goal: self-made wardrobe

Leather and silk

When I first got serious about sewing, I had no idea how radically it would change my view about consumerism, self-expression, and a whole host of other things.

Truthfully, in the beginning, it wasn't that I cared about factory fires in Bangladesh, or microplastic pollution: I was just tired of the way RTW clothes fit me. My torso and legs are perfectly proportional, which is actually somewhat uncommon in people. One is usually longer than the other. To top it off, I have an hourglass shape, with a tiny (29"-30") underbust (read: I'm thin, with boobs) a "bubble butt", long, thinnish limbs, a high waist, and straight, slightly broad shoulders. I'm 34-24-37. Most fit models are 32-26-33, 5'4" Asian women, and well? I'm over 5'9" and built like slender-but-curvy a Scandinavian or German chick. I didn't have any problems buying clothes in Sweden, but standards in the US have changed for the overweight, largely non-European market. I'm sure you'll have noticed that current styles fit loosely over the body, and drape in such a way that it hides the clear signs of pre-diabetes.

I do feel fortunate for my frame, but it is very hard to clothe myself in mid-range RTW brands, and have them fit well. High end stuff is often far more forgiving, but it comes with a price tag I'm not willing (or in some cases, able) to pay. Without dumping $300 on an item of clothing, I'm usually screwed. Shirts are too short, too baggy (not good for someone with a nipped waist), an xs or s button up will fit me perfectly everywhere else but the bust line, and I'm swimming in a medium. Pants are too short in normal sizing, and too long in long fits (except at Banana Republic, where the butt area never fits anyway, so it doesn't matter). Often the waist is too loose compared to the rest of the pants/jeans. Or maybe the rise isn't a good idea for people who have generous backsides. I didn't want to spend the rest of my life resorting to $70 pima cotton t-shirts at Theory. It seemed wasteful, and I didn't feel in control of the process of clothing myself. I'm a control freak as it pertains to my processes, so that's a bad thing.

Aside from the obvious issues with fit, were the atrocious fabrics used in the construction of most RTW garments at the mid-range. Synthetic crepe nightmares abounded. I have a texture aversion to many fabrics... to the extent that I would never willingly get near polyester fleece, and find myself struggling to shake off the experience if I have to touch it. Again, I could evade this by spending $350 for a cashmere cardigan at Theory, or ...... maybe, just maybe....I could learn to sew/knit one myself???

I think I bought my machine (a very carefully researched and selected Bernina 1010) in 2015, and I didn't end up doing very much with it until 2018. I was all excited at first, then did a couple of very early "projects", got intimidated and packed it away. I also didn't understand the pattern market ( patterns, imo, are a great way to get initiated into the world of garment construction!). I was gifted some very underwhelming/incredibly boring Big 4 patterns that I would never wear, when I first started showing interest, and for some reason, assumed that was as good as it was going to get. It definitely stalled me when I started feeling like my goals were inaccessible.

I can't entirely remember what it was that drew me back in, but I believe it was upgrading my work wardrobe. I had to meet with a lot of high end private and corporate clientele and had to look the part. I didn't want to spend thousands of dollars, but my time-wasting attempts to save some money ended with me b-lining it to Vince and Theory, to drop a considerable sum on clothing that would actually look high quality and fit me without major alterations.

After that, I set back out onto the internet, particularly onto youtube, to hunt for someone who could help me acquire advanced beginner skills in sewing. The shiny, youthful, hip world of sewing youtube drew me in, and before I knew it I was scanning instagram for self-made masterpieces, to see if I could find patterns for the things I liked.

After watching videos til my eyes bled, I knew I was ready to try. I got a Wiksten shift dress pattern and some slubby essex, and enjoyed the satisfaction (after wrangling with bobbin tension) of making very straight, clean seams and hems. To this day, it is still probably one of my cleanest pieces. I've been hooked ever since.

I've since made: fully lined wool coats, long tencel dresses with flirty slits, silk velvet evening gowns, underwire bras, silk tops and slip dresses, suede cowl-front slip tops, leather bustiers, silk lace underwear, comfy bib overalls, canvas and leather backpacks, and even made my husband a collared shirt. I also made my mom the coolest set of flamingo pajamas! My quick growth in skill has been down to both a dogged obsession, and a willingness to say yolo and go for things I want, even if they seem hard.

Over the past several years, my wardrobe has shifted from a rtw wardrobe, into a self-crafted one. My goal doesn't have a hard date, because I don't really believe my hobby should be turned into a mandate, but my goal is to never buy a rtw piece ever again. It's not like I can't make a copy of whatever I want out of better quality material! In the past three years, I've stuck very firmly to that goal. I'll permit myself to buy from companies like Patagonia because of the sustainability practices, repair warranties, and clothing quality. I will also allow myself to collect quality vintage or thrifted pieces. For example: 80's and 90's Calvin Kleins, Galliano, Guess, Levis, and Bongo jeans fit me perfectly, and are made of higher quality denim than I can even source (unless I come across vintage deadstock at a million dollars a yard). The vintage or thrifted piece cannot contain synthetics. Fullstop. Period. End of story.

If you want to know why synthetics are a completely fucked thing to buy and wear, I'll be writing a comprehensive article on microplastics later. Suffice it to say, every time you wash your synthetics, a baby seal dies.

The joy of being told that someone loves what you're wearing, and the pride of being able to tell them that you made it has been quite something. It's really confidence-building. It's so gratifying because you are truly in control of your style. Fashion is what you buy. Style is what you create. I've never really been deeply into "fashion". I occasionally like a trend that emerges, but I've never been one to follow trends.

There was basicaly no other way I was ever going to own a silk velvet dress with silk charmeuse lining and jade buttons. I made a $2500 dress for less than $100. The leather bustier I made? I've seen similar ones at Barneys for $1100. I have a strappy suede top that I made from thrifted suede I got from a cat rescue thrift store for $3. Two $50+ pieces of suede for $3. The top cost me only my spare time, some thread, and the $3 it cost me to buy the suede. It gave me the deep enjoyment of creating a wardrobe staple piece that I'll probably pass down to my daughter. The waxed canvas and leather strapped convertible backpack I use pretty much every day? Closest I've seen is on Etsy for $280. I think I spent $50 for all of the heavy strap leather, hardware, and canvas.

Perfectly tailored Japanese selvedge denim jeans? $30. No problem. Good luck finding them anywhere for under $200

See something in a magazine or on IG that you absolutely adore? You can just, like, make it ya know!

That is the power of sewing.

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