Moving to a Me-Made Wardrobe

Late last year I decided to move to a mostly me-made wardrobe.
As I wrote in Ten Ways to a More Ethical Wardrobe, “Obviously, this is a long-term, take-it-a-step-at-a-time proposition. Still, the freedom inherent in being able to decide for yourself what cloth, cut and colour you want, instead of being forced to choose from a limited number of options, is very alluring.”

person dreaming at sewing machine with cat

It was the extremely limited number of options available in ladies’ underclothing that finally sparked my rebellion. I was used to my clothing preferences leaving me with reduced choice in the vast ocean of mass-produced fashion. I wasn’t expecting to be left with no choice but a scratchy, lurid beige thing which didn’t even resemble the image on its own label. (I bet you didn’t know beige could be lurid. Neither did I.)

Side note: I’ve been noticing a decline in clothing quality in the last couple of years, even from some of the more ethical companies. Socks are stockinger, fabrics are inferior, seams are shoddier and unravel sooner. This was also an encouragement to Do It Yourself.

But because I have not yet forgotten the lessons of the Crazy Quilt, I decided to set a long-range goal: to have my wardrobe consist mostly of garments made by myself, by the time I’m 40. That gives me about six years, but to be honest, I’m not too hung up on the dates. I just want to move to an almost wholly me-made wardrobe, and it takes however long it takes.

Rembrandt van Rijn Portrait of a Forty-Year-Old Woman, possibly Marretje Cornelisdr. van Grotewal, 1634
What forty looks like. Ruff optional.

The process so far has gone something like this. Step 1: achieve disenchantment with mass-made clothing. Not just a vague annoyance sort of disenchantment, but the sort that leaves you fulminating (fulminating, I say!) and plotting rebellion late into the night.

Step 2: consider plan from Wardrobe Architect process and expand/alter it, considering such things as raincoats, underclothing of various sorts, hosiery, nightwear, special occasion-wear (ranging from Wedding to Weeding) and so forth. (It’s always annoyed me the way most wardrobe design plans just look at the obvious outer layers, ignoring the fact that Underclothes Are Still A Thing.)

Step 3: take an exhaustive if not exhausting look at existing wardrobe in all its elements and figure out a) what you already have, b) what you have a makeshift for, and c) what you lack. Classify them into Make, Buy, or Make/Buy if you’re not too fussed. (I’m not planning on making swimsuits, shoes, or cotton socks.) Note: not all clothing-making is sewing. Knitting and crochet are also viable options, as are other handworks in varying degrees.

Ak55-Busy afternoon

Prioritize your list according to what you are going to feel the need of most acutely and soonest (ideally this isn’t something way beyond your skill-set) and then proceed to hunt for patterns – assuming you aren’t going MegaOTT and making those, too. (I’m not.)

Personally, I prefer indie sewing pattern companies’ patterns. Not only on the David vs. Goliath line of reasoning (always nice to do a bit of good to another creative person trying to earn their three squares), but because bigger pattern companies in my (admittedly limited) experience tend to be bigger in their patterns, too – that is, adding buckets of spare ease so e.g. the neckline can slip off both your shoulders at once. Up to you where you cast your net, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Since you’ll have a fairly good idea of the sort of garments you’re planning to make over the course of your wardrobe changeover, whenever you see a pattern you like the look of, make a note of it.

Trouser suit
Not a pattern, alas, but I love the look.

It’s entirely up to the individual sewer, sewist, seamster/seamstress, tailor, mantua-maker, clothier, needlewoman/man or Term of Your Choice how all this planning is done. Complex spreadsheets work. Scrapbooks with scribbled notes work. (No rule says I can’t have both!) The important point is that it should be useful in planning and enjoyable to use.

At present, I am knitting a pair of socks (pattern here, free if you sign up – also free), and working on a pattern from Vera Venus (which I will not be showing you pictures of when it’s finished). But there are a dozen or so other patterns on my list already, ranging from “maybe” to “already bought the pattern, in queue.”

So tell me, dear readers, are the adventures and vicissitudes (sounds like something vicious happening to scissors, doesn’t it?) of moving to a me-made wardrobe something you would be interested in hearing about now and then? Is it something you’ve ever considered doing yourself?

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