Making lemonade, sewing-style.

Although I generally wait to buy new sewing patterns until I have seen them sewn on a wide variety of body types (read: not just thin people), I took a chance and bought a brand new indie sewing pattern last week.

And now I regret it.

I don’t want to name names here, because A) I would just be needlessly throwing shade, and B) It’s mostly my own fault, and could have happened with any other indie pattern. But anyway, I paid upwards of $15 for a pretty wonky pattern, and I feel a little burned.

Part of the problem is that some designers do not give enough information about the pattern itself. I have not been able to find really basic info on the pattern in question, like what height the pattern is designed for, or what cup size. Somewhere on the designer’s website it says, “for average height,” which could mean anything, especially since average heights vary from place to place. Maybe they think average height for women is 5’6″! (Here’s a hint…it’s not, at least not in the U.S.)

Now, I’m a fat person. I’m sized out of many indie sewing pattern ranges, and I’m at the tippy-top for most of the others — as in the largest size, and then maybe outsized at the hips. I know how to alter for that; it’s not a big deal (no pun intended). I have narrow shoulders, and although no one would call me busty (I wear a 42B, you guys), I have a 4 1/2 inch difference between my upper and full bust measurements. In sewing terms, not bra terms, that makes me a D cup! Most sewing patterns only have 2 inches difference between the upper and full bust measurements, so the first pattern alteration I ever learned to do was the full bust adjustment. I am accustomed to making “regular” patterns fit my “plus” body, but…I need some basic information to know where to start.

I have only sewn one other dress pattern by this designer, and I had trouble with it, too. And it was a sewing blog darling! I had seen it on women of many different sizes and shapes, and thought it would work for me, too. But the fit through the shoulders was terrible, the neckline gaped a bit, and the exaggerated A-line in the skirt seemed to have been drafted incorrectly at the largest size, as it was comical in its inflation. I wore it twice, then donated it to Goodwill. I hope someone with strong, wide shoulders found it, and is happily wearing it today.

In that case, I did blame myself. I didn’t make a muslin (test garment), and suspected that I should have made a smaller size at the shoulders just by eyeballing the pattern. But I thought, it’s a knit, it’s forgiving — and I was in a place where I had sewn several frustrating things in a row and I just wanted to finish something simple. But that dress was undeniably a dud.

I had hopes for this new dress pattern. It was breezy without being too voluminous, and had a nice modern look to it. But it also had a tulip skirt, which seemed like a strange choice for a pattern that obviously called for drapey fabrics. I took the plunge and got it anyway.

I made a muslin the day after I bought the pattern, which is light speed for someone like me. For example, I still haven’t sewn a Colette Moneta dress, yet I bought the pattern pre-release! I am not on the cutting edge of sewing, generally speaking. Anyway, the muslin had Problems with a capital P. At the largest size, the tulip skirt was straight up ridiculous looking. I mean, it looked like jodhpurs in skirt form! Even in a drapey fabric, that was going to look bananas. The sleeves were okay, though I didn’t personally like the length on me — and I cut the neckline for a much smaller size, so it was A-OK. I ended up drafting a completely different skirt — just a plain, knee length A-line. Maybe, like the fictional Leslie Knope, I just needed to learn that tulip skirts weren’t for me.

Or maybe, just maybe, there is a problem with the method or computer program this particular indie designer is using for pattern grading. Because the largest size seems to be too exaggerated — everything is blown out of proportion. You can only grade a couple of sizes up or down from any set size before this starts to happen, though most clothing retailers and many pattern designers do not bother with the extra expense of drafting two separate sample sizes and grading them both. (By the way, that’s why most women’s t-shirts are XS-S-M-L-XL — medium is the base size — and why many clothing lines only came in 6-8-10-12-14 back in the day.) Believe me, this shows on the largest sizes — and maybe on the smallest sizes, too. I have no idea about things on that end.

Anyway, having made an altogether new skirt, I did finish the dress over the weekend, and although it’s not my favorite thing in the world, it’s wearable. I took my lemons and made some sewing lemonade. But I also learned my lesson, and I will not be buying that anonymous brand of sewing pattern again. Sigh.

DIY not?

I came across “The Class Dynamics of DIY Clothing” the other day while looking for something completely unrelated. (Because that is how the internet works.) I can’t help but agree with the essay, and own my privilege in this area.

I know how to sew, have a decent machine in working order, a good amount of fabric squirreled away, and pretty much every sort of notion you might need to make basic items. If I like a pattern that doesn’t come in my size, I know how to make it bigger.

The initial buy-in to begin sewing is expensive – mostly because of the equipment. You need access to a sewing machine, an iron, an ironing board, good scissors, pins, needles, marking tools, and a space large enough to cut fabric (whether on a table or the floor). You’ll need a pattern (or the ability to make a pattern), thread, and fabric – which is often more expensive than a ready-made garment, especially if you wear natural fibers. You may need zippers, elastic, buttons, bias tape, interfacing, or trim. You will need adequate time (and energy) to sew.

The bottom floor for sewing is several stories up the building, if you catch my meaning.

I learned to sew in home economics when I was 13, though I wasn’t very into it at the time. Various relatives pooled their money to buy me a basic sewing machine for my 15th birthday, after I became interested in making my own clothes…because I couldn’t find anything I liked in my size in stores. (Does that sound familiar?) My grandma worked in a garment factory and had access to very cheap fabric remnants that I used both for practice and for finished garments in those early years.

By the time I was 18 I was working as a theatrical costumer. My experience is absolutely atypical.

I think there’s something else going on beneath this cheerful admonition to “do it yourself,” too: a little whiff of the “you’re on your own” mentality so prevalent these days. Society (in the form of the retail marketplace in this example) is failing to provide for your needs? Well, too bad! You’re on your own! Just do it yourself. Go sew your own, fatty, and get out of my face.

I could be wrong about that, but it seems to be there.

I truly love clothes, and I enjoy sewing. I would never tell someone not to make their own clothes if they were inclined to do so. And though I think that retail options should definitely be expanded in larger sizes, I’m not sure how much change we can expect in the short term. Even before the economy tanked, when fat ladies were (supposedly) lined up with cash in hand, retailers didn’t do much to expand plus size offerings anywhere other than online. So what do we do?

I wish I knew.

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Β (I made this dress, and I wore this exact same outfit today – though this photo is from last fall.)