Sunday, 2 August 2015

What to sew (when you've got too many clothes & like to cycle)

17-year-old self in a me-made 1960s minidress
21-year-old self in a me-made, 1947 Retro Butterick sundress
19-year-old self in the Butterick Walk-Away Dress

Like many sewists, when I began sewing I used commercial sewing patterns, and picked pretty, frivolous dresses. I soon discovered that I could re-create vintage looks for a fraction of the price; and my home-sewn frocks would never have the splitting seams, fraying fabric, or dreaded underarm yellowing that inevitably follow vintage purchases! Sewing summery, full-skirted dresses catered to my love of dramatic prints; and I often layered thermals underneath and hand knitted woollens on top during cold spells. As a result, my wardrobe and my fabric stash is filled with beautiful cottons.

In the 8 or so years since I started dressmaking, my lifestyle has changed a lot. The biggest change has come most recently, as I've started cycling quite seriously. I've even traded in my beautiful Dutch-style upright bike for a sleek, aluminium-frame roadie! I love the independence that comes with cycling, but as many will have found, it wrecks havoc with your clothes. Too many pretty, full-skirted dresses have been caught in the wheels, endangering me on the road and sadly often tearing. And I've lost count of the times that I've discovered black grease marks on fabulous clothes, which can't always be bleached out. Much as I love sewing pretty frocks, my cupboard is full of them and my lifestyle demands different things.

F & I recently went though that modern-day relationship milestone of purchasing and building a very large wardrobe from Ikea. Woohoo! No more sharing just one (small) wardrobe between the two of us! Lots of space to hang our vintage! No more rotating seasonal items!

Right? Yeah, right.

Naturally, all the space has been filled. How did that happen?

I have an annual wardrobe purge just before Chinese New Year, and thanks to Marie Kondo I got rid of two bin bags full of uninspiring clothes back in January. But still, the cupboards are full. Moving all my clothing around made me take stock of what I have, and made me think of what I should make next. My conclusion? I have an awful lot of cotton frocks, many of which I now can't regularly wear! 

19-year-old self in Prague in a me-made 1947 Retro Butterick dress
17-year-old self doing interpretive dance in art class. Er…..and wearing a self-made1952  Retro Butterick dress, fabric from Ikea! And yes, I can still fit into the clothes I wore as a teenager.

After a long period of sewing nothing for myself, I recently decided to rejoin the sewing world (hello, Internets!); but a genuine lack of storage space in my flat means that I need to choose what to make more wisely than I have done in the past. Whilst many of my clothes are now self-made, I've identified a huge hole in normal, boring, everyday clothes. I've made so many pretty and exciting dresses; it's finally time to tone down.

I need to make:
  • Clothes that I can move in
  • Clothes that that I can get dirty
  • Clothing that is hard to make, and which I might normally buy in a shop
  • Practical clothing, for sports and wet weather
I don't have much experience of making these types of clothing, nor or sourcing and handling the materials used in them, so this will truly be a new chapter in my sewing journey.

What I'm planning on making, that fits into the above categories:
  • Bras. I need a new bra, and am planning on diving in with Watson, a non-underwired, non-padded, nipple-showing pattern that fulfils both  my vintage and feminist criteria! 
  • Knickers. I am infamously bad at buying practical underwear, especially from shops like M&S, so why not make it myself?
  • Exciting lingerie. Yes, that too. I have some  pretty vintage things and some silky lacy things from small designers, but let's face it: a girl can never have too much gorgeous lingerie. And when an Ayten Gasson slip costs over £100, I'm even more inspired to delve into the world bias-cutting slippery fabric to look fabulous and save a few bob.
  • Leggings. Though I'm taking a break after my introduction to leggings (that look and feel like they were sprayed-on out of a canister), I do plan on making more. I especially need one or two more pairs of velvet leggings which will be nice and warm for cycling in the winter.
  • T-shirts. I could do with some more jersey things that can be layered as I have many (woven) blouses. I'm thinking the Hemlock and Plaintain patterns, one loose and one tight! 
  • Quilt. I started one in November. It was meant to be for the summer. Obviously it will not be finished until it's winter again. On the plus side, this should help us save on heating!
  • A backpack. For the bike. That doesn't look terrible. (Why does practical clothing usually look terrible?) I made various tote bags when I was learning to sew, so this will definitely be a step-up in the bag-sewing arena. 
  • A cycle-friendly winter jacket. Sadly my wonderful dreams of a princess-seamed, fur-collared, calf-length Hollywood starlet coat may have to be postponed for yet another year. I think that the bike will require a shorter jacket with a less full skirt,  a jacket length hem which can tuck away safely on the saddle, possibly even a hood (!), and definitely with some kind of clever reflective piping.

These days I am generally loathe to buy sewing patterns. I studied pattern drafting at uni, plus I already have loads, plus I'm a bit skint and those things ain't cheap! Despite this, I've decided that I'll splash out on a couple of patterns since I'm learning new things. That way I'll also get to support some independent pattern designers - which I'm really happy about. Making everything on that list will still be cheaper than buying it in a shop, and I'll fulfil double-edged anti-capitalist fantasies of being self-sufficient and supporting small companies. Hurrah!

Underwear, t-shirts, outdoor clothes and accessories are those essential everyday items which seem so specialist. I've always been intimidated by all of these things, so I've never made them, sticking to dresses and, err, historical tailoring and period clothing. Time to get out of my comfort zone, and hopefully make the conversion to a fully me-made wardrobe!

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