garment sewing

Garment Sewing Thoughts From a Scrap Quilter

Linden sweatshirt

May 1 - Me Made May begins. Do you participate? The whole point is to showcase the garments you make and wear. It’s rather quite awesome. And it falls the week after Fashion Revolution, so it seems fitting.

Don’t know about Fashion Revolution? It started in response to the horrible Rana Plaza factory collapse 6 years ago. The factory was making what is known as Fast Fashion. The cheap, generally considered disposable clothing found all over the world. Have you bought a cotton knit t-shirt for less than $10? That’s Fast Fashion. This article is a great backgrounder and motivator.

Last week I had the privilege to speak at a Fashion Revolution YYC event. To be honest, I am not entirely sure why I was invited, but I am glad I was. The panel conversation was about what we, as local makers, can do to address Fast Fashion. It ended up being so much more than that. Today I want to talk about two of the things that came up for me during the evening.

Plus Size Fast Fashion

Plus Size Gets Left Out, Again

I am a plus size woman. And I know I am far from alone. But the vast majority of sustainable or eco conscious clothing is not made for me. Whether that is in the sizing or the style, it just isn’t much of an option.

How many artisan markets have you been to with gorgeous clothes, the maker right there full of enthusiasm and inspiration, only to discover your leg would barely fit in their samples for sale? That large seems like a small? It’s at the point where I don’t even look at clothing at any market.

At the end of the day my shopping choices are limited and 95% of them are going to be Fast Fashion. Even if I want to spend more money for high quality clothing that I will love and take care of, I can’t find it. It exists in such miniscule amounts that the search is like finding hidden treasure. And no matter how much I spend on jeans or what they are made of, my thighs are going to rub and wear out.

Two suggestions for making even your fast fashion last longer.

  1. Take care of it. I treat my Gap Outlet shirts the same as I treat everything else. A lot of handwashing and lay flat to dry. Yes it takes longer but it also means I am not treating my clothing as disposable. A valuable mindset for sustainability.

  2. Mend. I will admit, the visible mending trend is not generally something I would go for. It just isn’t my personal style. But there are beautiful examples out there to inspire. Plus, I can fix a button, rehem when necessary, or even alter something to be a bit new.

The Waste When You Make

Making your own clothes is a glorious solution to Fast Fashion. You get fit, colour, and sizing that works for you. You also get waste.

As a quilter I am used to accumulating, keeping, and using scraps of fabric. As an amateur garment sewer, I also keep accumulate and sort my scraps. BUT they are often not the same substrate as my quilting cottons scraps, nor do they always act the same way.

  • So I keep my knit scraps all together. In my head I will one day turn them into a braided rug or mat.

  • Anything cotton or linen does get put with my quilting cotton scraps. I find that you can mix woven naturals easily.

  • The rest? Well, I haven’t sewn with silk and only once with rayon, so I am not quite sure what to do when them.

Bags, mats, small projects, all can be made with your garment scraps. Providing you trim and sort them because, unlike quilting, you are going to have a lot of weird shaped pieces.

My pet peeve, however, with sewing plus size clothing is the fabric cutting. More than one pattern I’ve used has a different cutting layout as soon as you jump above a size 12. Sure, it makes sense. Bigger clothing means more fabric. What I often find, though, is that the change in cutting lay out leads to a lot of fabric scraps. Whereas I could snuggle my pieces together and be left with random bits, that jump to plus size often means large strips of fabric left untouched and significantly greater fabric requirements.

Look at all that extra fabric!

Look at all that extra fabric!

Much better.

Much better.

Now, I know that grading patterns (changing the sizes) is difficult work. I admire the pattern designers tremendously. But I do not think this jump makes sense. My instinct kicks in and I want to see something more sensible, even though I know it isn’t easy.

Let me give you a super simplified example. When I design a quilt pattern I like to minimize waste. I design block sizes and cutting instructions so you don’t have useless bits leftover or large swaths of fabric untouched. I’ve even changed patterns I wrote to make this easier. So can’t garment pattern designers working with plus size options, design the pattern to maximize the cut fabric? Put a seam down the back so you can cut from less fabric, for example?

Again, I am NOT a garment pattern designer, but I do wonder if things like this are feasible? I’ve also not yet tried some patterns from Cashmerette, a well known plus size pattern designer. Maybe she does this? Or is it even considered? Food for thought.

I won’t be wearing homemade for all of May, but I am using #memademay as a motivation to make a few more things. I plan a Driftless Cardigan and a Kalle Shirtdress. You can be darn sure I will be saving those scraps!

Kalle Shirtdress fabric

A Year of Garment Sewing - 13 Things I've Learned.

This represents a year of garment sewing. (Minus one sweatshirt and two skirts hanging in other people's closets.) I am suitably impressed with myself.

A year ago I tried making a Linden sweatshirt, then another, and another. I made one more a few months ago. Two years ago I still would have said that I will never sew clothes. Now I have a collection of patterns in the To Make pile and I stash garment fabric. I hardly know myself!

Yet, I am so drawn to garment sewing. I know why, too. This has become my hobby. In order to avoid complete burnout with quilting being my career I needed another outlet. I'm not so keen on other crafts with a small house and limited time. Plus, I really, really like my sewing room. Sure, I could, and do, read in there. But sewing is what I really want to do. If quilting is just too much that day I pull out my tracing paper and already prewashed garment fabric. They are relatively quick finishes compared to quilts, another bonus. Finally, making a garment is a palette cleanser for me. A reward when I finish a quilt, a quick project between big quilts, something to take advantage of a clean cutting table before I mess it up again.

In this past year I've learned a few things about garment sewing.

  • When you are told to use a rayon or poly thread, use it. I had the quilting mindset and was all cotton all the way. But cotton thread has little give and ripped seams in my knits are the results. I've remade one sweatshirt and rehemmed a few others.
  • Make a muslin or test piece. It helps with fit and to work out any confusion that might come with construction. I've been making mine out of solid cottons when the pattern calls for a woven - they are generally cheaper and I can resuse them back for quilt scraps. I make wearables with the knits, knowing I can donate it if it doesn't work out for me.
  • Yet, there are times when you make something and it looks great, but it just isn't you. 
  • Adjusting a pattern isn't that big of a deal.
  • Spend the money on tracing paper. I always trace my patterns instead of cutting the original. It is easier to make changes and then make multiple sizes, if necessary. Like if your best friend asks really nicely for a sweatshirt.
  • Storing the patterns after tracing is a pain. So too when you print a PDF pattern. I've taken to saving paper towel and gift wrap tubes and storing patterns in those.
  • A serger would make my life so much easier, but I really don't know where I would put it. I might have to figure out that detail though.
  • Just because the pattern is popular doesn't mean it will be right for you, for your body. And that's totally okay. If you aren't sure, hit the mall and try on something in a similar style. Then determine if the style works and/or if you could adjust the pattern for yourself.
  • Voile, once washed and sewn in a garment does not drape as I expected.
  • It will almost always take longer than you thought it would.
  • Unless you have the most basic of sewing machines, there are a lot of stitches on your machine that are your friend. Discovering the blind hem stitch and how to use it was a game changer for me, for example.
  • Nearly every independent pattern I've used has extensive resources online. Maybe not from the designer themselves, but a google search will pull up blogs, reviews, and tutorials that can help you with your sewing.
  • Garment sewing is not nearly as scary as I remembered from my Home Ec days.

Here is what I have made this past year. When I hung them all together like this I was shocked. I didn't realize I had made this much!

There is a stack of fabric and patterns waiting for more of my time. I wish I could tackle the pants I want to make for the kids, the linen pants for me, a skirt out of Liberty, find the right pattern for the silk/cotton I recently picked up... The list goes on. And I'm pretty excited about that.