On Menopause and Making
You are not alone and you are not crazy
Menopause, at whatever age it happens or how - surgical or natural - is a life altering, mind rattling, relationship shattering event. There’s a revolution going on your in body and mind. We may have been released from the monthly terror of starting our periods on the bus while wearing white pants, but we now have a whole new set of hurdles to face. And no one tells you this or all the other little bits you may need to know. If your medical care does not include a female OB/GYN 50+ or older, they cannot relate and they haven’t got a clue as to to your misery. The medical community as a whole will not be of any help to you. No help at all. Fear not, the sewing community is here to right the world’s wrongs via some stitch witchery.
First, you are not alone and you are not crazy. Provided for you below are some coping strategies and a touch of aura fluffing, because from here on in you're going to need daily fluffing. And, yes, this is a sewing related post. Also, there will be crying.
Let’s begin at the beginning.
If you clean and tidy your machine after every project, then you should be cleaning and tidying yourself, too.
Start your sewing day - Coffee and Countertop Calisthenics
Menopause causes many mysterious and unexplained aches that crop up for no reason whatsoever, so staying agile and mobile (or just to get up off the couch) is important. Doing some mild movement prior to starting your day will make getting up from the floor easier after you’ve dropped your seam ripper and have to crawl around looking for it.
For me, due to an inner ear vestibular condition known as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (which just means I fall over a lot), traditional workouts aren’t for me. Attempting a downward dog usually results in me thunking over into a heap nowhere near the padded mat. And some bruising. Then I’ll have a hot flash.
To keep things limber, try some of the following while waiting for the coffee to brew.
Countertop Push-ups. Keep Bingo wings at bay and arm/shoulder strength up with some easy push ups. With feet shoulder width apart, standing about 24” from the counter, place hands on counter edge and lean into the countertop leading with your bust, and simply do some push ups. Work up to 10.
Countertop Pliés. Remember pliés from ballet class? Sometimes, the gym guy will call them squats. Pfft. Just turn sideways to the counter, balance nearest arm on same, and with feet about 25” or 30" apart, do some gentle squats while spreading your knees. Try to keep your back straight. You may be not able to at first, just go slow. Stay relaxed, just squat as far as comfortable and rise back up. Work up to 10. Eventually you’ll be able to make a 90 degree angle of thigh/floor configuration.
Countertop Abdominal/Midriff Control. Menopause brings on weight gain like a freight train. Unless you’re anorexic at 49, you’re gonna have a new body which includes the dreaded Buddha Belly, IBS, constipation, bloating and midriff gain. The midriff is the area above your belly button and below your diaphragm. If you thought menstrual bloat was bad, that ain’t nuthin’ compared to midriff misery. Experiencing sitting down and having your upper waist push your boobs out of your blouse is whole new world of horror. Don’t fret, there’s an app for that. Try standing crunches. Stand sideways to counter, hold onto counter with closest hand. Facing forward extend the opposite arm level with your shoulder. Lift knee closet to counter up towards your extended arm while simultaneously bringing your extended arm’s elbow down to meet your brought up knee, keeping your back straight. You’re lifting your leg, not bending to meet your elbow. Do a few, repeat for other side. These are also good if you have a sore back and are having difficulty doing back exercises on the floor (which I can’t). Work up to 10.
Simple movements such as noted above aid in combatting menopausal depression by increasing blood flow. Waking up hot, achey, and inexplicably sad is a true conundrum science hasn’t cracked. You’ve already cracked a sweat before dawn, so you might as well just add the moving part. Then take a deep breath and smell the coffee.
Hair, Skin and Nails
Toss all your lotions and potions and pair down to what works. Because you need more cupboard space for fabric.
Hair. Menopausal hair au natural tends is frizzy, brittle, dry, and falling out all the time everywhere. Manageability is a farce. My own ombre undyedhair is a bit like toting around bail of hay on my head. Not the sweet supple hay of spring kind, but the hay that's been left out in the sun all summer to crumple and rot kind of hay. After a lifetime of financial outlay for menstrual products, this expense is now replaced by tracking down and being disappointed by tress taming products. I’ll save you a few pennies and provide a new strategy. The products shown in the pic below are in order of use.
Hair brightener for blonde, gray or white hair. This product is mild and produces very subtle results. Use anytime. I use it about every 3 weeks. Doesn’t stain towels, washes out in the laundry if needed.
Brightener shampoo for blonde, gray or white hair. Produces subtle results over time, no instant results. Reduces yellow over time. Reasonably available and priced. No conditioner used.
Detangler/smoother. Instead of wash out conditioner, try a detangler /smoother. One pump will likely be more than enough. Good for all ethnicities and hair types. Use with a wide tooth comb. If you’re a natural curly top, finger comb and let air dry.
I do not use styling products such as mousse or gel anymore as they do not do anything on this menopausal hair. They may once have done so, but no longer. Not even hair spray. So I do not purchase them.
Itchy scalp relief. It really works. Outside of visiting the dermatologist for prescription strength, this product provides immediate itch relief. Readily Rx available in the hair aisle - look up to the top shelf for it.
Reduce your styling time and becoming overheated. Try this blow dryer/round brush combo for drying and styling at the same time. Smoothes hair when combined with the detangler noted above. It’s low wattage, travels well and seems to be widely available. For me personally, traditional high wattage blow dryers turn my hair into a frizzy flyaway bouffant and me into a sweating farm animal. They also blow the fuse on the house breaker panel.
Control static-ty flyaway winter hair. Spray a boar’s hair bristle brush or press a dryer sheet into the brush’s bristles and give your do a smoothing once over. The smell will dissipate in a few minutes. Spray the interior backside of your trousers while you’re at it.
Tidy yourself up after styling, please. No further explanation needed.
Skin. Menopausal skin is extremely dry and very itchy (see itchy scalp relief above). I will briefly discuss the emotion pain of crepey skin following product descriptions. I provide below a snap, again, in order of use from left to right, of my daily regime, showing both winter and summer choices. But before discussing the products in the pic, and this is very very important so pay attention, the following description is “Your Face.” Stop what you’re doing right now and run your fingers from your forehead to outside and under your tits, around and into your cleavage and back up and out to your shoulders - drawing a big upside down crossed heart. Now repeat after me: “This is my face.” Again. Forehead to tits to shoulders. Your chin, your chest, your neck, your tits, under your tits, your shoulders, your cheeks, your nose. All. Of. It. Everyday. If you remember your SPF face cream in the summer and include your neck, chest, tits, and shoulders, you’ll never experience unwanted sunburn again. So, go look in the mirror, make the big crossed heart and say “This is my face.”
Now, let’s look at some skin products.
Items shown are in order of application. You already know how to put on cream, just remember the “This is my face” coverage.
Teeth brighter shown is handy and used while I do my thing. Teeth yellow horribly as we age, and boy, does it come on fast between ages 50 and 55. This product is inexpensive and generally readily available. Use a children’s size athletic teeth guards, softened to your own gnashers instead of expensive dentist purchased trays. Bite the Tray and Do it.
The cosmetic shown in the pic is used as leg make-up (not on my face). Yes, leg make-up. I like to use something subtle until I have a summer glow. This product is labeled “Medium to Dark” and I find it works well for my pale olive skin tone. It comes in a few shades and blends to your skin tone. Doesn’t streak, is inexpensive, may mark the interior of light-colored clothing, washes off clothing without pretreatment. Wash your hands after application.
Also, steaming your face with a bowl of strong jasmine green tea steam is both comforting to the brain and good for your pores and sinus. Menopause does cause reduced cognitive abilities. You may call your spouse by the dog’s name. Often. A coping strategy is talking less and pointing more. E.g., point and say with a clear direct calm voice “Do your own fucking laundry.” You’ve just communicated effectively and created more time for sewing.
My daily shower plus regime above takes about 15 mins. Another 20 if hair drying is involved.
Nails. Do your nails, woman. I don’t mean fancy pants salon laquered nails as polish is just icing on the cake. A manicure and pedicure are just simple maintenance and care, not vanity or show-off-edness. Your hands are your best and finest sewing tool. Ragged cuticles and chipped nails will snag fabric. A simple manicure is just file your nails smooth, scrub hands, then moisturize heavily. To help the moisturizer do its thing and ease aching hands (another mysterious menopausal event), slowly and softly rub your hands together and around, then rest them in your lap while sitting still for 20 mins. A film noir watch on TCM is very good for this activity. Now do the same for your feet. You use a foot pedal on your machine don’t you? Well, so, do your feet, woman.
One final note - if you post pics on the web of your sewing projects, and you have dirt under your nails, you’ll probably get a snark-o-gram from me telling you it’s gross. And I won’t apologize for it, either. There’s a reason they call me savage.
Yes, this a still a sewing related post.
A brief discussion of Mirrornomics.
OMG, who IS that person in the mirror? And what is happening to her neck? As women of a certain age we are now forced into a early morning daily self reckoning without being provided the tools necessary to whack Mother Nature into submission.
Myself, I don’t recognize the face I see in the mirror anymore. For all my genetic good luck of no crow’s feet or cellulite, a drooping neck and crepey chest skin makes me sad every morning. I’ve discovered three things to help sooth this daily shock and get on with sewing:
One - Cry in the shower, your face will be red anyways.
Two - Daily self care is refreshing, resets the body, helps with abating soreness and sadness. For me, I can simultaneously rub my lower back while moisturizing my butt. I am a multitasker after all. With a silky butt.
Three - 2" wide elastic used with a simple expanded waist pattern alteration.
And now the sewing part.
Simple tricks for your TNT sewing patterns.
Embrace the elastic waistband by using a wider knit elastic for comfort.
Add room on the Jalie Eleonore Jeans elastic waist without changing sizes. To avoid the bulge above the waistline caused by elastic cinching, add some room per the pic below. Change to a 2” wide knit elastic. It’s a softer stretch and more forgiving on bloated or sore bellies. You do not need to change sizes or construction methods. On the two waistband pieces, just draw a straight line on the curved side seam sections to eliminate the pinched-in curve. The curve in the waistband plus the pattern’s called for 1” elastic is what causes muffin top. Using a wider elastic and removing the curve will result in a smoother fit across the abdomen. If you find the back waistband gapes, try cutting the back waistband elastic 1” shorter in length to snug in the back gap.
Incorporate yoga pant waistbands to aide in belly comfort.
Yoga pant waistbands comfort IBS and other abdominal woes. Knit yoga pants can be made in many weights of knit fabric. A good quality and weight ponte de roma with 5% or more lycra can be used to make yoga pants - or any pant really - that will be street wear appropriate. Try making the pant leg straight down from the knee, not skinny leg or leggings, still utilizing the yoga waistband. This simple pant will carry you through many a day when your body is in revolt. When made from a heavier gauge rayon elastane, they are very good post-surgery wear. If you have had or will be having abdominal surgery or have abdominal scarring that has remained irritated, this waist band makes wearing pants an option again.
Give yourself some breathing space on knit tops.
Add room on the waist of any of your favored knit pattern’s waist curve without changing sizes. Apply the same method as noted above. This works really well on Naughty Bobbin Patterns’ Presto! Popover Top. Just draw a straight line from the underarm to hip curve, eliminating the waist curve. This does not affect overall fit, it will just be looser in the waist. Since the side seams are sewn last on the Presto!, you can easily pin fit to double check the fit and hang prior to sewing the side seams. If it’s too loose, you can always take the side seams in a bit.
Some fabric choices for comfort.
Much has already been written on comfort fabrics. I’ll just reiterate a short list:
ITY for those who can handle polyester
Rayon Nylon Lycra ponte de roma knit
Acrylic sweater knits for lightweight extra warmth and wash and wear care. It’s not as hot as wool.
Merino wool jersey
A final say . . .
All of the above is really just a long-winded essay on when your body is in comfort, your mind is clearer. Physical actions become more deliberate and thoughtful. If you view sewing as therapy as well as an activity, then prep work, like any process, is key. You prep for your sewing project, so should you prep your body prior. It’s the same thing. You and your body deserve the same process as the respect you give your sewing projects. Learning to accept your new body is going to be a bumpy road. There will be tears. During a fitting process, tune into how a garment feels on you rather than what the mirror reflects. It’s just a change of mind set. Like any new process, it’s step by step. You learned to sew, and then sew well, didn’t you? You tackled the dreaded invisible zipper and won, didn’t you? You can do this. Caring for your new you is identical to deciphering a new sewing machine or technique. One step and a head scratch at a time and before you know it, you’re making embroidery embellished buttonholes as easy as brushing your teeth. Every mindful action you take towards yourself that eventually leads you to sitting at the sewing machine with bodily comfort will add fluidity to your creative process.
Welcome to the new you. You look better. You dress better. You are not alone and you are not crazy.
Disclaimer: All opinions, recommendations, typos, poor grammar, snark, thoughts, and insights are the author’s own. Leave a comment if you wish, but please, no politics, religion or lengthly ailment descriptions. I have my own itchy living hell to contend with.