Photo: Kirstin Sinclair
We’ve been shopping enough to know that there are no standard sizes when it comes to ‘ready-to-wear’ clothing. The system in place is erratic at best and emotionally manipulative at worst. (Anyone who’s ever hauled several sizes of the same garment into the dressing room knows what I’m talking ‘bout.)
With vanity sizing, you can go from being a size 8 in one store to a size 12 in another without gaining so much as a pound. And when you try on 14 pairs of trousers just to buy one, you can easily wind up thinking something’s wrong with your body.
We often end up judging ourselves based on an arbitrary number. One way to fix this is to stop forcing your apple-shaped figure into the bean-shaped ideal drawn up by retail conglomerates and simply do it yourself. When you learn how to sew, you quickly realise your own body is bespoke.
As Karen Ball of Did You Make That? writes in the Guardian (UK), it’s about creating clothes that fit your dimensions rather than your ‘size’. When you sew your own clothes, the only person you need to please is yourself. And in terms of positive body influences, that puts it right up there with yoga.
When altering a pattern, you’re forced to look at your body objectively and become aware of your own proportions. You notice the particulars of your shape – the fact that your right shoulder sits slightly higher than your left, your narrow chest and your rounded bottom (or lack of) – which is liberating in itself. As blogger Saillie Oleta Barbee writes, “Being able to say, ‘The problem is not that my body doesn't fit into these clothes; the problem is that these clothes are not made for my body,’ is huge.”
Armed with your measuring tape, the factual numbers you jot down don’t carry the same stigma as the dress sizes dished up by chain stores. “Measurements become a tool for work, rather than a value judgment,” explains Ball. To get a garment to fit you properly at the bust, waist and hips, you can easily be a range of sizes with any one pattern – making it silly for you to define yourself with a singular number. As Meigan from Get My Stich On says, “The more I sew, the more I realise that size is just a line to cut out on a pattern. Without fit and flattery, size is meaningly.”
Learning how to sew transforms your relationship with the clothes you wear. You become less reliant on factory fashion and less alienated from the production process that goes into making things. As Kelli from True Bias says, “I think I deserve to look great now, and sewing is a gift I have been given that allows me to dress my body, no matter what size I currently am.”
You don’t need to be a Project Runway contestant to master the basics of needlework. Though it’s easier said than done (and may very well conjure up painful memories of Home Economics), that doesn’t mean you should give up before you’ve even started. Grab a guidebook or two, hit up an instructional clip or ask your mother to teach you how to use your nana’s industrial Singer. You’ll soon find that picking out a vintage Butterick pattern and spontaneous roll of fabric can be just as invigorating as any other fashion purchase. And, best of all, you’ll end up with something that fits you perfectly.
Or, in the very least, you'll stop shamefully schlepping home to your parents place whenever you need get a button sewn back on.