Why do you sew what you sew?

My general sewing MO is to make some rough plans of the kinds of things I want to sew, and then when I feel like sewing something, I pick what appeals to me within that. I also often get a bee in my bonnet to sew a particular fabric, pattern, or type of garment, and happily let them skip to the head of the informal queue. Because this is a loose, flexible process, there’s some thinking about what would be useful to me – things like my School Witch skirt or denim circle skirt come to be because I notice a gap in my wardrobe that would make other things more wearable. But there’s also a whole bunch of reacting to unseen forces. Like many and over-educated person with two semesters of economics under my belt, I like to delve into those from time to time.

Filling a wardrobe gap

I really noticed this a lot when planning for my SWAP sewing. I was trying to be deliberate and sew what I would wear. I am done my sewing now, and looking at my original plan, I see I have only sewn five of the things on that list – and only two of them will make it into my final SWAP post as the others don’t really go with the others in terms of feeling like a cohesive whole.

Partially this is because my personal style is undergoing some shifts and of course the influence of external fashion trends etc,  but there’s more at work than that I think. (Of course I do), and it ties into my motivations for sewing in the first place. I was also prompted to actually blog about it when I was commenting on one of Ciara’s posts and could’t stop talking about it! Sorry Ciara…

Motivation one: I sew mostly work clothes

I generally don’t have trouble finding loungewear (although I do then feel guilty for buying things made in sweatshops but that’s another issue). But I DO have a LOT of trouble finding work appropriate clothes that I like. Partly this is size ranges – I am a tweenie which means I am often in between the plus and straight sizes. It’s also about price, material and fit. I am not paying hundreds of dollars for a poorly made, polyester shirt that gapes across my bust. Not. Happening. It didn’t happen much before I could sew, either. So before I sewed for myself my work clothes involved a lot of knit tops. It still does, but now it also includes fitted dresses.

Boring to sew, gets worn all the time

So my sewing is mostly work-appropriate clothes, and that is very different for me now than it was two years ago because I work in a different workplace. (As an aside, a colleague found out last week that I sew my own clothes and she exclaimed ‘Really?! But you always look so professional!’ I am choosing to take that as a compliment, I suppose…)

Motivation 2: I sew what I already wear. Conversely I sew what I can’t already wear

My choice of patterns has always been influenced by what I wear, which in turn has been influenced by what was already available to me. I don’t have a desire to make jeans (or any kind of pant), for instance, because I don’t wear them. But I don’t wear them because I can’t buy them to fit my in a way I like. So perhaps it is worth making them, because then I can make ones that fit and then I would wear them!

I am also influenced by things I would like to wear but aren’t available to me to buy – whether that’s shape, style, fabric, or fit. My first makes were numerous skirts, not just because they were relatively easy but because I already wore a lot of skirts and tops, but this way I could wear well fitting skirts in colours and patterns that I liked, and shapes that weren’t fashionable at the time. The trouble I had buying an A-line skirt! Ridiculous.

Looks like I first made this pattern in 2012, and I made several over the years. Repeating the same pattern over and over helped me get better at sewing. I don’t wear this silhouette much any more but I regret getting rid of this version specifically – I doubt I’d wear a robot skirt these days but it holds a special spot in my sewing history and I wish I’d kept it. At least I have the blog!

Motivation 3: I sew what I can sew – or can almost sew

Ultimately I am sewing clothes to wear them. That means I naturally gravitate towards things that I know I can sew with enough skill that the garment is wearable. As with the above mentioned skirts, I didn’t quite have all the skills to make them when I started, and admittedly, some of those early skirts were a bit of a disaster – but honestly no more than many of the RTW options available to me. As my skill level has increased, and I acquired more sewing tools and better machines and a dedicated sewing space, what I sew has increased in complexity.

I’m a product sewer. I like reading about seam finishes and I like knowing the couture ways to do things but honestly I’m not at all bothered by raw knit edges and overlocked seams – or even obvious mends or mismatched seams as long as they’re not in a place where they’re highly visible. I am much much more interested in the overview of how the garment looks on. While I do continue to enjoy building my skills and knowledge, and can certainly see a future where I spend a month making a simple skirt with couture finishes, that time is not now. I am coming around to not feeling guilty about that – I always feel like I should spend more time and effort on my garments. But why? Does that have a value in and of itself? Maybe, but I don’t think that value overrides the value of having a finished, wearable garment – at least for me, right now it doesn’t.

Sometimes that means messy insides. That's fine by me.
Sometimes that means messy insides. That’s fine by me.

Motivation 4: I sew to cover my nakedness

Riffing off of that last point, as I have moved into sewing being the default rather than shopping, it’s actually put a fair amount of pressure on my sewing time. I need to be clothed, respectably, and in a seasonally appropriate manner. Six months ago I went through my wardrobe and got rid of every thing I didn’t wear. I was left with essentially five outfits, all but one me made, all appropriate for high summer. It was lovely to see my wardrobe comprised of my sewing but likewise it meant that my future sewing time needed to be practical. As we moved into autumn I found myself very hard pressed to dress myself appropriately every day! So I have focused lately on sewing very versatile things that work well in this transitional season and also work with my existing wardrobe. I can’t afford not to! Very soon I am going to need to sew some warmer items for winter, or shiver through it!

My wardrobe in November, after a clean out. This is everything that I wear, with the exception of tshirts and jumpers which are in drawers. And looking at this now I see three garments I haven't worn since then that should probably go to the op shop, also. 90% of this is me-made.
My wardrobe in November, after a clean out. This is everything that I wear, with the exception of tshirts and jumpers which are in drawers. And looking at this now I see five garments I haven’t worn since then that should probably go to the op shop, also. 90% of this is me-made.

Motivation 5: I sew what works with the materials to hand

Fabric shopping in Adelaide is pretty limited. There are a couple of nice stores but the only fabric I can access in a consistent way is from Lincraft and Spotlight. That means I sew things that work well in the fabrics that they do well – sateen and broadcloth and cotton linen and voile and other plain cottons. I find it hard to access nice, higher end fabrics – and I don’t know that I am willing to pay the prices if I could. In theory I believe that it’s worth paying for, but in practice, when you are large and like big skirts and therefore need six metres for a dress, and that dress may or may not end up getting worn a lot… well. It’s a disincentive to spend thirty dollars a metre, is all. I also have a hard time accessing knits – the main topic of the comments on Ciara’s blog. I don’t tend to sew many tshirts because I can buy ones that are basically fine, still have a drawerfull, and find good quality knit hard to find. That said, I do feel guilty for buying sweats and yoga pants and tshirts because of issues of sweatshops etc. And prompted by the discussion with Ciara, I realised that despite having a whole drawer of tshirts I really only wear the ones I made myself. So I will be looking into buying more knit fabric when I can get it and making more, and giving away the bought ones I don’t wear!

There are some things I have no desire to sew at all. Jeans, bras and underwear (which I have FINALLY found RTW ones I’m comfortable in and so don’t seem worth it). And there are things I can see myself sewing eventually, when it’s less important to clothe myself (in between being excited about shiny new patterns, which I suspect will never change) – sweats, yoga pants, more tshirts. And garments that I am working my way up to because my skill level isn’t there yet but I find it impossible to buy RTW – coats and jackets and also swimsuits although that’s less urgent.


So that’s my navel gazing about what I sew. I craft because it fulfils a deep need in myself, but I SEW, specifically, to clothe myself. And that has an influence on the kinds of patterns, fabrics, techniques and garments I choose to make. It was very interesting to look back over five years of sewing blogging and notice not only how much better I’ve gotten but also how the silhouettes I am choosing have shifted. And it was wonderful to realise that now, when I want a new garment, it doesn’t even occur to me to shop for it.

I’m looking forward to this changing, too – I’m not planning on quitting sewing any time soon! Tell me, what do you sew? And why?

14 thoughts on “Why do you sew what you sew?

  1. No need to apologize! I love reading stuff like this. It’s really interesting to me to hear what other people sew & how they make those decisions.

    1. Me too! Obviously, since I couldn’t shut up about it 😛 Thank you very much for the prompt to re-think about it. I’ve already sewn up some of the new knits I bought, prompted by you!

  2. I found myself nodding at all that you wrote – recently I put down a list of spring/summer things to make, rather than just going with the flow. While I enjoyed that, and did do some changing to the list, I have had such a compulsion to finish everything, that I didn’t enjoy the process as much (though love wearing the result!). When I went to Uni in Adelaide there was a huge fabric store south of the CBD – I used to walk there (this was about 23 years ago!) – I am guessing its no longer there (maybe on Sturt Street)? Do you have any idea?

    1. I found having a list was useful – but the longer the list the better. That way, I didn’t feel like it was ever going to be totally completed and so I didn’t feel too much pressure to finish anything in particular. But it did help me to sit down and think about what I wanted to wear and sew, and also meant that when I wanted to make something but was at a bit of a loss, I looked at my list and picked one of the more useful-but-boring-to-sew things on it!

      It wouldn’t have been DK fabrics, would it? They used to have three stores, a dancefabric/lycra specialty store on Port Road, a Bridal/evening specialty store somewhere down near the market – I can’t remember where, they closed a while ago but I remember buying the fabric for my Year 11 formal dress there – and one on Grange road – at least I think the Grange road one was a DKs. There certainly was a fabric store there, we used to go there with my grandma who lives near there and she would pick out fabric and make all the cousins matching outfits. Now they only have the one on Port Road, which is big and quite good. I used to work opposite it, before I sewed much! More’s the pity. Thinking about it, I bet I could take a long lunch break and catch the tram there without too much hassle… they still have the bridal and dancewear sections and also a really solid section of denim and voile etc, but last time I was there there was not much in the way of knits. The woman who works in the notions department can roll up a cut of ribbon in no time flat! It’s very impressive to watch.

  3. We are in a very similar sewing place. I enjoy knowing couture techniques, but am not a perfectionist. I think my desire to sew something in a couture fashion is more my desire to have created a wardrobe that consists of enough just right clothes that there isn’t pressure to have to make something to not be naked or to fill a hole so that my wardrobe stretches. Then I would be able to spend a little more time and money and reach a little further skill-wise to make a special piece or a simple piece extra special. Sourcing fabric would still be a problem, of course.

    1. Yes! Exactly this! Right now I really do need more items in my wardrobe – and more experience fitting my own body. The thing I have found is every time I get better at it, I then don’t want to wear my other clothes. First it was because they were bought clothes and didn’t fit well. Then because my first me-mades weren’t very well made. Then my style was changing and another skill jump meant my newer makes fitted even better and were even more comfy! I suppose that’s a good thing but it can be a bit anxiety making. Pressure’s on! I suppose that’s how it used to be for most people – if you didn’t make it, you didn’t wear it!

      I do look forward to one day being willing to spend lots of money and time on a garment, but I suspect it’s a ways off.

      1. Sometimes I wonder if it was easier or harder in the past. Most women had to sew for themselves and their families and were taught to sew in school (at least here in the US) and could ask their moms, grandma’s and aunts for additional tips, expecting them to have a fair amount of experience and knowledge to share, but we can google and youtube and source things online.

        1. Probably a bit of both, I imagine! I tend to think that any chore that is compulsory gets tedious fast – and we might be inclined to like sewing but plenty of people didn’t. I certainly really like having access to so many sources of information – my grandma is a master sewer and knitter but she only knows two ways to bind off, for example. Because that was all she had access to. I like being able to find a method – and a teacher – that suits me and my needs.

          Plus, you can pull my Bernina and it’s automatic buttonholer out of my cold dead hands 😛 That said it can be very frustrating when you need advice or help and no one around you knows what you’re talking about! Thank goodness for the internet, although it can’t substitute entirely for in-person help.

  4. Knits and even more knits. I also sew whatever my daughters dream up in their heads. Lots of denim skirts for my girls. I’m trying to work on a stashdown fabric-wise so I’m using up what I can find that matches with other fabrics too. But no matter, it’s very slow going for me. It took almost two weeks for me to make a simple blouse for my 6 yo.

    1. I feel like I am a slow sewer, too. But then when I get a chunk of time I can churn something out – I guess I am just very bad at sewing in dribs and drabs! Knits are good for that, though. Those skirts for your kids are too cute!

  5. Hi! I’m new to your blog; your honesty and humour are welcome additions to my huuuuge feed of sewing blogs! I’m currently in the process of transitioning to an entirely home sewn wardrobe. I am extremely slow when it comes to sewing, and a total perfectionist (and not in a good way!), but sewing is helping me to stop procrastinating; to get out of my head and get making, which is having a really great carry over effect into other areas of my creative life (I am an illustrator). I sew because I love the whole process of making clothes, and the patience it teaches me. I probably should focus more on productivity and less on luxuriating in all the little details, but I find that focussing on quality, on the beauty of the inside of the garment as well as the outside, is an antidote to fast fashion and rampant consumerism, that I’m trying so hard to step away from. There’s no way I would ever be able to afford garments of the quality I can make for myself, not to mention the feeling of wearing something completely unique, and that fits. I love that there’s no need to make compromises when you make your own clothes. My mother passed away not too long ago, and when sorting through her things, I found a suitcase of half-finished sewing projects from before her marriage. I’d forgotten what a talented seamstress she was, and how she made such beautiful clothes for my sister and I when we were little. Finding these lovely clothes she’d been making for herself, folded and forgotten for fifty years, made me feel sad for all the other things she put aside, and the compromises she made. I decided that when I die, I want the only incomplete sewing project I leave behind to be the one I’m working on when I pop my clogs! As a chronic unfinisher of things, I make sure I always have a sewing project on the go, and that I always see it through. That is such a good feeling!

    1. Hi Bonnie! Thank you for your lovely comment. I’m glad you like my blog 🙂 I’m the same, I have a huge list of blogs I read.

      I’m coming from the opposite path! Sewing is really good for me, as an often slap-dash person, because in sewing it really pays off to be precise, and to pay attention to when my focus is wavering. It also shows that it’s worth paying attention to small things – or at least some of them! One of the things that I think makes me a better sewist now than I was a few years ago is that I’ve learnt what things are worth unpicking and redoing, and what ones I can live with. Not to mention that it’s worth putting in the time in prep and cleanup, it makes all the difference. I tend to rush stuff and then when it’s clear it’s going off the rails, I rush more! Sewing has helped me reel that in. It’s also taught me that you don’t have to know how to do the whole task, if you know the first step and you have instructions, you can just start and you’ll probably be able to work it out! I have to say that a surprising amount of this carries over into my work (I’m in project management and I’ve also worked in data quality).

      How wonderful that we can all bring such similar and different lessons from sewing! It has something to teach everyone, I think.

      I’m so sorry to hear about your mother. What a lovely and also sad story about her works in progress. I hope you manage to keep those good finishing vibes going – in sewing and in everything else!

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