Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Thoughts on sewing, fashion and Ready To Wear (RTW)




Yesterday, like many women across Australia, I attended a beautiful Melbourne Cup lunch. The event was held in a stunning location overlooking the river. The weather was perfect and, with some of my favourite people, I happily drank champagne and watched as the ladies arrived in their finery.

Just to be clear, I hardly ever attend fancy events, which is probably why I looked forward to and enjoyed this one so much. Also, I do not support horse racing. For me, this was all about fun, friends and fashion. Oh and food, let's not forget the food!

So what to wear to such an event? For me it was definitely going to be something I'd made. I tried on the contenders the day before and decided on my StyleArc Toni Designer Dress. I then found some of the leftover fabric and whipped up a fabric flower to clip into my hair. Frivolous fascinators of some sort are pretty much compulsory for the Melbourne Cup!



Everyone looked gorgeous and we all admired each others' outfits. I got the usual eye-rolling from my friends when they asked if I'd made my outfit. I can never understand why they think sewing is such an amazing and elusive talent. Isn't it just a series of simple steps, and incredibly enjoyable ones at that? I was just hoping that the slightly-too-stiff interfacing I'd used at my neckline wasn't too obvious. The girls then chatted about the terrible time they have finding a lovely dress that is age appropriate and not outrageously expensive. Apparently pretty much everything out there either exposes way too much or looks Mother-of-the-bride. "Where can we find dresses that suit someone in between those extremes?" asked one friend. "You need to start a label and call it 'Stuck in the Middle'". The same friend then told me that she'd recently spent $70 having a dress hem taken up and a split lowered, only to find afterwards that the hem didn't even match on either side of the split!!!

I pondered this as I sat down in my home made dress, made from op shop fabric, that had cost me less than $10 plus my time. I don't count the time really as it's always spent so contentedly when I'm sewing. However, I would count my time if I was producing clothes to sell or doing alterations. I've done it before and, for me, it does suck the enjoyment out of sewing.

After lunch and the horse race, the entertainment continued in the form of a fashion parade. I love fashion parades and this one refreshingly featured non-professional models (real people!) with a range of ages and body types. As luck would have it, they were modelling clothes from a local boutique catering to the 'Stuck in the Middle' clientele. 

I am very out of touch with the offerings of boutiques these days as, apart from the supermarket, I only ever enter fabric shops or op shops. As the outfits came out I found myself scrutinising the fit and the fabrics, the pattern placement and the pattern matching. Things leapt out at me that most people just have to settle for: dresses that fitted at the hips and gaped at the bust; something in a spangly polyester that would have been stunning (and far more comfortable) in silk; a dress with a stripe placed unflatteringly at the hip that would have look so much better at the waist. The more I saw, the more I appreciated the sewing skills and experience I have (and lamented the sewing snob I've become!). 



As I joined the coffee queue afterwards, a lovely lady admired my flower and commented on how well it matched my dress. 'They must have come together' she said. 'Oh, I made them' I mumbled, my hand fluttering to my interfacing. But I shouldn't have mumbled, or fluttered. I was rocking a one-of-a-kind dress (and flower) that cost less and was more lovingly made than any RTW dress in the room. I had chosen the fabric and pattern. I'd put the print exactly where I wanted it and made sure it matched up at the seams. I'd chosen a loose fit to accommodate lunch, but if I'd felt like wearing a fitted dress I could have graded between sizes and tweaked the fit until it was perfect pretty blinking good, not to mention making adjustments to hide my lumpy bits.

I'm starting to think that sewing is actually a lot more than just a series of enjoyable construction steps. Not that it's hard, I think anyone could and should learn how to do it, but actually making something forces you to think about fit and fabric. An embarrassing error teaches you the importance of pattern placement. A twisted leg seam or a puckered hem highlights the need to watch grainlines and press properly and a last minute requirement for a fascinator forces you to get creative and rip off a strip of fabric to make one. I realised yesterday that sewing is a glorious combination of all these things. It gives me the freedom to be unique, to make changes, to take risks, to learn. It gives me the power to say no to spangly, ill-fitting or overpriced RTW. It gives me the incentive to improve a bit more each time I make something. It gives me joy and a reason to say no to the housework. I know it's not for everyone, but I'm sure glad it's for me.

And now to try and fix that damned interfacing!


Update: I've just found out that a home made outfit has won the Fashions in the Field competition at the Melbourne Cup for the second year running. Yay!! 

46 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. I am so glad to hear you felt so well in your own dress. It is for sure a really nice and unique one! That's the icing on the cake of our sewing - being admired and feeling wonderful and unique in something you made! I found myself a lot in your last statements, though I still have so much to learn and try! You really do beautiful things!

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    1. Thank you so much. I'm pleased you could relate. I could have written lots more!

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  3. That really is a gorgeous dress. I often think about it, and think I should buy the pattern, but I know that it would never look half as good on me as it does on you!

    I love sewing and patternmaking, but now my dilemma is that I don't go anywhere fancy so I never wear the clothes I make. I didn't even have a Melbourne Cup function to attend this year. There seems to be a real push towards minimalism, uniforms and capsules wardrobes, which makes me feel guilty for sewing dresses just for the pleasure of patternmaking and choosing fabric. I like reading your blog, because I can sense the real pleasure you get from sewing.

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    1. Ha, yes I contemplate minimalism as I try to squeeze another handmade dress into my wardrobe, but only for a second!

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  4. Having trouble getting my comment published. That dress and fascinator is so totally awesome and I agree about people thinking sewing is some sort of dark art. My friends (and some of my family) think I have turned into a hippie because I now make everything. Hehe, I'm not at all offended :)

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    1. Dark art, I like that. I'm sure all your friends are secretly in awe of you!

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  5. This is such a great piece and echos mine and I am sure a lot of sewists feelings on what they sew. I don't make as many dresses these days because I don't wear them a lot and the ones I do make are now aimed at wearing to multiple occasions.

    The people I work with don't know I sew and this is something I have been thinking about a lot lately and am now determined to change. Why should I be worried about what they think.

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    1. Exactly! Wear your me-mades with pride and shout it from the rooftops!

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  6. That is a simply stunning dress.

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  7. what a great post - you have encapsulated so many of the reasons I sew and also noted the drawbacks of RTW these days.

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    1. Thank you. They were thoughts I'd had for a long time, but the Cup lunch just crystallised everything

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  8. So well articulated - and you look wonderful!

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  9. I commented this morning but it hasn't been published.

    Your dress is beautiful.

    I think that many of us who sew are shy about our achievements when we should be shouting it from the roof tops.(My 10 year old daughter does it for me). All we see are the flaws in the clothes we make, but we forget that there are far bigger flaws in RTW.

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    1. Yes! RTW clothes are full of flaws and it's just accepted. Yay for your daughter!

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  10. I really enjoyed this post.
    I've started looking at clothing this way too, and it does make you so appreciative of your skills and the benefits that come with those. I say wave that "handmade" flag high! And screw the interfacing. I always see all those tiny little flaws in the things I make (**huge and unmissable** in my eyes) but when I compare them to RTW and even fancy expensive borderline designer clothes, actually mine pretty much always shake down better.
    And here's to the pleasure we all get from sewing, and the joy of wearing our own creations.

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    1. Thank you so much. I agree with everything you have said. Wave that flag!

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  11. I so agree with all you've said. Reading this made me think back to my mother and how in her day, almost everyone wore homemade clothes and it was the exact reverse - someone wearing storebought clothing was admired while everyone else had to make do with homemade, and their own mothers sewing skills. How times have changed! We can all afford storebought now, but the quality is low and so many families have lost the home sewing skills that must have been passed through generations before...

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    1. Yes, it's a terrible shame that those skills have been lost and are no longer passed down through families. I'm very happy that my two sons are learning to sew!

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  12. So well said! I'm also in that group of "inbetweeners" and am so thankful I sew. It really is a black hole between 20 something and over 55's "fashion". A big gap! And I don't shop for RTW anymore either (except jeans). It would just immeasurably infuriate me :)

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    1. I go to the shops so rarely now that I've lost touch, but it certainly seems that a 'black hole' is a very apt description for clothes to suit our age group!

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  13. Meg you are right. I wouldn't call us the 'inbetweeners' because that's just one category to fit all of us in.
    When I make a sewing error, I think that I've dropped my standards to RTW.
    You're also right that making your own clothes is more than just simple construction steps. I've fussed about with necklines and facings a lot but once they're right, the whole outfit works.
    Great blog post!

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    1. Thank you and I love that you feel mistakes are dropping your standards to RTW. Awesome!

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  14. Such an interesting post, thank you. I also wore a memade for Melbourne cup, to the work function, with matching clutch and fascinator. People were amazed I could get everything to match, well you can if you use the scraps from your dress. Love your dress BTW, you look stunning.

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    1. I know and the scraps don't even cost any extra. Winning on all counts!

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  15. Great post and you looked wonderful in your exclusive outfit.

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  16. I loved everything about this post and I share your sentiments. Your dress is fabulous and the perfect choice for the occasion.

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  17. Lovely couture frock - congratulations. Sam the Aussie

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  18. OK, I'll show my ignorance as someone stateside. What is an op shop? This dress is gorgeous and really suits you. I agree with all you said, and I will add that I think sewing really advances one's knowledge of what actually suits you. I think it's more difficult to know what suits you when you don't get involved in the process. I was spoiled rotten from the time I was a child since my mother made all my clothes, and I got to pick out all the patterns and fabrics, although she did "steer" me occasionally. I miss her so much now that I sew, although not nearly as well as she did. Great post!

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    1. Ha ha, an op shop is a thrift store or charity shop. Thank you for a lovely comment and I love that you feel spoiled for having handmade clothes. Many people would think the opposite

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  19. I just loved this post , it resonated with me completely. My son , who is 10, is still happy and proud to wear mum mades to school(I know that will chage son) and tells his friends and teachers that I make his clothes which always makes me proud,!

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    1. That is so cool. My sons, 11 and 13, also wear clothes I make and have even made some themselves that they also wear!!

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  20. I nodded along to just about everything you've written in this post, especially the eyerolling from people who know you sew. That happens to me a lot, from people who are very dear to me, and I don't quite understand why.
    Great post!

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    1. Thank you. Yes, people are strange and endlessly fascinating :)

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  21. So well said Megan! Although I'm not big on making clothes and prefer to stick to bags and things that don't matter so much if I don't get them perfect - I admire those who do (maybe one day I'll take the step an launch into making clothes for myself!!) . Your dress is gorgeous and yes you should shout about having made it yourself and not mumble! I admit to 'mumbling' about making things too - not everyone appreciates hand made! I agree that it's not a tricky skill - anyone can learn how to sew and the rewards are huge and satisfying!!

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  22. You've perfectly put into words why a lot of us sew. It's a good thing that I find sewing so enjoyable, because if I didn't, I wouldn't be able to find anything to buy that I like, and that fits.

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