Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Integrating the Handmade


This make is now a few months old and very well worn and it now seems slightly seasonally inappropriate to be sharing old summery photos of it on a day when it's pouring with rain in England - I haven't been terribly good at keeping up with myself recently when it's come to blogging about my dressmaking. It's made from a slub jersey in pale dusky rose that I bought from Lauren's shop - I'm suddenly feeling slightly obsessed by pinks and greys in combination, so it felt like the perfect fabric to pair with grey jeans. I used my own pattern - the same that I'd used to make this top - but I decided to cut the main fabric pieces on the bias this time, not because it needed any help with drape, but more for the visual effect of the slubs going across the body at 45 degrees. Because it's cut on the bias, I sewed with a slightly smaller seam allowance to (lazily!) compensate for the closer-fitting finish that a bias-cut would inevitably give, rather than going to the effort of redrafting my pattern pieces.


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!


Sometimes a static picture doesn't really show the drape, so below is a photo that's still static, but where I'm less static within it, which gives you an idea of how deliciously waterfally this fabric is - do hurry to buy some - it's really, really lovely! And ridiculously inexpensive - this top cost less than £7.50 to make. The fabric shrank a fair bit when I pre-washed it and felt curiously like cardboard when I took it out from the washing machine, but it returned to soft loveliness as soon as it had dried. I made this top out of a very shrunken metre and had left-overs to spare. I'd worried that cutting such a fine fabric on the bias could cause all sorts of craziness with the hem, but I was surprised to find that it behaved perfectly. It's also available in navy.


Although I've spent quite a few years making clothes, I don't think it's been until this summer that I've chosen to wear the things I've made more frequently than the off-the-peg garments in my wardrobe and it's come as a lovely surprise to finally feel my own handmade clothes are just as appealing to me as shop-bought alternatives. I've been trying to think about what's brought about this change and why things have suddenly clicked for me and I think it's down to several things - some of them practical, some of them attitude.

Previously, often I'd make something and be pleased with the way it was finished, happy with the style of the garment, but somehow it just didn't feel as come-and-wear-me as my shop bought clothes - they felt home-made, rather than hand-made and I couldn't put my finger on why. But I think it's possibly down to gaining more experience in matching a fabric to a pattern and also there being so many more amazing dressmaking fabrics easily available now, so no longer having to make compromises on this.

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.

Florence x

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.

18 comments:

  1. The top is beautiful! I love your observation about women feeling more comfortable in their skins as they get older meaning it's not that much about how we really look. That really resonates with me.
    I have been wearing more and more handmade clothes for quite a few years now until my wardrobe is almost entirely handmade. I've made a mindset transition where now I feel strange - guilty, cheating, untruthful? - when I wear something I didn't make!

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    1. That's really interesting that you now feel like that when not wearing handmade, Jane! I do have a slight sense of what you mean by that myself now.

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  2. What a fabulous post! I think there are so many stages we go through on this hand made journey and you are much further than me. I'm so super critical of my own handmades but now I'm also critiquing those rtw items that I've worn for years and finding fault with them also!

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    1. Yes, I know exactly what you mean by that - sometimes I'll look at something shop bought and realise that if I'd made it and it looked like that, I'd discount it as being too poorly finished to be wearable - it's amazing how much you don't notice when you're not critiquing it, isn't it. I'm trying to bring a little of that spirit into being more accepting of my own handmade things that aren't entirely perfect!

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  3. Oh Florence,what a relief it must be to have given up the daily weigh-in! I don't own a bathroom scale, so I only ever get weighed at a doctor's checkup, i.e. less than annually. There's some interesting stuff about it in 'Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom' by Christiane Northrup. (I'd love to know how you've worked out which foods are the troublemakers, btw - tons of intolerances myself and it's so hard to pin them down.)

    Your top's lovely, of course! I find I reach for my own makes more often than the dwindling and increasingly threadbare shop clothes - they feel more 'me' somehow. Like you I don't always confess that I made things, though, and if someone I know says, "Did you make that?" I'm always worried that it's not entirely complimentary. x

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    1. I'll have to look that up as I haven't heard of Christiane Northrup!

      I've just written you in an insanely long email all about the foody troublemakers and lots of other more random things - let me know if your email program filters it out on the grounds of it being too big to fit through the letterbox.

      I still think slightly envious thoughts about your hand-embroidered Tova - please tell me it's that that you're wearing so often! And yes, I do share that feeling of not finding it entirely complimentary if someone asks if I've made something - it's horrible, isn't it! It's odd though - while people often ask that about things made in woven fabrics, they never ask me that if it's something I've made from a knit fabric! Which make me think that knits are a very stealthy way of wearing handmade without inviting questions! x

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    2. Please ignore the many typos and missing letters in that reply...perhaps my slurry words are making it into type! Please no.

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  4. When I was a kid my mum made a lot of my clothes and I really felt it at times! I longed for store bought cool clothes like my friends had as a matter of course. i find it slightly ironic that I now make some of my clothes and my daughter's (though I'm very careful to make sure she wants me to!). For me the dissatisfaction has always been around getting a pattern to fit properly and therefore look good, and avoiding any whiff of 'homemade'. I have really struggled with the latter in terms of the time and effort involved with making something that then, despite my best efforts, doesn't fit well vs buying something that might have a few fit issues but didn't take two days to make! The homemade look thing is more practice and experience as you say, although I still have a horror of any visible zigzag stitching!

    I'm super-impressed with your neckline on that top, I really struggle getting mine to sit completely flat like that.

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    1. I know what you mean - although as I said to Nina above, I think from a non-sewists-perspective, things made in knit fabrics tend to look less 'homemade' and I guess that also cures many of the fit issues that are more common with wovens.

      Thank you re: the neckline. They can be tricky, can't they. I've written a post about how I put in a neckline like this here: http://www.flossieteacakes.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/a-tutorial-planning-out-and-sewing.html - I don't know if they'll be anything new to you in there, but just in case. x

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  5. It's a lovely top, those slubs look like rain falling - great idea to try it on the bias. I wear mostly self made clothing, but I'm at the point now where I know, absolutely, that if I'm not happy with the quality of my finishes or fit of something I make that I'm just not going to wear it. I'm ruthless - I'll finish it and send it to the op shop if I'm not happy. Buying good quality fabrics is key too I find - of course it's tempting in the early days to buy cheaply, and of course one has to make wadders to learn but I find there's that crossover point a few years into making clothes where the rtw starts to wear out and the self made gets good enough to take over! As for body image - definitely agree that I'm happier with the bod in my mid 30's than my 20's!

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    1. I completely agree with everything you've said - and it's such a good feeling when you finally get to the crossover bit!

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  7. Beautiful post Florence. I love wearing my handmade clothes but do feel less happy with skirts I've made as the fabrics I chose (because I had them or because they were organic) don't drape so nicely. I've tried to restrict myself to organic woven fabrics but then find them less suitable due to their poor drape, even after repeated washing. I guess I need to give myself permission to sew with any fabric - when I buy ready made clothes (which isn't often) I don't inforce these same boundaries.

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    1. That sounds really frustrating! I think if you end up not being able to wear them anyway, it's possibly a false environmental economy not to go for a fabric that you know would work really well. It's odd the different lines we draw for ourselves, isn't it - it's not always logical when you lay it out, but sometimes it just feels right, so I can see why you've ended up with one rule for handmade and another for shop-bought. x

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  8. Well, not so much with sewing, but I wear a lot of handknits and usually feel good wearing them.
    And this isn't about handmade clothing at all, but something you said really clicked with me: "I suppose my wish to do it was greater than my reservations that would have made me choose not do it". I hadn't put it into words, but this is exactly how I felt when I participated in #DrawingAugust on twitter last month, trying to post a new drawing each day, to be seen by (probably) the other 300-plus people doing the same. I'm a photographer, not a draw-er, and this was way outside my comfort zone and the vast majority of participants were talented artists. But I just wanted to do it, and I'm so happy I let that desire override my reluctance. I think it will be one of my best memories of Summer 2015.

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    1. That sounds like a really brave thing to have done - did you feel different afterwards for having challenged yourself with it and different in terms of doing other things outside your natural comfort zone in the future? x

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  9. I wear handmade most of the time, I'm at my most comfortable in it but I agree it has taken years to get to this point. I think many people confuse the photos/poses that garment bloggers take for body confidence, I see them in a more detached way. My body confidence has its ups and downs but dressmaking has taught me to view myself more kindly and to know myself better. I still buy some clothes- second hand, or Uniqlo mainly and sewing so many of my own clothes can be a bit of a strain at times- only so many hours available. I wonder if your courage has come from the confidence to sew plainer clothes, ignore the pretty patterns and choose fabric that reflects what you would buy if a shop sold your dream garments!

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  10. I have lots to say about this. So far I have written 3 different comments and my last was pretty much 600 words (trying to cut down on 450). So I think I will have to give it a miss. Very interesting topic to me though!

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x

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