Each week throughout the summer months we’ll hear from a designer about a pattern or book that caused them to head in a new direction and helped form their career. It’s the pattern that changed their life.
Jenny Rushmore began sewing at age 30. Sewing has played a tremendous role in helping her to accept, and celebrate, her curvy body. She blogs at Cashmerette.
To reach out to other plus size sewists Jenny founded The Curvy Sewing Collective, a site that has become a valuable resource for sewalongs, tips, and inspiration. She’s also just released The Cashmerette Curvy Sketchbook to help curvy sewists design and plan their wardrobes.
Originally from the north of Scotland, Jenny now lives in Boston. We went out for coffee a few months ago and had a fantastic time together.
When Abby first invited me to contribute to this series, I have to admit that I was stumped. There are lots of sewing patterns I love, that I sew time and time again, but had any of them truly changed my life?
I let the idea percolate for a few days, and started contemplating the ways that learning to sew has changed my life, more generally: the journey to body acceptance, the joy of having infinite possibilities in my wardrobe, the community of which I’ve become a part. And then I realized that it all started early on: when I made the Colette Patterns Sorbetto, a simple, free, tank top pattern.
I came to sewing fairly late, at the age of 30, and started from zero, with no experienced family or friends to teach me. I started out tentatively, making a few quilting cotton garments from Christine Haynes’ “Chic and Simple Sewing” book, which has patterns suitable for beginners. However I was immediately disheartened, because I realized that I was bigger than the largest size in the book, and nothing I made fit me properly. Part of the reason I had turned to sewing was the lack of clothes in the stores that fit me – at a size 14, I’m the size of the average US woman, but you’d never think that by what’s available. Compounding that issue, my bust is far bigger than a 14, so it was basically impossible for me to fit into anything other than knit tops and wrap dresses. I had assumed that sewing patterns would be more accommodating, and I was disappointed to discover that wasn’t the case.
It was only on doing some fairly obsessive sewing-related internet surfing that it slowly dawned on me that the joy of sewing is that you can make whatever changes you want to a pattern, to make it fit you, and suit your style. It’s slightly embarrassing how long this took to occur to me – I would even reject patterns because I didn’t like the hem length! But one day I came across the concept of a “Full Bust Adjustment”, which you could do to any pattern to make the bust bigger without enlarging the entire pattern. That sounded tailor-made for me!
The Sorbetto, a free tank top pattern from Colette, is the pattern that changed Jenny’s life.
So, I decided to try it on a pattern that was getting a lot of buzz online, a woven tank top called the Sorbetto, available as a free download from Colette Patterns. A friend and I made it in parallel, and I looked over in jealousy as she whipped her top up straight from the pattern. But I knew that all these lines I was drawing and cuts I was making had some potential, so I was too consumed with excitement to mind. I started with the biggest size (an 18), and used the full bust adjustment to add another 2 inches to the bust. My final pattern piece looked like it had gone through extensive plastic surgery but I pushed on, cut out my fabric, painstakingly attempted to apply bias binding, and…
It fit! A woven top, fit me! I can’t say that the fit was perfect (though beginner me had very little sense of that), but for the first time in my adult life, something non-stretchy comfortably went over my bust without turning into a tent at my waist. It was a transformative moment. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, it was the first step in my journey towards thinking of my body as a canvas for gorgeous, well-fitting clothes, rather than a problem to be fixed. My bust wasn’t an inevitable problem any more, it just required a bit of math and a pair of scissors in order to make garments that fit it perfectly.
The act of adapting that pattern also opened my eyes to the infinite possibilities of sewing. You start with a tank top, but you can end up with almost anything, thanks to the endless ways you can adapt a pattern. I hadn’t heard of the concept of a block or sloper at that point in my sewing career, but that’s what my Sorbetto became: the basis of my woven tops. Since then I have a wardrobe of Sorbettos, from simple cotton numbers, to a neon orange crop top (!) and my latest v-neck, silk number with a curved hem.
These days, I find I mostly take sewing and having a wardrobe full of well-fitting clothes for granted. So I’m glad to take a moment to reflect on a pattern that marked a turning point for me, from thinking that I needed to change my body, to realizing I simply needed to change my clothes.
The Colette Sorbetto was the pattern that changed Jenny Rushmore’s life.