Getting Creative With Your Clothes

First of all, thank you for all of the comments on my last post. I was so happy to read that so many of you find sewing to be such a help. I’m a real believer in the fact that any activity can be turned into an opportunity to practice self-care. Even something as simple as brushing your teeth can be a chance for some mindfulness meditation. So it’s no wonder that something as creative and involved as sewing can provide such a wonderful avenue for managing our day-to-day struggles. Sewing gives us boundless opportunities to pour ourselves into creating beautiful clothes. And there is so much that we can do give them that extra special edge.

One of the things I’ve most enjoyed about learning to sew has been the ability to make my clothes a truly individual creation. When I’m working with any pattern, one of the first things I do is try to come up with ways that I can make the garment totally personal to me. This extra level of creativity is, to me, one of the most important ways in which I connect to sewing as an activity that really lifts me out of the doldrums. And over the course of the past two years, I’ve come up with a few go-to ways to add that extra bit of quirkiness to my makes. In the name of both creativity and self-care, I wanted to share some of them with you today. So here is a list of my favourite ways to get super creative with my makes:

1. Highlight Shapes and Break Up Busyness with Piping

My first foray into piping was for the Big Vintage Sew-Along last year. I’d never thought about using piping before but the shape of my chosen pattern was just screaming for something additional.

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The dress’ front panels are perhaps the most interesting thing about the garment. To make the whole thing in one fabric would essentially hide this detail. Sewing some piping into these front panels ensured that the shape was one the first things you notice when looking at the dress. Plus it gave me an opportunity to really develop my colour palette. I was keen to replicate the sailor-esque colours that were so popular during the 1930s. Paired with the white buttons and blue crepe fabric, the red piping really hammered home the authentic 1930s look that I was shooting for.

Piping is also a super effective way to get creative when trying simply to break up a busy garment. I had this problem when I was sewing up the Simplicity 1221 vintage apron. I had chosen a really beautiful fabric that I was super keen to use. I also knew that I wanted to make the version of the apron that had big ruffles attached to the sleeves. All-in-all this promised to turn out an overly busy creation where the details were lost to the distracting fabric.

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The way that I contended with this was a return to my trusty piping method! I attached some white piping in between the front panel and the ruffled straps. This super simple addition served to give the eye a bit of a break from the dots, flowers, and strawberries.

Piping is definitely one of my favourite methods for really getting creative with patterns. It’s simple to do and always looks super effective. Not to mention, everyone will be super impressed with your skills!

2. Choose an Extra Interesting Lining

I honestly hate attaching lining so much. It really is the worst thing. I’m working with lining on my Cocktail Hour project and it is seriously horrible. Somehow I always have issues getting the lining to match up with the shell fabric correctly. Just about the only time it has gone right for me was with the Beignet Skirt. This skirt was one of my first makes, inspired solely by the fabulous fabric I found to use as the lining.

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I discovered this William Morris fabric in my local fabric shop while I was living in Colchester, and I was honestly blown away by it. Looking at it, I knew that it would be too busy as an actual garment (although I’m sure there are a lot of people who could actually pull it off!). But as a lining, how perfect! I remember posting this make and getting comments about why I would hide away such a fabulous fabric. But, honestly, it never even occurred to me that I was hiding it. As far as I was concerned, I knew that it was there. And this extra secret detail was exactly the sort of thing that made sewing such a perfect creative outlet for me!

I’ve hoarded the remnants of this particular fabric ever since and recently used it on my Tyyni trousers as another cute hidden curiosity!

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So if you’re looking for a seriously easy way to give your garment that extra bit of quirkiness and you have lining or pocket opportunities, definitely think about fabric choice. It’s your chance to go a bit crazy and use that gorgeous fabric that you weren’t quite sure what to do with!

3. Experiment with Colour-Blocking

I’ve only just started working with the potentials of colour-blocking (and I’m not even sure that my approach really counts). When I picked up my amazing Harry Potter fabric, I was pretty well settled on having a go at making the Zadie dress from Tilly and the Buttons. One of the best things about this pattern is the neat use of shapes. As with the Big Vintage Sew-Along dress, I knew that the shape would get lost in using the same fabric for the whole garment. But, since the Zadie dress demands knit fabric, piping wouldn’t really be an option. So I set about finding a plain fabric that would complement my fabulous Harry Potter knit.

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This dress still isn’t finished due to various construction issues. But I love the black fabric against the mustard yellow. Once again, it stops the garment from looking too busy, while also drawing the eye to the shapes. Not to mention that it is yet another way to achieve that additional level of creativity with a pattern. There’s something incredibly satisfying about looking at a pattern and thinking up ways to make it even more interesting! I’d be super interested to see any examples you have of using colour-blocking. This is something that I’ve only just started to think about – and I do struggle a bit with knowing whether or not colours really fit together. So I’m always looking to you fabulous sewists for inspiration!

4. Work with Patches

This discovery was very much a happy accident. If you were following the blog back in spring, you’ll remember that I was working away on the muslin for my wedding dress. This project, more than any other, really honed my skills when it came to achieving perfect fit. Unfortunately, at the very end of the project (I was literally trimming down the back seam as a final step), I accidentally cut through the main fabric on the back of the dress. This left a massive hole right in the centre-back.

Needless to say, many tears and much sadness followed. But then a thought occurred to me. Why not just patch it?! Since it was a pre-wedding dress make in navy blue – with white polka dots – I figured that dotting some red heart patches around the dress would be a fabulously appropriate addition. I was honestly terrified that it would make the dress look super kitschy but it ended up working perfectly!

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I’ve become such an advocate of cute patches. And they were super easy to make. I simply drew some heart shapes onto paper (for a more complex shape, you might want to find a template online), attached them to the fabric and cut out the number I wanted. I attached iron-on interfacing to them in order to stop fraying and then top-stitched them onto the dress. The whole process took me about an hour and I honestly couldn’t imagine the dress without them!

I haven’t seen a lot of use of patches out there. So, once again, let me know if you’ve used any in the past. One of the great things about using patches is that there are so many available to buy online! The hardest part is deciding where they might be appropriate to use. So if you have any inspiration to provide, please send it my way!


So there we go. Some quick and (relatively easy) tips for kickstarting your creativity. For me, this goes hand-in-hand with last week’s post about sewing for self-care. While making the pattern as written is still a super joyful process, I honestly get most involved in finding ways to add a truly personal touch to my makes. Not only is it the perfect method for developing your sewing skills, it is also a great reminder of how fantastically creative you are. Happy accident or purposeful decision, be brave and take a chance!

If you have any of your own tips to share, please leave a comment or send me an email. I’m always looking for new techniques to try out!

 

Sewing for Self-Care

Most long-time readers of Sew for Victory will know that I came to sewing during a battle with severe anxiety. At the time, I was stuck in a state of permanent physical panic and was working to find a solution that lay outside of a doctor’s office. Although sewing was by no means a cure, it took me out of my head and let me put all of my issues on pause for a brief period of time. Since then, things have really turned around for me. While I never count myself totally free and clear, I now have a whole toolkit of self-care techniques that keep me in check.

That said, it’s inevitable that new battles emerge. I mentioned in my post on Monday that I’ve been on a bit of a blog hiatus while I’ve been dealing with a bad bout of homesickness. It’s been about 5 months since I moved to the US and it’s definitely not been the easiest transition in the world. Anyone who has moved country knows that it comes replete with challenges. Since I’ve lived in the US before – albeit for brief periods of time – and I was also going to be moving closer to my parents – who are English but have lived in the US for about 12 years – I figured it would be super easy. Not to mention that I was actually going to be back with my then-fiance and finally able to get married. But I’ve learnt that none of this is a guard against missing what you’re used to.

My instinct when I feel down is always to wrap myself up on the sofa and binge on some reality TV. But I know, after many years of figuring this stuff out, that this rarely works to turn things around. So, after letting myself mope for a couple of weeks, I’m back on my self-care game with a vengeance. And, in light of what I’ve been going through recently, I wanted to share my tips for using sewing as a method of self-care!

*An important side-note: sewing is definitely not a cure for mental illness. I got better through a whole range of things, including help from doctors and therapists. But, for me, the holistic approach always works best. Sewing is a huge component of how I maintain my happiness and positivity and I definitely recommend creative endeavours to anyone struggling. But I absolutely see this as a companion to other kinds of intervention. Please make sure to pay a visit to your doctor or call a helpline if you are in a bad way.*

  1. Pick a project that works for you

It’s important that, when you’re sewing during a difficult time, you have a plan. Since my mind is typically all over the place when I’m feeling down, it’s especially difficult to focus. The beauty of sewing is that its very nature demands your attention. So, before you sit down at your sewing table, make sure you know what it is that you’re going to be working on. Otherwise there’s a good chance that you’ll spend the next 30 minutes staring into space whilst you try to decide what your next project will be, ultimately leaving you frustrated and feeling a bit like you’ve failed.

In order to help with this, I have a designated monthly page in my bullet journal where I plan out my projects for the month. Although I might not get around to all of them, it gives me a clear vision of what I have lined up. For each project, I then break down into bullet points the specific things I need to work on. For instance: cut pattern pieces; cut fabric pieces; construction; seam finishes. This list can really get as detailed as you want it to. Have a look at the photo further down in my post to see how this looks in practice (*disclaimer: I am artistically challenged*).

I’ve found that keeping track of projects in my bullet journal is a really helpful way of avoiding the inevitable fuzzy-brain that accompanies anxiety, depression, stress, homesickness etc. I tend to set up my sewing page a couple of weeks in advance each month so that I can develop my plans on a rolling basis, when I’m in a good frame of mind. This gives you the flexibility of avoiding making these decisions when your mind isn’t in the best place. And it gives you a super accessible and well thought out reference point for when you’re feeling down but know that you want to sew.

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2.  Set aside some time, daily

Now, this may not work for everyone. I have the luxury of flexibility when it comes to structuring and planning my day. But some people have other obligations that might keep them from designating daily sewing time, or they might just have a whole list of self-care techniques that they choose to mix and match. However, when I’m feeling at my lowest, it’s helpful for me to commit to sewing as a daily activity. This means that, even if I only spend 5 minutes at my sewing table, I’m actively carving out time to focus on something that I love to do.

For me, the best strategy is not telling myself that I must be chained to my sewing room for a pre-allocated amount of time. I don’t force myself to sit for an hour, or even 15 minutes. Instead, I simply commit to sitting at my sewing table on a daily basis and seeing where it takes me. Most of the time, I expect to give up within a couple of minutes. But, more often than not, I get quickly engaged in the activity and end up sitting there for  well over an hour.

Since most of us, when we feel down, end up stuck in a cycle of lethargy and guilt, finding something to commit to daily is a super important step. Sometimes this commitment will be something as seemingly small as getting dressed in the morning, or making sure that you eat three meals. I’ve had days where these things are a massive victory. Investing in a creative project is a demanding thing and sometimes you won’t quite be up to the task. Be kind to yourself and acknowledge what’s achievable for you.

3.  Acknowledge what you’ve achieved

This follows on from what I said above and also relates back to bullet journaling. It is absolutely vital that you find some way of keeping track of what you’re achieving. My bullet journal is one component of this because it allows me to check things off of my list. The act of doing this is incredibly satisfying. But it’s vital that you also keep a daily log of what you’ve done, where you’re actively noting what you’ve achieved. This can be as simple as writing down ‘I sat for 5 minutes and planned out my projects for November’, or ‘I finally started to attach the sleeves to my top’, or ‘I actually got around to changing the threads in my serger. It was a nightmare’. Just making a note of these things, however seemingly small, is so important. It promotes a feeling of accomplishment and success – which we all need on a rolling basis, but is particularly necessary when we’re feeling blue. I also find it helps to note down how I’m feeling about what I’ve done. Maybe getting myself to sit down at my sewing machine was super hard that day or maybe I feel particularly triumphant. This all provides a great record of your progress and your achievements.

You could make a project of this record, as I’ve done with keeping my bullet journal (although sewing is just one small component of what goes into my journal). You might even use a blog or social media – such as Instagram – to keep track of things. There are definitely ways to make this into a larger and more involved hobby, which can be incredibly rewarding in itself.

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4.  Share, share, share

Since I’ve been dealing with a particularly acute bout of homesickness, one of the best remedies has been renewing my connection with the sewing community. I’m very lucky in that I already have this blog on the go and a community through social media. But it’s easy to have these things and still feel isolated. Sharing your creativity with others should be an active and engaging process. Read other blogs, comment on people’s photos, share your experiences. Each of these things will make you feel a part of something bigger and you’ll find that you end up attracting people with similar tastes and experiences. I posted on Instagram earlier in the week and mentioned that I’d been feeling homesick. I got some wonderful comments and messages from people, offering support and telling me about their own experiences. This was incredibly comforting and, given that I’m in a new country with a very limited network of people, made me feel far less alone.

Sharing your crafts will also help to reaffirm what you’re achieving. As I mentioned above, it’s important that you’re able to document what you’re doing so that you can recognise your accomplishments. Doing this online – or even by starting a Meetup group or attending a sewing class – is a fabulous way of keeping a record whilst also finding inspiration from others around you, and reminding you that you are part of a community of like-minded people.

5.  Find inspiration

It is vital to stay inspired. Inspiration is really at the heart of finding the motivation to sew and share what you are doing. It can be incredibly difficult to feel inspired when you’re struggling with other things and your mind is everywhere but on your sewing. To make sure that I stay inspired, I do a few different things. The first, and most important, is that I constantly check in with what other people are doing. I keep an eye on my Instagram, read other blogs, and generally look out for makes that might inspire my own creative instincts. This doesn’t always work. Sometimes I’m in a bad place and the last thing I want to do is be reminded of all those things that other people are achieving. It’s not always the healthiest thing to look to other people when you know that you’re going to be inclined to compare yourself negatively (trust me, I’ve been there!). In these instances, I keep a cache of photos on my computer and various bits of inspiration on my notice board in my sewing room. I’ve curated these as time has gone on to reflect the different kinds of inspiration that I usually need in order to get my creative juices flowing. Another great resource for this kind of thing is Pinterest. Although I’ve fallen off of the wagon a bit, I used to use it a lot as a place to store all of those pics and patterns that sparked my interest.

However you do it, make sure that you find a way to stay inspired through the dark times. Scrapbook, blog, use Pinterest, glue pictures all over your walls (unless you’re a renter like me, of course). Inspiration is perhaps the most important resource for ensuring that sewing remains a positive self-care technique.

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So there you go. My tips for self-care through sewing. If you’ve used sewing for similar reasons, definitely let me know if you have any of your own tips to add. Obviously all of this is based on personal experience, but I’m sure many of us share the opinion that sewing can be a powerful tool in difficult times. If you’re going through it right now, remember that everything really does pass and, before you know it, you’ll be in from the cold.