28

Seeking stories: sewing and your body

[image above: from Dear Golden Vintage}

I’m in the market for some pretty new undies. So the other day, I turned to one of my favorite blogs on all things undergarments, The Lingerie Addict. As an aside, it’s a great place to look for independent designers and labels you might not be aware of, including lots of handmade stuff on Etsy.

But she also writes thoughtfully about body image. While there, I happened upon this guest post about learning to accept and love your body as it is. The author talks about finding pride in her small bust instead of covering it up with padded bras, and I couldn’t help but recall all of the similar moments I’ve had while sewing. This quote really summed it up for me:

“We seem to be socialized to believe the grass is always greener on the other side and if someone different than you is considered beautiful, that automatically means you are not. Garbage!”

One thing sewing teaches us is that there is a tremendous diversity in women’s bodies. It is that individuality that makes us beautiful, not our proximity to some imaginary, photoshopped-to-hell ideal. Sewing lets us express that individuality, not just in terms of style, but in terms of looking at what we are, dressing the body we have, and understanding its wonderful form and complexity.

I thought it would be amazing if we could all share stories of moments when sewing has helped us to accept our bodies as they are, to see the beauty in them, or to stop fearing them. Perhaps you can help another woman recognize that she has the ability to throw self-hatred out the window.

So I’d like to invite you to submit a story, and I will publish some of them as guest posts over time here on the blog.

Please make your stories as specific as possible. Here are some ideas:

  • Was there a moment that you finally had to face your measurements instead of guessing at a dress size?
  • Was there something you made that forced you to confront an insecurity?
  • Has sewing helped you to dress the body you have rather than the body you wished you had?

I’d love to hear your stories. I may not be able to publish them all on the blog, but I’ll try to gather them together somewhere so we can all read them.

How to submit: Please email your story and a photograph of yourself (if at all possible, because it makes it much more personal) to sewingstories at colettepatterns.com.

Like what you read here? Subscribe to our blog via email so you don’t skip a stitch! And sign up for our weekly Snippets email for even more sewing tips and tricks.

On , Viper said:

I thought I had a 34″ bust and a 26″ waist. I’m not entirely sure where I came up with those numbers, but I had them ingrained in my mind and would go to stores and complain about vanity sizing when nothing fit me instead of actually measuring myself. When I’d take in my clothes I wouldn’t measure, I’d just pull them to me, pin them, and stitch them up. I desperately did not want to fall into the category of “hard-to-fit” because that just made me feel high-maintenance.

Then one day I decided to measure myself. I found I had a 32″ bust and a 23″ waist. It’s aggravating to have few things fit me outside of the children’s section, especially since I’m short enough that those measurements aren’t unrealistic or unhealthy, but I can’t complain about vanity sizing as much anymore. I’m basically just dependent on sewing and tailoring to make things fit. It still makes me sad that there aren’t a lot of options for smaller women with curves; most things I find that “fit” are made for banana-shaped bodies. Makes me sometimes consider making a line of petite petite!

On , Sallie said: | sallieoh.blogspot.com

I love this idea! I sometimes feel a bit like body image is the pink elephant in the room with the online sewing community. Because I think generally, on some level, getting fed up with feeling like crap about ourselves is what lead many of us to start sewing in the first place, and yet it rarely gets talked about. Of course there are many many other joys we get out of it, but, for me at least, increased body confidence is definitely high up there on my list of positive outcomes of my sewing practice!

On , Emily said: | replicatethendeviate.blogspot.com

I agree with Sallie! I find that I have a better body image when I can make clothing that flatters my particular body shape, even though it’s not where I want it to be. Plus there’s extra confidence in being able to say I made something. :)

On , annette tirette said: | annettetirette.blogspot.com

I’ve always been considered to have a ‘good figure’ but still had trouble finding clothes that really fit me. By making clothes for myself I learned what adjustments to make to make them fit better, but I stopped experiencing this as a bad thing… It’s just something that has to be done to make the end result even better. I stopped thinking about having to fit into one standard shape, and focused on how to make what I have as good as possible by changing it for me personally.

On , Shari said:

I love this topic! I think we are used to wearing a certain size and when that size changes, even when going to a different brand, we feel bad about ourselves. Some pattern images, especially vintage with the impossibly narrow waists, give us an ideal that is unrealistic. I like Colette Patterns front cover line drawings as you get an idea of what the product looks like, not just what it looks like on someone who looks nothing like you.

On , Laura said: | chiralcraft.wordpress.com

Sewing has made me aware of my own unique proportions at a level of detail unneeded for RTW – I knew that certain styles never fit me from stores, but I never knew why until I figured out more about how my body was put together from detailed measurements and doing pattern alterations. I find it fascinating, actually, and I’ve gotten a lot better at eyeballing fit. It’s pretty amazing that anything fits most of us decently well, if you really pay attention to all the little variations and differences of proportion that people have in their bodies.

On , Samantha said: | butterinthefridge.blogspot.com

I also agree with Sallie, body image is that pink elephant. I know that there are many times when I look at someone’s finished project and wonder why it didn’t look as good when I made it, only to realize they are a size 6 and I am a size 12. I did get back in to sewing out of frustration with the world of rtw and it’s scrawny models. Sewing has made me look at my body with clear eyes. There are areas that I really don’t like, but more of it I can now clothe is a stylish manner with the alteration knowledge I have gained. That knowledge and it’s accompanying confidence have made me like my body more than I have in over a decade. I would still like to be 20 pounds lighter, but I know that I can wear flattering clothes while I slowly work myself down to a better healthier weight.

On , dana said:

This is a lovely idea….but since you don’t make plus-sized patterns, the grass IS, in fact, greener on the people with smaller bodies! I love your patterns, but since you don’t make any my size I can’t even take the local classes that use your patterns. Instead I am stuck with Joanns shapeless and elastic waist patterns…..SO sad!
Please make some plus-sized patterns!!

On , Ros said: | fabclothes.wordpress.com

Dana, I feel your frustration! I’ve lost count of the number of beautiful things I’ve wanted to make and then found they don’t come in my size. Especially lots of the new indie-designers who tend to stop at size 16 or 18. But I have found a few great plus-sized patterns shopping around online, and I’ve also got better at scaling up patterns by a size or two to fit me.

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

I hear you, Dana. Maybe I should do a whole post on this, because I feel I have a lot to say! The main challenge for me is that plus size clothing is drafted differently from misses sizes in order to fit well. This means redrafting patterns beyond a size 18. This in itself would not be a problem, but I don’t have the specialty skills to do that.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it is not a lack of interest or caring! I would love to offer this to you, and I hope that at some point I have the resources to do it!

On , Kayosis said: | gentlydowntheseam.wordpress.com

Dana, Check out the new craftsy class for plus size sewing by Barbara Deckert.. She has a book on the same topic too! Ottobre and Burda have amazing plus size patterns which are drafted separately for plus sized bodies, not grade up from misses size.

On , Natasha E said: | sewunnecessary.blogspot.com

I know how you feel but I just graded Anise up 2 sizes following the grade rules established by the rest of the pattern and muslin is almost spot on. Sometimes we have to work harder but we can still look fabulous.

On , Melissa Lee said:

Another recommendation for plus sizes is to make your own well-fitting sloper from the Sure Fit Designs kits, Kenneth King moulage or similar, and graft on design ideas from patterns you love. (A great book on pattern design is “Make your own dress patterns” by adele margolis.) It is not as hard as it seems!

On , Ros said: | fabclothes.wordpress.com

I am strongly of the opinion that women of all shapes and sizes deserve to have beautiful clothes which fit them properly. Because of my shape and size and budget, I can’t easily get that off the rack. Sewing helps me to have the fabulous wardrobe I want.

On , Liz said:

What an interesting idea! I’m quite sure that nothing RTW is made for me (5’6″, 36-32-42, flat butt, short waisted, narrow back, excellent/upright posture), and it’s been fun to try to make my own stuff! The level of pattern alteration needed is frankly staggering, but I’m getting there…I like having the skills to work on it!

On , Claire said:

Sewing has been a real eye opener for me, especially the classes that I attended when I started. My hips are about two sizes bigger than my top half, narrow shoulders and back, wide hips. When I lost weight in the past it would all come off my waist, bust, face and the hips stayed resolutely larger :-(
I can now make trousers that fit my hips and waist, or shirts that fit. Now I also realise that shirts that caught on my hips were not just down to ‘having huge hips’, but also affected by a short waist. Shop bought clothes just don’t reckon on me getting so wide so quickly!
Some people are naturally slimmer, some bigger and it is great to just embrace the shape we are. Being fit and healthy is far more important. I like the way Caitlin Moran puts it in her book – ‘being human shaped and able to wear a dress and get up three flights of stairs’.
It would be good if models were a little more towards average size – the current Hobbs magazine adverts in the UK have one model who looks like she is suffering from consumption. The current trend is not just slim but ‘ill looking’ .

On , Katherine said:

This an amazing topic – I’m fairly new to the sewing thing and the sewing blog world that’s out there, and it seems to me that this is definitely the elephant-in-the-room on a lot of the blogs I’ve been reading. A lot of sewists that I’ve come across, and I’m no exception, seem to have gotten into sewing due to dissatisfaction with the options in the stores, based at least in part to fit. Some of them talk about these issues, but very few talk about the larger social issues that come to play here as well. I hope you don’t mind if I ramble on for a bit here, bit I’m finding I have quite a bit I need to let out right now.

I know that I’ve had issues, major issues, dealing with my own body. Mainly with accepting my body as it is and loving it as my body. How many times have I caught myself fantasizing about being just 20 pound lighter (cause then EVERYTHING would be suddenly perfect?). It didn’t help that a bunch of my friends were in acting (I went to an arts high school) and dance and had very trim bodies. Nor did it help that I grew up with my grandmother (who is from eastern Europe and has English issues) asking me incredulously “Why you so fat?” every time I saw her. Plus the teen magazines that were airbrushed beyond reality that I consumed before I became savvy about such artificiality. Images of what the perfect girl’s body were, compared to mine? I always felt inadequate and unbeautiful.

I’ve always been healthy and strong, but in the last couple of years, I’ve really been struggling with getting some chronic issues diagnosed and my health has suffered. Not a lot, but enough to be disheartening. Not to mention a stint with (luckily mild) depression coming out of grad school in 2010 when the recession really hit my industry exceptionally hard and I just could not find work. While I’m only starting to accept myself as I am, I have had to deal with needing to lose weight/become fitter for health reasons, though I’m lucky enough that it isn’t a huge amount of weight that I need to lose to see the better health benefits begin. But this means that day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, my body is different. Even though the changes aren’t massive, and I’m choosing a diet-and-exercise regime that means weight loss is very very slow and sustainable, clothes are incredibly frustrating and fit is a huge issue. I have very supportive friends, family, and a wonderful loving boyfriend who always takes time to tell me how much he loves me, but support doesn’t always help when the frustration reaches its peaks and I’m stuck in my head berating my body for mot being what I want it to be.

So I sew my own clothes.

I can’t say I’m particularly good at it yet, but I make wearable items that I’m proud to have made (even if I always point out the flaws to myself and others, it’s with an underlying pride and disbelief that I did take some thread and fabric and came up with a recognizable shirt/skirt/jacket). And while I’m not yet up to the myriad challenges of fitting my body perfectly, I’m finding the clothes I’ve made don’t frustrate me with fit issues even when they’re present, because “I MADE this skirt! I love the fabric, and this lining is divine! Even if I need to properly finish that last hem. . . I just HAVE to wear it right now!”. I can find a great pattern, or a great fabric that I really want to work with and combine them into clothing I love to wear, because it makes me feel beautiful, and comfortable in my own skin. Also, finding all these independent designers that are making patterns for clothes I not only want to wear, but want to make, has been so wonderful! I’ve become passionate about clothing again. And while a lot of people might find that shallow, I think it’s been really crucial to helping be become more confident and more able to engage socially with those around me.

Sewing my own clothes has given me an outlet, I think, to discard my frustrations with my own body, that I’m not the “standard female body-type”. Because I’m not alone, and that “standard female body type” doesn’t exist! I brainwashed myself through my youth to hate my body for not being “perfect” and it’s so cathartic to let myself shed that anger and self-recrimination and actually find love for my own body, love for myself in my own skin! And I have, in part, independent pattern designers to thank for that, because they’re making it possible for me to make beautiful clothes that fit me, that I’m passionate about. And that lets me be passionate about living the life I have to the fullest.

On , jenn said:

Sewing has made me much more accepting of my body, though it took me years to get there! First there was the phase when I sewed the pattern based on the size I thought I should be, and then dealt with the frustration of having it not fit. Or I picked a style that wasn’t at all flattering for my body type, and was frustrated to have spent so much time on something that didn’t look good. Why don’t I look good in this! The problem was always me, never the clothes.

From there I learned to carefully take measurements, and I sewed to the size of those measurements. While i still felt frustrated that I didn’t particularly like some of my measurements, it was nice to have clothes that fit better. Then as I began to learn more about fitting and alterations, so many “problems” I’d had with ready to wear began to make sense (for instance, my bust to waist is proportionally short but my my waist to hip measurement long, making some RTW styles certain to fit poorly). Slowly but surely, fitting issues with clothing began to send the message “this isn’t made for my body” instead of “my body isn’t made for this.” Now that I’ve become fairly familiar with what adjustments I’ll typically need to make a pattern fit me (for instance, I need to do a small bust adjustment on nearly everything I make), and have seen the satisfaction of having clothes that fit properly, I’ve finally learned to take the emotion out of the measurements. My measurements are simply a tool that let me make the clothes i want fit the way I want them to.

Of course, I still have those days where I don’t want to wear anything but sweatpants or where I look at a pattern sizing chart and think “really!?,” but as someone who has struggled with body image (what woman hasn’t), in the end learning to sew for myself and my size has been very, very good for the way I see and accept my body.

On , Calli said:

For me, sewing has allowed me to focus completely on fit. Before, if I saw something in the store, I’d buy it and hope it looked good. With sewing, if I’m going to spend this much time making it, it’s going to fit perfectly and be a flattering style on my short body – long legs frame.

On , Cora, The Lingerie Addict said: | thelingerieaddict.com

Thank you so much for sharing The Lingerie Addict with your readers! I’m glad you love my blog. :-)

On , Rebecca said:

I am a life-long sewer. As an imperious five-year-old I supervised my mother in the making of first day of kindergarten dress (no–the rickrack goes here). Much to her relief, within a few years I learned to drive the temperamental two-ton Singer handed down from my grandmother, and I was free to pursue my sartorial visions on my own.

I am also a curvy girl, and was never more so than in the months after my first child was born. For that first year I lived in leggings and tunics, not happy with my postpartum body, but figuring a wardrobe heavy on elastic was a small price to pay for this great new love. Until, that is, it was time to go to a summer wedding in my hometown. I needed something lovely and, more importantly, I needed to feel lovely. Nothing–but nothing–fit, unless it was a muumuu, and I was not ready to go there. Recalling my high school uniform, a princess-seamed jumper, I remembered how easy it had been to alter that design to fit like a glove. Making myself a simple well-fitted sheath now seemed like just the thing to do.

I called a friend, an accomplished sewer and pattern maker, for fitting help. She got out the measuring tape, and when I saw the number she wrote down nest to “hip” I gasped. “Horrifying,” I said. “It’s perfect,” she said back. That changed everything. Or rather, that was the beginning of changing everything. She taught me to make a proper muslin, which was a turning point in my life as a sewer and artist. With that project, eventually executed in a sage silk dupioni, I learned to expect a perfect fit. And a perfect fit is a revelation in that it reveals the charm of the figure, and every figure–including my more-curves-than-ten-miles-of-bad-road figure–has its charms.

Thus began my intensive study of fit and pattern altering. I learned that a well-made garment is really a sculpture–a three-dimensional work of art. I learned to see every seam as an opportunity to get around a curve. I learned to see every piece I sew for myself as an opportunity to craft a contoured silhouette. So while it’s still possible to wonder that useless, insidious “Do I look fat?” (that voice just will not die the death it deserves!) it’s a lot harder when I’m wearing something I know is shapely and polished. If I feel fetching I’m a lot less likely to harangue myself about the differences between my body and the “right” body. After all, I am the body that this splendid jacket/dress/skirt/blouse fits to a T!

On , Brenda Marks said:

Like many others, I started sewing to have clothes that fit and in a style or fabric I wanted to wear. My body image started to change not when I started sewing patterns out of the envelopes but when I found my sewing teacher who helps me fit patterns. She is very descriptive (and completely avoids judgmental words). She says, “you’re round here” or “you’re flat here” and that has helped me get past negative feelings and into figuring out what is going to look the way I want.

On , Christina said: | herrlichkeiten.net

Reading through the comments has been very interesting. Sewing (and knitting) has been for me, too, something that slowly changed my mind from trying to fit myself into clothes to trying to fit my clothes to me – jenn really nailed it with her comment! Sewing has enabled me to cut out a source of unhappiness from my life (shopping for clothes), but also has made me really picky…

I read that some moaned the learnig curve on what suits them and what not. So here is what I do when in doubt: I go to a shop and try on a similar garment to what I consider sewing to see, if I can generally pull it off.

On , Rachel said:

I am pretty tall- right at six feet. I’m also not tiny- though I am within my healthy weight range, I have a large chest and I do not look small. I would stand next to or take pictures next to girls who were six inches or more shorter than me, with tiny chests and next to no hips, and I felt very unfeminine (imagine, thinking curves made me unfeminine!) I felt like a giant. My husband (who is shorter than me and loves my height and dimensions) had a lot to do with me coming to love my body, but another big one was sewing and looking at clothing with less of a size in mind and more of the individual measurements of my body. Sewing has helped me to view a nice wardrobe as within my reach because I can make things that are the proper proportion for me. When I dress it with things that fit, my body is stunning. I have come to really love being tall!

On , Patti said: | bankruptcytobliss.com

Thank you for a great topic! I’ve been many different sizes throughout my life. Honestly, I love the way I look as a size 12 but only when I’m naked! That may seem like a weird statement ,however, it’s true. Often times the clothes I wear don’t fit well and I’ve been more inclined to read sewing blogs rather than making my own clothes or at a minimum altering clothes. I find that sometimes verbalizing my thoughts in cyberspace actually gets me to implement the thought towards action and thus make it a reality.
Looking at my closet; where to begin???

On , Shuku said: | shukuen.blogspot.com

I have always had a horrible time finding clothes off the rack because for my size and height (5 feet short, broad shoulders, wide hips) I’m built like a cow for Southeast Asia where I live, despite being a petite size in European and US measurements. Pants and shorts in particular are a hideous nightmare. While I can embroider well, tailoring and sewing aren’t my forte even though I put in a good stint as a costume assistant in my university days as a theatre/film graduate student. Since moving back from overseas, I’m sewing machineless, which frustrates me no end because I was just in the middle of painstakingly putting together my first Regency gown, which had to be left behind in the chaos of the move. But in the short time I had with sewing my own bodice, I realised it -was- possible to have clothes that fit me, flattered my awkward shape, and still look fantastic. This discovery was made more pertinent when I took apart several pieces of clothing and put them togerther into a sort of Frankenstein evening ensemble that got rave reviews for the big event it was intended for. I’m considering getting a basic sewing machine so I can pick up where I left off – more so because I’ve lost a huge amount of weight in the past six months and very little of my current wardrobe fits any more!

Learning to fit a plus-sized friend (Help?) | Tropical Threads

[…] in The Guardian “Can sewing change your body image?” created a lot of discussion, The Colleterie has visited this issue. Gertie‘s visited it. From comments and posts generally, it seems some […]

On , Susanna said: | pinsneedlesandfred.blogspot.co.uk

What a wonderful read, it is always nice to know that others stubble in the same way. I have learned to love my body, it has taken me many years to get there part of it is understanding what clothes to wear.

However the one huge impact was learning about mindfulness. Strange as it may seem once I began to practice being in the present moment, I became aware of my body and the sensations I was experiencing. Sitting for two minutes feeling and enjoying the sensations of even a gentle breeze across my skin, has helped me to connect mind and body. We spend so much time thinking, imagining, dreaming, we often overlook the joy of the present moment and the wonderful experiences our bodies give us daily. Showers become wonderful moments of tickling water against my skin instead of me imagining a dreaded meeting to come, or what ever thoughts are running through my head. I think self compassion follows, you learn to love what is, not what should or can be.