I like the sewing community because it has a healthy and practical attitude towards size. It is part of its unwritten manifesto to accept that people come in all shapes and sizes and that learning how to fit a pattern to your individual bodily quirks is the focus, rather than the body and its quirks themselves. This makes a hugely refreshing change from the fashion industry in general. Sewing has helped me learn more about my shape and be more objective about it. I wouldn't say it has cured me of my hang-ups, but it has helped me realise that they are part of me and to accept them.
I am 6 foot tall. I have broad shoulders, long legs and arms, big feet, a small waist (with some post-babies baggage), smallish bust, a prominent (euphemism, much) bottom and wide hips. I don't love all of it and I do try to look after it to maximise feeling good about it, but ultimately this is who I am.
I have been this height and more or less this shape since my early teens and whilst I've never had a problem with being tall, I really had issues with (I realise now but didn't then) the knock on effects of being tall. High street clothes simply weren't designed for women/teens of my height (and on the whole still aren't) and as such they don't fit; the shoulders are too narrow, the waist is in the wrong place, the arms and legs are too short. These latter two combined usually mean things don't fit correctly acoss the hips as my hips are in a different place (i.e. further away from my waist) than somebody who is say 5 foot 6. And so on.
There was one instance in particular when I was about 14 or 15. I was shopping with my Mum in a high street store and tried on a navy maxi dress. I kept having to try on bigger and bigger sizes to find the one that fit me. I was so upset. I really wanted the dress but couldn't bear the thought of walking around with a label that said that particular number. My Mum suggested we cut out the label but that wasn't making any difference to how I felt about it. I did end up buying the dress in the size that fit me but never really wore it because I couldn't get past that.
There are all sorts of conclusions I could draw from this about how we are conditioned from such a young age to feel about our bodies and how this shouldn't be the case and how I hope to protect my daughter from that and have her understand she is beautiful whatever her shape and number, but I can't change how it made me feel back then, rightly or wrongly, and did for a long time.
And then earlier this year I made this top. This isn't going to win any awards for 'Most Interesting Thing Ever Sewn'; it's a simple grey t-shirt. But what was interesting, at least for me, was the medium-sized epiphany I had on completing it.
It is the Hemlock Tee by Grainline Studio . It's a free pattern and as such it's only offered in one size. I saw the photos of the ones the designer, Jen, made for herself and loved them. It's exactly the kind of style I love to wear. So I downloaded it and off I went. I didn't think too much about the sizing at all and when I tried it on it wasn't the long, loose drapey top I had envisaged but sits quite short and is pretty close fitting. I actually really like it but it wasn't what I had foreseen and on me didn't look anything like it did on the model Jen (see link above).
This may seem completely obvious but the lack of sizing on the pattern and the fact it looks so completely different on me to someone who clearly has a much smaller frame than I finally hammered home how completely arbitrary and unhelpful clothes sizing is. Even if I have, for example, the same bust measurement as Jen. Everything else about me is totally different; I probably have a longer torso, broader shoulders (the neck on Jen is wide enough to slide off her shoulders, mine clearly doesn't!), etc so how on earth would it fit in the same way?
Obviously there has to be some way of differentiating between the sizes on a multi-sized sewing pattern to help the person sewing it. Correlating this to the sizing of ready-to-wear clothing should make sense so that there is a starting point for selecting your size. But we all know that no two clothing stores use the same standard for, say, a size 12 and this applies to sewing patterns also.
Numbers have a bad press, particularly in the post size-zero-nightmare world, and sizing that uses xs - xl can be even worse, or is it just that I (and I'm sure it isn't just me) have been so conditioned into xs being 'good' and xl being 'bad' that I see this more as a reflection on how I look than just a guide for choosing a size when preparing to make or buy an item of clothing. If different size options were named random things that aren't associated with an increase in scale, like banana, shark etc, would that term then also eventually take on the same positive and negative associations?
What was wonderful for me about making this top was that the lack of size meant there were no preconceptions. I didn't get disheartened as I looked further and further right on the sizing chart, because there wasn't one and that just helped me realise how completely ridiculous getting hung up on size is. It is just a set of measurements and it is just a way to make sure that the piece of clothing I make actually fits. And if I take the number, or set of letters, or 'banana' purely as a guide to making sure I cut out the right size, then all that matters is how the thing fits, how it looks on me and how I feel when I wear it.
Making clothes for myself and concentrating more on fit and the shapes and styles that suit my frame has really helped diminish my body concerns. For that I will always love this simple grey Hemlock Tee and the fact I have the wherewithall to sew my own clothes.
Phew, brain dump/ minor rant over.
Top: Hemlock Tee made in lightweight heathered grey cotton jersey from Mood Fabrics
Jeans: Levi's Demi Curve
Shoes: Awesome Vans by The Beatles
See you soon x