First off, sorry if a few of you got the one liner last week in your inboxes- that’ll teach me to try to input ideas into WordPress while feeding the kids lunch. This is something that’s been swirling in my head for awhile now. Today I want to talk about a topic really important to me; related sewing posts to follow in the upcoming weeks.

I’m not sure when or where or how women started feeling bad about their bodies.  It’s nothing I was taught, just here and there in the form of an innocent comment about someone’s thighs or someone’s “fleshiness” can be enough to make you think, Are people saying those things about me? What do my thighs look like? How do I compare to other people’s thighs? I won’t go into all the headlines and stories in young girls magazines either about being thin and pretty and popular versus boys magazines teaching them to explore and aim for the stars and find their passion. The articles circulating last week about Girls’ Life magazine did a pretty stellar job of that.

But I will tell you about myself. How when I was a teenager I’d cover up my upper hips with my hands and imagine my waist extended longer at its thinnest part. The time my cheerleading coach innocently asked if I was “under a buck five” to see if I was light enough to be a flyer.   Even then at the smallest I’ve been as a post-pubescent, clothes did not fit me off the rack well. I was compact but curvy. I was small but not straight. If I tried to buy at the upper end of the kids sizes, they didn’t have nearly the width for my legs and hips. And if I bought in the women’s or the juniors section, the clothes stood inches taller off my shoulders and skirts fell way too long. And bell bottom jeans started flaring back out in my calves instead of at my knees like they did on other girls.

So I started sewing for myself. I had sewn for my dolls for years, and just scaled up what I knew. I learned how my body translated to pattern paper and what fabrics suited which projects. I had some misses as I learned which styles just don’t work on my figure (looking at you, bias slip dresses), and some surprising wins as I tried new silhouettes in college as a theatre major wearing all eras of clothing. But I’d still have to confront the tape measure every time I took a pair of scissors to fabric and wish I could go down a pattern size here or an inch there.


One thing nobody talks about is how literally no one else knows your numbers. No one cares what you weigh, what your waist measures after you had kids (or if you don’t have kids for that matter), what label is sewn into your garment, what size you picked on the pattern tissue. That’s for your eyes only. What people see is you. They see your confidence in yourself. They see your personality, in your energy, your colors, your style, how you carry yourself. Making your own clothes (or even altering them to fit your body and your tastes) helps project who you really are to the world.  I started sewing when I couldn’t afford what I liked in the stores, but I kept on sewing when I realized I could make things that were the way I saw myself in my head. I could live my dream life in pink plaid silk cocktail dresses, or an updated version of Vera Ellen’s “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” dress to the prom.  I could make a Moulin Rouge corset for Halloween or a new pair of pants for dance class in an hour when my old ones wore out. Formals, bras, blouses, pants- anything I saw in a magazine or a movie and wanted, I could make a version of for myself and design it to work with my life. (Just ask my English teacher about the day I gave a book report on Gone With the Wind and showed up in a hoop dress I’d made literally from Goodwill curtains.)

Junior prom, only missing the million layers of chiffon when I ran out of time the day of the dance.

I’ve fit a wide range of bodies and sizes and shapes in my career, and virtually everyone is different. There is no “better,” we’re all just different. Taller, shorter, curvier, straighter, there is no perfect. I’ve fit women with a Marilyn figure who bemoan trying to find a button front shirt that doesn’t gape in the size that fits their waist, or make them look like a box in the size that fits their bust. I’ve fit women so slight they were literally too small for adult bridal gown sizes. Women so straight and narrow who buy push up bras to try to fill out the top in their bridesmaid dress. Women crying about the vast amount of fabric thrown into a plus size dress who don’t feel like they can even see the best parts of themselves. Literally everyone has fitting issues, and the only people who can buy off the rack is the fit model a company uses for their sizing. As some wise friends have said: Its not you, it’s the clothes. 

Pattern changes made to this blouse:  change shoulder line angle, raise waistline shaping, raise hemline, adjust each bust seam differently per differences in fullness, nip in small of back, take in sides different amounts for different hip flare per side.

Sewing taught me about every inch of myself, how to love who I am, and how to flatter my shape. I now love my high hip for how it fills out a mid-century full skirt. I can cut my armscye a bit higher because I like it that way to allow for better movement. I cut my sleeves a hair wider to account for my bicep because I don’t have arms as lithe as “standard” for my size. I can draft dresses and blouses that fit me correctly in length and width where I still have problems finding fitted shirts off the rack.  When I try on clothes in stores I can look at them for the potential they have, instead of a reflection on whether I measure up to what the fashion industry deems “ideal” this season.

Working at the Santa Fe Opera at 19, altering a vintage silk skirt to fit better.

I won’t say it’s easy to retrain your brain. After having kids, my measurements and my proportions are just different than they used to be. It takes a bit more acceptance when the standard you measure yourself against is your own. We grow. We change. And that’s okay and as it should be. Even if it takes you a second to reroute your thinking from “I used to be…” But sewing for myself has been one of my best weapons against that kind of detrimental thinking. It allows me to say, This is me. Today. Take it or leave it, but I love who I am.

None of my dress forms are perfectly my size.  But this one best approximates my length.

So in this spirit, I’m going to focus on a lot of fit issues coming up. I’m going to be making different patterns and showing you how I alter them for myself, how I draft my own, and what you can change when you don’t like it. If there’s a garment you consistently can’t seem to find in the stores and want to wear, go pick up a similar pattern. Grab a fit textbook and figure out how to change the lines so they reflect what you need. Get some sheets at Goodwill to chop up for cheap test garments, or something that makes you smile from the clearance section of the fabric store. I’m currently working on Butterick 6333, a shirtwaist dress with a princess seamed bodice that’s a great pattern for learning your fitting quirks.  If you want to try it out, Butterick patterns will be on sale at Jo-Ann Fabrics, 3 for $5, September 22-25.  Play along with me and learn your figure. And by all means, love the journey and yourself for who you are.

Love from Wisco,