In late August of 2013, I made the decision to stop buying or wearing ready-made clothing for 6 months. My apparel construction students inspired this abrupt decision for me. They frequently asked me why I did not make my own clothing. I never really had a good answer for them. It wasn’t like I never made clothing for myself but if I did it was typically limited to special occasions.
So there I was on August 29th, at the inception of my handmade clothing journey, with only 8 handmade garments in my closet. To reduce temptation and increase the likelihood of sticking to my commitment, I packed up all of my ready to wear (RTW) clothing that was off limits for the next six months and put it all in storage. I did make a few exceptions, as I was packing, to allow myself to wear ready-to-wear underwear/hosiery, shoes, jackets, cardigans, and coats. At first, it was exciting! The pressure and excitement of having something different to wear kept me motivated.
Over the next few days I made 2 tops, a skirt, and a dress to fill out my closest a bit. At the time my teaching schedule was 3 days a week, so I only had pressure to look good on those days. In the weeks that followed, I sewed every Sunday night for at least 3 hours. That allowed me to produce one or two new garments per week. Some weeks, I wasn’t able to sew any garments for myself. Half way into my challenge, I hit a wall. I was ready to give up, but I just could not stand the thought of letting myself or my students down.
The completion of the six months actually snuck up on me. It took me a week or two to decide where I would go with my wardrobe from there. At that point, I had sewn myself quite a wardrobe: 8 pairs of pants, 6 skirts, 9 dresses and tunics, 20 assorted tops, and 2 cardigans. I was so comfortable now with the process that I decided to continue to make all of my new clothing. I continued to make the exception to allow non-handmade undergarments/hosiery and shoes to be a part of my wardrobe.
I retrieved a few of my RTW boxes from storage to add back to my wardrobe. I went through each piece, tried it on for fit and donated every piece that I did not truly love and feel great in. The donation pile was twice as big as the pile of clothes I wanted to keep. It was quite liberating when I dropped that box off at my local charity shop. I also allowed myself to start buying vintage pieces again. Ironically enough, the majority of vintage clothing I have bought since have been handmade pieces.
What I Learned
When I started this adventure, I saw it just as a personal challenge. I did not chronicle every day or make detailed notes about the experience. Most days I did not even take a picture. My life just really did not allow for that. On days in the classroom I left my house at 5am and got home after 6pm. It became something that fit seamlessly and organically within the confounds of my lifestyle. I did not even really think about how I was changing in this process or better yet how the process was changing me. It wasn’t until the 6 months was up that I realized all that I had learned and how much my perspective had changed due to my handmade wardrobe.
I have noticed since I have been sewing my own wardrobe I have stopped comparing my appearance as much to other women. When someone cannot be wearing the same thing as you are it is hard to compare yourself. You cannot think she looks better in those (insert brand) jeans than I do. When you don’t dress like someone else there is not as much pressure to be like someone else.
Through this process I realized what type of clothing I actually enjoy wearing. When you make yourself a garment, whether you drafted the pattern yourself or not, you are going to be sure that it is something you really love before you invest your time. I began to get a sense of what I truly wanted to wear and what worked well with my lifestyle instead of trying to force clothing someone else chose for me into my life.
I discovered that I really like looser shaped tops, fitted pants, and I love dresses. I feel completely different yet more like myself in these types of clothing and it is quite liberating.
Despite being well educated on the fashion industry, the impact of my consumption did not resonate with me until I began making my own clothing. In the modern, western world we can easily forget what goes into making our clothes and the conditions in which the garment workers endure. The majority of people have a wear-it-once fast fashion line of thinking. We can all lose sense of the processes when fashion apparel is so readily available and cheaper than it has ever been.
In a fast paced world, it’s easy to forget how valuable time is. You spend your days chasing kids, going to work, coming home to do household chores, participating in recreational activities (should you have the time), and rarely allowing yourself time to slow down and look at the process.
Sewing a garment forces you to slow down to focus on the steps, the details, the time, and the entire creative process. When you cut, sew, finish, hem, and press your way through a garment, it reminds you of the value of time, specifically the value of your time. In turn, this will help you to appreciate and recognize the value of others’ time as well.
Measuring and evaluating my body mathematically has taught me to accept my body. Through this process I developed a way of separating my body size or shape from who I really am as a person. The idea of creating great fitting, comfortable clothing for my body was quite freeing. This may happen more with pattern making than with following someone else’s pattern. You no longer have to worry about fitting into a predetermined shape or set of measurements. You get to create your own; making modifications for every curve and every line that is your wonderful, powerful body. Through this I learned to love and accept my body for exact what it is.
Through this process, I became a more empowered, self-aware, and more confident. This challenge reminded me of the dreams I had when I set off to college. It gave me the confidence I needed to put myself out there, to start blogging, and to create a sewing pattern business. My handmade wardrobe turned out to represent much more than I had ever expected. Choosing to make my own clothing has turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made.