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How I Stopped Sewing My Clothes and Reclaimed My Creativity

Updated: Jan 26, 2020

I’m free! A huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders, even if a little nugget of shame is still residing in my heart and the pit of my stomach. I feel both self-indulgent and like a fraud. I am so afraid to push send on this post that I’ve rewritten it 4 times, yet I know it will (probably) only be judged by me.

Here’s my dark dirty secret: I bought an outfit from Target. On an impulse. Because I felt like it.

No seriously, that’s my secret. And seriously I feel shame. For the past 3 years I’ve carefully created my clothes (with a few exceptions: swimwear, underwear, and activewear). I’ve toiled over fabric selection and colors motifs, over fit and alterations, over construction and finishing. Need a dress for a wedding? It was added to the list and 10 muslins later I had one. Need a new sweatshirt? Time to slash and spread patterns and test out fabrics and find the best seam finishes. Every “need” became a “to-do”.

And damn, I was proud of it. I love the look in my students’ eyes when they realize I sewed my jeans. Here’s where the self-indulgence sneaks in: it felt good to have those skills admired. I worked hard to advance in the craft, worked hard to find the right fit for my own curves, worked hard to finesse my topstitching. I also became the total handmade wardrobe advocate “You too can sew your own clothes!” “Start with a shirt and work your way up!” “Make it your own style, make it fit you!” I still believe in these claims 100%. I’ve watched students take our 101 class and within a year jump into our jeans class. I’ve watched people find their style through trial and error within our studio and become more confident in themselves and their skills through the process. I do think a handmade wardrobe can give you confidence and be life changing.

I didn’t set out to make a handmade wardrobe. It just became a decision between buying that inexpensive shirt (probably from Target) or spending the same money on fabric. I chose to feed my fabric and sewing addiction instead, but that small decision effected so many aspects of my life.

My garment sewing abilities sky rocketed. I learned fitting and finishing techniques. I took the time to understand how clothes were drafted. That the reason store bought clothes didn't fit right was that they were made for measurements that weren't the same as mine. I came to appreciate the craft of clothes so much more than I ever had.

For the first time, I sat down to figure out my style— instead of letting stores define it for me. If I was going to spend the money on fabric and the time on creating it, then it better be representative of who I was. This was empowering in ways I can't even begin to describe. I now feel confident in what I wear, even if it's not mainstream. That confidence parlays into my daily interactions, how I approach my business, and how I set my goals. That’s some heavy stuff when we’re just talking about clothes, but it also shows how little confidence I had in my own style and opinions at the time.

I took a closer look at how we consume clothes as a society. Before this I would have told you that I wasn't really part of the problem since I didn't buy that many clothes to begin with, but truth was that I bought clothes I didn't love and that didn't fit and got rid of them quickly. I appreciated how a shirt should not cost $20 and what the garment factory conditions must be like to sell them at that price.

So while it may not have been my intention to sew all my own clothes, when I started to see these effects I jumped in head first. At some point, once I realized I hadn’t purchased clothes in a few months, I took on the self-imposed challenge of “never” buying clothes (the -wears above excepted). Whenever I determine “have-to-dos”, even if they are entirely unnecessary and of my own doing, they become a burden.

Eventually, making my own clothes became exhausting. If I wanted a pair of dressy pants I wouldn’t think excitedly about patterns and fabric, I’d imagine slogging my way through yet another fitting. Trying to manage my bigger low hips with higher smaller waist and whatever pattern I landed on that wasn’t designed that way. I’d feel depleted before I even started. I would begrudgingly add it to the list and watch other more “fun” sewing projects get pushed to the back. It was no longer enjoyable, but since I had made claims that “this is what I did” so I felt shackled to it.

And then I bought the Target outfit. Wandering aimlessly through Target one day (as one does) I saw this delicate teal tank top and white pleated skirt hanging on a display wall. From all my garment sewing experience I knew that this was totally my style. I also knew I could make it from the Ogden Cami pattern and a simple elastic waist skirt pattern. But then I remembered that I wanted to put darts in the Ogden next time I made it and sourcing the white pleated fabric could be tricky. Looking at this beautiful outfit I became really bummed.

So I reached up, took the shirt hanger off the wall and put it in the cart. Before I could think about it I grabbed the skirt and did the same. I can still picture the clothes in the bright red cart with my heart racing “Was I really going to do this?!” I turned on my heel and practically ran over to check out before I could change my mind. And I bought it.

I felt fraudulent. Here I was extolling the virtues of a handmade wardrobe and I bought clothes— and they were cheap and they were from Target. The horror. What would people think? How could I ruin my streak?

Here’s the truth… nobody cares. And I knew that, but changing that picture of your self can be difficult. Nobody expects their sewing teacher to make all of her own clothes. I don’t judge people for buying clothes. How particularly indulgent of myself to think that others would judge me.

Here’s the other truth… it felt really good. I didn’t have to make it. The only person forcing myself to add it to my to-do list was me and I just gave myself a break. I gave myself permission not to do the thing. All of a sudden I felt more creative, I saw more possibilities. I had been stressing over when I would find the time I attend to playing, my word of the year, and now this little beacon of light was showing me how. I could just take something off my list. By buying an outfit I made the time and the space to explore other, more exciting ideas.

It’s hard to remember sometimes that the answer is not always to keep adding, keep adding, keep adding. That sometimes you have to subtract. My mom says “When you say ‘yes’ to something you are saying ‘no’ to something else”. It’s so true. By saying ‘yes’ to sewing every stitch of clothing, I was saying ‘no’ to other creative pursuits that tap into the same time and energy.

I am not an over-consumer of clothes. Breaking the shopping dam didn’t lead to crazy shopping sprees. But the decision to work away from a to-do list, and focusing on where my creative energy is leading me, has given me more of a daily balance. I look forward to whatever pile of sewing I have created instead of dreading it. And never fear, clothes are still on that pile—- it’s just that they don’t “have” to be there.

If you’re looking for time and space to create, and wondering how you can fit it into your life, I strongly recommend taking a keen eye at what you consider “must-dos”. Where can you cut or cut back? What can you say ‘no’ to so that you can say ‘yes’ to something else?

Here's the culprit outfit. I ended up wearing it for the New Years Eve Masquerade Party we had (me, my husband and our kids: 7, 5, and 3--- it was a doozy). Also note the paint chip on the door... another project that I may now just have time for!

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@ Cindy Samples- It's good to know that I'm not the only one out there feeling this way! Here's to new risks this year!


Cindy Samples
Cindy Samples
  • Thank you for the timely post. In the past few months I stopped making most of my clothing because I also found it exhausting. Sewing was part of my identity. but sourcing fabrics, making toiles, etc. was time consuming and the clothing I made was not satisfying. Recently I bought some new things that are flattering and that I wear constantly. In the past two weeks rather than feeling that I need to sew to be clothed, I am feeling that I want to sew again with the plan of taking more creative risks.

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