The joy of making your own clothes

Although I’m an absolute amateur, I’ve now made a few garments that just, well, fit. (OK, with more than a few making mistakes, but I’m calling these learning!) There’s no changing room self-hate, no trying to squeeze into different sizes and feeling that specific feeling that emanates from years of internalised fatphobia, no weird shapes from a piece of clothing that sort of fits in some places and gapes and/or constricts in others, no feeling confused about opaque supply chains and the ethics of clothes construction. And: POCKETS. Pockets in everything I say.

I’ve been inspired to write this following a brief Twitter interaction with LH/Daisy May Johnson. I’ve been making my own clothes for nearly three years now, even though I’m not quite at Wardrobe Architect levels. I’m also not 100% homemade pants; I still buy clothes from charity shops or save up for something that I know is a little more ethical.

I’m lucky enough to (semi) work in academia where, fortunately, my brain is valued more than whether or not I’m wearing make-up or fancy shoes. In my other job (library assistant) as long as I don’t look like I’ve leaped into a hawthorn hedge no-one really notices the dodgy serging within my Tilly and the Buttons Coco dresses, or the hacked In the Folds x Peppermint Magazine Vintage-Style skirt (see below images. I love this skirt – it was made for a storytelling event but I wear it loads). I wore a newly made Grainline Scout Tee to my PhD viva which I do think – along with my amazing supervisors cheering me on – helped my confidence quite a bit too.

Sewing isn’t always a go-to hobby for me – plus I’m definitely late to the dressmaking and sewing revival party – however, along with learning how to knit it has really helped me with spatial awareness and maths. Numbers tend to blur and dance when I look at them, but playing with patterns and dimensions and counting stitches have helped immensely. I’ll never be a maths genius but I’m not as intimidated anymore.

And sewing is good for making gifts or for making masks to help protect friends and family.

A selection of handmade masks.(Three layers of fabric, not medical grade but better than catching or passing on COVID-19. Plus: Daleks!)

A selection of handmade masks. (Three layers of fabric, not medical grade but better than catching, or passing on, COVID-19. Plus: Daleks!)

I am aware of the privileges that come with having access to a sewing machine, and fabric, and some spare time. I am aware that not everyone has access to these things, however, I hope that I can do my small bit at addressing the exploitative fast fashion industry and in trying to be more sustainable. It’s a quiet form of activism; for me, my ‘feminism and sewing seem fundamentally connected‘ (see: Bain, J. (2016) ‘“Darn right I’m a feminist…Sew what?” the politics of contemporary home dressmaking: Sewing, slow fashion and feminism.’ Women’s Studies International Forum, 54, pp 57-66). For me it’s about: taking back control, creativity, mindfulness, and attempting to address some of the broader issues around making, and social and environmental justice.

As for making clothes, while it’s not a panacea, and I’m no accomplished seamstress, this skill has allowed me to feel more comfortable in my body and not be constrained by shop sizing or by poorly fitting bodices. (Although you may notice that the one below wasn’t brilliant; I put the boob darts in the wrong place.)

A white broderie anglaise Nina Lee Bloomsbury blouse and adapted black linen In the Folds x Peppermint Mag Vintage-Style skirt (with amazing cavernous pockets) hang on a door frame.

A white Broderie Anglaise and cotton lawn Nina Lee Bloomsbury blouse (fabric from Stafford Market and Like Sew Amazing. And an adapted black linen In the Folds x Peppermint Mag Vintage-Style skirt (with amazing cavernous pockets).

An uncomfortable Jennie tries to take a rubbish selfie in the mirror while wearing the previous clothes. She is holding "Blanche the Baum Rabbit" crocheted for Sheffield Gothic.

An uncomfortable Jennie tries to take a rubbish selfie in the mirror while wearing the clothes above. She is holding “Blanche the Baum Rabbit” crocheted for Sheffield Gothic in 2015.