As I’m sure you can relate, my 2020 was a big year for “use what you have”. I hate clothes shopping anyway, so the fact that I haven’t cycled through any of my wardrobe items this year isn’t unusual for me, but my outfits lately have felt so stale.
Living in South Florida, I already end up with major outfit-planning fatigue because we essentially only have one season, so all my favorite clothes (oh, Fall clothes!) reside on the topmost closet shelf in perpetuity. Especially when I’m getting dressed for work, I am so sick of all my clothes – and more than ever after this year of nowhere to go and nothing to do.
But one day, this outfit boredom forced me to experiment and led me to a very small revelation (and right now the small things are 1000% worth celebrating). I donned a chambray sleeveless button down that had, up until that moment, been designated as “beach fun clothes only,” and added a cardigan for the chilly office and to cover my shoulders (here’s a peek of the shirt). For the first time in a year, I was wearing a new ensemble and it felt great. But what felt greatest was the sleeveless + sweater combo. I’ve always avoided button downs because by the end of the day, my shoulders and upper arms just feel restricted and worn out. Maybe I’m being overly sensitive or maybe it’s #yogaproblems. But suddenly I had the put-together look of a button down without the restrictiveness of SLEEEEVES. Gamechanger.
And we know what a revelation like that means for a garment sewist: Time to make more.
I traced the shirt – and tracing a sleeveless shirt is SO easy! I borrowed the placket dimensions from the Kalle shirt pattern, and also compared my collar trace to her collar piece to figure out best seam allowances. Then, in true use-what-you-have spirit, I cut it out of a piece of fabric from my stash that I had stolen from my mom’s stash: this fantastic scissor-print cotton circa 1992.
There was a lot of tweaking on this first round of the pattern. My trusty traced RTW chambray shirt had a tiny bit of stretch to it, whereas this fabric is a tight weave with no stretch at all, so the seam allowance went down to bare bones. I had to do a few rounds of dart placement and yoke line adjustments. The hem and the arm hole cuts are always so tough because they can make or break everything, but I kept trimming little by little and love how they both came out. The armholes don’t gape, which is a problem I often have with RTW sleeveless shirts, so I’m very excited about that.
I added a contrast inside yoke to this shirt just like I did on my Kalles, and pledged to never sew a non-contrast yoke (unless of course I ever make like, a plain white shirt). I mean, why not? It’s so fun and so special. And if you haven’t met the Burrito Method for sewing yokes, prepare to be amazed!
I finished the armholes and the hem with bias tape. There’s no easier way to deal with those tightly curved edges. Here are some close-ups… I’ve realized I LOVE when other sewing bloggers provide more detail shots so I’m trying to do this more often. It’s also a great chance to admire this scissors fabric, because it is just the best subtle-sewing-shoutout.
Button plackets are another thing I haven’t done in a while. It was tedious but not at all worth talking myself out of it – I’ve been avoiding button plackets for a long time!
I did accidentally sew – and cut – one too many buttonholes so I had to sew the last one closed. And guess what? Nobody will ever notice.
I’m looking forward to making another shirt with this pattern because I know round 2 will go so much faster.
Thanks to my cutie HUSBAND (!) for taking these pictures at my favorite pink wall!
As I mentioned in my intro to Me-Made May 2020, the true value in MMM is the opportunity to reflect on my handmade wardrobe. When I’m wearing me-mades every day for a month, I’m able to make better decisions about what I should make next, and what I probably shouldn’t make again.
When I look at the clothes I’ve sewn, I tend to focus on the exciting pieces: the dresses, the printed tops, the jumpsuit. But when it comes to everyday wear, the basic pieces are the ones I reach for again and again, but never giving them the credit they deserve. And possibly the most overlooked of all are my refashions : the items of clothing that I have modified, slightly or extensively, to better fit my body and my style.
These are two of my favorite t-shirts, first because of the designs but second because of the way they fit and feel. They are well worn and well loved because I took the time to make them fit me better than the “one shape” t-shirts they were when I bought them.
The Guster shirt is the softest shirt, but it was a unisex shirt that just fit me like a square. I wanted to wear it because it was so comfy, but whenever I had it on, I just felt like a bum. So I took the sides in very slightly and added a little bit of shaping along the side seam. I also shortened the sleeves. Finally, I removed the neck band and cut a bigger neck hole with a little bit of a V-shape. The new neckband needed to be longer than the original, so I patched the back of the neckband with a piece of the fabric that had come off the sleeves – if you look at the photo you should be able to see the seam.
(p.s. here’s my favorite Guster song, Come Downstairs and Say Hello. The line “be calm, be brave, it’ll be okay” is pretty perfect for our current uncertain times.)
This neckline trick is my favorite t-shirt upgrade. It makes a huge difference in the “frumpy factor” of your average tee. I did the same thing after I bought this amazing shirt from Mood. The fit was fine on this one, but the neckline was really high and awkward. I love wearing black, but with the neckline that high, I looked extra ghostly. So I did the same neckline trick: removed the ribbing, cut a new neckline, and lengthened the ribbing with a scrap before reattaching it.
Because how could I NOT wear this shirt all the time? The only t-shirt I’ve ever seen with a golden yellow sewing machine on it. I love it so much.
These are straightforward fixes but they do take effort. I am very fast at seam ripping, even overlock stitches, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy it. And you might be reading this and thinking, “wow, that is so not worth it,” and that’s where I disagree. Refashions are just like any other handmade article of clothing for me in that my number one goal is to be happy wearing it. I’m not saying any of my clothes are perfect – they’re certainly not – but when I can make a small change to increase my happiness in a big way every time I wear the garment, that’s hugely worth it to me.
Another basic refashion is the one I did of this knit dress. I found it at the thrift store and loved the fabric, but the sleeves were just weird. The dress was sized “One Size” – thanks, American Apparel, I won’t go into the obvious exclusion in that move but this dress is a size Small for sure. And the sleeves were more like size XXS. I could wear the tunic just fine, it’s form fitting but comfortable, but the sleeves were not properly sized to the garment (or my chaturanga shoulders).
Basically it was a poorly drafted series of three tubes – 1 body and 2 arms – but I still loved the fabric so I was willing to experiment. I chopped off the sleeves but left about 1″ of sleeve remaining, so I could turn it under and hem for a little cap-sleeve dolman look. With the sleeves taken care of, the only challenge left was the neckline. With the “all tubes” pattern drafting, the neckline wasn’t really a neckline at all but a straight line, and when I wore it the extra fabric just gapped and flapped. I cut a slightly round neck and added some elastic along my neck hem instead of ribbing to keep the fabric from stretching out.
Now it’s comfy, wearable, and I kept the most important feature of the original: the pockets!
Not all me-mades have to be fancy or elaborate. Often it’s the simple things that bring the most joy!
And if you want more ideas for “real” refashions (beyond a neckline or sleeve chop), Trish has done tons of amazing refashions and her blog is full of inspiration!
At the beginning of this year, I became a Lector at my church. This means that on my assigned weeks, I get to read one of the Scripture passages of the Mass from the altar. It’s a great privilege and it’s really special to serve in such an active way.
I only had the opportunity to read on three occasions before the church shifted to virtual Masses due to Covid-19, but those three occasions wiped out the majority of my lector-acceptable wardrobe. When I’m scheduled to read, that means I spend the first ten minutes of Mass sitting on the altar, facing the congregation. None of my skirts are very short, but I don’t have many that go well below my knees, and that’s obviously what I want if I’m sitting facing everyone.
“Lector Skirts” were high on my sewing list, and “isewlation” is the perfect time to work through my more practical to-do’s. On my recent trip to Japan and Thailand, I bought this gorgeous poppy-printed rayon in Bangkok specifically to make a lectoring skirt. Fortunately, Bangkok fabric prices mean I always buy more than I need, and I had enough fabric to make a full maxi dress.
I have a much easier time wearing dresses than skirts, because skirts always have the issue of finding a matching top. This dress will be easy to throw on for dinner by the beach (dreaming of someday when we can go out to dinner again!), and it will be perfect for lectoring with a little sweater over my shoulders.
I lined the bodice with a soft knit to add some comfort to an already very comfortable dress. I didn’t use a formal pattern for this dress – a few years ago, my mom bought me a dress in this style and I LOVED the fit but the fabric wasn’t quite right. So I traced the simple shapes of the dress to save the pattern, a la Tabitha Wheelwright, and my mom returned the dress to the store.
I didn’t include pockets as I was sewing the dress because I was eager to just be DONE. And then I realized a dress without pockets is just sad. So I opened the seams back up and added in-seam pockets. I might not use them often but I’m glad they’re there.
I have fun selecting lining fabrics that coordinate rather than perfectly match. This allows me to work from my stash and worry less about having all the perfect fabrics before I can complete a garment. My bodice lining is a golden yellow that matches the yellow poppies, and again, it’s comfy knit which is more important to me than having it be a perfect match. And the in-seam pockets are a peach that matches the pink flowers. The pockets, especially, are never seen from the outside of the garment, so this fabric was also chosen by weight first – it’s a midweight rayon with enough support for a pocket, but thin enough that it won’t weigh down the dress.
The back has a little keyhole with a button, which is mostly a design detail, as I don’t need to unbutton it to put on the dress. Choosing buttons is always both very fun and very challenging! Here I debated going for something more “fun”, like a flower shaped button, or something more contrasting, like the handful of yellow buttons I found in my stash. In the end, I went with a flat pink shank button… nothing fancy, but I like its simplicity. I used a thin hairtie for the button loop! I have a whole pack of assorted colored hairties that I keep on hand for occasions like these when I might need a thin, colored elastic.
I’m looking forward to the day when I can wear this dress farther than around the block to my favorite pink wall! But I can’t complain about days spent inside, they certainly help me cross projects off the endless to-sew list.
Happy May! Somehow, we’ve made it all the way to this new month and it’s time for my favorite sewing-community celebration: Me-Made May. Started by Sozo Blog, here’s her Me-Made May FAQ if you want a formal introduction.
The wonderful thing about Me-Made May is that it’s simply a celebration of anyone who makes their own clothes. There aren’t formal rules or requirements. I’m realizing now that I’ve never actually posted my outfits in past Mays, so this will be a first. I’ve done a few Mays now, though, where I’ve worn at least one me-made garment every day for a month, and I love the challenge.
My first MMMay must have been at least five years ago now, but May arrived and I decided I was ready to take part. I’m best at all-or-nothing, so I decided to wear at least one handmade article of clothing each day. It was a big decision at the time. I had a pile of handmade tops in my dresser, but for some reason they hadn’t really made it into my wardrobe rotation. I mostly wore jeans to work, and there weren’t really any rules for what tops I could wear, but for some reason I never chose my me-mades.
I think that in my head, that pile of shirts was still just, “things I made,” not, “things I wear”. It wasn’t a pile of clothes, it was a pile of accomplishments. But what a sad life for a shirt to lead!
Suddenly, every morning when I opened my dresser, I was confronting that pile of handmade shirts, and forced to choose one. It was a huge learning experience! I wore each shirt all day, and at the end of the day knew exactly how I felt about it. There was at least one that didn’t fit quite right, and I knew I shouldn’t use the pattern again. There were a few whose fabric wasn’t quite right, or that didn’t feel like me. But for the most part, I felt great. I was wearing the clothes I had made, clothes I was proud of, clothes that made me feel like me.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that one month of focus changed my sewing habits and my dressing habits for good. My (Marie-Kondo-folded) tops sit in my drawer by color, with the me-mades interspersed between ready-to-wear: they’re no longer sacred objects, they’re just clothes, and I wear them. I make much better decisions now when buying fabric, and I’m able to focus on buying fabrics to make garments that I’ll actually wear. My sewing practice feels much more efficient and joyful when I know that I’ll wear the clothes I make, even if they take more time or effort.
This year, I’m planning to wear a me-made every day. Sometimes this might just be a simple refashion, but every day it will be something that came from my sewing machine. Unlike previous years, I’m going to document what I can. One of the downsides to sewing more basic, wearable garments, is that when I finish them I simply… wear them. This is fantastic! This is what they’re made for! But this also means I skip pictures for the blog or Instagram, and MMMay will be a perfect time to catch up and share.
I’m excited, as always, to take stock of my handmade garments and re-find some old favorites. I’m hopeful that I will be able to better diagnose any gaps in my handmade wardrobe, and maybe get to start on some new projects. I’m already loving the peek into what everyone else is wearing – the #memademay2020 hashtag on Instagram is an absolutely fantastic source for finding new patterns to try. I made a hashtag to keep track of my outfits this year: you can follow along at #samanthasewsmmm2020!
My formal goals are to post at least 2 outfits per week to instagram, and blog one article of clothing per week, but I’ll be wearing me-mades every day even if I don’t post.
Are you playing this year? What’s your goal? And if you’re posting outfits somewhere, please share – I’d love to see.