… Actually at the moment it’s probably not the most ‘frugal’ way of getting new clothes in my wardrobe, but it is certainly the most satisfying.
The week before the UK went into lockdown, when it was clear that the writing was on the wall, I figured I’d probably need something to keep me entertained while we weren’t allowed to go out and socialise. A hobby I’d long been planning on exploring was sewing and making my own clothes, but I didn’t have a sewing machine.
So, I hopped on trusty John Lewis, ordered their least expensive, most ‘bog-standard’ beginners’ machine in a bold turquoise, and then hopped over to the lovely Tilly and the Buttons to see what she might have available for me to cut my teeth on.
Make number one: Cleo dungarees
My first ever make was the Cleo dungaree dress. Tilly’s shop was selling a sewing kit at the time – I think Corona may have put those on hold – so it came with everything I needed, including fabric, interfacing, buckles, and the pattern itself. I chose a lovely rust-coloured cord, and set to.
If you’re new to sewing, intrigued or curious and want to dive in, I can’t recommend Tilly and the Buttons enough. The pattern instructions were very clear and included straightforward photos and an explanation of all the different techniques. I put on a podcast, made a cup of tea, and rattled through it.
Granted, one of the straps ended up going on a bit wonky because I lost track of that bit when I was sewing up the back, but overall it still looks pretty darn good, if I say so myself.
So good, in fact, that as soon as I was done making it, the lovely C requested I make one for her, too! And this time round I was much neater on the straps.
Make number two: Coco top
My next stop was another Tilly pattern (can you tell I’m a little obsessed?). This one was the Coco top. The fabric I used was quite thick, but very soft, with a flattering stretch to it. Again, the pattern instructions were super easy and straightforward. I’m now planning more of these in different colours, maybe with different sleeve lengths and all sorts. Who knows? The world’s my oyster.
That’s the joy of making your own clothes – I’m quite picky about what I wear, despite the fact that most of the time I dress like Worzel Gummidge. I tend to look for specific things and struggle to find something that matches my inner vision, dahling. So learning how to make my own will really open up a world in which I can create those visions myself, instead of trawling mainstream, chain – largely unethical – shops and compromising. Or lusting wistfully after more ethical clothing that it’s hard to justify the spend on.
Make number three: Safiya shorts/trousers
My birthday happened during lockdown. That was fun.
Actually, to be fair, I normally prefer quieter birthdays anyway. I just wasn’t planning on it to be this quiet. Next year’s my thirtieth, though, so if we’re still in nationwide quarantine for that, I’ll be livid.
One of the things I asked for was – you guessed it – more Tilly and the Buttons patterns. Specifically, my sister gave me her ‘Make it Simple’ book, which comes complete with six full-scale patterns you can ‘stitch up in an afternoon’, and multiple variations on each to help you customise and explore.
By this point in the year the weather was going a bit mad, and I desperately needed a pair of shorts. Bring on Safiya, which is the first pattern in the book.
These are a pair of loose, drapey palazzo-style trousers, with a beach-short variation. I chose a bold, floral fabric from Fabric Godmother for these and started sewing. I spread the work out over about a week (since I’m still working from home that means I sadly have to spend most of my time at my desk, not in the garden or at my sewing machine, apparently. Chicken updates don’t count towards this year’s professional objectives, I’m told…). By the time I’d finished, though, the weather had turned.
Literally. The second time I wore them out, C and I went for a stroll along the canal. Not only did I get bitten by some vicious mosquitoes, but as soon as we were just over the halfway point on the walk, the heavens opened.
We went through various stages of grief – denial: it’ll brighten up in a second, this will only be a short, sharp shower… anger: so typically of the thunderstorm to happen as soon as we’re too far to turn back… bargaining: maybe if we wait under this bridge for twenty minutes the storm will blow itself out… depression: oh, this bridge has wide gaps in the planks, that’s cool, we’re still getting wet… acceptance: to be honest, we can’t get more soaked through than we are now, might as well press on. By the time we got to that stage we were both finding the whole thing quite funny. Plus, we saw a frog having a great time on the towpath which was lovely.
However, that convinced me that as well as the lovely floaty shorts, I really did need some more trousers. And whaddaya know, I had the pattern, I had some fabric, I was ready.
Which brings me to this weekend, and putting the final stitches in my Safiya trousers, with in-seam pockets. They’re loose, they’re floaty, I should really have chosen a slightly more drapey, less stiff fabric for them, but you live and learn. They’re super comfortable. I love them. (I’m pretty sure the elastic in the waistband is twisted somewhere inside but I spent about an hour trying to get it to stay in place so I’m just going to live with that…)
I put the final touches to them, and then we headed up the road to our lovely local, which had just reopened. It does feel nice to be back in the pub.
So what’s next?
Next on my to-make list are:
- some loose summer dresses and tunics for me and C,
- some more tops and tee-shirts,
- a cosy pair of PJs,
- an apron for my Dad’s birthday,
- and maybe, somewhere along the line, a wedding dress for C. (I want to wear a smart jacket a la Ellen DeGeneres, and I’m not sure I’ll be up to the tailoring required by this time next year…)
Have you tried sewing your own clothes ever? What’s your favourite pattern for newbies? What’s something you wish you’d learned when you started making your own clothes? Let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear your tips!