Me Made May 2015 Review: Part One

So, I set myself the challenge of wearing one me made item of clothing each day during May.

Days 1 to 7 looked like this: 

#mmmay 15 day 1

Day 1 was the second day of our trip to DC and the first outing for a dress I finished a few weeks ago but the weather hadn't been warm enough to wear.  Neither was it on that day, but hey.  It's a copycat which I'm going to blog about soon based on the Grainline Studios Scout Tee.  The little 2 year old hoody by my side was being told off by the Secret Service (not so secret when they have that emblazoned on their bullet proof vests, but who am I to quibble) for trying to crawl under the barriers ...

#mmmay 15 day 2

I loved the Lincoln Memorial, such a monolithic, serene, peaceful beauty - even with the hoards.  Anyway, day 2 was a skirt I made last summer and I've worn to death. It was one of the first things I made out of a knit; is made of really low quality jersey that has faded and is saggy after a few hours of wear; and was self-drafted.  I forgot to account for the fact I need to walk so had to unpick one of the sideseams after I'd tried to walk to the subway in it and had to hitch it up around my knees to be able to move.  That all said, it's really comfortable and so easy to throw on for tooling around the 'hood ... I've already bought more jersey to make an updated version that might have a little more longevity.

#mmmay 15 day 3

Day 3 was a scorcher, so I wore my Republique du Chiffon Lucie Dress which is made out of Robert Kaufman's beautifully soft Union Dot Chambray with white piping at the shoulders.  Again I made this last summer and I loved the idea of it, but I don't love the reality of it on me.  The pattern and fabric are great together, and it's the perfect summer dress, loose and casual and breezy, but I need to lengthen the shoulders a bit and drop the waist further as it's clearly not long enough in the body.

#mmmay 15 day 4

Day 4.  Back in cooler Brooklyn and out came the Gingers along with a tank I've been planning for ages.  It's the Eucalypt tank by Megan Nielsen made in less than a yard of a gorgeous greeny green green silk /cotton mix that my mum used to make a dress in the 80s I think.  I've made the Eucalypt before but I think I finally got the fit right.  I dropped the shoulders by an inch and scooped out the neckline a little more and it's great - a little tight on the hips due to lack of fabric, but I'm calling this a win.  Although I should add:  I HATE BIAS BINDING.  But that's a story for another day.

#mmmay15 day 5

Day 5:  This is by far my favourite combination so far, probably due to the newness and novelty of the gaucho pants and sandals, but my lovely knit Belcarra has finally found its perfect match.

#mmmay 15 day 6

Day 6: Ginger jeans again, with a t-shirt I hacked up last summer.  It's got a fab line drawing of Brooklyn Bridge on it so I cut off the arms, neck and hem to make it a little more feminine.  I had never thought of wearing it with jeans before as it's quite short, but all solved by the lovely high waist of glorious Ginger. 

#mmmay15 day 7

#mmmay15 day 7

Day 7: This dress is so much fun to wear and if I wasn't trying to see how far I can extend my me mades, and if laundering wasn't essential sometimes, I would pretty much wear this every day in Spring. 

I've really enjoyed Me Made May so far and I've discovered a few things.

I have many more me-mades than I gave myself credit for.

When I've wanted to wear jeans I've put on my Gingers, when normally I "reserve them for best" - like I'm living in the 1950s  - so I am actually making much more use of my handmade clothes than I do normally.

Many of the things I've been wearing were things I made last summer, which is lovely to know that I still like them and they have lasted this long. But it has made me realise is that it's a lot easier to wear handmade in the summer - I think I'd would really struggle to do this in May if I lived in Australia, which makes this the only time I've ever been glad not to live there. So, my winter sewing needs to be addressed.  Not right now, clearly.

What has has been interesting is how much I've planned ahead.  I never do this, I normally throw on what I feel like wearing that day after a cursory check of the weather app. It may sometimes involve raiding the laundry basket. It regularly involves outfit changes and swearing. It often involves settling for the easy options of jeans and tees - most of the latter I really don't like.

Having to think about wearing a specific type of something has really made me plan and also made me be more creative with the outfits I put together.  And prompted me to wear things that often I'd deem not practical for my day.

It also made packing for our trip to DC so much easier. I planned what I was going to wear each day, threw in a "what if the weather app is wrong / a child is sick on me" extra outfit and I was done.  This is SO much more economical than my normal packing, which is - "well that's my favourite I've got to take that, and that has to come and oh must take three pairs of jeans and an extra jacket just in case".  It's been a packing revelation.

On the downside, Me Made May has only worsened my Instagram habit. I love sharing pics and see what everyone else is wearing and the conversations and relationships that are built from that. It's completely addictive, I think because it's such a friendly, supportive online space.  

All hail Zoe for conjuring up this remarkable sewing institution.

See you soon x


Sewing and writing about it on this blog are my little bits of me. They are the things that I do solely because I love them and to fulfil some need for tangible productivity.

Everything else in my life currently centres around my two small wonderful children who are 4 and just turned 2. I don't really write about them on here and I don't sew for them that much mainly for that reason; this is my space in the world and it is just for me.  

Since we moved to Brooklyn, I have been at home with my kids, for many reasons but mostly because having gone back to work part time after my eldest was born and finding the whole thing totally unsatisfactory and now with two kids, it seemed the right time to devote some time to them and enjoy them in their tiny years.

I know I'm not alone in this but I go round and round in circles about whether this is the right thing to do. 

I believe it's right for my kids and our family but I see my friends who work and feel envious and I think about the example I set for my kids - especially my daughter who is under the impression that "mummy's don't work".  

But then, I want to be the one who wipes their noses and cuddles them when they fall and notices the nuanced shifts in their behaviour throughout the day. 

But then I've essentially sounded the death knell on a career I worked really hard for and all the aspirations I had for that before having kids. 

But then I hated my job in particular and was bored of the industry I worked in in general, so it was time for a change. 

But then I live in this amazing city and would love to experience it as a member of the workforce.  

But then, any salary I earn would go entirely on childcare which seems perverse; part time work here is very hard to come by. 

But then, we could really do with even a little extra money and I hate not having my own income.

But then I don't want to be away from my kids.  I want to be with them, well most of the time I do ...!

And so it goes on and on and on.  Round and round and round.

I have no judgement for what other mothers do, everyone has to choose what is right for them and their family, but for me personally it seems there is no 'right' as none of the scenarios open to me fulfil all my possibilities - if that doesn't sound too selfish and 'woe is me'.  And so I have opted for the one that I feel is most important - at least at this point in my and my children's lives.   (I'm not going to launch into whether I am 'lucky' or not in staying at home - that's too simplistic and needs more words than I have to fully cover it, as well as several bottles of wine.)

So, I think that is why sewing and blogging have become so hugely important to me. It is probably incredibly narcissistic to write a blog plastered with photos of myself and go on and on about what I did and how well or badly I did something, but in this little niche, I have found something I love to do and I'm good at, or so I'm told. Something that is a representation of my possibilities beyond caring for and loving my children. Something that taps into long suppressed creativity, something that allows me to do things how I think they should be best done and not have to vacillate according to the whims of bosses. 

Reading Sophie's post the other day about how what you love to sew may not correlate with what you love to wear got me thinking.  And it kind of feels a similar paradox to the one of being home with kids vs working. Bear with me here - I swear it is similar because what you want i.e the perfect balance of the two is hard to come by.  OK it's a loose similarity and they have different levels of importance in my life but you can see what I mean, right?

What I want to sew IS what I want to wear, it's just what I want to wear isn't what works best for my day-to-day life of play dates and pre-school runs and climbing frames and snotty noses and tantrums and playing trains.  I want to wear heels (although this has always been contentious as I'm six feet tall in bare feet and I've been told by random strangers on more than one occasion that I'm "too tall to wear heels"...), and dresses and beautiful fabrics and quirky styles and and fashion forward garments through which I can express who I am. 

But then I thought further and thought well why can't the two be compatible? It may not be practical to go to a play date in my favourite thrifted silk blouse, but if otherwise it is going to sit in the wardrobe unworn until such a point that I can - i.e. ten years time - and it will probably be long past its best, why not just wear it now. Even if it gets ruined.  Clearly there are some heels, dresses and outfits that are inappropriate for the aforementioned activities but I don't have to limit myself to sewing jeans (yay) and t-shirts (yawn) and some self-imposed mum uniform (a mumiform?)

That's where things like this dress come in. It's a beautifully soft fabric but it's cotton lawn so it washes well, and it's a lovely colour with a subtle but unusual print so easy to wear day-to-day. The pattern is quirky but stylish, it's really comfortable but looks put together and different. As something that I want to sew because it's interesting and want to wear because it's pretty and fits with my life this manages to cover all the possibilities. (Aside, apparently, from the very specific activity of having to roll upside down at a toddler music class.)

In my little world at the moment this dress and what it represents allows me to be me, to show my possibilities as a mother, as someone who creates, as a writer (this is a little grandiose - am I writer if I only write a blog? Probably not.) as a person in touch with fashion and style*. 

I still feel I can't currently demonstrate my possibilities in terms of my brain and my ability to make an impact in the big world and a financial contribution to my little world and it worries me as to when this might be possible**.

But the former* is a start and I'm working on the latter**. 

Dress details:

My alterations:

  • Cut size 14
  • Added 1 and 1/2 inches to bodice length and five inches to the skirt length 

Loves and hates 

I'm not a huge fan of 3/4 sleeves so I was going to make the sleeves full length with a placket using the Archer Shirt sleeve pattern piece but decided at the last minute just to go with the pattern and actually for this dress I like the sleeve style and length.  

I love the way this pattern is constructed.  You cut the front on the fold and then cut down the middle to the waist line and then you create the plackets and gather below the waistline to match the width of the plackets. Not very well explained here but it's really clever!

I'm still not sure on my button choice and think I will change them. I have bought about four different options now, none of which really grab me.  

I love the voluminous back of this dress - created by the gathers under the yoke and I love how the gathers at the front manage to make the bodice flattering even though there are no darts or shaping. 

It's a truly lovely pattern, it covers all the possibilities and for once I might actually do a repeat!  

See you soon x



Why do you sew?

When I was taught by mum how to sew, it wasn't something I gave much thought to.  My mum studied at the London College of Fashion in the 60s and she was always sewing.  She made all her own clothes and all those for me, my sister and brother including hats, hair accessories, swimwear, pyjamas, everything.  So much so, in fact, that if we ever got something that wasn't made by her that quickly became a favourite item of clothing just because of the novelty - oh how ungrateful and fickle we were.

My mum and I in one of the few outfits she didn't make me.  

My mum and I in one of the few outfits she didn't make me.  

So it was natural that she would teach me how to sew, particularly due to the fact that I was as tall as I am now (6 foot) when I was 12 and literally nothing fitted me, so making trousers, and maxi skirts long enough for me to trip over was the only way.

We made lots of trousers together. And dresses, including a highly dubious pink trumpet sleeved affair of my design that I wore to my school leavers ball.  (Thankfully all photos are far far away from here.) And then I went to university and aside from a chocolate brown satin floor length gown I made for my grad ball, sewing didn't feature.

Then it was the late 90s and I moved to London and the whole ladette thing was in full swing and sewing just wasn't something you did because there was too much of the 'little woman' thing associated with it which just didn't fit with the strong messages of female empowerment and independence that were so important to us at that time.  I made the odd thing; a red knee-length jacket for a wedding, an icicle outfit for a 'Titanic' party (it was as dubious as it sounds) but really I didn't sew regularly for about ten years.

In the last few years as 'make do and mend' has become a phrase that is common once again home-sewing has become increasingly popular.  Many many people (if the success of the Great British Sewing Bee is anything to go by - or indeed has it fed the trend?) are taking up a needle as they discover sewing your own clothes is really enjoyable. But more than that; it's a way to stand out, to be individual, to make a statement against mass production and the homogeneity of fashion and also to be more responsible; reducing landfill, knowing where your clothes came from and who made them and the responsible practices that are associated with that, particularly if you are very selective about where your fabric comes from.  In many ways, I feel it is more empowering than the culture of women trying to emulate men in the 80s and 90s (not that all people who sew are women, but the larger percentage quite clearly are.)

I had to post this picture because of the handmade dressing gowns. But mainly because of that wallpaper.  

I had to post this picture because of the handmade dressing gowns. But mainly because of that wallpaper.  

When watching GBSB or reading the many sewing blogs that fill my feed, I often wonder what led that person to take up sewing. 

For me, though I'd like to say it was because I want to be environmentally and socially responsible, it's other things, some financial (if one's fabric habit is kept under control (!) it is often cheaper to sew quality clothing than buy it), some fit related, but mainly it was wanting to re-find a creative outlet that had got completely lost in the whirlwind of a very busy job and babies that prompted me to dust off my machine. To have something just for me.

Incidentally, I hate the term 'selfish sewing'. It is not selfish to sew for oneself. When you spend 95% of your time doing things for other people (whether caring for children or working for someone else), how is it selfish to take a small amount of time to do something you enjoy and create something you will get satisfaction out of using or wearing? 

When my son was four weeks old, I was feeding him in the middle of the night and, as was my habit, randomly searching the web and I came across Tilly and the Buttons' blog (having watched her on GBSB) and quickly I became immersed in this amazing community of sewing blogs and was totally inspired.  However, the state of overwhelmed that is having a toddler and a newborn was not conducive with having free time to sew.  

Then a month or so later I was diagnosed with post-natal depression and recommended CBT. One of the first things this suggests is finding a hobby or something you can do that is constructive and focuses you. The only thing I could think of that meant I didn't have to leave the house and I had the resources handy and I was actually vaguely interested in doing was sewing and so, when the children were asleep I forced myself away from Homes under the Hammer and started making stuff - little things - some baby pants, a skirt for my daughter, a pin cushion for my mum.

When my baby was 5 months old we moved to Brooklyn and by this time the sewing bug had well and truly bitten and because the voltage difference meant my machine - my grandmother's 1960s Frister Rossman - doesn't work here I had to go and get a new machine and well that, combined with the Garment District, means I now sew at every opportunity (still mainly when the babies are sleeping). I love it and I do find it incredibly therapeutic.

I think most people would say the same; that their reasons for sewing are complex and varied but the overriding feeling is a sense of accomplishment; being able to see your progression with a certain skill; a tangible return for your efforts and having an end result that is unique and individual.  It is also highly personal and a creative outlet. And finally, because you put so much time and effort into it, the item will be cherished and looked after and a second thought will be given when it perhaps becomes time for it to go to The Great Wardrobe in the Sky (of course that means goodwill, or charity shop, or eBay, or free cycle, or dress-up box etc - not landfill ...)

I'm always interested to know where the other sewers / sewists / seamstresses I have come to know learnt to sew and why they do it.  

If I had to distill it, I would say I sew for: sanity, creativity, individuality and something that I can't quite find the words for, but as some kind of homage to my mum.

What led you to your first machine and what still prompts you to turn it on? I'd love to know.