returned to work in order to catch up with the work she’d missed, which led to further deterioration of her health. It was a Catch-22 she was unwilling to confront.

“I was a big, fat, sick mess,” she confesses.

And then she was fired.

It was a shock — “I am Asian,” Ishida protests, “overachievement is baked into my DNA.”

For her first few weeks of unemployment, she did little more than catch up on her sleep. When she finally woke up to her new, less-encumbered days, she evaluated her life and health and began making incremental changes. She decided to add a salad with every dinner. “Chopping vegetables was therapeutic and meditative.”

As her improved diet gave her more stamina, she added modest exercise to her regimen.

Sleeping, chopping, and walking, Ishida next considered what would bring her happiness. And that’s where the sewing came in.

Ishida divides this book into four seasonal sections – Summer 2012 was devoted to restoration of her health. After a few pages of memoir, she includes some simple sewing projects.

Fall, Winter, and Spring follow a similar pattern.

Speaking of patterns, Ishida’s streamlined projects require you to draft the simple patterns based on her illustrated instructions.

You can get started with straightforward projects like camera straps or book covers, and then move on to apparel such as yoga pants and cross-back aprons. For gifts, there are Tooth Fairy pillows, baby kimono top and bloomers, and floral wreath crowns for youngsters. The Dopp kit for guys looks like a more challenging project, although Ishida promises that it is “decidedly effortless.”

Calmly, she reassures readers that “mistakes are part and parcel of the process” — and that most mistakes can be overcome. It’s a good lesson to remember in life as well as in sewing.

“Sewing Happiness” encourages the formation of good habits, from one who learned from hard experience the toll that bad habits can take. Ishida reminds us that productivity can lead to tranquility if practiced with intention.

The Bookmonger review appears each week in Take Five. Contact her at bkmonger@nwlink.com.

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