Homemade handmaiden.

**Long post alert**

The conversation topic for Week Three of Slow Fashion October is Homemade. Check out Karen’s lovely post about why she makes her own clothes.

It’s amazing how thinking and writing about something even for a very short amount of time can alter or redirect your thinking. Before I get into answering the questions as set out by Karen, there are some brief points I want to make:

  • Despite it being Frocktober over at The Monthly Stitch I am not making a frock. Why? Because unlike many members of the sewing community I’m not that into dresses, so why add something to my wardrobe that there is no need for? Instead I think I will make a top for my birthday – later this month – with the dress pattern I was planning on using for Frocktober. [This is in no way disrespecting all the dress lovers and Frocktober-ers out there, more just noting a change in my thinking which I think is a direct result of Slotober.]
  • I found the shoes I wanted and needed online made by a company I respect. I am so glad that I was slow and judicious about this as now I know I have a pair of shoes that I will wear to death.

And now, the topic at hand.

How do you understand your style, choose projects well, advance your skills, get the right fit, and keep things interesting and long-lasting at the same time. What are your go-to patterns and most successful garments. How do you avoid mindless acquisition of yarn and fabric, or making “too much.” How do you make time and space for making — and why?

I’ve broken these up into the smaller sets of questions, but of course there are some definite areas of overlap.

How do you understand your style, choose projects well, advance your skills, get the right fit, and keep things interesting and long-lasting at the same time?

I love playing around in my wardrobe, so occasionally I will try things I see online – like arranging the wardrobe by colour rather garment, counting and recording item types & colours, working on go-to looks – and as part of one such lark I really identified I have a thing for trousers.

Like many sewers, I was seduced by sewing lovely dresses. However I hardly wore them. I also was getting into the habit of making a coat just about every year, and while they do get a lot of wear, it was not enough to justify that. So once I had identified that basically I wear trousers 90% of the time, I just thought, I’m going to make pants. And of course then you do need tops [damn society with their rigid rules of being fully clothed.]

Part of understanding my style is also knowing what I actually wear as compared with what I think I will wear. I have lists. I make lists of work outfits by season, and tick off combinations as I road test them. This amuses people greatly but helps the analytical process greatly as well as saving some marital discord [our house in the morning: Naomi “What should I wear to work?” Alex “Check the list!”] 

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I also have regular dress-ups sessions with my fashion gal-pal and we work out combos for those tricky pieces, like for instance the pair of bright yellow pants my sister recently gave me.

Certainly having a clearer understanding of what I wear, means I choose projects with more wisdom – I rarely make dresses now for instance. And while I love patterned pants…

I know that I also need some in solids – but none in blue or black.

Deciding to sew #allthepants also has considerably improved my sewing as fitting pants is tricky. I have a thick waist, no hips but a round low bum and long, relatively slim legs. I started researching pant construction as I am a total lifelong learner type and eventually stumbled across this book which is now my pant bible. I am by no means a mistress of the dark art of pant construction yet, but it has made a massive difference in the way I fit not only pants, but all garments.

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I also like to ask for help where needed as in recently with bust darts. This not only helps improve skills, but keeps things interesting too.

A before and after shot, so much better! (Can you spot which is the photo taken with a proper camera?!)

But keeping things interesting isn’t generally an issue for me. One word: fabric! I love the stuff, and if I have a pattern that works I will happily make it up multiple times using different fabrics and not lose interest.

Exhibits A-E:

Exhibits F-K:

And as for long lasting, I guess I try to sew with that in mind, both in terms of style and fit, but in terms of careful construction and finishing. Using quality fabric helps too.

What are your go-to patterns and most successful garments?

Pants patterns, tops, sweatshirts and the odd bit of outerwear seem to be the mix that works for me. Patterns that I have either drafted myself or tweaked the fit of substantially are certainly the go-to crew.

For 2016 my mint trousers have been the STAR so far in terms of nailing the fit of the crotch seam using Pants for Real People. I had never spent so much time fitting or been so happy with the outcome [barring making a car coat for the husband formally known as boyfriend at that time] before this point. I was just so happy with how these pants turned out.

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The other unexpected star of the year was the Esme cardigana prizewinner too I might add 😉 and this has been worn a lot, and people have really responded to this make too, often commenting on it.

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I think the next challenge for me will be hacking an existing jacket pattern so that I can get something that fits the way I want it to, because having some excellent layering options makes a difference for me but my blazer / jacket making to date hasn’t been amazingly successful.

How do you avoid mindless acquisition of yarn and fabric, or making “too much”?

Mindless acquisition for me is easier to avoid that making too much. Because – where possible – I want to know where and how things have been made I tend to buy second hand mostly. This limits availability. Occasionally I will treat myself to some top shelf fabric from The Fabric Store but I try for known origins and for something that I will keep and use a lot either way. While my husband still makes smart remarks about fabric shopping along the lines of “Oh good, you were getting low there for a bit!” I am actually not too much of a stasher and I do get given fabric regularly and know when it’s time to stop looking on TradeMe or going to the op-shop.

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Making too much is the bigger challenge. I love variety, I love having a big wardrobe, I love colour and print and none of these things scream CAPSULE WARDROBE. So I while know I won’t be a CW person, I also have to admit there is nothing I need. [And I guess I don’t think I am really justified in using that word many places in my life. I am exceptionally blessed.]

However what I do want / need to do is make. There is very little in life that gives me as much satisfaction as making something. And clothes are my drug of choice.

But I am slowing down, I can really feel it. I know that there are other people I can make for  – like the husband. There is also the matter of mending and repair. This past weekend I did three lots of mending on some winter clothes before putting them in storage for the summer. I also polished a pair of shoes.

This meditation on slow has been giving me a lot of satisfaction and really making me address why and what I will make next. And to hope that that garment will be around for a long time, and be worn, used, appreciated and admired.

How do you make time and space for making — and why?

I once described my mindset to a creative friend as:

…that relentless, beating urge to make, create, try, grow and challenge.

The ‘why’ can’t be answered in any other way than I must do this.

The ‘how’ is easier but less simple. I work four days a week in my day job to facilitate my creative life – this is primarily focused on the performing arts side of my creative endeavors. However I believe that creativity feeds creativity so sewing, cooking, gardening, painting, writing, reading and conversing with intelligent & creative people are all things that make me a better performer; a more human, creative, connected and engaging individual to have on a stage.

Taking time to sew in the weekend is time that cleans my brain, resets me from my day job, and gives me valuable alone time. I am a highly expressive introvert and an active relaxer. Sewing is the perfect choice of settling activity for me.

I carve out a few hours of each weekend to sew –  to make, to create, to solve problems, to learn, to improve – ultimately with the desired outcome of decorating my outside with things I think reflect my insides.

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27 thoughts on “Homemade handmaiden.

  1. I should be sleeping but I had to read through your post as it was so lovely. Moreover, I love the eclectic, interesting fabrics that you use. In fact, I think my internal me would love to dress much more like you do! We do have one thing in common in that I am definitely a pants girl. I like dresses in certain circumstances but pants are what I put on most often.

    The slowing down thought is a nice one. I also feel compelled to make things but I am trying to take my time and focus on savoring the process. I also feel so privileged that I don’t really want for anything.

    Thanks again for the thoughtful post.

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    1. Thanks for you kind words Steph. I’m glad that my eclectic tastes are appreciated. Sometimes I have these no print, neutral periods too, but I always swing back hard to colour and big bold prints.
      I’m glad you are flying the pant flag too. I was looking lustfully at your pants today, those SWAP 16 grey wide leg ones made me drool.

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    2. Didn’t finish: I also like dresses for particular occasions, for me going out somewhere fancy is almost always dress or skirt territory. But for everyday, trousers it is.
      The enjoyment of process is an important aim and one that often gets overlooked in the push to finish. I’m enjoying more balance.

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      1. Thanks. I think those grey Prince of Wales trousers are probably one of the best things I’ve made. I spent a ridiculous amount of time when cutting and sewing to make sure that the plaid all matched up perfectly – over the front pockets, the side seams, etc. It was a real headache. I love the pants but the fabric is a wool silk so they are a bit on the lightweight side, which is a shame. I am tempted honestly to use the same pattern to make another pair of heavier grey wool pants for winter (largely because I already have the grey wool). Whenever I wear those ones or the plum ones I feel great. I had originally intended to also make the jacket portion of the suit (it’s a YSL Vogue pattern from the 70s), but I keep on chickening out. Maybe it’s time to make the suit!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh yes to all! The Jacket and a pair in heavier wool. If it’s of any consolation, it’s the lightness of the grey POW pants that makes my hear sing!

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  2. You have made some really lovely things here, what is the name of the raglan top pattern Naomi? So glad I just checked your ‘about’. For some strange reason I always thought you were a Canadian! Me too, love pants. Rarely wear the dresses I make but love the pants. Funny story – I need to make my Princess a pair of trousers. Tried my trouser block on her and they fit really well, take ’em in at the sides add a back dart – we’re off. I was drafting the pattern today and whoah… I had tried them on her back to front – thats why there was no back dart – derrrr! x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! The pattern for the top is a vintage one, simplicity 9037 I think but you can see the pattern art here: Kimono style top – Spare Room Style
      https://spareroomstyle.wordpress.com/2015/06/07/kimono-style-top/
      I am kiwi but I think us kiwis have quite a lot in common with Canadians in that we both have that little sister role to a bigger bossier other country.
      Always happy to add another pant lover to the gang! That is so funny about your back darts, but easily done with slim teenage bodies!

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  3. Thank you for your thoughtful post. I think not participating in Frocktober was a wise decision – I don’t really like sewing or knitting things for the sake of it, I want something I’ll really wear. And if what you wear are pants and blouses, then sew pants and blouses!

    I’ve been thinking a lot about what I make recently. I do love to make and wear party frocks, but I don’t get much of a chance to wear them if I’m bumming around home most of the day. So I’ve been sewing some stretchy pants and knit tops, which are getting a lot of wear. They are also very fun to sew! I successfully avoided the pants fitting nightmare by sewing stretch pants with elastic waists 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yay for stretchy pants and knit tops! And for sewing for RealWardrobe rather than ImaginaryWardrobe. I have to say that I really enjoy fitting pants, and I have no doubt that it’s a challenge you would easily master! Thanks for your kind words.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. “An active relaxer”…I’ve never heard that phrase before but I can totally relate to it! I also plan to make more trousers, the method of fitting your mint trousers that you described is pretty much how I make things fit… I partially construct the main pieces and then always pin on myself to fit the main seams.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post, I loved reading it. It made me think about what I sew and why too. I love dresses but my lifestyle doesn’t work to wear them in a day to day basis, but I love an excuse to make and wear one. I really need more trousers in my life and my most successful pair were a black stretch cotton sateen pair that I made with one of the amazing fit patterns. I made them about 2 years ago and they’re still going strong, and get worn mainly for golf once the weather turns. All your patterned ones made me smile, I have a wardrobe full of colourful separates but nothing matches. I could do with some solids stop mix in and amongst. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I also go rogue and do pattern on pattern quite a bit – but sometimes I just need a lower key feel with some solids. But I’m not a huge fan of black with a print, so I still keep the colour going. But I just never feel like I have enough trousers!
      I also like to make dresses for special occasions, and your dresses are stunning!
      Thanks for your kind words.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Really interesting post & another good way to get to know our online buddies.
    I like your thoughtful approach to your wardrobe. As I know only too well, it’s too easy to be sucked in to making clothes that are lovely but won’t get worn. I was amazed by your list – i could do with an outfit list like yours.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! The list would only work for some people, but it sure works for me!
      And this, and the seamstress tag have been really nice ways to find out more about people we know online in a more meaningful way. I’m really enjoying it!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I love the list, and that its organized by complete outfit.
    Maybe you could add an element of random choice by making a spinner! Like on a game show, a spinning wheel of shirts, to pair with the pants card you’ve drawn from the deck of pants cards.
    Not that you need to change the list, I love the list!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Eloquently said! I love how thoughtful and considered you are but that it doesn’t ever translate into you feeling boring or like a kill-joy to your possibly less considered and definitely more stashing accumulating sister. I love how much making you do in all areas of life – you are an inspiration x

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I was looking through here trying to find my comment because your post sounded so familiar. I think I must have had an IT glitch. So I hope I am not repeating myself when I say you have certainly done your research and made up your mind what’s right for you. I find most my clothes are made for work – dressy pants, dresses, skirts. When I’m retired (I hope someday!) I wonder what I will be sewing then? Perhaps lots of pants, shorts and active wear! I have that book. I heard good reviews on it. I haven’t had a chance to use it though, although sewing pants is getting higher on my list! I’m about due!

    Liked by 1 person

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