Do you wear what you sew and sew what you wear?

Do you sew what you wear and wear what you sew?  Interesting thoughts on how we should spend our sewing time.

A reader mentioned recently that my sewing patterns tend to be for warm weather and casual clothes. Hmm, looking back, that's probably right.  It's easy to explain.  I design clothes and sewing patterns that I want to wear, and here in the Cayman Islands, we rarely have call for either cool weather clothes or formal clothes.

There have been several blog posts in the last 6 months about building a wardrobe of basics and classics, and sewing what you actually will wear.  So do I sew what I wear?  It's an interesting question and quite different from asking ‘do you wear what you sew'?

So I took a brief survey of three things:

  1. what's in my wardrobe?
  2. of that, what did I make?
  3. what did I wear for 2 weeks?

compilation 1

The results were probably not much of a surprise to most people who sew their own clothes.  What we make or buy, and what we wear most often, are often very different things.  My trips to the fabric store are always fun, but I still tend to favor buying fabrics that are ‘flashy'.  Big bold prints, bright colors, or gorgeous dress fabrics such as lace, velvet, satin, embroidered and so on.  As much as I love to hoard these fabrics and sometimes sew them into beautiful things to wear, much of it is rarely worn.  Not because it doesn't fit, or I don't like it, but purely because it doesn't fit my life style.

If I look at my hanging wardrobe, I feel ashamed to say that actually, I hardly ever even go there!  It's full of some lovely clothes, some bought, some sewn, but those clothes are for special occasions, or perhaps for wearing to the office, and I don't have an office job any more.  So most of it never sees the light of day.  I'm embarrassed now when I look at it -what a waste!

compilation 2

What do I sew?  Actually its been a good mix of formal, office wear and casuals so I don't feel too bad.  As I am still new to sewing I've tried out a fair few different projects and fabrics, although I see I have a tendency to sew dresses, and add them to my hanging wardrobe.  To admire them, want to wear them, but never have the right places to go.

So my survey into what I wear, in descending order:

  1. t-shirts of all kinds including the gathered front t-shirt and the summer drape top
  2. shorts, still loving the Pink Bubblegum Velour shorts I made
  3. my own sewn underwear, including many copied from my favorites and never written about
  4. leggings, for around the house and exercise wear
  5. my fleece hoodie, comes with me on my dive trips to keep warm between dives
  6. the Wear Everywhere Dress, whenever I need to look a bit nicer, suits every occasion
  7. the skirts I made for the Sew A Skirt Series, especially the mint green eye-let one and the floral print, usually paired with a plain t-shirt
  8. my cowl neck top paired with the classic straight leg knit pants, for dinners out
  9. my reversible apron, for dinners in.

compilation 3

So, mostly casuals – t-shirts, shorts, leggings.  Only casual dresses. Even ‘going out' in Cayman is a very relaxed affair.  An event where you can't wear shorts and flip flops is rare indeed!

So, this leads me to re-evaluate my stash.  I have quite a bit of fabric gathered up now, but why is it when I want to sew, I can't find anything suitable?  Because I buy the wrong fabrics, I buy the wrong patterns, and I sew for the life in my dreams rather than my real life!

That changes now, and I'll try to concentrate on sewing more casuals, sewing things that real people actually wear most of the time.  I'll try to develop patterns that I think you will want to sew over and over.  Ball gowns are lovely, but why spend 50 hours sewing a dress you'll wear once in your life, when you can spend 2 hours sewing 2 or 3 casual t-shirts you will wear the hell out of!

compilation 4

This whole exercise now at the end, just feels like it has been an excuse to demand more fabric!  I need to buy more solids, more knit fabrics, more colors I actually wear and less than I love but don't suit me.  Most of my every-day wear is knit fabrics, and I've got a feeling I'm not alone there, so I'm going to continue to concentrate on these kinds of casuals for the future.

So what about you?  What fabric do you like to buy?  What projects do you mostly sew and how does it compare to what you actually wear most?  Do you want to sew beautiful clothes, or do you want to sew clothes you'll actually wear everyday?

Let me know what you think.
photo credit: Mark0380 via photopin cc

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36 Responses to Do you wear what you sew and sew what you wear?

  1. Bethany Thompson says:

    I wore khakis and tees as an elementary librarian for 12 years. Now I volunteer in the elementary library of a colleague. My clothing has gone from casual to really casual. My go-to is overalls! I don’t come untucked, I can roll the legs up to capri length if it’s warm or down if it’s cold. I shop at thrift shops and remake what I find to fit. My stash is linen which I love because it’s a natural fabric, it can be ironed or left wrinkled and it transcends seasons which in Kentucky can change from day to day often–lol! I collect patterns and my clothes sewing will always be for comfortable, more unstructured than tops, dresses and more overalls because it’s getting harder to find to find them nicely broken in. Life is too short to be uncomfortable! BTW, I really enjoy your emails. They make me smile!

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Hi Bethany seams you have found a happy place. This is very hard to find for so many people specially those who try to please others than themselves. Overalls are very comfortable I loved them too. Kudos! on refashioning clothing, it takes creativity and determination to make it work. Thank you for reading the emails, and above all thank you for taking the time to comment, I feel we are having a conversation. It makes my day:) sending you a big hug!

  2. Mary G. says:

    I worked in the legal world for 25 yrs (mostly in California) where suits or pant suits were a must. When I had the time, I loved making my own. Then in a change of location (Oregon and colder weather) and pace, I moved into working for the state which called more for jeans and tops and ended up buying them. Now in our retirement years we are looking to relocate to island life and I am still gathering info as to temperatures, climates and what is properly worn or accepted so I can sew in that direction. I am truly enjoying your articles and sewing topics and patterns are helping me focus in that line. It is going to be quite different but I think a fun transition! 🙂

  3. You made me stop and really think about this topic – and I find that what you say does chime in pretty well with my own sewing habits. I’ve only just stopped work to care for my husband and am hoping to have more time on my hands to indulge myself in all the clothes projects I’ve optimistically stashed fabric away for – but never had a hope of doing while teaching full-time.

    So thanks for your timely reminder to stick to wearable, more casual stuff because, like you, I don’t need to be dressed up to the nines every day (my girl pupils were very quick to notice new togs and voice their opinions if you wore the same thing too often!). I am just weaning myself off slavishly using commercial patterns, and your super patterns and adventurous projects are very inspiring – thanks! I will adapt some of them to the somewhat cooler climes of North Nottinghamshire! Sandra Reed

  4. Edith says:

    Sewing for your imaginary life.. interesting topic. It’s always a good idea to take a hard look at what your life really looks like, also in regards to clothes shopping. I have been guilty of that for sure. I think a lot of us may have a disconnect there. It may be the party dresses you never get to wear or the lack of climate appropriate stuff as in my case. I own so much summer clothes, but I live in a cold climate. Just because I hate wearing lots of layers and sweaters and winter in general 🙂 doesn’t change the fact that I need them.
    I altered almost every garment in my wardrobe since I learned how to sew. I am very picky about fit and it was my motivation to learn how to sew in the first place, and it makes a huge difference for me. I feel “empowered”, I don’t have to be content with second best or worse. it’s really awesome to finally just make what I never could find. For me that is jackets/blazers and I am currently working on my third. I plan on making a summer dress as well, but maybe that’s for my imaginary life- Because I am a pants person and get annoyed when I actually have to behave myself like a lady in a dress 😀 so much fuss. Maybe I should resort my energy to shorts. Or a maxi skirt, they don’t require shaving your legs I suppose. 🙂
    Sorry I am rambling 😀 Have a wonderful day.

  5. Crystelle Boutique says:

    For me it is all about fit. At 5’11” I am much taller than what the American clothing market targets, and often I need to sew or alter to make my clothes fit.

  6. Why not find some of those gorgeous flashy fabrics that are washable and go ahead and make casual clothes from them? I love velvets and laces. I’ve been making sure what I purchase is washable/dryable and adapt to a suitable pattern. I now don’t work so my wardrobe is changing. Upon retiring and moving, I have found I own a huge fabric stash (from pieces big enough for adult clothes, to small pieces purchased for doll clothing … I used to sew custom action figure clothes). My biggest challenge is going to be not buying any more fabric!

  7. Kimberlee says:

    Hi Deby! I sew most of my clothes. I like to sew knits and lately I have been making a lot of jeans and jeans shorts. This was a great post – as always.

    • Deby Coles says:

      Wow, making your own jeans! I can’t even imagine how hard that must be. Not only difficult fabric to sew with, all those thick seams and layers, but getting the fit just right too.

  8. Nancy says:

    A great source for material at least for panties, is to buy tshirts at the thrift stores and repurpose them.

  9. Jill says:

    About 1/2 my stsh is for the fantasy items. And I think that’s OK. I mean, the beauty of being a seamstress is being able to point to something in Vogue magazine and think “I could SO make that myself – at a fraction of the price, too!”

    But really 2/3 of my stash is for real, wearable stuff. Because I do love the look on people’s faces when they compliment somethng I have on and I casually say, “Thanks – I made it”. How often would I get that reaction floating around in a reproduction of a vintage Givenchy ball gown?

    If winter ever ends here in Wisconsin, I might do a tally of self-made vs. storebought clothes when I swap out my winter wear for summer clothing. It’d be interesting to see where I stand.

  10. Mary Karwowski Phelan says:

    such an excellent point deb…sew WHAT YOU WILL REALLY WEAR!!..finally learned that! am more casual…so that is what I make…but still unique styles and/or great fabric..I am a skirt person a lot…so some linen/wool for dressier but for the summer..lots of knit skirts/tops etc..easy, fast and I wear them!.Still like to make things jus because they are a challenge…but not too much anymore..too pricy to waste that fabric or my time.

    • Deby Coles says:

      Those are my thoughts and findings entirely. I’ll still like to try out new challenges from time to time but I get more satisfaction from wearing what I sew, than looking at them hung in the wardrobe! I need to make some more summer skirts because I much prefer them to shorts. Look out for some patterns coming later this year for skirts!

  11. Shannon says:

    Excellent question! By looking at my pattern and fabric stash, you would think that I wear cute cotton dresses every single day. Fact is, it’s a rare occasion. Living in a cool, rainy climate (Seattle, USA) doesn’t lend itself to the short, sassy dress patterns I have in every shape imaginable! To top it off, even if I made the dress (and the weather was cooperating) I don’t have the shoes for the outfit! I’m a jeans, sneakers, and sweatshirt kind of girl. So why aren’t I making sweatshirts and long-sleeve tees? Thanks for pointing this out to me!

    • Deby Coles says:

      I’m the same when I shop, always drawn to the dresses when in reality I don’t wear them so often. I noticed especially when I tried to rotate my clothes, putting the washed ones on one end and taking from the other end. Except it didn’t work out, I kept picking the same 25% of my wardrobe and barely wearing the rest. I’ll be working on some variations of basic patterns for tops, skirts, dresses that are easy to wear but have a bit of style to them. Let’s see how I get on!

  12. Fadanista says:

    I work full time so tend to make lots of things for the office, but am nearing retirement so I’ve ditched the whole corporate suit look for something a bit more casual (which is where your pencil skirt comes in!). I am always too tired (or busy sewing) to go out too much, so focus more on semi-casual clothes. I no longer buy anything, including underwear, I am so committed to making my own clothes.

    • Deby Coles says:

      Sounds like a great plan. I loved your most recent project with the underwear. You were so lucky to have a lot of the supplies already. It’s certainly on my to do list, but having to import everything requires me to be pretty certain of what I need and buy several lots at a time, and I’m still very new to sewing and don’t want to rush into this yet.

      • Fadanista says:

        Thanks Deby, I understand what you mean about being certain. I have just bought some kits, thinking they might be more efficient. I have just cut out my next bra using the kit fabric, so it will be interesting to see how it works out.

        • Deby Coles says:

          I’ll be following along to see how you get on. I’ve got a couple of old bras I could use to scavenge some parts to at least get me started on some learning and tweaking a basic pattern. I could be modelling it soon!

          • Fadanista says:

            I can’t wait to see it. Looking at my Mum’s stash, I think she did a lot of scavenging too, and I’ll be using some of those bits.

  13. Teckla says:

    Sounds pretty typical to me! What is and what we dream about so often get mushed together. Good reminder to give more thought about what I really want to accomplish when planning a project, rather than just looking at the “dream!” I enjoy your blog!

  14. Cindy Quinlan says:

    I think you should sew what you will wear. Those of us who live in cooler climates can follow along with other sewing blogs to find our cooler weather sewing projects, but I think yours are great patterns and can always be layered under sweaters or jackets. I’m planning on sewing several of your patterns for the summer and really look forward to your newsletters in my e-mail. You have great topics and are always interesting and frequently funny. I love your site.


    • Deby Coles says:

      Thank you very much Cindy, I’m glad you like to read what I’ve been up to each week. Some are more productive than others, but a week without sewing would be a week without sunshine!

  15. claudia says:

    Hi, thinking of all the clothes I wear at home are tees and pants. I live where summers are short so I like to make dresses for both going shopping and at home. In the winter time (-50) it all layers, boots, hats, gloves ect. If you can, maybe teach us about cotton/knits and sweater type of patterns? Thank you for all that you do.

  16. Nita says:

    That’s the way I shop…for the life in my dreams, not the life I live, lol! So I have a closet full of clothes I cannot wear anywhere. My goal for this year is to learn how to sew a dress. A dress that I will wear. A light summer frock that I can wear in the yard or in the grocery store. As a very first project, that should be manageable, eh?

    • Deby Coles says:

      You already have great sewing skills, I can tell by your quilts, so you’ll find no trouble in making the perfect dress I’m sure. And I love the posts about the belly-dancing! Fascinating.

  17. Nancy says:

    This is an area that has been on my brain for awhile as I usually sew for others, leaving me no time to sew for me- so I tend to buy off the rack- which I don’t generally like the fit. Time to sew for me is going to be a priority now.

  18. Carole says:

    I too have a wardrobe full of clothes but, never anything to wear. I need to re-evaluate and clear out for the charity shops as through illness can no longer work and also need to concentrate on everyday essentials. Why is it that you have so many lovely sewing patterns AND I have downloaded/purchased them all yet still I search your site for even more of a good thing. Time for me too to stop buying sparkly never to sew but beautiful to look at fabrics and concentrate a more knits and sew items I can wear daily. Thank you so much for providing so much information, sharing your skills and enthusiasm and motivating all your followers

    • Deby Coles says:

      It’s an absolute pleasure Carole. I’m working on new ideas all the time and hope to bring out a new top, a skirt and another dress over the coming months. It’s a lot of work, but I really enjoy doing it, and love to see so many being downloaded. Sounds like you have a love for the luxury fabrics too – they are so hard to resist, but rarely practical!

      • ROBIN says:

        You are so inspiring. But I have yet to make anything from the many downloads from your site. I am a quilter so mostly have quilting cotton. And, I guess I just don’t manage my time well. If I could stay off the computer a lot more, I know that’s one of my huge time eaters. I so much want to learn to sew my own clothes, but just can’t make myself get started. I also have a huge number of Craftsy classes just waiting to be viewed. I’m a sad sack!

    • Shannon says:

      Carole, I’m in the same situation. I finally admitted that I don’t need dozens(!!) of pairs of pantyhose, as I haven’t worn any at all in six years! The same goes for the office essentials, skirts, jackets, slacks, that I will never need again. What I need are Deby’s basics, comfy, easy to wear knits!

  19. Lorna says:

    I used to wear a lot of what I sewed, flashy scrub tops and plain cargo pants, but have now retired and no longer need them (I was an ER nurse), I would like to sew more clothes and love your tops but its cold here so will wait till summer to try them. Right now am sewing quilts so my stash is mostly cottons.

    • Deby Coles says:

      I’m trying to bring out some patterns which could be warm or cool to cater to people all over the world Lorna. The cowl neck top has sleeves, as does the latest dress. And I’m working on another top for the cooler weather too with a warm neckline and long sleeves as well. It’s just so very hot to test them!

  20. Diya says:

    I typed a big comment and I dunno what happened it seemed to have disappeared 🙁 Anyway interesting topic Deby.. I generally prefer making everyday wearables. I dont need to make any jackets or coats as the weather does not suit it .. 🙂

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