Sewing for the Life You Want

There has been a lot of talk around the blogosphere about sewing cake vs. frosting, ie basics that you can wear in your everyday life vs. fun things that you can’t wear on a daily basis. I understand this sentiment- it’s why I sewed a few basic t-shirts & skirts this summer. However, I also find some of it a little difficult to understand. If you’ve been following my blog, you may have noticed I have a habit of making highly patterned & colorful things. I also have a tendency to wear vintage dresses as everyday dresses, where a lot of people I’ve met stick to jeans & t-shirts for their basic wardrobe. My skewed view has helped me realize there’s an important & valid reason to sew fripperies in addition to the necessities of life.

I enjoy wearing 50’s inspired dresses to work when others are used to wearing basic jeans or skirts with blouses. This has inspired one of my co-workers to wear more dresses & I only get weird looks occasionally (alright, really just from the one lady, but we all know someone like her).

We sew fun things because that’s the life to which we aspire. We want to be able to go to a grand ball in a lovely gown or attend regular fancy parties in smashing cocktail dresses. Why not? Why not sew those things & strive for the life that goes along with them?

You know you’ve had dreams of dressing up & dancing with Mr. Darcy at a glittering ball.

So many times I’ve seen people write or talk about wanting to be that woman who always looks smashing & well-dressed, even at the grocery store. Sewing beyond basic jeans & t-shirts can help achieve that desire (not to say that a good pair of jeans & t-shirt can’t make you look great, but that’s another post- the topic of putting together a cohesive wardrobe is touched upon here).

I like my sewing to have some utility & don’t want to make something I’ll never wear. But sewing is supposed to be fun too. It’s fun to make outlandish outfits. Just because they’re outside our normal, everyday garb doesn’t mean we shouldn’t sew them anyways. Sew your basics, but don’t not sew a pattern you love just because you don’t think you’ll be able to wear it anywhere. Only sewing basics can take some of the fun out of sewing if you’re always itching to make something more grand.

Incorporate your outlandish outfits into your lifestyle.

Go to a fancy dinner so you can wear your fancy pants outfit. Can’t afford a restaurant because you spent all your dough on silk taffeta for your 1950’s reproduction dress? Have a black-tie potluck party at your house or go on a fancy picnic instead. Yes, picnics can be fancy.

When one of my sister’s childhood friends was moving away she threw a surprise picnic for him. Decades prior they had had a candlelight dinner on the beach post-prom with a spectacularly romantic view of downtown Chicago. She recreated that picnic in the same spot with a folding table (covered with a tablecloth), fancy food from a fancy grocery store & me as a waiter. Why not do the same thing for an excuse to wear your special dress & to create a fantastic memory? Making an occasion special & personalized, even if you spend a fraction of the money that you would at a high-end restaurant, will make for a more memorable event.

But you don’t need a party as an excuse. Going to the grocery store might feel a whole lot less like a chore if it means you get to wear your special outfit.

Just because you wear a nice dress to the grocery store doesn’t mean you’ll look like one of the Stepford Wives.

You don’t even need a destination in mind to enjoy your fun clothing. This one I’m working on: taking walks. I really like walking, but feel like I always need to have a purpose, ie a destination. I would like to start walking just for the enjoyment of it & think this might be the perfect time to don some of my not so office appropriate garb. Sure, I wouldn’t go for a walk in a ball gown, but a loud print &/or revealing cut that I shouldn’t wear to the office, why not?

No one wants to end up like Scarlett & go to a casual & homey birthday party looking like an attention-starved sexpot because you’re wearing an inappropriate frock that your husband forced you to put on. This is not the kind of thing I advocate taking a walk in on a whim, but a nice 50’s dress sans rhinestones with some wearing ease might fit the bill.

Change your basic wardrobe to match your sewing proclivities.

I have a thing for suit patterns. Looking at unique jackets makes me think about how much I’d love to make them. But then I think about how I almost never ever wear jackets or blazers & that they’d just languish in my closet, a waste of time & money. Wrong. I’m changing my style. I’m going to sew jackets & wear them. Why not? My work place is a mix of casual & dressy; I can wear a jacket & not look out of place. This doesn’t have to be limited to the office. I imagine I’ll like wearing nicely tailored & unique jackets with the brightly patterned skirts I’m fond of. I’m hoping to turn what would be a “specialty” item in my wardrobe into an everyday thing.

Take what you want to sew & make it work for you.

If you like sewing fancy things but have a casual lifestyle, find ways to make them as fancy as you want, but dress them down with a casual purse or jeans. Choice of materials & embellishments can make a big difference too. For a basic, everyday hoodie I used a lace knit & elevated the whole thing by edging it in some unique ribbon. Instead of ending up with a ho-hum hoodie I made something special.

A basic hoodie becomes special with the right fabric & embellishments.

Maybe your bent lies less towards silk gowns & more towards sewing office inappropriate patterns. Sew up your office sanctioned attire, but add a fantastically outrageous lining to it (right now I’m imagining fabric fit for a bachelorette party- let me know if you hear of such raunchy fabric). One of my go-to skirts is a plain brown a-line with some white edging. The lining is blue penguins. I can’t help but smile every time I put it on & know that there’s a secret in there only I can see. It helps brighten up my days in the office.

Office sanctioned on the top, fun on the inside.

You can also seek out interestingly cut patterns. Need an office appropriate black suit but think you’ll be more bored sewing the plain thing than you would be working at the office? I recommend looking at designer Vogue patterns. Issey Miyake has very interesting & complicated patterns that can also be modest enough for work. Channeling your energy from a complicated dress to a complicated suit might be just the thing. And doing it all in a solid color will let the interesting seam lines stand out.

Vogue 1186, an Issey Miyake design

Do you absolutely have to sew basic camisoles for work? Choose luxury fabrics like wool & silk blends. I saw a gorgeous & simple linen shell that was elevated by two rows of wing stitching down the center. Need a sports top? When I bought high-performance moisture wicking fabric the whole project feel more special & exciting, even though my pattern was basic. Make otherwise boring items fun to sew by being very choosey with your materials & embellishments.

If you you have the opposite problem & like to sew basic things but have a life that calls for fancier events, sew your basics & dress them up with great shoes or jewelry. For instance, I took my veggie dirndl dress (not office appropriate on top & I suppose not all that basic given the patterned fabric I used, but it’s basic for me) & paired it with a cardigan to make it modest enough for work. Now the dress can do double duty as a summer day dress & as an office outfit. Choosing a nice fabric or a simple embellishment can help people with this problem as well by being an easy way to dress up your basics.

The office appropriate version accessorizes with a cardigan & ballet flats. The hopping around town version goes with sandals & no cardigan, revealing the skinny bra straps that hold the dress up.

Sew for the life you want & make that life happen.

As I said, I’m making jackets & changing my wardrobe. I’ve already got my first one cut out. Also, many of my dresses are short sleeved or no sleeved, so I’ve been sketching up some interesting cardigan designs to keep me warm at work. I’m tossing the boring cardigans I dislike & making ones that I love. I hope this will extend my summer dresses into the spring & fall. Plans are also in the works for a fancy pants house warming party so I’ll finally get the chance to wear this gorgeous vintage dress. Will you follow along with me & change your wardrobe? I think aspiring to the life we want & making it happen can make us happy. When I wear something special it gives me a boost all day long.

It may not look like much on a hanger, but this 1950’s dress is gorgeous. The pattern you see is embroidered, while the neckline & pockets are piped in velvet. Usually I’m not a fan of sparkly shineys on my clothing, but the studs on this dress add to its beauty. This dress goes with the life to which I aspire: simple glamour with good design & excellent fit, helping make every day special.

Your thoughts are much appreciated. Do you think we shouldn’t sew those big, costumey dresses or is it OK to embrace the frosting & go all out? Have you found a happy middle ground & are you planning on making your sewing proclivities match your lifestyle?