Sewing: Maternity Tunic

This sewing project began life three years ago as a Dorothy Perkins skater-style dress. It had a wrap-style bodice and a very full – nearly circular, I think – skirt. I wore it incessantly as a dress for a couple of years, until I had patched no less than five holes (four of which were in the centre front of the skirt!), the hem was stretched out of shape, and I decided it had probably served its purpose and it was consigned to the scrap pile. But I loved the fabric so much I couldn’t bear to get rid of it. I just didn’t quite know what to do with it.

Then I started sewing for my pregnant self and BOOM! I realised this dress’s second chance had come.


I chopped off the skirt first. Then I gathered up the front section and reattached the whole skirt higher up on the bodice, to make an empire line now with some strategic gathers in the front. Oh, and in doing this, I flipped the skirt back to front, so the holes that used to be in the front were now less noticeably in the back, and the back became the new front.

At this point, I could have worn it, but remember that it was a skater skirt and very full all the way around, including in the back. One thing I’m figuring out is that while I need some extra fabric at the front of my garments now, I don’t need it EVERYWHERE, and that getting rid of extra fabric where it isn’t needed is crucial to not feeling a tented blimp. So I re-seamed the side seams and the two back skirt seams to take in some of the fulness for a more gentle A-line shape everywhere but in the front.


What makes me really happy about this is that, aside from being able to tick off a sewing project (refashioning that dress) that had been niggling for a while, I also got to keep the features of the dress that I always loved. Namely, the lovely elbow-length sleeves, the neckline and bodice fit, and the bluey-green shade.

I used to think that maternity sewing wouldn’t be much fun. After all, you can’t predict what your body will look like as it changes, and a lot of the fun and easy stuff (like simple skirts and summer sundresses) seemed out of the question. And of course whatever you make you won’t be wearing very long. But once I started sewing for myself a couple of months ago, I realised that the short-term nature of these projects has actually made me feel more creative, because I’m not trying to strategise a garment that will last for years and fit perfectly with my existing wardrobe. It just needs to be something I like now, and especially when I’m refashioning old, or cheap, garments, it doesn’t require a lot of time or money, so if it goes awfully wrong there’s not much to lose.


Updates, and Recent Sewing

Well, it’s been a while! I decided to take a break over the holidays and the first part of 2015, for a few reasons, but mainly this

IMG_3115 No, not because I graduated (although I did!), but because I’m pregnant!

The self-authorised blogging break allowed for some rest during the months when I was feeling ultra-tired and somewhat nauseated. I never really appreciated, before, that the period of pregnancy when you are likely to feel the worst coincides with the period when most people opt not to make the news public yet. So instead of bouncing around in the sunlight with your happy husband and 99% accurate pregnancy test (I guess I’ve seen too many TV commercials), it’s more like the onset of a secret illness, which you must try to hide, meanwhile the sudden gain of what feels like 10 pounds, which you must also try to hide. Even though, to me at least, all my clothes now made me look like I had a beer belly!

Which brings us to maternity sewing

Now, there seem to be a few different opinions on whether you should buy maternity clothes. One train of logic runs like this:

Maternity clothes are a rip-off! You only wear them a few months of your life. The big clothes are too big for your early trimesters, and the clothes that fit you early on are too small for the last trimester. You can easily make it through with normal clothes. Belt them differently. Or raid your husband’s closet. Cut and splice your clothing to make it work!

I will admit that, quite early on, I was rubbing my hands together excitedly at the opportunity to buy some new clothes, and even to try some new styles that might not ordinarily be my thing. However, I reeeeeeeealy tried to hold off from buying anything new for quite a while. Well, buying non-pregnancy clothes seemed silly, since I would soon be unable to wear them. Meanwhile, there actually wasn’t much in my closet that I physically couldn’t fit into – indeed, most of my clothes (barring a few slim dresses) will still, technically, cover me up. So buying new maternity clothes also seemed frivolous.

BUT. Long before my clothes stopped actually fitting, they stopped looking good or, perhaps more to the point, stopped feeling good to wear. Perhaps I am overly-attuned to this, since I do make clothes and generally pay attention to shape and fit, but the styles that flattered my former figure (ah, the days!) very quickly stopped flattering the current belly situation. (Think overhanging beer belly, like I said above.) And, since I was already feeling less than excited about getting up in the morning, facing a closet full of old favourites that I no longer enjoyed wearing became surprisingly soul-destroying.

At a point, I simply decided not to bother trying to ‘work with’ things that I didn’t like to wear anymore. And, once I started feeling less nauseated, I decided to try reworking a few charity shop items to fit me. I aimed to buy things a few sizes too big, to give me fabric to work with.


This (above) was simply a too-big tee shirt. I took it in along the side seams up at the top, but left the original fullness at the bottom, and gathered it up with some elastic at the centre front. It probably makes me look more pregnant than I am now, but I’m hoping it will allow room for growth! I also have some fabric I can use to lengthen it later, if I need to.

IMG_3163This (above) was a too-big tunic, although actually not as too-big as I would have expected, given the size. I cinched up the saggy neckline and narrowed the sleeves. It already had a nice empire waistline and a back tie to make it adjustable in width, and was a nice tunic length and blousy shape. I love this more than I expected. The blue and white reminds me of old china and a sunny kitchen.

I’ve done a bit more than this, including making a few items from scratch (not just refashioning), but I’ll share that in a later post. For now, I just have a final thought, especially if anyone reading this is also pregnant.


The mindset of spending my pregnancy making do actually became very depressing, not just because I didn’t enjoy my clothes any longer (something I normally love), but because it creates a perpetual feeling of limbo. It puts everything on hold. And indeed, I think it exacerbated any negative feelings I might have about being pregnant – like missing my waistline, missing caffeine, missing being awake past 9 p.m., being paranoid about using nail polish too often (the fumes, you know). There’s plenty you can’t do when you’re pregnant, but adding additional self-imposed prohibitions, ‘I can’t have new clothes/shoes/tights/pajamas/anything pretty because I’m pregnant’, can make you feel like an aberration from normal humanity. And, to me, belting an old dress higher up or raiding your husband’s closet (unless you already do that and it suits your style) isn’t the solution. Because, again, in my skinny days I’d never think that wearing my husband’s clothes was the answer to having none of my own that fit. So I don’t think it has to be the answer now. Ultimately, I’ve come to the conclusion that adapting my clothing to my body isn’t just for the purpose of making me feel better (though it does), but is part of accepting this phase of life and its distinctiveness. I can definitely say that just because I am pregnant I haven’t lost the desire to feel pretty in what I wear, nor indeed (so far) the ability to feel that way in clothes that are comfortable and that I like. I felt that I needed permission in some way to get new clothes and not just continue making do; so my advice to others would always be to give yourself permission, from the start, to adapt your wardrobe according to what you enjoy wearing.

And, you know, if it helps, think about it this way: when else in life will you want to wear clothes that accentuate your belly? We spend a lot of time trying to make our waistlines look smaller, so much that it’s enjoyably subversive to do the opposite. Make the most of it!


Virtual Clutter, or The Downside of Organised and Unlimited Space

I was talking to a friend recently who mentioned that she liked to make sure she deleted old documents on her computer, things like receipts from years ago. It struck me that I almost never do this – but that sometimes virtual clutter can weigh on my mind as much as physical clutter does. I’m sure you can tell by my last post that I’m in a cleaning mood lately, and my current project is to clean up virtual clutter.

I think virtual clutter presents a specific problem for a few reasons. I was in my teens when I got my first computer, a cheap hand-me-down my dad had used for working from home for a while. It didn’t even have internet access, but I plonked away happily, and endlessly, writing. I still have everything I typed on that computer, dutifully moved from laptop to laptop over the last 10+ years, while accumulating folders of university papers, high-resolution images of art projects, letters for job applications, versions of my resume, tax returns. Unlike my bulging file drawer, my computer files never bugged me by being overly full, and therein lies one of the fateful promises of virtual storage - the promise of practically unlimited storage space. Not, of course, that it is literally limitless, but for the ordinary person saving documents, through years of increasingly larger hard drives, it’s hard to feel any sense of crowdedness. Another problem lurks as the dark side of organisation – being organised makes it much harder to perceive accumulating detritus. When someone’s file organisation is a mess, it’s easy to identify a problem, but when you have a great system, you can avoid the frustration that might prompt you to declutter.

But one important thing I am learning these days is that good organisation is not a replacement for making good decisions about what to keep. Nor is it a replacement for regular upkeep.

Emails in particular

I actually started a project of clearing out my email a few weeks ago, before my friend’s comment about deleting old files. At that point, I had a good system of labels for categorising most of my emails (such as from family, friends, church-related, etc.). However, I had no system for decluttering these categories, and anything that didn’t clearly belong in any category simply stayed in the inbox ‘marked as read’. When I started clearing my emails out, I had over 5,000 in my inbox alone – that is, 5,000 that either weren’t important enough to file, or should have been filed and never were.


Screenshot 2014-11-17 13.47.41

My goal is to keep my inbox at zero (something I learned from Mike, but search ‘inbox zero’ and you’ll find plenty of tips on this concept), meaning that everything that enters is either filed away, deleted entirely, or temporarily starred for action. That is, nothing is left uncategorised. This is my approach to keeping things flowing, but it doesn’t fix the problem of simply keeping too much.

Let me talk candidly about keeping emails. I used to think one of the great things about Gmail was that you didn’t have to delete anything because even the free account allows you so much space. Gone were the days of my university email accounts sending me warnings about running out of space, spawning frantic deletion sessions. And admittedly, I have often been glad that I kept an email: it can provide useful wording for a similar email in the future (job applications, for example), or might contain an address you forgot to write down, or maybe it’s just fun to read what a friend said a couple of years ago. Because of living in different places, a significant portion of my personal life has been lived through emails, so I have a lot, and a lot that are substantive. But I have begun to wonder lately if the lengthy documentation of my life that develops is really a positive thing.

For those of you who aren’t sentimental, you might be rolling your eyes, and I’m really not speaking to you – you probably don’t have the problem of keeping everything. I do have this problem! If you feel similarly inclined to keep everything, it’s worth asking honestly at what point the things you’re keeping are helping you. I have sometimes ventured through emails from 6 years ago expecting to feel pleasantly nostalgic, and instead found myself reliving unpleasant experiences, even remembering bad things I’d forgotten, being simply embarrassed that I could have said that, or feeling oppressed by the sheer amount of archival material – the past, raw and undigested, closing on top of me.

That’s a mixed metaphor, but I mention ‘raw and undigested’ because that’s the main feature of ‘personal archival information’ that makes it so unhelpful. For example, I’ve had bad experiences in the past – a bad breakup, let’s say. I would say now that I learned from that, and it doesn’t upset me to think about now, though I remember plenty about it. But I remember it in a digested, shaped, useful form, and can even feel some nostalgia towards those memories. But a few times I have uncovered old journal entries or emails from that time and read them, only to find that instead of enhancing whatever lesson I learned, they simply reawakened every bad feeling, reminded me of stupid things, filled me with self-disgust and anger. Nothing about the raw material edified me because it needs to be digested to be positive and useful, and the ‘digested version’ is what I hold in memory and in a matured perspective. The undigested stuff is what I need to get rid of; I need to hold on to the lesson, but delete the raw material if it doesn’t edify.

For the categories of things I do want to keep, for example emails from friends, I intend to edit my collections. This will take some time. But I feel it should be fine to keep a few good emails, ones that make me smile, and let the rest go. Do I even want to be a person who spends much time myopically reading emails from six years ago?

Finally, I plan to have a regular clear-out to maintain things. Some categories, like receipts for online orders, have expiration dates. For tax purposes you might keep certain things for five years, but past that, how will it be useful? Probably at least once a year, I want to cull things out.

What about you? Do you keep your email cleared out? Or is yours in need of decluttering like mine is?

Cleaning: I Love It, I Hate It, I’m Going to Do It

Let’s talk about cleaning. I feel like a person who ought to be really good at cleaning, because I love household management and I love to organise. But I honestly don’t think my household cleaning has ever been anything stellar. It’s only recently that I’ve had a functional cleaning schedule, with the attitude that, if I can at least do a couple of things regularly, on one day a week, that will be the start of better habits. But recently I’ve been feeling inspired to do a bit more. In fact I’m trying a daily schedule for a while and I want to share how it goes.


Why I don’t clean

I love homemaking, and most of the related tasks are things that I enjoy or at least find satisfying. But the only type of cleaning that I really find very satisfying is the really serious cleaning – like spring cleaning – or focused cleaning/organising, like sitting down and reorganising a closet. But as for anything regular, like vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom, or dusting, it almost never gives me much pleasure. And, beyond those things, I am lucky if anything else gets cleaned except in a feverish spring cleaning. The dust behind our radiators can get pretty thick before April comes again.

I can pinpoint a couple of reasons why regular cleaning doesn’t come easily to me.

  • I like to do intensive (=messy) projects, and I’m not a naturally tidy person – not that I’m not organised, but when I’m involved in something I screen out distractions. When I’m cooking it’s often hit or miss whether I wipe up minor spills as they happen, because my project is so engrossing that no petty concerns such as cleaning can challenge my focus.
  • I actually do enjoy the focused, intense cleaning projects, and am deep down afraid that if I keep everything clean all the time, I won’t have anything to do on that rainy Sunday when inspiration strikes and I desperately want to organise a drawer. Ooh, isn’t that interesting? A fear of cleanliness?

Why I do want to clean (more)

Okay, so I like to spring clean. And I can hasten my way through some weekly tasks to keep things at least sanitary. What’s the problem with that?

Well, objectively, maybe there is no problem. But I would say that there are two problems, for me:

  • First, some parts of the house do get truly dirty. When I do spring clean, they’re filthy, and they’re filthy again long before I come to clean them again. There’s a lot that my weekly cleaning doesn’t touch. And though most of the time these spots are out of the way, once I notice the mould growing in the air vent, or actual wads of dust on an out-of-the-way extension plug, I just feel gross about those things
  • Second, my spring cleaning is always more than I can handle at one stretch. The last two years, I’ve started spring cleaning on one of the first sunny Saturdays when I can open the windows, but invariably I end up grumpy, tired, and with still half the tasks left to do. Each thing I try to clean is a can of worms (figuratively…though once I found larvae lounging underneath a bin in the kitchen), always dirtier and more complicated than I expected. So spring drags on and my energy wanes, and some stuff never gets done.

I would summarise this situation simply by saying that my system, such as it is, doesn’t work. I don’t mean that it fails to live up to perfect standards, but it doesn’t even work for my standards.

Why I won’t ever have a perfect home

But that’s a good question – what’s the standard? I like to watch YouTube videos about cleaning and organising (laugh if you like), but I suppose that if you’re a person who makes videos about cleaning, you likely have high standards. If I tried to keep my house as clean as some other people do, I can tell you it would be a disaster.

Actually, I think the primary reason I’m not great at cleaning is that I like to do projects. It’s all the stuff you see on this blog: cooking, sewing, knitting, making bath and body products. All of these consume space and make a mess, and sometimes they need to be left out for a few days while they’re in progress. I’ve decided that I value these creative pursuits enough to let them prevent my home from being always immaculate.

So my goal isn’t a persistent state of tidiness, because I think perpetual tidiness is incompatible with most creative hobbies. Rather, I want to have a system that chugs along well enough that the important things stay clean and sanitary, and everything else will get tended to often enough not to become filthy, and so that nothing becomes figuratively stagnant, untouched and unseen for months on end.

The plan

This is a true trial – that is, I’m going to give this a try and see if it works for me. It might not. I simply want to be honest.

What I’ve done is to take a zone approach; this is something which I think was popularised a while ago on The idea is to divide your home into zones (roughly one room each), tackling one zone per week, in little bits per day. Essentially you are accomplishing the tasks of a spring or deep cleaning, but spread out in 15-minute segments over several weeks. I have five obvious zones in our flat, so I should be cleaning the whole flat, spring-cleaning style, over five weeks and then starting again – I think with a bigger house you’d have more zones and have something like a six- or eight-week cycle. And ideally, since you are giving everything a once-over every few months, it shouldn’t take as long in total as a normal spring cleaning takes.

Here are my zones:

  • Kitchen
  • Bathroom
  • Bedroom
  • Hall and closet
  • Living room

In fact I already had a list of spring cleaning tasks, organised by room. (Do yourself a favour – if you ever decide to spring clean, write down everything you do and use the list for reference the next time.) I used this list and distributed the tasks for each room over five days.


So, in the hallway, on Monday I am tidying up and sorting things out, in preparation for vacuuming on Tuesday, and dusting and wiping surfaces on Wednesday. For each zone I tried to group tasks logically, so for example ones that required a dusting cloth together on the same day.


So far each day’s set of tasks has taken me around 15-20 minutes. I think I can handle that at least for a trial period. So I’m going to give this a try and check back in about a month and share how it’s going!

DIY Skincare Products I Actually Use

A long time ago, I wrote about trying out a few more organic, DIY and natural options for some standard beauty and personal care products. Later, I shared a few things I’d been making, like lotion and lip gloss.

I’m bringing up this topic again because I think it’s really easy, in blogging, to write about something you think is a great solution or a great ‘find’ but never follow up about how it’s working over time. I can’t say how many times I’ve read a blog post on ‘how to make your own…’ which concludes with, ‘I’ve been using this for a week now and it’s great!’ But the real question, to me, is whether a year later you’ll still be using it, or whether it turned out to be skin-irritating, too much trouble, too expensive, or ineffective.

So here are three DIY beauty products that I have actually used for the long haul. I’ll also mention a few that I tried and abandoned! In terms of definition, what I mean by DIY is that I bought raw ingredients and made something with them, rather than buying a product marketed for a specific use.

The oil cleansing method

I mentioned this in my first post on the topic. Oil cleansing is a method of washing your face, first massaging in a bit of oil, then steaming it off with a cloth soaked in hot water. It’s supposed to be gentler on skin than using something foaming or soapy, and it removes makeup and unblocks pores.


I use sweet almond oil, which I ordered in a 500 ml bottle online. I decant it into a brown glass dropper bottle to keep in the bathroom. Initially I tried all sorts of oil blends, because the common wisdom seems to recommend this – but in fact I didn’t find that blending the oils made any improvement, and this single oil alone works fine.

This has been my evening cleansing method of choice for over a year now. Although at times I reverted to another cleanser, I’ve kept returning to oil cleansing. It feels nice to do, it removes makeup effectively without needing another step (I could never be bothered with that), it’s inexpensive, and it seems to fulfil the goal of getting my skin clean.

I think the biggest downside to oil cleansing, which is also sometimes called ‘hot cloth cleansing’, is that the hot cloth is vital – so if you haven’t got a cloth or don’t have hot water for some reason, you might end up with oil all over your face and no way to get it off. (Happened to me.) My solution is simply to use bar soap to wash the oil off in such emergencies. But most of the time, at home, a cloth and hot water are no problem to find.

Lip balm

Making my own lip balm was an early DIY project, and dead easy. It’s also forgiving because if the texture goes really wrong – if it’s too hard or too soft – you can always re-melt it and add more oil or wax to adjust it.


I made my first lip balm in a reused container, but eventually I bought some little screw-top pots online, filled a few, and have been using them ever since. It’s cheap and easy! My formula is some combination of oils, shea butter, and beeswax. Honestly, I guess I don’t go through lip balm very fast (though I use it every day), because I’m still using the same stuff I made about a year ago. As long as it doesn’t get water in it, it should last a while.

Clay masks

This is probably the one thing I wish I had discovered years ago. If you have problem skin, do try a clay mask. You can buy them in squeeze tubes, ready to use, which is what I did initially just to try. I went through a couple of containers of a sea silt mask from the Boots Botanics range. However, once I’d decided that this was worth keeping up with, I ordered some dry clay online so I could prepare my own.


You can get different types of clay in different colours, but mine is green. It’s like a powder, and when you mix it with water it forms, yes, a clay consistency which you slather on your face and leave to dry for 10-20 minutes. This is typically all I do, using a small spoon and a little ramekin to mix in, but you can get fancy and add things like yogurt, honey, turmeric and the like. I enjoy that about using the dry clay; it’s one item but can be prepared in different ways if you feel adventurous, or used straightforwardly if you aren’t. Because it’s dry, it won’t spoil and doesn’t have any preservatives, and I think it’s more economical in the long run.

DIY skincare (or personal care) I don’t bother with

Supposedly apple cider vinegar makes a great toner when diluted with water. Yeah, I tried it, but I really always feel toners are a waste of time. I can’t be bothered buying little cotton rounds only to throw them away every day, nor do I ever perceive any permanent difference to my skin beyond the immediate cooling sensation. And this toner smells like vinegar, so unless that’s a groovy scent to you, you don’t even get to enjoy a pleasant aroma. I keep the vinegar for my salad.

Oil as conditioner is another internet DIY natural favourite… I think my verdict on this might be that it could work if you have coarse or curly hair. Ideally you would use just a little bit of oil (a skincare oil, not kitchen cooking oil) massaged through the ends of your hair while damp. I really wanted this to work, especially if I could have my oil in a brown glass bottle and scented with orange oil. It could double as a body moisturiser too. Doesn’t this sound so lovely and simple and ancient, like running through the fields of nature clothed in white linen while your hair streams out, gloriously nourished?! But I could never make it work. Conditioner, it turns out, not only moisturises but helps with static, and whenever I stop using it my hair develops a static frizz that no amount of oil can tame. It will just be oily and still staticky.

Knitting: Cabled Pullover

At long last, cool weather is here and I am cozying up in what may be my favourite knitted garment yet.

IMG_2454I made this back in May (with some more recent re-knitting when I decided to make alterations). It was a bad time of year to knit a warm sweater, but I was doing a lot of travelling and wanted a substantial project. I have good memories of the 10-hour flight, parked in front of a little movie screen with my knitting. Similarly, I remember the train ride from Kalamazoo to Chicago on a sunny spring morning, with needles clicking away and happy thoughts in my head about going home again.

The yarn is by Donegal Yarns, and has the flecks of colour in it which make it (I have learned) Donegal tweed. I have been learning about wool as I try to improve my knitting, and one thing I have learned is that the softer the wool against the skin, the more likely it will pill. Conversely the tougher wools that don’t pill tend to be more scratchy. In a good yarn shop you can see swatches knit from different yarns which will demonstrate this. I chose this Donegal yarn because I hoped it would hit a nice spot between softness and sturdiness, which indeed it does. Wool also softens with gentle washing, and I’ve noticed this as well. This kind of nuance fascinates me – the idea of fibres responding to different treatment, of coaxing them into the shape and texture you want.

I mentioned that I did some re-knitting on this, which is pretty characteristic of my knitting style. I.e., I either botch things the first time or I simply try one way before deciding I don’t like it and trying another. The great thing about this sweater is that it’s knit from the top downwards, or upside-down if you like. It’s also knit in the round, so instead of sewing everything together at the end (a front piece, a back piece, sleeves), you knit everything together at once. That means three things: A., you can fit the shoulder area first before dealing with anything else, because you knit the shoulders first. And I like to fit this part first both because it’s the hardest, but also because you can focus on it without being distracted by things like the length of the sweater. B., you can try the thing on as you go! C., the issue of overall length, and fit at the waist, is the last thing you deal with, and you can eyeball and adjust this as your final design choice, even unravel and knit it over if it doesn’t work.

Which is what I did. The first version I did was much shorter (which was the version indicated by the pattern). It was intended to be a good length to wear with skirts, but I found I didn’t like the way it fitted in wearing it. For one thing, it was quite nipped-in at the waist, which meant that it rode up when I moved and didn’t slide back down again – you know what I mean? It was also reeeeely short if I wore it with jeans. I don’t mind a layer hanging out below a sweater, but at the short length the sweater didn’t even meet the top of my jeans, and because it already tended to ride up and stay – well.


I unraveled it from the bottom up to the bust area, and then re-knit it downwards again. I changed the way the waist was shaped and added a third diamond cable to lengthen it. I’m very, very happy with the result, and it hits a happy length for wearing with skirts or jeans. I think it may even be kinda fashionable…at least, as I was walking around Oasis the other day, they had 6-gore dark denim skirts and sweater combos that were nearly identical to what I was wearing!




October Thoughts

Wrathful wind from heaven wrestles with the sun,
The leaves leap from he tree and alight on the ground,
And the grass withers that was once green.

(Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, ll. 525-27, translated)

I have not usually felt that autumn is my favourite season, though there’s an undeniable thrill when it arrives. I think that’s because I spent much of my life in a climate where autumn could be a grim betrayer – promising orangey cinnamon snuggliness and instead delivering humid sun until Thanksgiving.

But I do wonder if one reason there seems to be an autumn-fest going on everywhere – aside from its marketing possibilities – is precisely because the season can be a grim betrayer, even in a British climate where a more proper fall does happen at least for a while. Even so, it’s a season that doesn’t come to dwell; it never fully inhabits the calendar months we allot to it, never stretches itself out to the full extent of its days. Its beginning is always taken over by a selfish summer in September, its end surrendered to winter as soon as December arrives. Autumn is a season defined (to use philosophical terms) not by being but by becoming. Its very identity in ripening nuts and fruit, flaming leaves, is a movement from summer to winter. The leaves only change because they are going to fall. I wonder if the love of autumn stems partly from knowing that it will never fully arrive or repose in the way we might wish.


[Squirrel Nutkin] troubled me with what I can only describe as the Idea of Autumn. It sounds fantastic to say that one can be enamoured of a season, but that is something like what happened [...]. And one went back to the book, not to gratify the desire (that was impossible – how can one possess Autumn?) but to re-awake it.

(C. S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy, Ch. 1)

Self-stitched September: Reflections

Now that September is over and my Self-stitched September challenge is finished, I wanted to put together a few reflections on the month.

First, here’s a roundup of every outfit I photographed. (And can you spot the intruder in one of these?)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Actually, it was easier than I expected to keep wearing my homemade clothes for the whole month. That is, I had enough items that I liked and that worked with my other clothes that I didn’t need to do extra laundry to make it work or end up wearing the same thing too often. I did wear some repeats, but of course that’s normal. My challenge was to wear something handmade for five days a week, but I often did it for six and it wouldn’t have been a stretch to make it seven. Nor did I feel too bored or constrained by my limited options; quite a few different combinations seemed possible, and I added scarves or jewellery if I was really wanting something different.

The one problem I did have was a lack of casual tops for warmer weather. Or, I should say, on the days I was at home and wanted to wear jeans and a light top, I didn’t have enough homemade options. (I had store-bought options.) At the end of the month I made one tee, but I wish I had made several at the start. Actually, most of the times when I felt frustrated with the challenge were just because the weather was different from what I had planned for.

More interestingly, I think that preparing for, and completing, this challenge forced me to be more practical about sewing, and this in itself has been the most fruitful challenge. I’ve already said that I did some careful planning and budgeting for key pieces, and that this was one reason I felt like the challenge was easier to accomplish. But this is part of a larger shift from seeing sewing as a chance to make something beautiful, and seeing it as a craft that produces the kind of garment I reach for even on a bad day or an at-home day. One tendency I have in sewing is to drool over wonderful patterns, fuss over details, and use the process as a sort of wish-fulfilment: ‘What I would wear in my fantasies.’ (It would be 50s-style dresses among other things, by the way.) The risk with that approach is that dressmaking becomes an artful hobby which produces special objets d’art, rather than useful garments that participate in everyday life. It’s kind of like becoming an expert at baking decorated cupcakes, but not knowing the first thing about making bread. My fear, I think, is that clothes which are comfortable and utilitarian are boring and possibly ugly – not what I want to spend my time on, not worth my time. But lately I’ve tried to see the practical nature of clothes as a challenge: how can they fulfil both the desire for beauty and craft as well as the desire for comfort? Far from being boring, that strategic challenge has been very stimulating. I feel like its results, e.g. a denim skirt, a plain tee, or a very ordinary dress, don’t look very impressive, but they are actually the fruit of a great deal of thought and planning, and I enjoy that this is their little secret.


Self-stitched September: Day 30

It’s the last day of Self-stitched September. And you know, I am a little bit sad! It’s the navy dress again today.

IMG_2390Tomorrow I’m going to share a few thoughts on the challenge as a whole, but overwhelmingly I think it was not that big a challenge – i.e., it didn’t feel boringly repetitive, or like I was wearing wildly inappropriate things just for the sake of wearing them. (There has been more repetition than I’ve shown on this blog – I haven’t tended to post about duplicate garments/outfits.)

One reason for the challenge being easy is well illustrated by this dress: it’s basic and easy to wear. Because I was thinking about doing Self-stitched September for a few months prior, I did some strategising to make sure I would actually have enough handmade items to get me through the month. And since this wasn’t Make Yourself a Whole New Wardrobe September, I pinpointed just a few things to make which should be versatile enough to wear a lot, easily. I planned these projects in advance, budgeted for them, and was picky about finding exactly the right fabric.

Although I do tend to plan clothing purchases in advance most of the time, this very purposeful planning, budgeting, and careful limitation (keeping it within what I could reasonably make in the time I had before September began) made for an enormously satisfying process. It also meant that wearing a few things repeatedly was pretty easy, and most of the time I genuinely liked what I was wearing. The moral is: I should do this type of planning more often, because I think it leads to a more cohesive wardrobe of better quality and which I enjoy more.

Self-stitched September: Day 29

September is almost over! One of the biggest challenges in wearing something handmade every day has been that the weather this month was warmer than I expected. I should have taken the hint and made a couple of short-sleeved tops, instead of rushing to finish a sweater which hasn’t yet seen the light of day. So on Sunday I did some sewing and made a short-sleeved tee from some leftover fabric. Take that, Indian summer! And here is today’s outfit.


You’ll recognise the stripes. I made a long-sleeved top and happily had enough for a short-sleeved version. However, I wanted to try a different sleeve style, because I discovered that trying to match up stripes with a typical set-in sleeve is a big hassle (and I didn’t succeed in the end). So I drafted what I think is called a kimono sleeve, i.e. a sleeve which is cut as one piece with the bodice.

IMG_2383With this style of sleeve, you only have to match the stripes along the shoulder seam (up at the top) and the side seam. This is why, I suspect, many of the popular striped tees in the shops these days are also made this way. But I do think this style of sleeve turns out to have a flattering shape as well. Come summer I expect I’ll be making more from this pattern.

IMG_2378The skirt is another homemade item. I’ve had it so long I almost forget that fact. I made it with the intention that it would be a good season-spanning item. It’s lined, so it can be worn with tights (as here) without clinging to them or needing a slip, but it’s also a fairly summery cotton so doesn’t look out of place in warm weather. It’s a funny colour, kind of a light, dusty purple, which is almost a neutral shade. Probably its biggest claim to fame is all the buttons (twelve), which are covered with the same fabric. Definitely worth the trouble. Of this fabric, too, I have some left over, so you may yet see it again some day…