A Month of Clothing Philosophy: The Metaphorical Elephant in the Room

I’m wearing a Comino Cap top for Me Made May today. The fabric is a tentacle patterned knit from Spoonflower.

This is my second year participating in Me Made May, and I want to do something a little different this time. I will spend this month not only wearing my own handmade clothing, but also examining my relationship to clothing in general, and why it’s so important to me, in a series of essays.

A Month of Clothing Philosophy — Part One
The Metaphorical Elephant in the Room

Long ago, in the halcyon days when my beloved E.K. lived right down the street instead of across the country, she once called early on a Saturday morning with some spontaneous plan for the day. She said she would be right over to pick me up and I said, “Give me 30 minutes — I have to get dressed.”

E.K. laughed and said, “You actually do that, don’t you? You ‘get dressed,’ but I just put on clothes!”

It was true then and it’s true now: I get dressed. I dress with thought and purpose, and spend more time thinking about, making, altering, and spending time with clothes than many do. (You’ll notice I don’t spend much time shopping for clothes, but we’ll get into that later.) And yet I’m not a fashionista. I don’t usually post OOTD snaps on social media, and although I often receive compliments on my outfits in real life, I’m not especially flamboyant or colorful. It’s likely I’ll never sport the candy colored hair and exquisitely chosen accessories necessary for social media success amongst the clothing elite.

I do get derisive looks from strangers, however, and have been on the receiving end of unpleasant stares far more often than I would like.

You want to know why? It’s simple enough: I’m fat.

I’m what I think of as “medium fat” — mammoth by Hollywood standards, of course, but completely functional in the real world. I’ve never needed a seat belt extender on an airplane, for instance — and being spared that particular indignity may be what brought home the concept of relative privilege for me. I may get less abuse than many fat people, but I still get some — you know? I “read” as thinner than I am, which also gets me better treatment. I have a strong jaw and prominent chin, so my double chin is less apparent. I’m not very busty (and am in fact three dress sizes smaller at the bust than at the hip), so I seem smaller than I might otherwise. I’m pear-shaped with a definite, smaller waist. I have a lot of relative privilege. I know that.

But I am definitely, demonstrably fat. I am plus sized, if you want a coy term. I am not euphemistically curvy, “overweight” (over what weight, exactly?), or — god forbid — fluffy, a term I despise more than almost any other. I’m simply fat, and when I use that word to describe myself I mean it just as a physical descriptor — like short, or pale. I don’t mean it as an insult.

It took me years to find this level of self acceptance, but fat is finally a neutral term for me, and it’s what I call myself.

So, now that we have that out of the way, we can begin to examine why I come to clothing with a different perspective than many, and why dressing well is both a creative and a political act for me. I’m not only here to shock the bourgeoisie (as fun as that can be), but I’m here to be visible, to represent an unfairly vilified segment of society.

Clothes can be a serious business, and they’re serious to me. Representation is important.

Clothing is important.

Gearing up for Me Made May…

Gearing up for Me Made May today! Clockwise, starting with the fox print, these will eventually be: a Cashmerette Concord T-Shirt modified with the Jennifer Lauren Handmade Gable Top neckline, Style Arc Ethel Designer Pant, a self-drafted swing tank, and a Seamwork Kenedy dress.

Odds are I won’t actually get all of them finished by the end of May, but I’m going to try!

(Can you tell that I’m too lazy to change the thread on my serger? There is a definitely a specific color story happening here.)

A sophomore effort.

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I’ve decided to do Me Made May again this year. Here’s my official pledge:

‘I, Sarah L. Crowder of codenamesarah.com (and @codenamesarah at Instagram), sign up as a participant of Me-Made-May ’17. I endeavour to wear at least one self-made garment every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday for the duration of May 2017.’

Once again, I’ve chosen a Monday / Wednesday / Saturday schedule because I usually only leave the house on those days, and also because I have less self-made clothing than I used to have. I only made a couple of things from last May until now, and have changed sizes (again!), so several older things no longer fit correctly. Several other garments are almost worn out, too — so I am having a bit of a shortage!

I’m going to use the month as an excuse to sew as many things as I can — not in a high-pressure sort of way, but in a “let’s see how much I can get done without stressing” sort of way. I hope to make a couple of knit tops, a knit dress, at least one skirt, and a pair of lightweight summer trousers. That seems ambitious, I know — but it’s barely more than one thing a week — and I plan to start my sewing in April, anyway.

I’m not promising photos, but I’ll try to post some either here or on Instagram. I may repeat garments, too. I want to be productive, but also…relaxed. Here’s to a fun Me Made May!

Wrapping up Me Made May.

I’m not sure I’ll participate again — I may, but it will depend on my energy level next spring — but like most participants, I did learn a few things during Me Made May.

I do a good job making things I actually like to wear — and I sew clothes that work with my existing wardrobe, and that are practical for the actual lifestyle I lead. No fancy party dresses with nowhere to wear them, that’s for sure! As I mentioned earlier in the month, I tend to stay within the same color palette to keep things simple, and that helps, too.

Though my favorite purchased garments are mostly all fit-and-flare dresses from eShakti, I really do like pared back styling. I like simple lines and knits, and although I’m certainly capable of sewing more complicated items, I really do like the stuff I make. So far, so good.

However, I’ve realized that many of my sewing expectations are bananas. I have a ton of fabric, hundreds of ideas, and almost no energy to sew most of the time. I didn’t write a single word on my novel re-write this month, simply because I was focusing on finishing sewing projects I had already cut out. I need to be more realistic about my limitations. That being said, I can knock out a simple tee or a Mabel skirt in just about an hour. So it’s good that my fashion instincts lean toward simple projects.

All in all, I had a really good month and I’m glad I gave it a shot. I only repeated one garment the entire month, and only failed to get a picture one day. I managed to wear something I’d made every single Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday — and one bonus Sunday. I actually wore a couple of other things on other days, too — my infamous bunny print lounge pants, yet another Mabel skirt, and some linen shorts — but I didn’t bother to document them.

I made my pledge, and followed through. I call it a success.

Not pictured.

I’m not posting a photo for Me Made May today because although I’m wearing a self-made garment, it’s basically a house dress and I can’t be bothered to take a picture. Way too low energy today.

This particular dress is a fraternal twin to the knit Staple dress I wore earlier in the month. It’s the same, except that it’s a black and grey floral print. I consider it a fabric failure, because it got extremely pilled only the second time I wore it. We drove to New Orleans last year for our anniversary, and by the time we reached our hotel, the front of this dress had a visible line of pilling where the seat belt had been! I was so sad. It was basically brand new, and already too “worn” to wear out and about — what a terrible, cheap fabric. Ugh!

The dress is perfectly sound in all other respects, though, so I often wear it around the house — and so comfortable that I’m tempted to make another version one of these days.

Maybe I will.

Practical sewing.

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Today for Me Made May I wore the same Comino Cap dress as the other day because I did laundry yesterday and it’s my new favorite. I also wore a self-made apron while I was baking earlier.

I probably wear this apron more frequently than any other handmade item I have — usually every day. I wear it while cooking and while doing dishes and other chores. There was a fad for apron making a few years ago, but most people were making frothy half aprons, which look great in a retro sort of way, but do very little in practical terms. A good apron has to cover your clothes to save them, after all.

I traced off an old apron to make the pattern for this one, and used two layers of quilting cotton instead of one of canvas. (I’ve also made reversible aprons this way.) I used purchased twill tape for the neck and ties, so it was even easier to make. I love that such a simple item gets so much use!

My friend Tanzy came for tea today, so I made bannocks and a hot black eyed pea dip. We also had the refrigerator pickles I made on Thursday, and the blueberry freezer jam I made yesterday. It has been a busy week in my kitchen! I really do enjoy cooking and baking when my energy level permits it. I get a little self-conscious baking for Tanzy, though — she trained as a pastry chef. Today she brought a meringue roulade to share!

But we had a nice chat, and my apron got yet a little more use. (And I made the Hello Kitty tablecloth, too.)

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This pattern has Comino Cap-tured my heart.

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*Groan!* What a terrible pun, am I right? Aren’t you glad Me Made May allowed me to force such dreadful wordplay upon you? Of course you are.

I now totally get why sewing bloggers  went bananas for this pattern when it came out. The t-shirt is great, and the dress is marvelous.

I graded out at the waist and hips again, shortened the bodice by two inches, and added several inches to the skirt’s length. I seem to add length to everything these days, despite being only 5’2″. I’ve got nothing against short skirts on others, but I’m 40-mumble years old and I work in accounting. I’m not wearing anything much above knee level to work. From a stylistic perspective I prefer midi length, anyway — I think it’s more elegant.

Yes, this is the same fabric I used for the tee. Unoriginal, sure — but at least I knew it would work well. I got both the tee and the dress out of 3 yards, even with all that extra length in the skirt. What a great (and economical) pattern!

I would also like to say that this is the best neckband application I’ve done to date.  But then I turned around and made one of the crappiest hems I’d done in a while! Eh, win some, lose some. I’m still very satisfied by this dress, and totally in love with the pattern.

A great skirt for a not-so-great day.

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I’m wearing yet another Collette Mabel skirt variation today (I think I’ve made 6 Mabels total) for Me Made May. I think the boxy top (from Target last year) gives it a mid-90s vibe. This outfit pretty forcefully recalls all of those rib knit skirt and tee combos from Express I wore back in the day.

This is one of the most comfortable skirts I own. The ponte knit is especially soft and stretchy — I wish I’d gotten more of this fabric in other colors. I needed that kind of comfort today. I didn’t do a great job of respecting my limitations over the weekend, and now I’m paying the price.

After two days of non-stop busy-ness, I woke up this morning with super fatigue and mystery pain, and a brain fog so bad that although I was at work for six hours, I only billed out one and a half. I couldn’t think my way out of a wet paper sack today. Not a great day.

But at least my clothes were comfortable.