pondering why i sew things

So I’ve been reading all these amazing posts by Zoe over at So Zo… lately and emailing with my friend Birgitte of Indigo Orchid about patterns (we met in school a few years ago when I was her flat pattern 1 TA!) which has been causing me to think about why I sew my own clothes and what my goal is for this if I have one at all. I guess it’s the time of the year for reflection eh?

First off you might be wondering why there’s a plush burger up top there. That little burger is my first attempt at using a sewing machine. I think I was maybe 10 when my friend Sarah and I each made a fabric burger with the help of my mom. Amazingly all of these fabrics were in her fabric box. I think the cheese may have been part of a Sprite she made me one year, otherwise I have no idea why she would own that fabric! Like most sewers as a child I watched my mom sew, she made most of our clothes and a lot of our toys as well. I would help her pick out my fabrics and patterns and one day I asked if I could sew. She bought me two books aimed at teaching children to use a sewing machine (they were awesome) and we went to town. I didn’t really get that into it until college though. Instead of spending time in the darkroom like I should have been I was cutting patterns on my apartment floor. This is when I decided that I needed to study fashion design and 2 years after graduating with my photo degree I did just that, focusing most of my studies on the technical side of the process and patternmaking. I got my first job as a patternmaker here in town halfway through my final year in school through one of my teachers who was leaving the position, which was lucky as it made graduating with a fashion degree much easier.

I really started sewing for myself around December 2009 shortly after I started this blog which was sort of a kick to get myself making things for myself. After graduating I had (and still have) mega student loans from 2 degrees and was hoping to save some cash and expand my wardrobe of 2 pairs of jeans, assorted v-neck American Apparel t-shirts and other grubby cheap clothing with some handmade clothes. This blog actually didn’t start out so sewing centric but that theme has definitely taken over. So after that super long into here is my list of the reasons that I sew for myself.

1. I am broke and have sort of expensive taste. I also hate spending what little money I have on cheaply made clothes that will fall apart after a few wears and washes. The only way to make this work is to make my own things because I am super anti-credit card debt. I saved about $700 on my Melton Wool Coat from the original (which is not really saving as I could never have spent that money in reality) and paid the same as if I had bought a knockoff from somewhere like Zara or H&M except that mine is 100% melton wool instead of a poly blend and will last much longer making it cheaper (and warmer) in the long run.

2. I love making patterns which is why I am a patternmaker by trade, duh Jen! At work I make the patterns that someone else designs, another person  sews and a third person wears. For hound I make the patterns that I design, I sew them up and someone else wears them. By making my own clothes I am the designer, patternmaker, seamstress and recipient.

3. It’s extremely rewarding. I’m not even sure why, just making this thing that you can wear is so amazing. At this point none of my friends even ask me if I’ve made any particular garment that I’m wearing anymore so it’s not that I like saying “Oh, yeah…I made it.” It just feels great to know that I made this thing that I’m using all the time. The same goes for making clothes for friends and family as gifts as well as making patterns that enable other people to make these things too.

So that’s it. As far as a goal for all this sewing, I don’t feel that I need to sew every article of clothing I have but I would definitely like to expand my sewing further over the next year. At this point I assume that most people who read this blog are sewers or knitters or some sort of makers. If so, I’m interested to know why do you make what you make?

15 replies on “pondering why i sew things

  • martha

    I’d say numbers 1 and 3 are pretty similar to my own reasons for making my own things. Also, I find it really hard to find the right things to dress my kids in if I didn’t make some of their clothes. Though I do find it sort of problematic at times, like when I see something I like at a store at a reasonable price, and I still say “well I could make that.”

    • jen | grainline

      Haha I say that all the time. I’ll be at H&M or something like that and say Oh, I could make that! but why on earth would I? Delusions. Your kids are so lucky to be able to wear your handmade clothes and handknits, so beautiful.

  • molly

    First off, the hamburger is pretty cool and would make great gifts for children.
    I also say that 1 and 2 are reasons I sew, I like the process of putting the flat pieces together like a puzzle. Mostly I just sew for fun, so I don’t feel the need learn couture techniques and such. It’s really cool to hear about your sewing history though, everyone has a unique story.

  • Sascha

    I am so glad my mom taught me how to sew at such a young age. I wish she had also taught me knitting (I learned that as an adult and I suck). I love that when I think of sewing something I never feel nervous about how it will turn out. I just get a sense of relaxation. I used to sew for myself in 5th or 6th grade and then again in my early 20’s. I took about a 10 year sewing break which I seriously regret. What was I thinking??? Now I sew because I like making unique clothing for my kids. I imagine I’m like most people who wish there were more hours in the day available for quiet sewing/crafting/knitting time.

  • Sophie

    I took up sewing two years ago because it was a new direction to take my creative spirit. And now, like yourself, I don’t think I will ever get over the thrill of wearing something I’ve made. Now I want to have an entire wardrobe of beautiful hand-made clothes and I like the challenge of sewing. It must be so satisfying to be able to start with an idea, make the pattern, find the fabric and then make your clothes. Very inspiring!

  • Carolyn

    There are so many reasons why I make things– I like knowing and learning how different things are constructed- it appeals to my mathematical side. Its a great creative outlet– and makes me think creatively on a piece by piece level– as well as on an overall wardrobe level (designing something to fit in with everything else you have). I cherise clothes that I have knit or sewn because of all the effort put into it – I know everything stitch – and this makes them much more valuable to me than a $400 item could ever be. Cute hamburger by the way. The first few things I made were pencil cases for school.

  • Kristen

    Well said! Great post. I sew/knit for the very same reasons. I have very specific taste and don’t just shop for things I don’t need. I tend to think on what is missing from my wardrobe, plan out specific aspects that I want out of that piece and eventually make it. It saves money and makes my wardrobe so much more meaningful and long-lasting. LOVE that burger by the way!

  • satsuki shibuya

    what a wonderful post! i thoroughly enjoyed reading it. it’s so nice to hear the thoughts behind the creator and more importantly why they do what they do. i definitely can relate to the feelings you have of wearing what you created with your own two hands except i guess for my case it would be using the things i make for the home. 🙂 i am also a stickler for quality in terms of construction & materials used, so can understand the need to be able to make it from the things that you feel are worth the spending. i’m slowly starting to venture into sewing my own clothes from patterns & hoping to be able to make some from your collection soon!

  • paige w.

    I remember you showing me that hamburger! I think it has been so awesome to see you go from photo major to super amazing fashion designer. I’m always your number one fan lady!! xo

  • Kelli

    For me, I sew as a creative outlet. Sometimes the thing I am making works out, sometimes it doesn’t, but I absolutely love the process. I feel that by not only making clothing, but also by wearing that clothing, I am a walking piece of my own creativity. I don’t know why I love that so much, but I do. I just love it.

  • Grace

    I love this post. I share a lot of your reasons for sewing, and interestingly I share a similar background. I love the burger first sewing project! Mine was a doll quilt made with my grandmother. Happy Holidays!

  • Zoe

    Hi Jen,

    Thanks so much for the shout-out and for taking the time to share your own experience, it was wonderful to read. You are SUCH a talented sewer and pattern maker, there’s no way you could buy clothing as fantastic as the stuff you make. If you didn’t sew your own clothes, I feel you’d been doing yourself a disservice! That’s so great that you still have the original hamburger creation, it is such a lovely object in its own right, and even more so when put into context as you have done.

    Thanks again and wishing you a wonderful new year
    Zoe xxx

  • jen | grainline

    Thanks for all your comments everyone, it’s been so inspiring ready about your sewing journeys. It’s so so amazing to find a community of people who share your reasons for sewing and love for sewing as well. Here’s to us!!

  • Lavender

    I love that you’ve shared this. I love getting absorbed into creating something. I could spend long hours in the darkroom (though don’t like long hours digitally post-processing), and am the same at the sewing machine. Numbers 1 and 3 are tops on my list (I am extremely anti-cc debt, too! been there, done that!), and I only wish I could say number 2 was also it for me. It’s only now that I want to study patternmaking, but don’t quite know where/how to begin, and don’t want to go back into huge student loan debt.

  • trula

    I agree with many of your points – I find it very rewarding and don’t want to spend a fortune on clothes I like. I also want my kids to know that there’s an alternative to just buying everything. BTW, I really like your website.


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