Summer of Sewing: Belated June Update.

Sarah's Summer of Sewing

I only managed to sew a single item during June, but I still consider it a success as it was the best thing I’ve sewn for myself in years, hands down. I made myself a Suki Kimono from Helen’s Closet in black and white paisley cotton lawn. It’s as light as a whisper, and I have worn it every single day since it came off the sewing machine. In fact, one day I was under the weather and only took it off long enough to launder it — and then, after a shower, I put it right back on!

I don’t have pictures of the robe yet (though I intend to take some for Instagram), but this post was so late I didn’t want any further delay.  I know that’s practically heresy with “pics or it didn’t happen” as the law of the land, but I’ve always been eccentric and pleased to go against the grain of our collective culture.

Sewing the kimono was simple and quick, especially since I used most of the shortcuts listed in this post: I skipped the pockets, lengthened the front band, omitted the inner ties, and left the belt loose. I actually was pressed for time (I wanted to finish the robe before we went on our vacation in Colorado), but I probably would have made the same adjustments even if I hadn’t had a looming deadline. I just like the aesthetic of the lengthened band and almost never put pockets in a garment, especially side seam pockets. (Remember how I said I was an eccentric? Yeah, I’m pretty much the only woman online not lamenting that every garment doesn’t have pockets. I especially don’t understand having pockets in a dressing gown. What are you going to put in those pockets, anyway? A dainty lace handkerchief? Look, bro. The box of Kleenex is right there. Jeez.) I was able to finish the robe in two afternoons (not counting cutting time) without really rushing.

I did have some trouble with the sleeves, but I’m pretty sure that was operator error. I was reading the directions on my computer, as I normally do to save paper, but my laptop was in for repair, and the desktop computer is in a different room than the sewing machine. So I may not have followed the sewing instructions to the letter. I made it work and I’m not at all dissatisfied with the results. I am weirdly, deliriously happy with this robe. It was a minor problem — nothing compared to the difficulty I had with cutting it out. I used a border print lawn, but the fabric was printed a little off-grain, and I had to do a lot of juggling to get things lined up or mirrored in the way I had planned. I barely had enough fabric to squeak out the shorter version with an additional yard of fabric, but it did work out. I’m glad I measured the pattern pieces themselves, too, because the shorter version was mid-calf on me — which was exactly the length I wanted. The pattern is drafted for someone 5’6″ and I’m a little less than 5’3″, but I still found it ran longer than I had expected (though I was delighted not to have to add extra length or subtract it from the longer version, which would have been floor length on me).

My one regret is that I did not use interfacing in the belt. (I definitely didn’t want it in the front or sleeve bands.) It crumples and twists into a little spindly thing, but I had wanted everything to be extremely lightweight for summer use and didn’t want to risk the heaviness of the interfacing. This is not, however, a deal breaker. I’d rather have a belt that was too light rather than one that was too heavy, even if it maintained its structure better. I mean, it’s a wispy little robe. It’s not a structured thing. But I do wonder if I could have found a very lightweight interfacing as a compromise.

I’m only one inch larger than the size chart at the hips and probably could have left it as-is, but I did add extra room there so the ease at the hips would match the ease at the bust. I’m glad I did, too, because it looks exactly right. I am just in love with this robe. It’s almost embarrassing how much I want to gush about it. Will I make this pattern again? YES. Of course. Probably the only drawback about using such a lightweight and soft fabric is that it’s likely to wear out relatively quickly, especially with the level of use it’s already getting. I plan on making a near duplicate one day as a replacement, so I will keep an eye out for an appropriate fabric so I’ll be ready to go when the time comes.

The Suki Kimono was the first item on my 2018 Make Nine list that I managed to complete, too — so it was a success all around. Basically, what I’m saying is that it’s the best robe ever. And forgive my superlatives. I can’t help it. I’m robe-addled with love.

Summer of Sewing: May Review.

Sarah's Summer of SewingI have actually been sewing. Imagine that.

I genuinely love Me Made May. I think I would enjoy it even if I didn’t actively participate, because I love seeing all the garments that other people make and wear — and one of the best things about it is that it isn’t a fashion challenge or a photo challenge. These are (for the most part) the real clothes that people wear day to day, like multiple copies of a favorite t-shirt. I’m also the sort of person who makes many versions of the same sewing patterns over and over again — so I like to see that I’m not alone. You see people dressed as they usually do — to run errands or work in the garden, not just dressed to the nines with perfect make-up and accessories. It’s like street fashion, but much more casual.

Because I follow so many plus sized sewists on Instagram, May is also a good opportunity to see sewing patterns on a variety of bodies. I’ve already purchased one pattern that I was on the fence about because I saw it looked so good on someone shaped like me!

I followed through on my pledge and wore something self-made on every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday in May. I even managed to post a picture each time on Instagram. (I know that’s not the point of the pledge, but it is part of the fun.) I really did wear the things I normally wear; I only took care not to repeat anything. (Darth Marple style forever!) I wasn’t able to wear a couple of things I had planned on because it got so hot so quickly — and I also saw from the pictures that one of my bras doesn’t fit correctly and needs to be replaced — but I had a good time with it.

I do admire all of those dedicated Me-Made-May participants who make 100% of their own clothing, but I don’t aspire to that level. I don’t have the energy for it, and I’m mostly satisfied with the ready-to-wear* I have in my wardrobe. (I’m extremely picky — if it’s still hanging in my closet, it definitely works for me.) I know I’ve said before that I tend to sew simple things, a lot of “beginner” type patterns even though I’ve been sewing for more than half of my life. I mean, I’m capable of sewing all sorts of things. I used to make Victorian dresses and Renaissance costumes, for crying out loud — I am not afraid of zippers and buttonholes — but I choose to keep it simple because my energy level is so low. I mean, the amount of energy I would need to invest in sewing a pair of jeans — multiple muslins, all that bloody topstitching — could easily net me three or four tops and a dress instead. I’m not saying that I aspire to be my own sweatshop, or that quantity is always better than quality. I’m just saying that for me, personally, most of the time it makes sense to focus on the simpler things.

This might change in the future, of course. My energy level could improve, for one thing (hope springs eternal), and I’m already so dissatisfied with most ready-to-wear that I could see spending a couple of months sewing a winter coat or something like that.

Collage of May photos.

I finished a few things I already had cut out this month and made a couple of other simple things from scratch — including a pair of leggings for my Mom. I made a total of six new garments: Two dresses, two tops, and two pairs of leggings (including Mom’s). I’m more than satisfied with that!

I plan to complete the first draft of my new novel next month, so I bet my sewing momentum slows down a bit. I hope to finish a robe and another t-shirt dress before our vacation in July, though — and I plan to do at least the first muslin of my test project. That’s probably more than enough for June, but as I said, I’m pleased to have started off my Summer of Sewing with some tangible success.

Onward to June!

(*I’m not saying that I’m satisfied with what ready-to-wear currently has to offer plus sizes — I’m patently not. Also, I have to admit that the much of the ready-to-wear I own — aside from loungewear and underwear — is custom made to my measurements via eShakti. So it’s not exactly “off the rack” to begin with.)

Summer of Sewing: Preparing for Me Made May.

Sarah's Summer of Sewing

It’s that time of year again — time to take the Me Made May pledge and focus on sewing for a while. So, without further ado:

‘I, Sarah L. Crowder, of codenamesarah.com (and @codenamesarah on IG) sign up as a participant of Me-Made-May 2018. I will do my best to wear a self-made garment every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday during the month of May. I will also use this month as an opportunity to finish a couple of lingering UFOs, but I also want to get back into the habit of sewing more regularly — just for fun, with no pressure.’

I’m not promising photos this year, neither here nor on Instagram. I will be wearing many repeats from last year, and I don’t want to make a fuss over taking pictures this time around. I will do my best to photograph newly sewn items and a few things that I’ve never shown on IG, though. Of course, being me, I have to take things even further…so I’m going to use this year’s Me Made May to kick off an entire summer of sewing.

I genuinely enjoy sewing, but I haven’t been making time for it. It’s true that my energy level is especially low right now (particularly since I had the flu), but I make time for other, less important things — so why shouldn’t I get a little more sewing in? I spend so much time thinking about sewing, but so little time actually doing it. That’s what I want to change. I’ve finally gotten my writing into a useful daily routine — now I want to do the same thing with my sewing practice.

When we moved to this accursed apartment (that’s a whole other rant), I specifically made room for a dedicated sewing area. The only things I have to get out and put away are the iron and ironing board — and I can leave those out most of the time, too. I really have no excuse for not sitting down and spending 20 – 30 minutes a day sewing. Even that little bit of time really builds up, particularly as I tend to make simple garments. Just to be clear, though — I’m approaching this as fun, not as a self-imposed duty. I like to sew, and I love clothes; this is really just another form of self-care for me.

Aside from one design-concept-to-finished-item project that I have in mind (that will likely require multiple muslins), I just want to keep on sewing the simple dresses and basics that I usually do. But I want to actually do it, not endlessly theorize about it, as I am wont to do. So I’ve decided to dedicate the next several months to sewing, and have christened it “Sarah’s Summer of Sewing” because I am, as I have noted before, overly fond of alliteration.

I do use the term “summer” loosely here, though. I mean, I’m starting this in May and will likely continue through October because this is a subtropical zone. It’s already 80 – 85F here, and temperatures will remain at least that high until October at the earliest. So summer here lasts a good long while and has little to do with the traditional 20 June – 20 September temperate calendar. Also, it’s my thing, and I can be as loosey-goosey with it as I want.

I’ll do my best to check in here at least once a month, just for accountability — and more often if I have something notable to show off.

So here’s to a fun Me Made May and a successful Summer of Sewing!

Late to the party.

Here are all of the projects I chose for the 2018 Make Nine challenge. From left to right, top to bottom:

  1. Burda Robe 01/2017 (#126). I have needed a robe for a long time, and I really like the gathered detail on this one. It’s also made of knit fabric for extra comfort.
  2. A Seamwork Arden dress. I intend to alter this to sleeveless. Almost no one seems to have made this pattern, but I’ve always liked it.
  3. A Baktus Scarf replacement. My old one got a couple of big moth holes in it (a lesson to be learned regarding proper storage there), and it was the first thing I ever knitted with “good” yarn (Jo Sharp Silkroad DK Tweed). I also loved the shape of it. I don’t knit much at all these days, but I loved that scarf. This will probably be the only thing I knit this year.
  4. Something green for my birthday. My birthday is St. Patrick’s Day, and although I don’t really celebrate the holiday I do wear something green every year. I have two very different bright green fabrics in my stockpile, but haven’t decided which I’ll use this year — or which project I will use for either fabric. This is fairly hazy, I know — but it has an obvious deadline.
  5. A Concord t-shirt swing dress. I am just as in love with the Concord Tee as pretty much every other plus-sized woman who sews, and I really need some more easy dresses for hot weather. Two of my favorites are pretty much worn out and I’ll be really sad come spring if I don’t make at least one replacement.
  6. Simple trousers, to be determined. Another vague intention, I’m afraid — but I haven’t settled on which trousers I want to work on. I think I will stick to a pull on stretch woven style, but since I have failed with at least three of these patterns at the muslin stage, it might be time to try something else. I just ordered the Fast & Fabulous Miracle Pants from Hot Patterns (goodness, their pattern titles are always so breathless), but we’ll see how they test.
  7. A Heidi Purse from I Think Sew. Confession time: I’ve had this cut out for months, but never got around to sewing it. I really hate inserting magnetic closures, and that’s probably the whole reason for my procrastination.
  8. A Springfield top. I’ve tried other woven tanks and never can get them to fit very well. My pattern alteration skills just aren’t as far along as I’d like, but this pattern has so many positive reviews that I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
  9. A Suki Kimono from Helen’s Closet. Yes, that’s another robe. I don’t have any robes at all right now, and I spend a lot of time in sleepwear or loungewear and I’m trying to up my game in this area. I mean, I can be comfortable, but why can’t I also pretend to be visiting someone’s country house in the 1930s? Exactly.

None of these projects are too hard — and several are very easy — so I hope I can make some good progress on these. I do want to focus more on my sewing this year. I am less and less satisfied with most of the clothing I buy, so I’m fairly motivated to make more of my own stuff. I’m going to try to be more diligent about posting pictures of finished projects to Instagram this year, too — and to the blog here if I have anything particular to explain in detail.

Here’s to a productive (yet peaceful) 2018!

A Month of Clothing Philosophy: Be the Handsome Villain You Want to See in the World

I’m wearing a repeated and remixed Comino Cap dress for the final day of Me Made May 2017, along with my eShakti cardigan and my favorite vintage scarf.

A Month of Clothing Philosophy — Part Thirteen
Be the Handsome Villain You Want to See in the World

We’ve reached the final day of my Month of Clothing Philosophy, and there was so much I meant to say that I didn’t. I may add a few more essays along the way in the future, but never with this level of saturation. I really want to thank you for reading these pieces, and I hope that I’ve encouraged you to think about your own wardrobe.

I wanted to do something a little different to end the month, so I decided to share a list of my current fashion inspirations. I’ve been following a few of these people from all the way back in the days of the Fatshionista LiveJournal! I often wish that I’d had some source of street fashion when I was a kid. Sure, I subscribed to Vogue as a teenager, but these days I can open up Instagram and see real people wearing awesome clothes and looking fabulous — a far more interesting thing, in my opinion.

First off, a couple of exceptions. Buttercup’s Frocks isn’t on Instagram (as far as I know), but her Tumblr is still going strong. One of the very few over-50 outfit-of-the-day bloggers, she proves that a cardi and dress combo needn’t be twee, but can be an explosion of color and creativity. I would also like to give a shout out to Australian blogger Kath Read, who I admire greatly for both her fashion sense and her role as an activist, but her Instagram is private.

My Current Instafaves:

Shannon describes herself as “dandy femme” and makes me long for a well-fitting waistcoat.

I simply love Yvette’s style — her dress game is on fire.

Sonya Philip is an artist and sewist, and the originator of the 100 Acts of Sewing Project. She is a fearless mixer of prints in a lagenlook style.

Tasha is known for her amazing vintage style, mostly self-made — both sewn and knitted.

Margot Meanie wears all of the things I would want if I were 20 years younger and still 100% goth.

Amina Mucciolo is both a unicorn and a mermaid in human form — and either way she is gorgeous.

Rachel Jayson is a very fashionable musician with a Fluevog collection so extensive and fabulous that it makes me want to weep.

Tanya Maile is one of my favorite sewists on the entire World Wide Web. Everything she sews is fantastic, especially her vintage-inspired stuff.

Cynara Geissler , the originator of “Toddler Grandma Style: The Fashion Approach That Will Set You Free,” is probably my favorite of all time. I would pay to raid her closet. She is the best. Really.

You might notice something about my Instagram inspiration list. Sure, some of them primarily buy ready-to-wear, and some of them sew…but only one person in that whole list is straight sized. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not disgusted by thin bodies. (You guys are beautiful, too! Besides, as the saying goes, some of my best friends are thin.) But representation is important, and one of the ways I learned to stop hating my own body was by surrounding myself with images of people who looked like me.

I turned to “regular” people who posted pictures of themselves online because — with very few exceptions — every pop culture representation of bodies that look like mine are meant for comic relief or are villains. When a fat body appears in a story, you can be pretty sure that you’ll either laugh at them or be afraid of them — or both. Sometimes it feels like there’s a fine line between Mimi Bobeck and Ursula the Sea Witch, you know? So I think it’s especially important for regular fat people to be visible — even when the culture at large wishes we would hide away.

I may look like a villain, but I’m just a regular person — well, a regular clothes-obsessed person. And although I may long for a glorious plaid suit in the style of TV’s Hannibal Lecter, I’m not actually a bad guy.

There’s no need to vilify my body or others like it.

A Month of Clothing Philosophy: Make It Your Own

I’m wearing a brand new frankentee today for Me Made May — basically a Cashmerette Concord T-Shirt with the Jennifer Lauren Handmade Gable Top neckline. Not all frankenpattern experiments are successful, but I will definitely make this combo again with a little further tweaking. And who doesn’t love a good fox print? :fox_face:

A Month of Clothing Philosophy — Part Twelve
Make It Your Own

In my opinion, the very best thing about sewing your own clothes is that you can make almost anything you can imagine. If you have the skills and you can find the right fabric, the sky’s the limit! You can make your clothing as individual as you want…or you can copy things you could never afford (or find in your size). Sewing can give you an almost endless sort of sartorial freedom.

If you only want to wear purple for the rest of your life, you can make that happen. If you want an entire closet full of copies of the same blouse, you can do that — even if you want to copy a ready-to-wear blouse you love. If you want to chase every trend or simply blend into a crowd, sewing lets you do that, too.

You don’t have to sew everything from scratch, either. You can alter thrift store finds to better reflect your style, and alter new ready-to-wear for a better fit. You can take off sleeves, add (or subtract) trim, or even dye a light colored garment to a more pleasing shade. You can upcycle garments for yourself or cut them down for children.

When you do sew from scratch, you’re not limited to just the sewing patterns you find. Even if you can’t draft your own sewing patterns (which isn’t as hard as it seems), you can “frankenpattern” your favorites together. Maybe you like the fit of one dress, but the collar and sleeves of a different dress. You can combine them and make exactly what you want. You can easily alter sleeves and necklines with just a little practice — and an absolute beginner can make something shorter or longer. Most commercial patterns already have a line marked for that.

I began sewing as a teenager because I couldn’t find what I wanted to wear in stores, and returned to sewing later as an adult for much the same reason. I like to wear pretty specific shapes, colors, and fabrics — and have a difficult to fit shape (even for a plus size person). Sewing gives me the ability to wear the exact sort of things I like, and even if it takes far more effort than ready-to-wear, I think the results are worth the time and energy I spend. I also just plain enjoy the process. I don’t enjoy shopping at all, but I really do love sewing.

Although there’s a temporary (and somewhat frustrating) period for every new sewist where your taste exceeds your ability, the first time your end result matches up to your imagination is an amazing feeling. You’ll want more of that. You get a distinct sense of satisfaction when you wear something you’ve made yourself. And it’s a heady feeling when people compliment your self-made garments — though it’s kind of hilarious when other people act like you’re a wizard when they learn you sew your own clothes. (They do that more often than you think! It cracks me up every time.)

Sewing gives you an opportunity to truly make a garment your own. You choose the design, the color and print, and through your own effort make something both practical and beautiful. It can be an art and a craft at the same time, and the end result can be as unique as you are.

A Month of Clothing Philosophy: Not Quite a Minimalist

In total relaxation mode for Me Made May this Memorial Day afternoon. I’m wearing a self-drafted knit tunic whose neckband will not lay flat because I miscalculated its length. I didn’t bother to fix it because it was only ever meant to be lounge wear, and sometimes good enough is just plain good enough.

A Month of Clothing Philosophy — Part Eleven
Not Quite a Minimalist

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and when it comes to my wardrobe accessories are clearly my weakness. This is partly situational. I’ve spent almost all of my adult life living in very small spaces with almost no room for storage. Consequently, I have less clothing than most clothes horses generally do, and very few accessories. I wear the same few pieces of jewelry again and again, mostly necklaces. I don’t have pierced ears, though I do own exactly two pairs of clip-on earrings — and a handful of rings I wear on special occasions. (I don’t usually wear bracelets at all because I don’t like the sounds they make when I type.) I don’t have many purses or belts, and only a few hats. I have terrible feet and need to wear very supportive (and sometimes pricey) shoes, so I don’t really have that many — and they’re mostly boring.

I do love scarves and have a good handful, but I often don’t think to wear them. I’m not sure that I’m really any “good” at accessorizing, but probably some of this is rebellion, too. Everyone expects a fat lady to have the best accessory collection, because that’s all she can buy in “regular” stores. Maybe I like to play against expectations.

Because of this tendency to pare back, you may think I’m a minimalist — but I’m not. I’m definitely drawn to minimalist imagery in both fashion and decor, but I’m also drawn to gleeful overabundance. Given enough time and money, I could definitely see myself becoming one of those people with an entire room full of clothes and accessories. Realistically, though, that could be overwhelming. One of the benefits of having a smaller wardrobe is that it’s easy to choose what to wear, especially if you really like everything you have. I think that’s the idea behind minimalist capsule wardrobes, but I think having a really small variety of clothes would be too boring for me. A popular number is 33 — just 33 items of clothing and accessories. I can’t imagine that. But I can’t really imagine having endless variety, either.

I described myself earlier as medium fat and medium femme. As a person drawn in some ways to both minimalism and maximalism, I’m again choosing a middle path. I think maybe — to coin a phrase — I’m a mediumist. I’m Goldilocks looking for that “just right” balance between too little and too much.

A medium sized wardrobe really is the best of both worlds. Large enough to be interesting, but small enough that favorites don’t get pushed to the back of the closet and forgotten.

Not everything is in balance yet. I probably do have too few accessories, and I think I probably have too many cardigans — despite having only 17 right now, a stunning five year low. (I usually have 23 – 25 cardigans. Maybe that’s too many. Maybe. I don’t know. I really love cardigans. It’s hard to say.)

Still, I keep striving for balance, and I get closer all the time.

A Month of Clothing Philosophy: My Best Sartorial Advice

I almost forgot to take a photo today for Me Made May, but I’m wearing a mostly hidden, very old Comino Cap tee under an even older RTW cardigan.

A Month of Clothing Philosophy — Part Ten
My Best Sartorial Advice

I may not be a well-known fashion guru — heck, I don’t even aspire to that — but I still have a few pieces of advice for people looking to up their wardrobe game.

Forget about conventional wisdom.
Don’t worry about the colors supposedly appropriate for your coloring or the shapes that are supposedly correct for your body type. Wear what you like! There is no literal fashion police to arrest you. I’m a redhead who constantly wears red, for instance, and a pear who sometimes wears bright colors on my oversized ass — and I have not been sent to the fashion gulag yet. Wearing clothes that you genuinely like, regardless of how “flattering” they are, can give you a sort of buoyancy in appearance. Please yourself and the effect is often pleasing.

Make sure your wardrobe reflects your real life.
It’s easy to make (or buy) garments for a life you wish you were living — like sewing endless fancy dresses (that you have no reason to wear) or buying workout clothes (that you think will make you work out more, but never do). Worse still is to have a closet full of clothes that are either the wrong size or that simply reflect some previous phase of life. I think it’s fine to keep a few sentimental garments, but if you’ve changed jobs and have a drastically different dress code, it’s reasonable to replace your work wear. Anuschka Rees has a very useful method for analyzing your clothing needs by activity here. In fact, I highly recommend her wardrobe method (though I don’t aspire to minimalism) for any analytically-minded clothes horse.

Spend money on your priorities.
If you prefer quality over quantity, spend more on well-made basics (or on high quality fabric). If, on the other hand, you truly like a lot of “churn” in your wardrobe feel free to spend accordingly. There’s no one right way to dress, after all. You can chase fads or stick with the classics — just be true to yourself. (I do recommend setting a realistic budget and sticking to it, either way — but I’m one of those bummer thrifty people.)

Start where you are and build on what you already have.
Figure out what you like that you already have, then try to figure out why you like it — then make or buy similar pieces. One of the reasons I’ve never liked makeover shows is that they want you to throw out who you already are and start from scratch. That’s neither reasonable nor realistic, in my opinion. Maybe you truly are tired of wearing sweatshirts and jeans every day, but instead of buying or making 10 business casual dresses you’ll never wear again, why not try a work appropriate knit top and some stretch twill trousers? It’s always easier to add new things than to subtract old things that you genuinely like.

Leave the snark unsaid.
Constructive criticism is great — when asked for. A general tendency to read to filth anyone who doesn’t look the way you think they should is a horrible habit. Whether you’re denigrating yourself or others, a constant barrage of body shame and clothing mockery only serves the kyriarchy. It oppresses everyone, and we’re already playing an appearance-based game that no one can truly win. Give sincere compliments and be honest when asked, but try to leave the body and clothing based snark behind.

Feel free to ignore all of my advice.
As the receptionist in “Beetlejuice” said: “It’s all very personal.” Clothing can be a way we represent ourselves to the world, and as such can serve an entire host of purposes — all different, depending on who we are and what we value. Although we’re all in this together, we certainly don’t have to dress alike.