Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Do you wear what you sew?

The gorgeous and talented Stephanie from the Naked Seamstress wrote a very interesting post where she discussed a problem faced by many seamstresses: why do we so often spend hours making something, but rarely actually wear the things we've made?

I think the reason that so many of us find it difficult to wear what we sew is simply because we don't like what we've made.

After 8 years of sewing, I am sad to say, that it's only been within about the last year and a half that I've started to wear clothes that I made. Actually, at the moment I am so poor and my taste is so expensive that probably 90% of the things I wear I've made. So, in my infinite wisdom (ha!), I thought I'd share the guidelines that I follow when I make a garment, so that I'll (almost) always like it enough to wear in public!

Choose your fabric wisely ! - This is the most important tip!
  • So many fabric shops (especially in Australia) are dismal indeed and it's so tempting just to buy something because you can't find anything better. When you're choosing fabric, ask yourself "if I saw a garment in the style I am making made out of this fabric, would I buy it?" NEVER buy fabric that you wouldn't ordinarily wear.
  • If you live in Australia, Spotlight and Textile Traders are fine for zips, thread, calico, lining and interfacing, but don't expect to find any decent fabric there. I have never once made anything out of Spotlight or Textile Traders fabric that I didn't despise.
  • Polyester and nylon are heinous and should be avoided at all costs. Anything shiny (especially satin) also invariably looks bad (unless you're very thin and a very good designer). Wool, silk, linen and cotton (or a combination of any of these) always look classy.
  • You're asking for trouble if you try to mix stretch and non-stretch fabric in the one garment.
  • Unless you're ultra brilliant at sewing/designing and VERY creative, only use fabric for the purpose for which it is designed. Curtain, upholstery and quilting fabric should be used for making curtains, cushions and quilts only! Similarly, shirting fabric should only be used to make shirts (or shirt-dresses), and don't try to make a skirt out of a knit!
Choose your style wisely!
  • Don't make anything in a style that you wouldn't ordinarily buy.
  • Only make things in styles that suit you! If you're not sure if you look any good in high-waisted pleated pants (for example), go to your favourite shops and try some on. If they look hideous in the shop, chances are they'll look even worse if you try to make your own.
Make sure it fits!
  • The whole point of sewing your own clothes is to make them fit better than the stuff in the shops! If you MUST use a commercial pattern, make sure you measure the pattern to determine the appropriate size. Don't just make a size 12 because you usually wear a size 12 or because the back of the packet says you're a size 12.
Make a toile/muslin and make the necessary adjustments!
  • This is the only way to tell if it is going to look any good or if it will fit. Today I made 3 toiles of my next dress (it's reversible and amazing, can't wait to show you!). If I'd just made it from my first pattern I would have wasted 3 metres of silk.
Ensure the process of making is as pleasant as possible!
  • Keep it simple. Know your limitations as a seamstress and designer. Some of the easiest things I've made are my favourite clothes.
  • Make sure it doesn't take too long. If you've been looking at something for too ages, you'll never wear it.
  • Don't rush and don't cut corners. This ALWAYS ends in tears and ends up taking you 10 times longer than it would have if you just did it properly in the first place.
  • Don't get bogged down in rules. I have no idea how to put a zip in the "correct" way. Instead of getting angry and frustrated that I haven't done it right, I just make it up as I go along and try to do it as neatly as possible.
Be flexible!
  • Hardly any of the things I've made actually look the way I've planned. Often I'll be mid-way through making something and I'll realise that it's not going to work. If you soldier on and make it anyway: disaster. Don't be afraid to change your plans; often you'll end up with a more interesting and more fabulous garment that you originally imagined.
If you like it, wear it!
  • Don't keep things for special occasions. You've made it, so wear it before it goes out of fashion.
If you don't like it, refashion it or get rid of it!
  • There is nothing worse than something you don't like languishing in your wardrobe. Every time you open your closet it will remind you of your failure. Get rid of it and move on.

If you couldn't be bothered reading any of that (fair enough!), the golden rule of sewing is: Never make anything you wouldn't ordinarily wear, or want to wear. If you wouldn't buy it, don't make it!


  1. Hey, this is great advice! I was nodding my head vigorously while reading... especially the bit about; if you saw this in a shop would you still buy it? I'm getting much better at this one in the last few years... I have to be honest and say that I've seen some refashions that don't even look as good as the before picture, but this is how we all learn, right? I've made mistakes and horrible outfits too, but looking on the bright side this has been valuable training for working out what does suit me. I do use commercial patterns, but many years experience has taught me how to handle them and fit them to myself and I nearly always follow my instincts and read instructions with a grain of salt... Re fabric, one thing my experience has taught me, beware of (really) vintage fabric as it can be too fragile to be worth the effort put into sewing it up...
    I know this comment is huge, sorry, hope it makes sense!
    Thanks for your lovely comments on my blog!

  2. Fantastic tips...I have only recently attempted to sew for myself. It's alwsys been disappointing and has led to tears. I grew up with a mother who sewed everything! It was great, becase if I wanted a certain something, I knew she could make it and it would look fantastic because she is a perfectionist. Unfortunately, her skills were not passed on to me. So even if I do make something and wear it, she examines it from head to toe and makes comments in a passive/aggressive way and I never wear it again. (I do love her truly though). Maybe I will try again soon with somehting very simple.

  3. I'm glad I could inspire you to this post. Love your tips! May have to print this and put it somewhere in my sewing area :)

    I particularly agree with "don't take too long making something". Staring at the piece you are making for ages really puts you off it once you are finished. My solution for this is that I hang it in my closet for a little bit, and then after a week or so I like it again and sometimes, if I'm really lucky, I will even have forgotten all the mistakes I made and will stop staring at them while wearing the piece, because really these mistakes are usually only noticeable to the person who sewed it. So I think: Be generous to yourself and don't nit-pick on your final piece could be another good guideline.

  4. great tips! I wish I was better at sewing!

  5. I couldn't agree more, I've been a firm supporter of just about all of your tips for quite a while now. My money/wardrobe situation is rather similar to yours and I'm still very happy that I have invested some of my time and money into pattern making lessons a few years back. I know it's not for everyone but it has saved me endless amounts of time and frustration when it comes to fitting clothes. I sometimes make an item just to try out the style. But lately, the experiments mostly end up being favorite pieces (those high waisted pleated trousers ;), I guess that comes with experience. I never consider a garment 'finished' until I've worn it out.

  6. Hi, I just found you via Burda Style! What a cool idea... golden rules.. While I agree about not making something unless you're going to wear it, I'd like to offer one of my golden rules: don't make it if you could just buy it in the shops. The main reason I make (some of) my own clothes is because I want something that you just can't buy in the shops. So I just have a go, I never make a muslin and make up patterns as I go! But I always have fun wearing it - and that makes the effort well worth it, yeah!

  7. this had really made me think! sometimes, i buy the first fabric i see when starting a sewing project, and it more often than not end up disliking it or giving up! this advice will save me money and time... i shall think more carefully!

    i also like: 'There is nothing worse than something you don't like languishing in your wardrobe. ' definately need to remove my failed projects, they do indeed depress me!

    thankyou for this post! :) x

  8. Finally, fashion sewing tips! Thanks so much for sharing. They will help a lot in organizing my approach to designing & fabric choosing - skills that I'm lacking. (Thanks for your kind comment on my blog too!)

  9. This is one mighty fine post!!! I have just made my first dress and I found all your info to be absolutely true!! Thanks

  10. I'm only a sorta advanced beginner who is too scared and stingy to sew in expensive fabrices, but I would amend the last bit of advice to say that - if it's been hanging in your wardrobe unused, then get rid of it or refashion it into something you WILL wear.

  11. This is a great post! I'm curious about the 'Choose your fabric wisely' tip. I 100% agree a) about the need to choose your fabric wisely and b) how crap Spotlight and Textile Traders are...

    ... but that makes me wonder... where are your favourite places to buy fabrics from? I'm from Perth, and this is a problem I hit constantly!

  12. Excellent advice! But to echo sarahscustard... any fabric shop recommendations?