I’ve always thought that making your own clothes is a bit… hippy? Like organic and eco-friendly were twenty years ago. I’m totally down with label hunting in op shops and second hand stores, but knitting your own knickers (my preconception of DIY clothes) is just not part of my world. The closest I’ve ever come to trying was making a pair of tie-dye pyjama bottoms at school. I sewed all the way around the shape, forgetting I’d need an opening at the top to put my legs through.
But desperate times (aka the end of the world due to climate change, accelerated by fast fashion) call for desperate measures. I signed up for a beginners sewing course. Driven by impatience and my personal dedication to being a geek, I set about pre-learning. I began working through a dress pattern, searching YouTube tutorials and Google whenever I got to an unfamiliar word (Um, ‘understitch the armscye facing’ anyone?).
I turned up to my first class buzzing, newly serviced machine by my side like a trusty companion. Little did I know that no actual sewing would take place during lesson one.
Instead we sat still for two hours as our teacher showed us fabrics, patterns, required tools, and clothes she had made herself. We also took turns introducing ourselves, at which point I clocked that most of my classmates didn’t know how to thread a sewing machine, let alone how to understitch the armscye.
As for me, I got three tips that had slipped YouTube’s mind to tell me about.
First, that just a five minute drive from my house is a cavern of cheap material, perfect for making my toile or muslin – essentially your dry run to check how it fits before hacking into your expensive fabric.
Next I learned that searching your pattern’s unique code on Instagram shows you hundreds of ways other home-sewers have made the same garment – in different fabrics, colours, and often customised with different sleeves, necklines, etc.
The last point was more inspiration than information. Our teacher showed us a perfect, delicate bra that she had made herself, from start to finish. I started this hobby with the intention of making one dress. But I soon began looking at the clothes of everyone I passed in the street, mentally calculating the difficulty level of each item. Of course there are dresses and tops and skirts, but what about underwear, a coat or dressing gown? The possibilities are (almost) endless once you have a sewing machine, some thread and a length of fabric.
Back home, I couldn’t keep my fingers still until week two’s class. I unwrapped my first pattern and got to work. Despite the unexpected back ache, I found the whole process utterly addictive. I kept tracing and marking and cutting and ironing and sewing, doing ‘just this bit’ until I’d all but finished my first draft. It was so peaceful, without screens, listening to an audiobook and thinking of nothing else.
By Sunday evening I had a big bubble of pride in me, looking at this 3D creation that I’d built entirely myself from a flat piece of fabric. It actually looks like a real dress! Sure, it’s too tight around the waist, so I’ve got some adjustments to make when I make it in my expensive material, but it’s like nothing I’ve ever done before. It actually feels quite magical.
I started to wonder why more of us aren’t doing this. With a free online pattern and some good value material you can make your own unique clothes, to whatever design you want, made to fit your unique body, for less than $10. (The less said about the $600 I’ve spent on the machine, tools and course the better.) It mostly takes time. Plus, you feel way more pride in what you’re wearing, because you made it yourself. And I’m going to take such good care of anything I make at home, because I know exactly how much work has gone into it and what it will take to replace it. I’m totally hooked.