Integrating the Handmade
I cut the sleeves in the usual way and I like the contrast of bias and straight grains this gives. The vertical line running down the sleeve is just where I've ironed it as I don't tend to iron regular clothes in the way that I'd carefully press them during construction to avoid that kind of thing (the photos were taken a few weeks ago, a few weeks after making the top)! Just in case you're interested, the fabric has worn really well apart from a very slight bit of bobbling where I wore an across-the-body bag to go on a long country dog walk, but I'm not convinced that's unique to this fabric though - I don't know what it is about wearing bags in that way, but a leather strap worn on the diagonal seems to rub at fabric far more than one worn on the shoulder, so I usually avoid it. I'm slightly cross with myself for putting bag carrying practicality above fabric preservation on that day when I love this top so much!
I think the other reason why I feel happier wearing my handmade wardrobe this summer is that there's an element to dressmaking that used to feel like wrapping oneself up as a present with a bow on and announcing over a loud tannoy: this is me - not just me as a body, but also me wearing parts of my soul on the outside of myself! If you're not actually that confident about the way your body looks (which I wasn't), that extra layer of vulnerability can leave wearing a wardrobe of handmade garments feeling a bit much. Many sewists site dressmaking as being a liberation, as they cast off the sense of oppression they'd felt trying to fit into a particular shop's dress size and make things perfectly tailored for their shape. Despite the fact that standard shop sizes are rarely a good fit for me either, I didn't really experience a sense of liberation when I initially came to dressmaking and always wondered why - maybe the difference is whether the self-consciousness comes predominantly from within or from external pressures (i.e. clothing sizes, unrealistic magazine images, cultural perceptions of different body shapes), I'm not sure.
But either way, something this year has clicked into place for me: maybe it's age (I think the way that many women begin to feel more happy in their own skin as they get older is proof that the way we feel about ourselves has very little to do with the way we actually look); or my finally realising that weighing oneself each morning is a habit that doesn't add any real value to the day; or my finally pinpointing exactly which foods I have horrible reactions to and so now rarely having to contend with unpredictably swollen eyes/face/stomach, but I just don't feel self conscious in the same way that I have for most of my life, even though I am heavier than I've ever been. And with that comes a new-found happiness in wearing my own handmade clothes.
It may seem surprising that I've felt any self-consciousness at all when I've kept a blog where I've always shared photos of clothes that I've made. And me wearing those clothes. It's never been something that I've felt entirely comfortable with, but I suppose my wish to do it was greater than my reservations that would have made me choose not do it. From the moment I read Heather Bailey's blog, nearly nine years ago (the first blog I'd ever seen!), I found that a format that allowed the combination of writing, photos and sewing appealed to me in a way that was almost impossible to resist. And as my readership is mainly sewists (although sometimes I find that people who don't sew at all read it, and that's always really lovely), when I first began sewing clothes, it made sense that I would document them. In the company of other sewists, whether it's quilts or dresses, I think we tend to want to see everything from different angles, to see how the fabric has been cut or a zipper installed, and to see photos that inspire us to actually want to spend an evening sewing, rather than watching television, which is always a tempting alternative if sufficient propulsion to get up off the sofa and sew isn't there. So in this context, to me, sharing photos of yourself wearing clothing that you've made seems perfectly normal (at least it does to me when others do this), rather than narcissistic or indicative of being totally body-confident.
So all those things were already falling into place when I was going into a changing room in a lingerie shop while wearing this top and the shop assistant, twenty years younger than me, beautiful and very stylishly dressed commented that she loved my top. I just said 'thank you' but didn't offer any more as my mindset up until that point had always been to avoid telling someone that I'd made something myself, other than within the confines of my blog. However, she then asked if I'd mind telling her where I'd bought it as she'd love to get one herself, which forced me into confessing that I'd actually made it myself. Her reaction was so incredibly lovely and she seemed so genuinely astonished that it was handmade, that as I closed the curtain of my changing room I felt as though I could audibly hear my brain realigning with the affirmation that something I'd made didn't look any different to something shop-bought, other than in a positive way. I think this completed my transition to wearing handmade without self-consciousness and not worrying to think what other people may think of my clothes. I now seem to put them on in the same way that I do my shop-bought garment: because I like them and that's what I'm choosing to wear that day. The shop-bought and the handmade are finally integrated for me and it feels a very happy thing.
I'd love to know how you feel about wearing your own handmade clothes - whether it feels like an entirely positive thing or whether it's mixed up with a slight self-consciousness for whatever reason.
Ps. Coincidentally, I listened to not one, but two, fantastic podcasts with Jenny, from Cashmerette, about body image and dressmaking last week! The first on Crafty Planner, from the July archives, the second on Seamwork, the brand new podcast from Colette Patterns - both were really interesting and well worth listening to.