Hot! Project Ideas: Making My Own Clothes

One of my personal goals for this year is to become a bit more self-sufficient.  I started last year with my gardening efforts and teaching myself to cook, and but one of the big things I’d like to conquer this year is learning to make my own clothes.  I’ve noticed that in this day and age, in order to have clothes that fit well and that are in good shape, I’m constantly replacing items of clothing.  Maybe it’s because I’m historically-minded and know that this isn’t how clothing worked throughout much of history, but I’m getting fed up with the constant treadmill of clothes that I seem to be on.  I want to get off.

I’ve sewn quite a bit of clothing for reenacting, but I have never made a single garment for me to wear in my everyday life.  I’m not sure why I’ve never attempted to make clothes that aren’t explicitly for reenacting, but I haven’t.  I intend to change that this year, for several reasons.

First of all, nothing I buy ever fits me properly.  I’m very short (5’0″) but also very curvy (155lbs), and yet I still have an hourglass figure, which means that pretty much no clothing ever fits even remotely properly off the rack.  I hate wearing ill-fitting clothing, and I hate having to alter something I’ve bought.  Even when I find something that mostly fits, if I gain or lose any weight, it goes from acceptable to uncomfortable rather quickly, something that wouldn’t happen if it fit properly in the first place.  It would be nice to have something that actually fits me well from the start, and I suspect that I would be able to wear the clothes for longer and through a wider range of weights.

I also am very hard on my clothes.  Poor quality clothes from Old Navy or H&M last about 6 months to a year with me before becoming literally worn through in places.  Pants in particular seem to be lasting me about 4-5 months on average, which is simply appalling in my book.  I feel that if I can make clothes out of tougher, higher quality materials, and make them fit properly so that there aren’t friction spots, they will last longer even though the raw materials cost more.

I have my own style, and it’s hard to find.  I’m a big tomboy, and though I love menswear, it’s not typically flattering to my figure.  I love vintage stuff, but I don’t want to walk around feeling like I’m in a costume.  Though I’ve been enjoying the recent retro influence on fashion (menswear seems to be on a 1930s workwear kick, which is awesome!), I would love to be able to make unique clothing that is vintage inspired, rather than being completely vintage, by updating older patterns.  I would also love to be able to take menswear patterns and re-tailor them to my own shape, to make them more figure-flattering.

Once I finish my more pressing project of getting my 18th century campfollower impression up to snuff (stays, shift, bedgown), I think that this is the next thing I want to work on.



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  1. I wholeheartedly agree. Learning to use my sewing machine to tailor my clothes is a goal of mine (i’m starting small). I don’t like being a slave to brands or prevailing trends, either. I look forward to seeing what you make!

  2. Hey Kelsey, I completely agree, being a fellow reenactor, tailor, milliner, and apprentice-cordwainer. Something you might want to check out is DeviantArt if you haven’t already. After I make something, I’ll generally post it on my profile there. It’s a place where artists of many mediums post their artwork. There are many like-minded individuals on DeviantArt, so if you were to make a profile and post about it, I’m sure you’ll be invited to numerous historically-inspired clothing groups. I think I’m a member of at least one or two on there. Anyways, it’s just a recommendation. If this is something you really want to do, I think you should definitely check it out. Your blog here just reminded me of a strikingly similar conversation I had with a friend on DeviantArt a while back…

    • I’m very familiar with DeviantArt and have had a profile on there for 10+ years, but I never knew there were tailors on there. I’ll take a look.

  3. My wife and I started making our own clothes a few years ago. I got tired of paying $250.00 plus for a jacket and for my wife would spent weekends looking for a dress, now makes her own. We use only authentic patterns from a few selective vendors such as Charlie Childs for military items. When you make your own stuff, you’ll have a better appreciation of what went into that garment such as the research and the time hand detailing the finished project. The question is always asked by the public, “Did you make that?” which opens up another avenue that you can use as part of your interpreter program. Older people love to hear your experiences when you make your own.

    • I think you may have misunderstood – I’m not talking about making my own reenacting clothes (which I already do), I’m talking about making my own clothes for daily wear. My t-shirts and shorts, socks, etc.

  4. I’ve been re-enacting (and LARPing) for a few years now and have recently taken the decision to pay somewhat more for my work clothes by getting my tailor to make the new trousers (and matching waistcoats) that I want/need, and probably to get her to make some new work shirts too.

    The main problem being that now I’ve experienced well made, well fitting clothes I just don’t want to settle for less day to day!

  5. Imagine you have already, but if not you can try places like Decades of Style (and to a lesser degree Folkwear) .. there are some “Hepburn” style menswear patterns out there, plus other things of interest that can be re-tailored or changed around if you have reasonable experience sewing (which you obviously do).

    I would be interested in see what you find for socks (other than the basic knitting stuff you see on places like Ravelry and Knitty).

    • Thanks for the Decades of Style suggestion! I’ve found quite a lot in the last few days, but hadn’t come across them before.

      As for socks, I’m probably just going to do a very simple, single or two-color pattern. I want to be able to churn them out fairly quickly and have never been a big fan of decoration in clothing.

  6. I haven’t gotten into making my own clothes as much as I would like. At the moment, I don’t have time, which means that I shall have to find the time (which probably wouldn’t be a bad idea). But my first garment was a sundress, which my mother helped me to draft. I’m always a bit wobbly on the sewing machine, but when I get into it, I find that tend to pay close attention to close work.

    My mother says that one of the ways she learned to sew is that my grandmother, who was a very good seamstress (and still is, even in old age, though she doesn’t sew as much anymore) would make them unpick a garment that needed replacing so they could essentially deconstruct it and learn its structure.

    I agree with you regarding ill-fitting clothing and having an appreciation of how a garment comes together. I’m definitely a bit more feminine, but I do love the menswear look as well.