Making clothes

· mumblings ·

My hatred for clothes, and the associated shopping for clothes, is well documented. I always avoid the shopping part for as long as possible. Unfortunately, what I laughingly call my current ‘wardrobe’ is now so old that it is starting to wear badly and fall into disrepair. For example, I recently spent most of a working day unaware of the fact that two gigantic holes had worn through the inner thigh of my cord trousers1. Thus the awful day has dawned when I will be forced to buy more clothes.

My objection to clothes and clothes shopping is two-fold. First, I am not interested in fashion at all, so feel very unmotivated to buy clothes. Second, I am short, I have a long torso relative to my leg length, and am markedly pear-shaped, so getting clothes that fit me is an impossible task. I honestly don’t think I’ve managed to buy a single item of clothing recently that has fitted me properly: if it’s not too long, it’s too tight over the hips or has a waistband that is far too large. Consequently, everything looks pretty dreadful on me, because it doesn’t fit.

I have contemplated making my own clothes to solve this problem several times, but have always been put off because I thought it would be too difficult. Then I came across Sewaholic Patterns. These are wonderful dressmaking patterns specially drafted for pear-shaped women. Looking at the body measurements for each of the pattern sizes, I could see that for probably the first time in my life my top and bottom halves shared a dress size. The patterns were also nice basics, with optional interchangeable details, that could potentially be made in a wide variety of different fabrics, so that — for example — three pairs of trousers made to the same pattern would look quite different to the casual observer. Even better, there were links to ‘sewalongs’ where kind people had posted photographs and instructions for each step in the patterns. I began to see that it might actually be possible to make stuff that suited me and fitted well. A cunning plan began to form.

Despite not being interested in fashion, I’ve always liked the idea of a ‘capsule wardrobe’. The idea is that you buy a small but carefully chosen collection of garments that all work with each other in both style and colour. That way, the potential number of outfits is large, because you can freely mix and match the items. You would just be able to pull out a random top and a random bottom and not have to think about what would go with what. The trouble is, with my oddly-proportioned body, buying a capsule wardrobe is a pipe dream. As I’ve already said, I hate shopping and find it nearly impossible to find anything to fit, so the style and colour would be dictated by whatever small fraction of the available clothes happened to fit me, and not by what would actually go together.

Looking at the Sewaholic website (and others like it), I had a sudden epiphany that both of these problems could be avoided if I simply made a collection of my own clothes. Decoupling the style of a garment (the pattern) from the size2, colour and fabric (because you can use whatever fabric you like) makes it much easier to plan out a proper wardrobe where items go together. And fit. I can’t emphasise strongly enough how excited I am about the prospect of having clothes that fit. I started to think about the styles that suit me best (defined, high waist, fitted bodice on tops, sleeves that make my shoulders look a bit wider, A-line skirts, simple smooth-fitting trousers), and how I could build a small collection of clothes that would work well in a lot of different combinations and circumstances. I then found a number of patterns that would fit the bill, and that were not too complex to put together.

Like any good geek, I scoured online videos and sewalongs to learn about the techniques I needed. Dress-making is a bit like engineering: you have to be very precise with your measurements, cutting and sewing, and you have to be able to imagine how 2D shapes on pieces of paper will come together to form a shaped 3D volume. You also need to be good at maths, so that your measured pattern pieces minus seam allowance all add up to the dimensions you need in the garment. It’s all very unfamiliar at the moment, but I am gradually beginning to understand how darts and princess seams shape clothes, and I think I’ve even managed to understand how a French seam works.

We’re really lucky in Birmingham with the Rag Market — there’s an amazing range of fabric on offer, and much of it is really cheap. I bought more than enough French blue cotton drill to make a Hollyburn Skirt (I know! I’m making a skirt, who would have thought?) for a grand total of £6, so if I mess it up, it’s not a very expensive mistake. I chose this pattern to start with because it’s advertised as being for beginners (the zip is really the hardest part, and the rest of the seams are more or less straight), and because it’s a nice A-line with a fitted waist, so I know it will suit me.

I warmed up this weekend by making three cushion covers to practice my cutting out, ability to sew straight seams, and seam finishing techniques. This one was made out of some fabric left-overs from a pen wrap I made some time ago to replace a worn out cover. I also made a matching pair of covers with some upholstery fabric from the market to house a pair of bed pillows each, which both stores the pillows and makes two cushions for the sofa bed in our spare room. Both went very well, so I moved on to the big moment of tracing out the pattern pieces I need for the skirt. I took my time as the pattern tissue is incredibly fragile, and I wanted to be able to use the traced pattern pieces repeatedly. It went pretty well I think, though my back is now killing me from having to bend over the dining room table to do the tracing.

I plan to cut out the pieces and begin the sewing next weekend. With Easter coming up, I may even be able to make a start on a top to go with it. I think if I eventually get to the point of being able to make a pair of trousers that actually fit me properly, I’ll know I’ve cracked it. It’s an exciting time.

  1. Then I spent the remainder of the day walking and sitting in a very awkward manner in an attempt to avoid anyone else seeing the holes. ↩︎

  2. The patterns usually include a range of sizes, and since you can alter the pattern, you can tailor it precisely to your own personal size. ↩︎