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Question time: Me-Made, Wardrobe Percentages, and Wardrobe Philosophies

Since I sew all.the.time, and teach sewing, and blog about sewing, people often ask me how much of my wardrobe is me-made, or how much of the clothes I wear are me-made.  And where do I get the stuff that isn’t me-made?

It’s a really interesting question, because it makes people think about how much of their own wardrobe they could aim to sew, and how much of your own wardrobe you can realistically sew.  It also has a bearing on my overall philosophy of sewing and clothing.

It’s also interesting, because being me, I over-think this question.  How exactly do I calculate it?

Percentage of items in my overall wardrobe?  Meters of fabric sewn by me vs. not?  Days of the week I wear me-made stuff?   Percentage of garments that I wear on a daily basis that are made by me?  Percentage of the fabric that I am wearing on a daily basis that has been sewn by me?

And how do I count vintage or commercially made items that I have mended and altered?  Do those count as me-made?  What about my costumes?  Do I count them as part of my wardrobe?  Or vintage pieces I own that I intend to wear once or twice for a photoshoot, but not as daily wear.  Do they count?

Certainly a huge amount of my daily wardrobe is me-made.

Items in my wardrobe: approximately 70% sewn by me, 30% not

Five years ago when I worked for Te Papa (the national museum) and had a lot less time to sew, I focused my sewing on costumes and special occasion items.

When I went shopping, I generally bought well-made, timeless items, usually by local designers.  Some of these pieces I’ve since sold, or passed on to friends or op-shops, because they no longer fit my lifestyle, but I still have a dozen or so pieces of beautiful, classic business-wear in my wardrobe that I no longer have as much of an excuse to wear, but love too much to get rid of.

World wool pencil skirts and Blak silk blouses are gorgeous, but stupid for sewing and pattern drafting in, especially with Felicity around, and when I teach classes,  shorts and T-shirts are actually more work appropriate – as long as they are ones I have made!  So the 30% not-made-by-me items are less likely to be worn on a daily basis.

A me-made skirt with a too-fabulous to not wear modern top, and vintage-ish sweater by NZ knitwear company Insidious Fix

A me-made skirt with a too-fabulous to not wear modern top, and vintage-ish sweater by NZ knitwear company Insidious Fix

Meters of fabric in my wardrobe: approximately 80% sewn by me, 25% not

I tend to make wide-legged pants, and buy skinny jeans.  I make tap-pants and slips, but buy bras.  So more of the actually fabric meterage in my wardrobe is sewn by me.

Beach pyjama trousers thedreamstress.com3

Days of the week I wear me-made items: 6.9 out of 7

It’s a very unusual day when I am not wearing at least one item made by me.  The last time I can think of was a day when I spent the entire day painting the house and put on an old pair of stained, paint spattered shorts and T-shirt that have been my painting clothes for over 5 years, and managed to find one of the last few pairs of not me-made knickers at the back of my drawer, probably because I hadn’t done laundry in over a week because we were painting, so didn’t have any clean me-made ones.

I’ve yet to have anything I made wear out enough that it would be painting gear!

Even when I’m wearing a vintage dress, and my outfit looks not-me-made, I almost certainly made my slip and knickers (UPDATE: and now, you can buy the pattern to make your own – and singlet camisoles and slips – with the Scroop Wonder Unders pattern!  Get it here!)

Wonder Unders thedreamstress.com1

Percentage of the number of garments I wear on a daily basis that are made by me: 65% me, 35% not. 

The stuff I’m wearing that isn’t by me is bras, jeans, my winter coat (it’s vintage and fabulous), and socks.

I still buy all my bras because for 300 days of the year moulded foam bras are a Wellington girl’s best friend: you want as many layers between you and the outside world as possible (not because nipples are bad, but because if they show it means I am cold enough to wish I was wearing more clothes for my own comfort).  And moulded foam bras are a major hassle to make.

I buy jeans because jeans just aren’t exciting to make: I’ve done it, but every time I’ve tried recently I think of all the delicious non-jean things I could sew in 15 hours of sewing, and I loose the will to go on.  I have tailored a lot of my jeans to fit me just as I want.

I buy socks because even my awesome stocking pattern can’t keep up with my three-layers-of-socks-a-day-and-they-must-all-be-wool-and-even-that-doesn’t-completely-keep-me-from-getting-chillblains habit in winter.

The Dreamstress 'Rosalie' stocking pattern thedreamstress.com

I also buy the occasional vintage piece, garment by a local designer or op-shop piece because it is so beautiful.  Just because I can make almost anything doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate and utilise what other people have made!  And hey, I might not be able to find a fabric quite as fabulous.

When I sew, I like to make things that are well made and will last for wear after wear, year after year, both in terms of durability and style.  When I buy, I try to do the same thing.  I don’t care what is fashionable, when I sew and buy I go for what I love – when what I like is ‘in’ in fabric and clothing, I stock up, and then when it isn’t I don’t buy.  I hope bird fabric is fashionable forever!

A Parakeet Sunfrock thedreamstress.com

My shopping habits aren’t perfect: I haven’t found an ethical bra that fits me properly, so I just buy the ones that do – even finding those is a hassle (Australian bra designers seem convinced that all women want their boobs squished together into the center of their chest, no matter what their band measurement is.  FYI bra designers, if someone is a 34B, a 9″ outside-cup to outside-cup measure is NOT going to be comfortable or attractive).

I also found a pair of brand-new-with-tags jeans in an op-shop that fit me perfectly, and are the only skinny jeans that ever have, and they are by Jay Jays (of all brands! Jay Jays is a cheap shop focused on 17 year olds), and it turns out you can still buy them, and I have.  I’m justifying it by telling myself that wearing Jay Jays jeans to death is still better than buying and then never being happy with and thus never wearing, more ethically made jeans.

Tunnel beach, Dunedin thedreamstress.com

The infamous Jay Jays jeans at Tunnel Beach, Dunedin (with a me-made top and singlet camisole)

For me, while buying organic and ethically made clothes and fabric is nice, by far the biggest thing I, or anyone else, can do to reduce the carbon and human footprint of our clothes is to get as much life and wear out of them as possible.  I measure the impact of my clothes in cost-per-wear, and the more I can wear something, and the gentler I can be about laundering it, the smaller its impact on the world.

The best thing I ever did in terms of making myself sew all the time was the Sew Weekly: if you have to do it every week, you really learn how to buckle down, stop dithering, and make a thing.  And you learn to appreciate the basics in your wardrobe, rather than just the over-the-top fun stuff.  Today I’m lucky in that my job literally requires me to sew, though sometimes I feel like my wardrobe is shaped more by what I need to make as the latest class sample than by what I really want to be sewing and wearing at that moment!  I’m well beyond the Sew Weekly: I finish an average of two things a week, though they can be stuff for me, class samples, items for the home, and clothes and gifts for other people.

So what about you?  If you sew, how much of your wardrobe is me-made?  Do you want it to be more?  And what’s your philosophy about clothes and shopping?

27 Comments

  1. A lot of my wardrobe is me-made and I do wear me-mades on a regular basis. But I’m with you on things like jeans and bras-store bought is the way to go. I’m sure my percentage would go up if I buckled down and learned to make t-shirts and underwear but I’m currently feeling rather meh about learning to sew knits.

    I used to have a goal of having an entirely me-made wardrobe but it’s just not practical for me. I’d much rather make the things that I enjoy making and things I can’t buy and enjoy the instant gratification when I do shop.

    Right now, I’m focused on having a smaller wardrobe of great staples that I really love and not consuming so much in the clothing department whether it be fabric or ready to wear. I’m hoping to do more costuming this year as well as pick back up some hobbies that got forgotten about when I really started getting into sewing.

  2. It is an interesting thought to consider how much of my wardrobe is made by me, (which is not much). I do love to sew, though I mostly make skirts and dresses. Jeans are something I definitely don’t really want to try and make!

  3. There is nothing in my wardrobe that I have made, except a pair of tap pants. I bought a lot of clothes when I worked in fashion retail, and now that I’ve been out of it for over 2 years, those same pieces are still wearable. Me-mades were impractical, since I couldn’t wear them to work. Now that I’m working elsewhere, there’s not much reason that I can’t make and wear things there, besides wanting to dedicate more of my limited sewing time to fun things like bustle dresses and Regency gowns 😀 I think I’ll add “make more dresses” to my list of things to do this year, though. And I do have some nice pink suiting that would make a fabulous pair of pants…

  4. Lyn Swan says

    Interesting! I have been thinking about a LOT for the past few months. I have way too many pieces of clothing! Much have been purchased at 2nd hand stores because I can afford to buy better quality that way. One of the reasons for quantity is my ever changing body shape and size. Four years ago I was in a (US) size 6, now at least a 12. Right now nothing I wear is me made. I sew for plays and others. BUT, since following Leimomi, I have purchased patterns and material for a few outfits that I think will suit my body and life. I am trying to accept my body as it is, and feel myself worthy of my sewing. My first outfit will be a linen Kurta and matching drawstring pants…simple, elegant and comfortable.
    As always, thank you for this honest and informative forum!

  5. About 10 % of my wardrobe is me-made (not counting underwear, which I’ve never sewn), and I’d definitely like it to be more. In the past 10+ years, I’ve mostly been sewing elastic-waist rayon Summer pants etc; I outgrew my sloper patterns so I no longer had an easy way to make tops that fit well. But a couple of years ago I started following costuming and sewing blogs and eventually learned about FBAs, which was a revelation to me. So now I want to sew tops again.

    I’ve always felt bad about getting rid of clothes just because I don’t like them anymore, so I’ve tried to pick timeless styles. Then I was pregnant 5 years ago, and it did odd things to my rib cage that took a long time to revert, so for a long time I didn’t even think of buying clothes for myself, other than necessary underwear. And then I started to realize how bad the situation in the clothing industry is, about the same time as I started to read about pattern fitting… so I felt that I’d be happier sewing more of my clothes myself. But I have limited energy (due to CFS) so my sewing progresses at a snail’s pace – though shopping for fabrics is about easy as before… I don’t feel bad about buying clothes for my kid though, as there’s no way I could sew enough to keep up, and his younger relatives inherit them so they do get used a lot.

  6. The only pieces I have that are “normal” everday wear are two skirts. I simply don’t find the inspiration to sit down and do something basic, that would be cheaper and look more professional if I bought it. I would also say that the lack of fabric stores are definitely a factor. Whenever I go into a fabric store they are only filled with curtain/home decorating fabrics or dreadful stretch velvets in very strange patterns. (I was once looked at like I was a crazy person when I asked if they had any twill, since I desperately needed 1 m of grey twill for a project). During the last year I have cut down a lot on buying clothes. Except for underwear I hardly ever go to the big brand chain stores anymore, but prefer to pay more for better quality, I try to buy mostly from small boutiques with indie labels since I rather support them small business than big business.

  7. Very few of my clothes are sewn by me (a nightie, a couple of laplaps – there’s more if you count mending) but there are a few more that are knitted by me – socks, bedsocks, slippers (live in the Wellington region? why yes, yes I do). Actually, now I think about it, my husband wears more that I’ve knitted than I do. But I’m working on a cardigan to redress the balance (pun unintended).

    My philosophy of clothing is to buy good-quality second-hand clothing (when I can find something I like) and then be outraged when it dies of overuse a mere five or ten years later – although I have a wool skirt that’s done twelve years and counting, and that wasn’t even new when I bought it. I do occasionally buy new items from Shukr – maybe one every couple of years.

    Once I’ve cleared out my backlog of UFOs my plan is to work on improving my sewing skills so I can make more of my own clothing. Then (o happy day!) I won’t have to depend on luck to find clothing that fits, in a fabric I like and a colour that suits. Can’t wait!

  8. Corinne says

    All my clothes except undies and bras are made by me. Unfortunately, it is not by choice but because of my weird body shape. !m tall (6 foot) but most of it is in my legs. Men`s pants might be long enough but don`t fit a woman`s shape plus I have one hip 2 inches higher than the other and a sway back. The length of my arms match that of my legs- like an orang-utan! So to avoid looking like a child that has grown out of its clothes , I learnt to make my own which is what I have been doing for 40 years now. Now I can`t bear to wear anything I haven`t made because it just doesn`t feel comfortable and most is so badly made

  9. Kathryn says

    I’d say about 60% of my clothes are made by me, though that number inches higher evey year. As store-boight stuff dies, I replace it with something I made myself. Part of this is because I have lots of fabric that needs using, and part of this is that I often can’t stand the fit or quality of RTW. I’m shortwaisted, and I like fabrics that don’t pill, run or fade after two wears. This leaves me very few options other than sewing. I will never, ever make bras for myself, though, even though my size is rare and therefore expensive. There is just not enough time in the world to motivate me to take on such a project. And I sew for theatre for a living, I’ve done many, many complicated projects on my life. But bra sewing? No, thanks. Not ever.

    I am currently in the middle of my first ever jeans project, though. I want to know that I will be able to access the styles I like whenever the entire fashion industry decides collectively that boyfriend fit and skinny jeans are ‘over!’ and start filling every single shelf in the world with bell bottoms. (It’s already happening, guys). I don’t care of my preferred jean styles will look dated in two years, I likes what I likes. And while I generally prefer a factory-knit merino cardigan with a nice ribbed band and no bulky seams, I have been known to sew my own cardigans from time to time.

    Amd thanks to our lovely hostess for reminding me that she did a stocking pattern a while back! I will be trying it out very soon.

    • Kathryn says

      Oh, also, I used to doubt I would ever sew my own underpants (the word for knickers in my part of the world), but that may change if this current trend of rayon undies instead of cotton ones continues….I really don’t like rayon jersey. No stretch recovery, and pills when you look at it funny.

  10. Elise says

    How interesting! I do wish I could sew well, so instead I buy quality and ethical, then develop relationships with cobblers and seamstresses so that what I buy can be repaired and renewed. hopefully, I buy less, then.

    Thank you for all you do for the environment, not to mention enriching your own creativity!

    • It’s well worth cultivating a relationship with a good cobbler! My cobbler told me last year my everyday shoes wouldn’t last another summer (after eight years’ wear, re-heeling and mends) and now I have to find another pair 🙁

      • Elise says

        8 years of wear is impressive! I had to retire my Dr. Martins after 13 years…very sad, but they were just too broken from all the wearing. Cobblers mend purses and leather jackets, too! And one boiled wool coat got a second wind after the lining was replaced. It’s so great to buy things once and then keep them up. Like furniture.

  11. Perhaps because I work full-time in an office, I find the idea of sewing everyday clothes for myself ridiculous. I don’t have the time, & I’d rather save my precious few sewing hours for making elaborate historical creations that involve corsets, silk, miles of trim, & other impracticalities. Coincidentally, I wrote about this on my CorpGoth blog recently — I don’t sew at all for work, but I believe basic sewing skills are very handy for doing your own alterations, fixes, & generally making an office wardrobe personalized & fit better — http://corpgoth.blogspot.com/2016/02/basic-sewing-skills.html

  12. Claire Payne says

    Such an interesting post. Thank you for sharing. I love all your clothes so it is nice to see some of these again.

    I don’t think to buy in shops anymore but still have a wardrobe full of clothes I have had for as long as 10 years in some instances. Some I keep because I have yet to find a replacement in the same or better quality. Since the global credit crunch the clothes in stores the world over seem to be of poorer quality and so I just don’t buy it. My first thought when I need something new now is “Do I have a pattern for that?”

    You have been such an inspiration to me in terms of sewing so I hope I will have as wonderful a wardrobe to show you one day soon.

  13. Belinda says

    In my day to day wardrobe there’s only some feeble amount like 12% that’s me-made, but looking at my performance wardrobe (I’m a soprano) it suddenly spikes to about 60%. I think it’s because with day-to-day wear I’ll try to make what I can, but there’s so much – like active wear, which I pretty much live in – that I just couldn’t without better skills and equipment. But with things like gowns, it’s not just cheaper to make them (by a long shot) but it’s also quicker to invest the hours in making something you know will fit you and will be what you want rather than in going around to a dozen different stores where they don’t carry your size hoping that you might eventually find something vaguely performance appropriate that isn’t too ghastly and polyester-y.

  14. Sallie says

    I just want to chime in to say that I get chilblains too, and I hate them!

    • Lyn Swan says

      I actually did a search on chilblains because Leimomi has mentioned them several times. I live in a cold climate and had never experienced them. Now I understand and sympathize, they sound very painful. All that I can say in stay warm and dry!

      • Thank you and I’ll try my best! Chillblains are weird. I didn’t get them in other cold climates: it’s the specific combination of cold and damp in Wellington (combined with poorly heated and insulated buildings, so you just can’t stay properly warm) that makes them happen.

  15. I used to sew a lot of my clothes, back before children. But now I rarely sew anything save costumes. I wish I had the time and energy to sew more regular clothes. But I love to see the pretty things other bloggers have made.

  16. holly says

    I’ve been thinking about this post a lot! I wear mostly self made garments, but I also buy secondhand from markets & op shops, which I then adjust to fit (I’m short and small stature). I can’t remember the last time I bought something new, other than shoes & underwear! I’m another that can’t be bothered making jeans, but I don’t wear them often.

    So I guess (if you count the adjustments) my wardrobe is 95% handmade / vintage / refashioned, with the emphasis on handmade. I love that I never see anyone else wearing what I’ve got on.

  17. Margaret says

    Completely me-made? 10-20% of items, not always visible, but worn almost daily. Thanks Leimomi for your sock pattern. It doesn’t restrict at the ankles, so no chilblains this winter! Sleep shorts for summer double as trouser liners at this time of year. At home or with friends, I wear an underbodice loosely based on the tutorial at la cotte simple. In office hours I put up with commercial bras designed for a straighter body than mine.

    Altered items? Practically all of the rest. I’m barely under the UK average height of 5’3″, and definitely under the average 10 st 12 lb, 69kg. Somehow that is commercially both Petite (assumed very slim) and Plus size (assumed tall). Once you take into account sway-back alterations even for knickers, and forward shoulders (need changes to reduce chafing and stop necklines plunging further). Well, almost every piece I possess has met the sewing machine.

    Shopping habits? Would much rather shop for fabric than clothes. I need to be warm in winter. I need to be covered – short sleeves and visible collar bones or ankles are acceptable in summer, sheer fabrics, visible armpits or cleavage are not. I need to walk or travel by public transport and still be smart for either office or shop floor when I get on site. Sounds basic, but these things take a surprising amount of time and energy to track down.

    No wonder I hate clothes shopping, buy mostly second hand, and keep things going as long as I possibly can.

    In my daydreams, I would like stylish, well fitting clothes in fabrics that feel gorgeous and colours of my choice. So spend time with your sewing machine, girl! I can only get better if I practice 🙂

  18. Margaret says

    Can I clarify? By acceptable visibility I meant in my own working environment.

  19. Martina says

    Probably about 60% of what I wear is made by me. I don’t make sweaters, jeans, underwear or bras. I do make some t-shirts, but mostly I buy those since they never seem to last anyway, and I don’t want to waste time sewing them. I do buy the vast majority of my fabric on the Internet. Surprisingly, since I live in a major city (Boston) which should have a least one decent fabric store!

  20. interesting, over 2 years ago, I started sewing in earnest again, and started a blog which gave me a focus and I was trying an item a week, all sewn from charity shop buys (and some stash) there were some winners and losers but I got to up-skill, and found what I wanted to wear. My wardrobe now is a mix of my own makes and clothes that were bought years ago, but I tend to take good care of my clothes and will always look for quality fabrics etc whether new or 2ndhand…. I enjoy clothes a lot more now but also share your jeans dillema… my jeans are really on their last legs and I am wondering if I will buy a new pair or…….. can i go for another year without buying new……(the not buying is such a habit now)

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