The tyranny of a handmade wardrobe

Image from BurdaStyle

For as long as I’ve known him, which is nearly 10 years, the husband has been giving me a very hard time about the state of my wardrobe.

I’ve know women who have snuck bags of clothes into the back of the wardrobe and burnt the receipts in the vain hope of their other half not noticing that they’ve been shopping again.  I am not one of those women.

Neither am I one of those women who struggle to fit another thing in the cupboard and have no idea what delights lurk at the back of the closet.

Nope…I’m the girl with 6 things in her wardrobe and who, when an event comes up unexpectedly, genuinely has nothing to wear. I’m not even kidding!  I can wear a pair of jeans and 3 tops to destruction…and frequently have.  That’s why tumble dryers were invented!  And why hubby has been so frustrated with me!

Whilst I can in clear conscience say that during the early years of our relationship our finances meant that it was more important for the kids to be clothed well and for the husband to be kept in suits than for me to have an outfit for every event; or that, at 5 foot 7 and plus sized, clothes shopping isn’t the most fun because I sit squarely between standard and tall sizes and, well, everyone over a size 14 knows how tricky finding your size on the rack can be, these were really nothing more than excuses for not having anything to wear.

No. In reality, the single most significant contributor to the lack of clothing in my wardrobe is one small and seemingly innocuous phrase.

“I could make that.”

I could make that blue instead of lime green with pink dots. I could make that cheaper.  I could make that with a better fit.  I could make that better quality. I could make that and people in Bangladeshi sweatshops wouldn’t die so I have clothes on my back.

I could make that.

Except…I have 2 young children who have faced challenges due to the circumstances of their births.  Boy didn’t sleep through the night or past 5am until he started school.  It’s only in the last 3 months that he regularly sleeps past 6.30am. He used to sit and scream for hours on end.  Hours. I’m telling you…that makes for one tired mum!

Except…For the early years of their lives I was studying to finish my degree.  Then I was doing up the house.  And doing it again.  And now I’m studying to become an accountant.

Except…my husband works away from home all week.  He leaves at 6.15 on a Monday morning and gets home late on a Thursday evening.   It used to be Sunday to Friday.  This is bliss!

Except…I have a home to run and family and friends.


Now don’t get me wrong.  My life is exactly how I want it to be.  Well…apart from the husband working away bit, but we’re a team and it’s the nature of his work, so I’m not complaining.  And my kids are champions to have come through some much.

But adding to everything the desire to make every. single. item of clothing I wear. And for the kids too.  It wasn’t my greatest idea!

Let’s face it, though.  We are surrounded by people who do this.  Who sew fabulous garments one after the other.  Who have drawers full of beautiful handmade lingerie.  And stunning hand knit sweaters.

We are reminded that oftentimes the clothes we can purchase are made with the sweat and blood and lives of people who will never have the luxury of choosing whether their wardrobes are handmade, ethically produced and locally sourced. Sadly the tone is often one of reproach towards anyone who strays from this path.

I hasten to add at this point that I’m not advocating mass consumerism.  Regular trips to the shops is not my idea of fun.  I have never and will never purchase a thing from Primark.  £2 t-shirts cannot be considered a Good Thing for anyone.

I still want to get to a point where I’m making more than I’m buying. But let’s get real.  At the moment this ain’t gonna happen.

Over the last few months, however, as my thinking on this has shifted, I’ve been making a few strategic purchases.

So now, if the hubby wants to take me out to dinner, I’ve got a couple of nice dresses that do the trick.  Coffee with friends…jeans and a cute top.  Ditto cinema dates or a day out with himself.

I have cosy boots to do the school run and cute loafers for a lunch date.

It is wonderful.

I used my Wardrobe Architect knowledge to ensure that everything goes together. And something quite marvellous has come out of this.

I now have a very, VERY clear idea of what I want to sew. I know what it is I reach for in any given situation.  I know what colours garner the most compliments and what shapes I feel most comfortable in.

This has been a revelation.  Not only is this one less thing to stress about, but it’s also given me a plan for moving forward with my sewing.  I promise to share that soon in another post.

The moral of this story is that whilst the goal of a completely handmade wardrobe is a worthy and worthwhile aim, it’s ok if life prevents you achieving that right now.  It’s ok to cut yourself a little slack and shop a little.  Who knows…it might be as revelatory for you as it has been for me!

20 Responses to The tyranny of a handmade wardrobe

  1. Brilliant post – so well thought out and written and I can relate to it so much, even though my family and home is a different set up. For me the good thing is that I live in a town with a massive amount of charity shops and I can supplement my own made clothes with charity shop bargains – less going to landfill and the charities and I both benefit! Although I am determined to get back into sewing clothes for myself next year as I now have more than enough quilts! PS. Have just started the second sock for hubby and am really enjoying make them with the pattern you sent 🙂

    • Pendle Stitches says:

      My good friend Liz buys almost all her clothes from charity shops and is always beautifully turned out. I’m so happy the pattern is working out for you. 😀

  2. Love this! I had ambitions to have a completely handmade wardrobe too, but now really enjoy buying a few beautiful/useful things. I spent two hours last week hunting down the perfect navy top. So satisfying!

    • Pendle Stitches says:

      Thank you. I’ve found this very liberating indeed, and whilst I’m not sure I’ll ever actually enjoy clothes shopping I’m very much enjoying having something to wear and being much less stressed! Sewing is meant to be fun, no?

  3. helen says:

    Great post! I’ve recently given up the rtw fast that I started in January 2014. I’ve made some great things and most of my wardrobe in hand made but I also have given myself lots of unnecessary stress!
    I’ve had to cut myself some slack, I work and have two young children. I needed some stripy tops and instead of searching for fabric Boden did the job! I feel quite relieved now. I’m now sewing anything at the moment but can take my time to plan exactly what I want to make.

    • Pendle Stitches says:

      I’m totally in awe of you working mothers. I’m not sure how on earth you do it. And to sew your own clothes too….I’m pretty sure that comes close to superhero status. Cutting yourself some slack seems a Very Good Idea!

  4. Vicki Kate says:

    Oh Evie! This is really striking a chord! I can’t wait to find out what you’ve got planned!

    • Pendle Stitches says:

      D’you know, I really hesitated about posting this as it felt very much against the general flow of the online sewing community. I’ve been so heartened by the response and can’t help wondering if it’s a bit of an elephant in the room. Lot’s of us feel this way but didn’t really want to say.

  5. Jane says:

    I really enjoyed reading this Evie. I sew a large proportion of my wardrobe but still take great pleasure in buying lingerie, jeans and knitwear. Even the occasional special top or dress! So glad you’ve been able to put together a wardrobe that works for your lifestyle – looking forward to hearing about your sewing plans. x

    • Pendle Stitches says:

      Jane…you’re another superhero seamstress, so it’s really lovely to hear that you enjoy a little retail therapy too.

  6. Marianne says:

    Great post! There’s something familiar about the ‘I could make that’ phrase and its consequences for your wardrobe 😉 I’m glad you’re giving yourself a break, you sure have enough on your plate as it is! I never aimed at sewing a completely handmade wardrobe, my sewing is always better when I’m not making up too many rules for myself. Can’t wait to see your new approach to sewing.

    • Pendle Stitches says:

      “my sewing is always better when I’m not making up too many rules for myself”. I love this!
      I feel like I’ve taken a deep breath and am now ready to fire up the sewing machine again. I have some great ideas for how I can really improve the quality of my sewing next year. I hope to get to share them with you soon.

  7. K-Line says:

    This post is a goodie! I love your practicality. You have SUCH a busy life and I am so impressed by how you manage on your own through the week. Having 2 young kids can be tough (ahem – you know I’ve barely well-managed one!) and to keep it all running on your own is a testimony to your abilities and your good nature.

    But on the topic of the sewing – you are so smart. I don’t know how half the bloggers out there get it all done. You can’t sew it all – but you must go out for dinner. So well done on buying some new clothes (but good ones) and accepting the limitations of the moment.

    I have more time to myself than you, I imagine – what with my one kid being 15, but I still don’t have the time to sew (the 3 things I’d like to) for weeks at a time.

    • Pendle Stitches says:

      Haha..don’t be fooled. I’m a complete basket case most of the time! I won’t know what to do with myself for the next 3 months as the Mr is working closer to home and we’ll be living like normal folk!

      I want sewing to be fun again. And I think I’m getting to that point…finally. 🙂

  8. Amen! I so hear where you are coming from, especially the chant of “I can make that”. I do that too but it is so hard to find the time to sew everything (or anything in my case) so I wouldn’t feel bad about buying RTW. Also, most of the garments in the High Street use some not very nice material. It is very hard bringing up children when your partner is away. I did it with Sprozilla when she was wee. By the time they are in bed you need to go too. 🙂 I think that Wardrobe Architect has also made me think tons about what I wear and want to sew. It is a great exercise. I am looking forward to seeing what lovely garments you make. Xx

    • Pendle Stitches says:

      “By the time they are in bed you need to go too”
      I know lots of folk start sewing once the wee ones are in bed but I suspect they’re not as ancient as I am. Once they’re settled the most I can muster is a little gentle knitting on the sofa with a box set and a glass of wine! 😉

  9. Fiona says:

    I love this post Evie! You’ve put it so well. I often feel almost some kind of guilt creeping in for buying RTW but you know what, I quite like shopping, I don’t have time to sew everything I want to sew and as I most enjoy sewing somewhat unpractical garments restricting myself to handmade clothes leaves me with a fairly limited wardrobe. I had a good session in the shops yesterday and only returned with a couple of tops but a whole heap of sewing inspiration and construction tips! Reading this was very liberating, thanks!

    • Pendle Stitches says:

      You’re very welcome.
      You’re so right, though, that shopping can also fire your imagination as well as filling your wardrobe. I tend not to purchase fashion magazines because I don’t want my daughter being influenced by the photoshopped images, so a wander around the shops is a good way to see whats trending at a given time.

  10. Fabrickated says:

    Yes – this is a very nice and well argued post. Thank you. I think you are spot on. When my kids were around 4 -18 I never sewed a thing. I just didn’t have the bandwidth. Same for recipes. I just relied on basic meals – mainly pasta with stuff – most of the time. There will be a time when your kids have left home that you will have lots of leisure time to make a wider range of things. I bought a RTW coat last week, even though I could have made it. I put it on, and felt good so just bought it. Why ever not?

    • Pendle Stitches says:

      Thank you! I feel so much better to know I’m not the only one who relies on pasta to get a hot meal that I know they’ll eat inside the kids. We put so much damned pressure on ourselves…it’s good to let some of it go!