You realize your body is bespoke.
July 22, 2014 10:43 AM   Subscribe

Being sent to school in homemade clothes was a sometimes traumatic experience, personally, but I always love the pictures and writing in these kinds of links. The body acceptance piece was interesting -- it's not controversial to observe that the clothes industry poorly serves many people, so DIY might be the best path to both having better options and feeling better about the entire endeavor.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:51 AM on July 22, 2014

This is totally why I learned how to knit. It turns out, though, that bust darts are a little harder than I thought they would be, and I like knitting small things better than sweaters. I still aspire to knit a sweater that fits me perfectly, though.

I've only ever sewed one thing for myself: a skirt, and I didn't particularly alter it to fit my body. I am a little intimidated by the skill it would take to custom-fit clothes for me. Maybe I'll give it a go someday, because I would be really delighted to have tops that fit my shoulders, ribcage and boobs.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:09 AM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I know in men's clothing, made-to-measure shirts for under 100 bucks are becoming commonplace. I hope this spills over into women's clothing, although the basic forms of tops and bottoms are more complicated than menswear.

I'm real tired of being in between sizes and just having shit be ill fitting. I can't imagine how much harder it would be if there body image issues tied into that.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:15 AM on July 22, 2014

I've just recently decided to learn to sew. Mostly because I need a new hobby, and the city didn't approve my request to put a metal sculpture shop in my back yard. Something, something, explosions, something something...I dunno, I stopped listening after the word "No".

Sewing is harder than it looks! I made my first dress. It's not a good dress, and it's way too big in places it shouldn't be, but it's a dress, none the less. I found the process frustrating, but I understand how, with practice and experience, it could be a very zen thing. Despite my lack of creating I would wear outside the house, I learned some cool stuff that I can implement in the next attempt.

These links will help a lot too, especially with figuring out how to modify patterns when you're not a pattern size.

Also; not-at-all-a-pro-tip: If, like me, you are fascinated with clothes from the 40s and 50s, and you buy patterns for them, the sizes are radically different. Radically. Go by measuring tape size, not dress size on those.
posted by dejah420 at 11:20 AM on July 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

From the Coletterie "body acceptance" link: Was there a moment that you finally had to face your measurements instead of guessing at a dress size?

For me it was the opposite. I grew up wearing clothes my mother, grandmothers, and great-grandmother made for me. Here's me at age 4 in a dress my mother made. (I was born with those blond streaks in my hair, woot.) Knit, crocheted, sewed, anything and everything except shoes... unless they were slippers, in which case those were handmade too. I learned to take my own measurements when I was in elementary school. I "shopped for school clothes" by going to the local craft shop and picking out patterns: "remember your measurements?" "Yes mooooom, I'm [X]" (I grew like a weed, it changed all the time).

Once I hit my adult size around age 17, I knew I was 14 or 16 depending on the pattern manufacturer. Knew I should check my measurements regularly since my rear end and cyclist thighs tended to vary a bit depending on whether it was summer (on the bike all the time, up a size) or winter (not moving around as much, down a size; I seem to lose muscle pretty fast). The only non-homemade clothes I bought were t-shirts, which were easy: M, and jeans, which in the 1990s you could still find in actual measurements for women.

It was only when I moved overseas and no longer had a sewing machine that societal reality hit. For ten years, I didn't know what the hell was going on. Ten YEARS. Store sizes have never and will never make a whit of sense to me. I ended up writing off dresses, which is normal because I happen to have a waist 6cm longer than normal and a rise that's another 6cm longer than normal, with a teensy bust, all on a 5'11" frame that is muscular. Then I had to write off friggin' trousers when skinny styles came in. The thighs on those things do not go over my calves, mkay. HELLO CLOTHES MANUFACTURERS. Sigh.

Finally, a few years ago I was able to afford a machine and fabric and get back to sewing. OMG HEAVEN. I am still 14 or 16. All the alterations that had become second nature growing up, still were with me. I could throw together a cute dress in a couple days, and it would fit. Whip up a straight skirt in an hour, a blouse in a couple hours: bam, new outfit. Trousers with a rise that doesn't make me look like I'm pantsing everyone!!

Yes, manufactured clothes and the marketing surrounding them are as bad as everyone says. I never felt awkward about my body until shopping in "normal" stores made me wonder what freak planet I had grown up on... thankfully that acceptance had been foundational enough that I always questioned mass-produced dictates.
posted by fraula at 11:23 AM on July 22, 2014 [20 favorites]

I'm in the middle of a beginner's sewing class right now. I can see where the whole craft of sewing would be a real experiment in acceptance, from the crooked topstitching on my basic beginner's apron to the fact that my waist measurement has changed somewhat over the years and not in the way I would like. (There are ways to help ensure straighter topstitching, BTW.)

I've often heard the phrase "wear [x] like a loose garment" - meaning engage with the activity but try to keep your claws out of the sofa as much as possible. This is so that you can enjoy the activity, not make it into a race against or a club with which to beat your imperfect self.

And yes: measuring tape, as dejah420 suggests.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 11:29 AM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I will never learn to sew, I am an all-thumbs person when it comes to fabric crafts, but I would happily pay for someone to make me clothes if it wasn't insanely expensive. I know what I like/what looks good, but even if I buy 2-3 versions of it, after it's worn out I'm at the mercy of whatever is in the stores. Which, even in "my" size, is uniformly made for women shaped very unlike me.
posted by emjaybee at 11:34 AM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Being sent to school in homemade clothes was a sometimes traumatic experience, personally,

I grew up the sort of poor that had my mom patching handmedown jeans and shirts and making some clothes for us kids and it was deeply embarrassing at the time.

On the plus side, it did sort of engender a "I can do it myself, better and cheaper" streak of individualism deep in my psyche, so there is that.

I've long considered making my own shirts, because if you are a tall skinny dude, shirts with long enough arms to reach your wrist also have enough fabric in the torso to double as tents should find yourself lost in the woods. I have this one shirt, that I really should have returned, that can fit both me and my wife inside of it.

A shirt that fits properly in the chest is too small in the shoulders and has an arm length only a T-Rex could love. But, you know, almost all fashion is designed for men that are at most 5'6" tall - tall skinny men look goofy in suits, and pleats and... Anyway, I am convinced that modern fashion is designed, intentionally, to make men look stupid.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:43 AM on July 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

I have sewn at least some of my clothes for YEARS, by hand, no machine. Have bigger than average shoulders for my size. I make skirts for myself and dimije. I buy tops a couple sizes big, or get men's shirts.
I use vests with pockets. That's because it's actually hard to make decent pockets by hand.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:50 AM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Holy crap. I can't stand even just having to hem a piece of cloth the size of a handkerchief by hand, even though I've been sewing since I was a little kid.

I'm a big clumsy guy with stubby fingers, though. Discovering the automatic darning function of the sewing machine I have now was like growing wings.
posted by XMLicious at 12:12 PM on July 22, 2014

fraula that is the prettiest dress ever! you look radiant!

I wish I could sew but I am terrified that somehow I would get my fingers stuck and sewed together by the machine and die. It is irrational but overwhelming.
posted by winna at 1:03 PM on July 22, 2014

I am very interested in making my own clothes.
posted by rebent at 1:31 PM on July 22, 2014

Winna - you are by no means the only person with this fear, though it very, very rarely happens. Especially the dying part.

I love making things, even when they're imperfect. My favorite pair of cargo pants EVER were made by me and everything, including the cargo pockets are in exactly the right place. They are still in great shape after 10 years and I garden in them all the time.

As for being sent to school in handmade clothes, I don't know. The fashions in the 70's were such that homemade didn't really matter that much at the age I was (preteen), but once the 80's hit, my mom was too busy to make clothes and there was no way in hell I was going to wear handmade anyway.

Now I'm back to some hand made, though I have friends that are absolute master seamstresses and I would kill to have their skills, I'm pretty fond of the things I have made for myself.

My advice? Make a ton of stuff. You will laugh. It will be ugly and misshapen and then it will be less misshapen and you will learn tricks and new techniques and you will have a pair of cargo pants that you can't part with.
posted by Sophie1 at 1:49 PM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I love sewing and quilting. My mom taught me both when I was a wee lad and clearly into it (my mom was a big cross stitcher back in her day and I freaking loved watching her work). I'm envious of the unending array of novelty and refinement in feminine clothing, and I wish I were as good at making jeans and oxfords as I am at making tube tops and skirts for my nieces and neighbors. I still for the life of me can't make even a basic dress shirt come out right. Every now and then I find wicked fabric that I want to make a work shirt out of, so I try again, fail miserably, and then end up with a bunch of quilt squares made out of that wicked fabric.

Even if there's no body positivity in this message, there's an encouragement for dudes to learn to sew because there aren't many areas in life in which a total fuckup project ends up improved in a really comfy blanket. Plus the sound of a whirring sewing machine is, like, the most calming sound ever.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:02 PM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Clothing design and construction is incredibly complicated and difficult, more akin to architectural engineering than to some nice little hobby. In my nightmare home-economics class, I was caused to make a perfectly fitting navy taffeta dress with full skirt, french darts, and perfectly smoothly set-in long sleeves from a Vogue pattern. Once I had chosen that pattern, I damned well had to make it or fail the class. It took me a year and I both hated and adored that teacher, a dainty woman, beautiful besides, and married to a dashing Frenchman whose name was Guy. She adored the godets, gussets and eased-in fullness my pattern required me to learn. Trigonometry was easy by comparison! I should have learned more about fitting and alteration when I had the chance. (But actually, I just wish I had talent and could cut like Charles James)
posted by Anitanola at 2:13 PM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I still for the life of me can't make even a basic dress shirt come out right.

My mother, who was a seamstress, "helped" me make one once - as in, she pretty much did all of the work because only the simplest steps were within my abilities. (It was the last piece I needed of a costume for a high school play, and she worked with me on it every night for a week to finish right before the opening night. ♥.)
posted by XMLicious at 2:16 PM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Interesting links! I really enjoyed the last series of The Great British Sewing Bee, which took a bunch of people with varying degrees of sewing expertise and challenged them to make several different items each episode. Don't know if anyone else saw/enjoyed it, it might have skewed too casual for practising sewers. Despite the presence of the now TV-staple weekly voting-off by judges, I thought it kept a good focus on the skills involved in designing and making the clothing, plus it was free of any constructed drama. If it had started airing a month or two later it would have made a fun, interesting Fanfare watch.
posted by comealongpole at 5:20 PM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Dip Flash, remembering much of that same sort of thing from my childhood, I realize a lot of it was not an inherent issue with sewing: the problem wasn't that the clothes were made by hand, it was that my mother was at best a slightly advanced beginner, and instead of finding really great projects that were really compatible with her skills, she was making clothes for me and my brother using patterns that were really dumbed down and as a result looked very lackluster when worn, and often out of fabrics that were on sale rather than really properly appropriate to the task. You know, all the shorts had elastic waists because she wasn't up to actually putting in a button and zipper, that sort of thing.

So I grew up with an idea of what "homemade clothes" looked like that was terrible, and while I don't sew (yet), I do knit, and I see the same thing happen with knits. People make stuff with only an approximate idea of sizing, using the simplest pattern they can find, using inexpensive yarn from Joann's, and it will predictably look awful. My mom does all these shawls and scarves that I can't imagine why anybody would be caught dead in them. My last big project was a nice wool hood with expensive and very pretty buttons (because even expensive for buttons isn't that much for four buttons) and even though I'm not actually any more skilled than my mom is, it was gorgeous, because I picked something that fit my skill level and still looked great. I'm not going sweaters because I know they're going to look like ass at this stage, but someday. I think it's important to work up to more advanced projects slowly, and to use good materials, no matter what craft.
posted by Sequence at 5:21 PM on July 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Interesting that there's no mention of the rising popularity of cosplay as an inspiration for sewing skills. I'd only ever been to one convention (and not in costume), but a few months ago I started doodling an idea for a Firefly/Serenity-inspired cosplay dress and thought to myself "I bet I could make that!" Mind you, I'd never sewn a dress before in my life but I knew how to work a sewing machine and I remembered helping my mom sew doll clothes from patterns as a kid. My mom was coming for a visit so I found a basic sundress and jacket pattern that was kind of similar to my idea and we spent the weekend making a trial dress with cheap cotton. To my surprise, it came out pretty well!

Fresh from my success, I started altering the pattern to create the fancier version that I had originally envisioned and tonight I'll be sewing the final hem of the dress so I can wear it to the San Diego Comic Con this weekend! (*crosses fingers and hopes not to mess it up*)

Looking back, it's kind of amazing that the dress came out so similar to what I had originally envisioned, but even more amazing that I even started it at all. Now that I have though, I'm constantly looking at clothes in a new way and wondering if I could make it myself. It's such a rush to see something that was just a random idea take form before your very eyes. Creation is addicting!
posted by platinum at 5:46 PM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

"I bet I could make that!"

To go from that to "look what I made!" is the best feeling in the whole world. Creation is indeed addicting.
posted by winna at 5:55 PM on July 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've started making my own clothes now. Thanks, Mom! She taught me to sew when I was a kid and even though I took nearly a twenty year break from the hobby, what she taught my stuck.

I started making my clothes because nothing in the stores fit correctly or was made or such awful fabric that it looked terrible after just a few washings. Even expensive Lane Bryant clothing falls apart after a few washings. So annoying!

Now I get to alter patterns to suit me perfectly - a skill I've learned thanks to blogs like Colletterie's and others. Yay for the online sewing community!
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 5:59 PM on July 22, 2014

How delusional am I to think that I could learn to see and make myself some maternity clothes? It's a pipe dream but I don't have to worry about wearing them anytime soon. I have a sewing machine that I've never used and I know of a place nearby where I would like to take classes. My concern is that I live in DC and don't have a car so it's hard for me to get fabric.
posted by kat518 at 9:12 PM on July 22, 2014

I enjoy sewing, mostly because I like to make things and clothing is useful. Fashion doesn't interest me but I feel smugly subversive when my clothes look and fit the way I prefer, not the way the fashion industry dictates. It's only recently that my skills have improved to the point where the clothes I make look just as good as factory-made garments (and they fit a lot better, which translates to the clothes themselves looking really professional), and the real secret is in learning how to alter patterns to fit.

Cutting and sewing fabric is a separate skill set from altering (or drafting) patterns, and in my opinion it's easier. But a poorly-fitting garment won't look any better than store-bought clothes so it's worth the effort to learn how to alter or draft patterns properly. After years of doggedly fumbling around I worked out a set of standard alterations which I now apply to every pattern right off the bat and I'm about 80% of the way to the final version.

However, I strongly recommend the class that the "perfect fit" link mentions - it would have saved me years of trial and error! And it improved the fit of a pattern that I'd already gotten pretty good, which was neat. It teaches a general system that I believe will work for any body, with a little tinkering, so it doesn't matter where your adjustments need to happen. You get a direct visual readout from your muslin and you transfer the adjustments back to the paper pattern. Once you understand the basic principle (which is kind of face-palmingly obvious in hindsight) you can apply it to any type of garment.

One last observation: I've noticed that the clothes which fit me best tend to look really weird and misshapen when they're on hangers. In contrast, store-bought clothes look nice on hangers, and I think this is no coincidence. Stuff has to look good in the store or nobody will buy it, and stores don't have enough room to display everything on mannequins. So I have a fashion conspiracy theory that says garments are designed to drape nicely on hangers, not people! For example, blouses tend to be nearly the same width across the front and back, despite most women having more volume in front. My fitted blouses are definitely bigger across the front and I kind of cringe to see them in the closet, but they look just fine when I wear them. So if anybody is about to give up on a sewing project because it looks so freaky, take heart - it might be your best-fitting garment when it's finished!
posted by Quietgal at 9:37 PM on July 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

All y'all awesome people out there sewing a bunch of clothing, I have no idea where you're getting your fabrics. Around here (Joann's, at one time Hancock) it seems as though our choices are umpteen frumpy quilting-ready cotton prints, lots of gaudy prom-dress satin and lace, or a few sad racks of sleazy, poor-quality, often wildly overpriced synthetic garment fabrics. Nothing approximates the material you'd find in even Walmart-level ready-made garments. Unless I cut something down from a much larger thrifted item, I have no idea how I'd go about making any piece of credible everyday clothing beyond a kitschy cotton sundress.

It's actually been a long-simmering AskMe question of mine: why on earth is it that all the perfectly nice, normal cottons, knits, twills, wools, etc. that real manufacturers use to make actual clothing... never seem to find their way to retail fabric stores? And what's with all the craptastic, useless-for-any-practical-purpose fake fabrics that they sell there instead?
posted by Bardolph at 6:49 AM on July 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

All y'all awesome people out there sewing a bunch of clothing, I have no idea where you're getting your fabrics.

My mother (who is a fantastic sewer, despite my rude complaining above about being sent to school in homemade clothes) says that there was a particular point in the 1980s when all of a sudden decent fabric cost more than buying clothes and it no longer made financial sense for her to sew clothes for the family. That's about when the US clothes industry collapsed and it was all sent overseas, along with removing tariffs and subsidies, I think, and apparently those changes dramatically impacted the local fabric supply as well.

I sew but only rarely, and I feel your pain at digging through the racks of fabric looking for the one nice bolt hidden among the awful rayons.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:02 AM on July 23, 2014

When I lived in Portland I could always find decent (if spendy) garment fabric at Fabric Depot. You can order online from them, too, and they almost always have some sort of sale happening or coming up soon. Not sure what their return/shipping policies are like, though.
posted by dialetheia at 8:54 AM on July 23, 2014

You can do it, kat518! Take a class, maybe take one on sewing knits if you can (so you can make stretchy things, it's not a lot harder but needs some special techniques and supplies), and look at these tutorials.
posted by clavicle at 1:45 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

And yeah, except for a few rare gems at Jo-Ann, all the good fabric is on the internets if your town doesn't have a non-chain fabric store.
posted by clavicle at 1:47 PM on July 23, 2014

Another potential source for decent fabric is thrift stores, if you have some good ones around and you have the persistence to dig through mountains of crap repeatedly and you have the space to store random fabric until you find a project for it ... not a very efficient approach but it's cheap and you can sometimes find nice vintage fabrics that just aren't available any more. (And cheap helps you take chances on a new pattern or technique which would be nerve-wracking in pricey fabric, so you can make a "public beta" garment after your muslin to fine-tune the pattern before you invest in good fabric.)
posted by Quietgal at 5:23 PM on July 23, 2014

Oh, I'm so glad you guys said that about the fabrics. I thought it was just me being too picky, but all the fabric at the chain store was pretty awful.
posted by dejah420 at 7:05 PM on July 30, 2014

« Older Frankly, my dear, I do give a damn   |   “U.S. citizens here?” - “U.S. citizens.” Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments