I've been rumminating lately on the matter of sewing clothing for oneself, and I've come to the conclusion that the most important part, by far, is the pattern and fabric selection. Now, you are probably reading this and thinking... "um, duh? What were you smoking before? What did you think was the most important part?" You are thinking this because I should have said under-emphasized instead of important. I could just go back and edit it but now I've written all of this stuff and I can't be bothered.
Anyway, I got to thinking on this because I've been reading "The Pocket Stylist" by Kendall Farr, which is a guide to improving your look, mostly by selecting clothing that suits your body. Bear with me as I digress for a moment, because I can't bear to bring up this book without telling you that I recommend it, with the caveat that you need to be prepared for the number of times you will be told to throw out your sneakers and switch to a minimum two inch heel at all times. Also be ready for an entire chapter on tailoring, without even the slightest hint of a notion that you could do something like taking up a trouser leg yourself. Furthermore, anticipate that you will be very frightened by the German bodybuilder necks drawn on all of the sample silhouettes (apologies to German bodybuilders). Don't cheat and read the body shape tips for other people, because you will be disappointed to learn that many of them are the same. It's not just your body shape, she thinks dark bootleg jeans worn at the natural waist with small or no waistband is best for anybody. Er... I think that might be it. Wait, no... you also must steel yourself against an onslaught of the phrase "almighty unbroken line." Ok, now I'm good.
Despite the weird bits, I did take a lot away from the book, including a list of specific style shirts to look out for and some good guidelines on pants. Everything that she said about clothes for my body type had me nodding my head and thinking "yeah, like that one shirt that I have" or "yeah, I've noticed that those look pretty good." It had never really cemented in my mind, though, and now I have a very clear list of styles to look for on the rack. Better than that, I have a good idea of how to evaluate items that don't fall in those specific categories. The last really valuable piece of advice from the book is to judge each item as you consider purchasing it and know EXACTLY how it will fit into your wardrobe. (Also to take a measuring tape with you when you shop for jeans so that you can measure the inseam and thigh width, etc, and sort through the vanity sizing so you don't waste your time in the fitting room.)
At the same time that I've been reading the Pocket Stylist, I've also seen some things in blogland that have made me consider how this advice relates to sewing your own clothes. Amy a la Mode (fellow Bay Area Modern Quilt Guild member) wrote about a shirt that she made using Simplicity 3825:
Now, when I looked at this pattern I thought, “That doesn’t look like something I would wear.” But I kept reminding myself that everyone loves this pattern, and it was only $1.99 on sale, so I bought it... I think I should remind myself of my own rules, about not sewing something that you wouldn’t buy off the rack. I knew I would never pick this up in a store, and yet I tried to make it anyhow.
And from my new blog crush Selfish Seamstress (regarding a super cute cream dress that she has never worn):
That cream dress is just wrong for everything. Too fancy for work, too white for wedding guest garb, and for any occasion in between I’d just sooner go for something in my closet that is more chic and less garden party.
Sometimes I've been known to get the hint when it's smashed in my face enough times - and I'm happy to say that I've put this one together. If the pattern doesn't flatter my body shape, it's never going to look good. If the fabric and pattern don't work together to make something that I will actually wear, it's not good. The four handmade skirts hanging in my closet are failures because I never wear them, and I'm not going to start. They don't fit my lifestyle. So here's my new rule: Before I commit my hours of labor to sewing something, I will envision the completed garment with my fabric and pattern and figure out where I'm going to wear it. I will not assume that once I have sewn myself a new party dress, I will start going to parties. I will consider that the sleeveless top I am making is only going to be wearable 2/7 days because it's not appropriate for work. I will do this because I enjoy making things, not wasting my time.
Ok, if you've made it with me this far, you probably have got the picture, but this is really important, so let's do a little quiz to check your understanding. Which of these is an acceptable reason to sew a new garment?
a) Omg, that dress is so gorgeous, I must have it!
b) That model looks so elegant when she wears that. I should make one for myself.
c) That dress looks like it would really flatter my waist. I think I can shorten it to a shirt that would be appropriate for work.
d) That sun dress would be so perfect! I can see myself walking to the farmer's market in that next week.
(hint: The farmer's market is a mile from my house and there is no way that I'm walking there in anything but sneakers.)
If you selected option c, congratulations! You have graduated to a new level of sewing expertise where you will not make any sewing mistakes because you know exactly what you are doing. If you did not select option c, you probably cannot be helped.