What you discover about your body when you sew your own clothes

I’m almost halfway through my year of not buying clothes. What’s changed? Well, going cold turkey has completely shifted my mindset on shopping. From spending hundreds of dollars every month to nothing at all, this was a shock to the system to jolt me out of my bad habit.

At this six month milestone I have set myself a new challenge: learning to sew my own clothes. In part this is practical; as I can’t buy any garments, making my own is a workaround so I can still get some new clothes. It’s also about gaining a new perspective on and respect for the art of clothes design and production.

I started by signing up for an evening dressmaking course and with my supply list in hand excitedly headed for Diagon Alley (ahem, Spotlight). There, surrounded by exciting equipment I had never heard of, I diligently picked up all the required supplies, reminding me of the stationery run the week before a new school year.

Next I got acquainted with the sewing machine area of Trade Me, on the hunt for one in good condition without any missing parts (few and far between, as it turns out). I scored one for a pretty thrifty $80 and started researching machine servicing, which, it turns out, costs about double the price of the machine.

A Bernette white sewing machine

In advance of my evening classes I also set about doing some Hermione-style extra research and preparation. It came as quite a surprise that making pyjama bottoms in school textiles lessons 20 years ago didn’t teach me everything I would ever need to know about dressmaking. I’m much more clueless than I realised.

My first wake-up call that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing was picking up a pattern in the same size I would buy from a shop. It was only when I got home I realised that dress pattern sizes don’t necessarily correspond with clothes sizes in the shops (‘ready-to-wear’ for those in the know). 

Shops have been ‘vanity sizing’ over the decades (meaning that a woman with a 29-inch waist would have worn a US size 16 in 1970 but a size 8 today). Dress patterns, by contrast, have remained the same throughout the decades, resulting in a potential shock for first-time dressmakers.

The second thing I realised is that patterns are designed for an ‘average’ body shape, which most of us aren’t. Comparing my measurements to the size chart on the pattern, I quickly discovered that I don’t fit neatly into one box. In fact my clothing size fluctuates significantly up and down my body. So while my hips are a size 8, my chest is a 10, and my waist and bust fall between sizes 12 and 14. It makes total sense when you think about it; I’ve just never needed to think about it before.

I’m now even more excited to get started with my course next month; making a simple dress looks like it’s going to be a lot harder than initially expected, and I can’t wait to tackle this new challenge!

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