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The Handmade Clothing Project

Before our inter-continental move, I pared down my wardrobe by about half, getting rid of anything worn out, badly fitting, or no longer my style. That’s left me with a very minimal wardrobe, and now I really need to replace some of the items I purged.

Shopping catastrophe

I went clothes shopping for the first time last weekend and it was an absolute disaster… Everything is far more expensive here than in Canada. I have a gut feeling about how much I’d be willing to pay for something that’s okay (not bad looking, functional, plain, fits well enough or can be easily modified, a good basic piece) vs something that’s perfect (I love it and know I’ll enjoy wearing for years, great style and/or detailing, the perfect fit) and these prices were far, far higher than my range. There’s no way I’m ever going to be able to justify paying more than my perfect piece price for a merely okay item.

I spent 2 hours browsing and getting more and more despondent. The only thing I even liked enough to consider was a t-shirt in a sale rack, but then I saw the price tag: reduced from $45 equivalent to $30 equivalent! I’ve paid $30 for a t-shirt once, but it’s my favourite top and has loads of detailing (fitted bodice, lace, pleats, gathered neckline) that, for me, justified the price. This was just a plain striped t-shirt… Um, no.

I left the shirt on the rack and gave up on the whole clothes shopping idea. On my way out, I stopped at the craft store and bought some beads, and then I went home to cheer myself up by making something…

Making is fun

sewing books
(Please excuse my translucently pale skin – being sick for 6 months does takes a toll on a girl’s complexion…)
sewing books

Two bracelets and a necklace for under $2 – now that’s my kind of shopping! And because I chose all the supplies myself, I could make sure that the necklace is subtle and will go with all my pink and purple tops, and that the bracelets are bolder and will look perfect next to indigo denim. Being crafty is so much more fun than buying mass-produced, over-priced stuff.

When life gives you lemons…

And that gave me the idea to try turning this disappointment into an opportunity: maybe I can make my own clothes in future..? I can take the time that I used to spend wandering malls looking for the elusive piece that has a June-approved style, colour, fit, and price, and use it to learn to stitch garments that I’m guaranteed to like. And so the idea for the Handmade Clothing Project was born.

This will be a huge challenge for me: I’m by no means an expert at sewing, and very inexperienced at making garments from scratch – shortening or modifying existing clothes to fit is more my level at the moment. But I have designed and stitched up bags, a skirt and a t-shirt from scratch in the past, so I think I should be able to do this, if I start with very simple items.

a-line skirt
I made this simple skirt in 2008 and it’s still one of my favourites – plus I get the bonus “yay, I made this!” feeling every time I put it on.

Gearing up

I can begin the Handmade Clothing Project with almost no costs: I already have a moderate fabric stash (acquired over the years from remnant bins – I can’t resist a bargain), a wonderful sewing machine, and a small library of books to help me on my way:

sewing books

Now all I need is to buy a voltage converter so I can plug my 110V sewing machine into a 240V socket, and I’ll be ready to go! This will obviously be a time-consuming process for me, and I’m still busy trying to get my business back up to speed, so don’t expect new clothing posts every week. But I will share my Handmade Clothing Project successes (and failures) here as they occur – maybe it’ll inspire you to try making clothing too.

Do you make any of your own clothes, or have you ever considered trying it? If so, feel free to join in with the Handmade Clothing Project. (You can still buy clothes too – this isn’t a hardcore “I will never buy clothing again” pledge!) There are no time limits or deadlines, and the only Clothing Project rules are to make stuff you can wear and have fun with it. Crocheting and knitting clothes counts too – you don’t have to sew. Just think how good it’ll feel every time you put on a handmade item – I’m pretty sure you won’t ever get that feeling from anything you bought at the mall…

Who’s with me?


  1. Melissa said

    This online course might be neat. They’re having a 50% off special over at BurdaStyle.

    Also, these two ladies are experienced seamstresses who host sew-alongs on their blogs and show you the related techniques as you go. They might also be good just to check out for inspiration:

  2. Susan said

    I used to sew all my clothes back in school but that was quite a while ago and I was a pretty standard size. I haven’t found any commercial patterns that fit me very well even after trying to ‘size’ them to my ‘size.’ BUT I am the queen of modifying existing clothing, usually purchased from thrift shops. It’s affordable and is good for the environment to re-use things. At least that’s what I tell myself with my bursting closet ; ). looking forward to your progress and do they have any thrift stores there??

    • June said

      I agree, that’s a great idea, and I’ve done that in the past with cheap clothes I’ve bought on sale and fixed up. I’m sure there must be thrift stores here, but I’m squeamish about second-hand clothes (I have to get over that hangup because I know it’s irrational!) For the time being I’ll just use my stashed fabric remnants and attempt to create my own patterns and see how I do.

  3. Way to go, June! I wish I had the time to dedicate to sewing. But, because of space constraints, just getting everything out and setting it all up takes up most of my time. 🙁 I consider myself lucky if I can sew a bag once a month or so. And I hate to admit that I’ve had fabric to make a pillow case for my little guy for about two months. Eek.

    • June said

      I know that feeling. I very rarely have time to sew either, especially as my sewing table is now also my photo studio table… guess which one I use more often?! But now I’ve announced in public that I’m going to sew, I’m going to have to make time for it, or I’ll look stupid – this is all a cunning plan to make me stop being too busy and too scared to try and just have a go.

  4. becky said

    I think you have a window into my brain or something. 😀 Because we just had our sewing machine tuned up and fixed, so that I can start sewing again. I am not sure about adult cothing, but since I have a little one on the way (4 weeks to go) I wanted to start sewing clothes, or cloth-diapers for him. Possibly other things too. But your post, has as always got perfect timing.

    I have also thought about modifying existing shirts 😀

    • June said

      That’s a great idea – babies must need a lot of stuff, and they grow out of things so quickly. I bet baby clothes are expensive too, so making them makes a lot of sense. And modifying existing shirts is a nice way to ease into making things from scratch for yourself – doing a few clothing mods is what has given me the courage to try making some simple garments…

  5. Tara said

    Hi June-sorry to hear of your shopping woes! I’m curious though, where did you go? There are some places that are crazy expensive!

    Anyway, you should check out where she’s got a bunch of pretty cool clothing projects just search the archives! Good luck!

    • June said

      Oh Tara, I walked into pretty much every shop in Canal Walk, and walked straight out of most after glancing at one price tag… I have very simple tastes – I just want plain, unfussy basics that won’t look dated by next year and don’t cost the earth. If you know of anywhere like that in Cape Town, do let me know – I haven’t sworn off shopping for good! Thanks also for the link – I’ll check it out 🙂

  6. Patti Jo said

    I love making clothing for my children but not so much for myself. It seems like every time I try to make myself something it doesn’t quite fit right. I haven’t given up yet though and have some recently bought patterns that are calling out to me.

    • June said

      Good luck with the new patterns! I think that if we all cheer each other on, we can do this…

  7. I think it’s terrific to make your own clothes. I used to really want to make my own stuff but I learned that at least for now I just don’t actually really like sewing. And I do kind of like shopping for new clothes. So other than the pieces I crochet for myself, I’m going to be buying mine for the time being but I definitely support what you’re doing and look forward to hearing more about it over time!

    • June said

      Thanks for your support! Having fun is part of the Handmade Clothing Project manifesto, so if you don’t enjoy sewing and do enjoy clothes shopping, I hope you won’t join in 🙂 (But crocheting clothes counts too!)

  8. Stacey Trock said

    I’m already with you!
    I sew all of my skirts, and knit all of my sweaters/scarves/hats.
    I buy pants if I need them (which is about one pair of shorts every 2 years, and a pair of pants a year) and only buy a dress if it’s from the thrift store.
    The only clothing I regularly purchase is tank tops and cotton long-sleeve shirts, because they’re great multifunctional pieces and difficult to make!

    I’m also keeping my peepers on clothing sold on Etsy- I like to support other artists if it’s something I’m not able/willing to make myself!

    • June said

      That’s great, Stacey! I don’t think I’ll ever buy clothing from Etsy – finding stuff that fits is my usual problem, so any kind of online clothes shopping isn’t really an option for me, but I’m glad you can!

  9. Cassie Hale said

    I love the idea of making my own clothes, and I have made outfits for my girls, but I am not fond of the process. I would much rather work laboriously to create a crocheted sweater than cut out a pattern and stitch it up. HOWEVER, I really, really, really want to get good at sewing so I can make most anything and have purchased a few books. I’m also motivated by the number of mommypreneurs in my area who sew/sell children’s clothing. They make it look so easy . . . . I think you will do a wonderful job since you do a wonderful job crocheting! Can’t wait to see the projects you crank out. On a side note: hubby prefers that I sew because he sees it as being a much more practical ability. I tend to agree . . . sometimes : ).

    • June said

      Haha, well I can tell you right now there’ll be no “cranking out” from me – I am a slow, slow, careful sewer sewist and I’m sure it’ll take me hours/days/weeks to make even the simplest thing! I don’t think I’ll ever be really good at sewing , but that’s okay: I’ll be happy if I can manage ‘good enough to wear in public without embarrassment’ 😉

      I’d like to crochet garments too, but that’s a dilemma for me: I can’t crochet for too long without making my hands hurt, so I have to “save” my hands for making the designs for my business. I’m not going to produce garment patterns so I can’t really justify the time it would take to crochet a sweater (sometimes being a one-person business really has its downsides). But using a sewing machine doesn’t hurt my hands – yay!

      • Cassie Hale said

        Alas, the reason I quit knitting! I’m also a musician and never had a single issue until I started knitting. I only make small garments (as in little people size) with crochet. I have been thinking more and more about sewing for the same reason–to save my hands! I’m sure your sewing will be great! I purchased some shirting fabric and wide elastic to make a super simple fun skirt for toddler to wear to preschool. That’s my kind of project!

  10. Corvus said

    I think patterns work best when approached as a starting point, and not the be-all-end-all on proper fitting. Most of the big pattern companies oversize their patterns to begin with and expect you to do a bit of fitting yourself (after all, it’s a whole lot easier to take in a piece of clothing than let it out, so “oversize” is the side of caution). Should you want to try patterns again, I recommend cutting out patterns based on the given finished measurements (usually printed on the actual pattern), not the recommended measurements off the back of the envelope (and account for stretch or lack thereof in your fabric!).

    Nevermind that patterns tend to be drafted for average proportions- proportion adjustments aren’t hugely difficult, though. I tend to be two sizes (or more!) bigger in the bust than the waist, so I draw a line between my actual bust size and actual waist size and cut that, rather than following one size line.

    I love making my own clothes, with patterns or no. 🙂

    • June said

      That sounds like good advice, and the clothes you make always look so good, so you must know what you’re talking about!

      I guess it takes some time and trial and error to figure out what changes need to be made to patterns though, and I really have very little time for this project (because I work on my business pretty much all the time) so that’s why I think I’ll just copy clothes that fit – hopefully that’ll work.

      This is silly, but the more advice and tips I get, the less confident I become. I’m just not used to being a novice – and in public too! Oh well, at worst we can all have a good laugh at my fashion failings 😉

      • Simone said

        Not at all! Keep us posted and I’m confident that you’ll get support and good vibes! 😀

  11. Lynne said

    When I was a teen I made a lot of my own clothing for 2 reasons. We moved to a small rural area and everyone seemed to be wearing the same things purchased in our only a handful of stores. Secondly, I found a loophole in my parents clothing budget for me. I could buy all the fabric I wanted to make clothing (because I was learning a useful skill). I couldn’t buy all the clothing I wanted. So, me and a girlfriend sewed our hearts out. I think the only things we bought we jeans and underwear for 2 years.

    Recently, though I’ve been wanting to do something called cut n sew with knitting fabric. I’m going to use my knitting machine to knit up fabric and cut it using pattern pieces. I have a book too to tell me how to go about this.

    • June said

      That’s a coincidence, Lynne – I just noticed yesterday when I took off my sweater that it was constructed in that way and I was thinking about how that’s probably the easiest way for shops to produce inexpensive knitwear. If I had a knitting machine I’d try it too! I’d love to see a pic when you’ve made something that way…

  12. ~Lori said

    I’ve not started making clothes for myself yet, but I do make some for my kids. The most complex project I’ve made so far is a Hawaiian shirt – actually several of them, three for my son, one for my daughter and one for my husband. One thing that this has made abundantly clear is that yes, the old adage is true – practice makes perfect – and also that making the same garment several times in a row is a great way to improve your skills! I’m a self-taught and not very accomplished sewist and I really want to take some classes to fill in the gaps and brush up on techniques.

    I’ve done okay with using commercial patterns, but then fit is not that difficult with kids. I can definitely see having trouble when I start sewing for myself (short, fat and very busty!), but there are a lot of resources for fitting issues, both in print and on the internet. One that I like is Nancy Zieman’s _Pattern Fitting with Confidence_ – as I said, I haven’t done much fitting yet, but I cringe at the thought of tissue-fitting and slashing patterns. This book uses “pivot-and-slide” techniques which essentially redrafts the pattern for your fit issues. And you can’t deny Nancy’s clothes fit beautifully. 🙂

    A lot of sewists are also really into making muslins or voiles to test fit and techniques; some choose to do what they call “wearable muslins,” which are made with fashion fabric that is cheaper and won’t be a heartbreaking loss if it turns into a wadder.

    I highly recommend, which not only has reviews of sewing patterns as the site name would suggest, but also articles with tips and techniques, as well as message boards that I’ve found helpful. You will also find out there are a LOT of pattern designers out there, and there may be some that address your particular fit issues or preferences very nicely.

    I’m excited for you and I look forward to seeing updates on how things go!

    • June said

      Wow, thanks for all the great advice, Lori! I have to admit though, even the words you’ve mentioned here – tissue fittings, muslins, etc – are making me cringe. I find the idea of ‘proper’ dressmaking utterly intimidating, so I’m definitely going to approach this with a more casual, winging-it attitude (for now at least), and see how it goes 🙂

      • ~Lori said

        Here’s one suggestion I can make – avoid set-in sleeves if you want simple! Raglan sleeves seem to be the easiest, and t-shirt sleeves are pretty easy too, especially in knits. (I was sewing a shirt with set-in sleeves this morning, which is what made me think of this!)

  13. Simone said

    In September, I’ll attend a sewing course – first time at the sewing machine since… erm… 25 years or so? I don’t even own a machine, and I’m looking forward to try this out.

    • June said

      That’s fantastic, Simone – good luck with it!

  14. Jesse said

    I made 4 t-shirts this weekend! And 2 of them are fine. I used free patterns and one I traced off another shirt myself. Now I just need to take photos….

    • June said

      Excellent! That’s my plan too – to copy clothes that already fit me. Whenever I’ve tried making clothes from patterns they never fit and I end up disappointed.

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