I’ve never sewn an item of clothing for myself that I’ve actually worn. If I had to unpack why I’d say there are a few reasons.
First, fashion is a part of life in which I simply lack confidence. I like beautiful clothes, but always seem to pick the wrong things – the dress with the unflattering neckline, the jacket in the sallow color, the oddly fitting pair of pants. (StitchFix has been a dream come true for me).
Second, the first step when sewing clothes is measuring my body and, as I’ve written about before, I’ve struggled with my weight almost continuously since I was 12. Sometimes its been to just too painful to focus on my body’s shape.
And finally, I think I simply felt it was hard. I sewed a pair of shorts in 8th grade Home Ec and remember being admonished for my wonky seams (it was my first ever sewing project). Nobody in my family sewed and knew how to help me. I took a class at G Street Fabrics the summer before starting High School and when I cut out the pattern incorrectly the teacher grew frustrated with me. I didn’t understand the language of sewing clothes from patterns and even though I was obviously very young and totally inexperienced, that lesson was the one that stuck most of all.
Recently, though, something has shifted in my feelings towards sewing clothes for myself. In two weeks I’ll turn 43 and I’ve found that the older I get the more I fearless I feel to simply do the things I want to do. And I’ve just lost a whole bunch of weight. I’m working hard at treating my body better.
Scrolling through Instagram a few weeks ago I saw The Rushcutter dress from the Australian indie pattern company In the Folds. I ordered the pattern on a whim. This dress seemed so approachable. It’s woven and loose fitting with no set-in sleeves. How hard could it be to make this? Plus I love those big pockets!
There’s a sewalong for the Rushcutter on the In the Folds blog with helpful tutorials for every step. My friend, Deborah, has the pattern, too, and told me which steps to finish with French seams (3, 4. 10, and 11) and which to use a zigzag (step 13) since I don’t have a serger. I made a muslin first from an old bed sheet. Then sewed this one from Robert Kaufman Essex yarn dyed linen in peacock. I love this fabric, but in retrospect, it’s a bit stiff and the fact that there’s no clear front and back made it not the best choice for a new garment sewist. I’ve already ordered some Cotton+Steel rayon to try again.
I wore the dress with my tortoise glasses but I have to shorten the dress by 2″ and the sleeves by a bit more (although I think I’ll make them even shorter next time) because I’m quite short. I had some problems with the neckline. It was too high for me, so I lowered it a bit, but it’s still a bit too high I think. I’m going to lower it more next time.
Sewing a dress was a truly wonderful experience for me. The satisfaction was akin to baking a really good loaf of bread or researching a story. I was totally absorbed by the process and thought of almost nothing else for several days.
All of this is to say that I get it now. For years I’ve been reading sewing blogs written by people who sew clothes and wax on about every detail and while I’ve appreciated their dedication, I felt like an outsider. But now that I’ve cracked the door open and gotten a glimpse of the party happening inside I’m so glad to be part of the fun.
Wooooot! It looks fantastic! Congratulations! I am trying to get back into sewing for myself (I’ve only done basic skirts and a top once), and you’ve inspired me (as usual).
It looks great!! Welcome to the dark side!! And I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your article on sewing ageism in Sew News!!
Oh yay! Thanks for reading that piece.
Gillian Whitcombe says
Yay you!!!!! It’s hard to overcome those past roadblocks, but I”m so excited that you coming around to garment sewing! Your dress is beautiful on you – great colour, cool design, and it’s going to be so good in all seasons! (Seriously, with boots and a scarf in fall? So chic.) If there is ever anything I can help you with as you are sewing clothes, you know how to find me! 🙂
Totally agree with Gillian – this is going to be wonderful with leggings and boots in the winter! Welcome to the wonderful world of garment sewing – it’s so much fun!
Thanks, Gillian. You’re a total inspiration!
Molly Hamilton says
Yay! Great job! It feels good to do something challenging like garment sewing – good job being fearless!
Ooh, it looks great! I love that color blue.
On the first garment I ever made for myself, I accidentally cut all the pieces with the grain running the wrong direction. I’m pretty sure I cried. But the fabric was really wide and once I calmed down I was able to re-cut everything. In the end it turned out great! I’ve only made that mistake once since. 🙂
Congratulations! I am so happy for you! When I started sewing I only made quilts and bags. I had some body confidence issues and just didn’t think I could do it. I am so glad I followed my passion and went for it. My first shirt ended up falling apart because I didn’t really understand that I needed to finish my seams! Whoops! It’s a fun rabbit hole to fall down and such a nice way to show ourselves some love and care. Happy sewing Abby!
Sewing now a days is a lot easier then it was back in the 50s-60s-70s when everything had to be refitted to your body and had complicated tailoring steps that could not be skipped. I like the pattern you picked … I may give it a go as I too am 5 foot when I lie about my height. I so think a 3/4 sleeve would be nice.
Have a question .. could you sew the top yolk and sleeves in one color and then the body of the dress in another. I have a cute print that would look great for the top and a solid dress body would make it look interesting.
Glenna Walker says
Would definitely see it in 2 colors. 👍
Way to go! Seriously, it looks great and yay for getting past the mental block. I think it really is sometimes all about finding just the right project.
Aileen Gimlin says
Good Job! You are going to get alot of use out of that dress. You look great!
I like your version better than the cover…maybe darker shoes… Good job.
Carol S says
A few more washes and that fabric should soften up.
IF you need sewing help fast I suggest the various FACEBOOK GROUPS for sewing clothes. I joined the MC CALLS & SIMPLICITY Group on FB and got answers to many of my questions within minutes… Loved the people there
As they said NO DUMB QUESTIONS
Susie Wood says
You look fabulous! Great job!
Wonderful color for you!
I emptied a can of Coca Cola into the soap dispenser of my front loader and washed my linen on delicate. Came out a lot softer.
Sandra Gallagher says
You look darling in your dress!
So excited to see you sewing a dress! Come on over to the other side. It’s super fun sewing clothes for yourself!
You look fantastic! I’m sure you’ve heard of Stasia Savasuk’s Style School but I just wanted to say it is an awesome way to learn a lot of things about clothes and style as well as all the body confidence stuff we all struggle with. I still have a long way to go but she seriously helped me to move the ball forward. I know now why some clothes work for me and some don’t and it’s really a matter of numbers and balance, not something that I (or anyone else) lacks. I can’t recommend it enough.
I got about two dozen emails after my newsletter went out recommending her course!
Deborah hanahan says
Abby you look terrific! Good for you! I first came to sewing from the garment side, in fact my Fashion Merchandising degree required tons of garment sewing, and I get back to it several times a year. Love this pattern!
Tierney Davis Hogan says
Love the dress and you look great in it! Making myself a dress is a future goal and you inspire me 🙂
Congratulations!! I’ve seen costumes for ages but only a few years ago tried an actual garment I could wear any time. It’s so rewarding.
You might want to look at Liesl & Co ( founder of Oliver +S kids patterns) for some options. Her instructions are super detailed and the patterns are carefully drafted, with info on making modifications.
Thanks for the recommendation.
Ms. Cleaver says
Thanks for being so honest about why you avoided sewing clothing. I’ve been sewing clothes for a long time and I make most of my clothes these days, but I go through long periods where I can’t sew because facing my measurements + fear that I’ll get it wrong or it won’t fit is just too much. In fact, I wrote a long blog post about the very topic a few weeks back.
I’ve been trying to brainstorm ideas about what would ease these concerns for myself and others – things like a fit-as you-go pattern that doesn’t require a size chart or “grow with me” hack/patterns that allow waistbands/bustlines to be adjusted several inches up or down (a feature often seen in men’s kilts). I’d love to know if you or any of your readers had additional ideas.
Woohoo! Welcome to the party, Abby! We’be patiently been awaiting your arrival. So glad you had fun sewing you dress and are planning more.
The Grainline Willow Tank is next!
Carolyn Melcher says
You look awesome in your dress! Thanks for sharing . Keep up the good work.
Therea Dee says
Great choice to attempt garment sewing. I’ve made the Rushcutter twice, once with long sleeves and once sleeveless. I wore the sleeveless dress to my monthly American Sewing Guild and received many compliments.
Thanks for mentioning the high neckline. I thought it was just me!
Looking around on Instagram, it seems like a fairly common modification.
Grace Lombardo says
Yours looks better than the pattern model. Nicely done. You inspire me to finish the “Tamarack Jacket” from Grainline Studio that I started in April. I had to put aside after adjusting the size and correcting numerous mistakes. Ugh! Garment sewing for me is a lesson in patience.
I agree with that.
Jaime Johnson says
I love it! Well done!!
Yay! Your dress looks terrific and I’m so glad you enjoyed the experience. Sewing garment is more forgiving than most people think, I think. I have some favorite patterns/recommendations if you are looking for next steps!
You look adorable!!!
Liz Haywood says
Good on you! It looks great and you should sew more things! I often hear tales of sewing enjoyment stopped in high school by bad experiences and it makes me want to cry at all they’re missing and all that creativity squashed. So glad you were inspired to just go for it.
As a foods/fashion studies high school teacher, I’m so saddened to hear of your experiences in the past with teachers and classes. When I teach beginners we make several items that AREN’T garments first in order to work with flat things with straight seams first. Why make it so hard for beginners?
That being said, congratulations on a beautiful dress. It’s a lovely vibrant colour and I hope that you will wear it with pride. And when that new fabric comes, get it cut out and make it again with the changes you’ve planned – I’m sure you’ll find making the dress again far easier as you’ll know what to expect. Congratulations! Definitely an A+
Welcome to garment sewing Abby, your dress looks so nice! I totally want to buy that pattern now. I also wanted to say about linen, that it softens up so much with wearing and washing. It’s my favorite fabric to sew with. I love your blog and podcast! Looking forward to more garment sewing!
Alison M. Schmidt says
Poo to unhelpful teachers! It stinks that your first garment sewing experiences were so bad, but obviously it didn’t stop you. This is a great finished first dress! Way to go! (and I love your shoes. Who makes them?)
Ellen Mickelson says
Hi Abby! Way to go! The dress looks beyond fabulous on you! The color and the cute are perfect… you even rock the shoes with it!
Keep at it and don’t be discouraged. You did awesome!
Terrie D. says
Way to go! Your dress looks great 🙂 I haven’t sewn clothing yet, but I also really want to try making a dress.
Your dress looks GREAT! How exciting to have this whole new part of the sewing world opening up for you. I had a really horrible sewing teacher at school, too, but was fortunate to come from a sewing family – otherwise I’d have been put off for life! About the high neckline – I’m just wondering if it’s partly to do with how the binding’s attached?? I haven’t sewn this dress myself but in the pattern photos it looks as if the binding is turned completely to the inside, which would lower/widen the neckline quite a bit compared to having the binding wrapped around the edge. I look forward to seeing what you make next!
Rebecca Schrock says
Congratulations! I learned to sew clothes in junior high, because I couldn’t handle my mother’s perfectionism! My skirt didn’t have to be as straight as she thought!
I now qualify for senior discounts, and still sew almost every day. There is great satisfaction in wearing something I created myself. I also make items to sell.