Why Sewing Is More Than Making Clothes

So Walt fell – twice – on the ice the first of the year. It was while walking he was walking the dog, in the dark morning, on ice. Yeah, I’ve threatened not to speak to him for a year if he does this again. Not sure that’s a motivating threat, but let’s just say that he’s disgusted with himself and I have a threat out there, feeble as it may be!

For years, I have turned down opportunities for doing garments for males. It’s a long story involving my ex and a charity auction, but mostly because male and female bodies are different (duh!) and they require different fitting techniques and styling. Men look delicious in jackets that drape beautifully from the shoulders, while women have to be concerned with the drape from the shoulders and the waist – and that’s just one example of the difference.

Walt is in a back brace from his fall, which is some contortionist’s idea from the Middle Ages, but it’s supposed to keep him from twisting and bending in the wrong directions while his compression to his L1 heals. And he is adamant about wearing it to prevent pain in the future. But most of his favorite cargo pants don’t fit, and he has one pair of exercise pants that work under this brace. There is minimal construction around the waist of his exercise pants, making for more comfortable wear of the back brace. But he only has one pair, so I asked him if he wanted me to make a pair? And he responded that would be great.

So here I am making him a pair, and asking him the standard questions we sewists always ask ourselves. Things like:

  • What kind of rise do you like in your pants?
  • How deep do you like your side/seam pockets?
  • How much gathering is comfortable in the waist?
  • Where do you want your cargo pockets placed?
  • Do you want straight legs or boot cut?

And on and on. He looked at me like I had just spoken a language from Jupiter and said, “What?” And suddenly I realized:


He asked first of all what “rise” was and why would he care? Then the depth of pockets was a whole revelation to him. And the idea of having a decision-making choice in the gathering in the waist was like: “Awesome,” but still didn’t know the answer. I had to explain that boot cut allowed him to get his feet and shoes through the bottom of the legs and he said, “You can do that?”

Having sewn now for the greater part of my life (about 2/3rds of my life), it’s been so long since I’ve had to ask those questions, mostly because I know the answers and know instantly what to do without even thinking about it. I know my body and my likes and dislikes so well in the style I like that it’s a given. I wouldn’t even dream of buying or having clothes that don’t have a certain fitting, styling, fashion details, and those deep pockets that I love so much. It never occurred to me that Walt wouldn’t know this. (we’ve been together for 15 years, and he’s heard me talk about fit, style, and fashion so much that he’s probably tuned me out!) I automatically assumed that he knew I would ask him these questions.

This hit me like a rock when I stopped to think about it because most newbies to sewing and those who don’t sew have no idea about the customization that can be done to clothing to make it work right for you, make it look special on you, and even into the magic category, make it feel right on you.

Sewists and sewing teachers talk about customization so much that they think it’s some new tricky marketing technique and doesn’t really mean clothes that are customized to your likes, dislikes, fit, fashion, and taste.

  • We can make that waistband just as high and perfect to fit our body while making it look so attractive.
  • We can make those pants pockets deep enough to hold the most advanced smartphone in the most protective cases without it falling out.
  • We can make the hem on our pants tilt slightly to look longer in the back and shorter (with no break in the pant leg) in front.
  • We can pass on the breast pockets when we don’t want to look bigger there.
  • We can choose where the roll line breaks and the stance starts so that all that extra fabric isn’t on the bust line.
  • We can choose the length of our knit tops so that it hits as a fantastic place on our legs but don’t have to expose our aged knees (wearing leggings).

The bottom line is that the list of options available to we sewists is so endless that it sometimes even amazes us. Imagine what this does to newbies or those who aren’t familiar with sewing at all? It’s frankly overwhelming, so much so, that it belies legitimacy. This kind of choice in clothing can’t be realistic and therefore immediately discounted The marketplace has so limited us to what consumers can or will offer that most consumers are left with minimal choices, often sacrificing fit, certainly rejecting comfort, and without care for the individual style or proportion.

I honestly can’t imagine even thinking of purchasing clothes today. I had a brief flirt with trying to purchase some hiking pants at a sports store when Walt and I made an impromptu decision to take a quick trip. So I visited the store thinking I didn’t have enough time to make my pants before the trip.

What I saw was abominable choices in garments that were so crowded with geegaws on them, that I couldn’t see the pants for the messy junky style. They had extra trim around the waist (making the waist bigger), with pocket flaps with no pocket (more extra fabric around areas that didn’t need to look bigger). The pockets were so dinky; it would have been a miracle to fit one credit card into space, don’t even think about something useful like a smartphone. I really tried on a couple of pairs, really wanting to buy something. I had my money all ready, but the fit was so uncomfy, the looks were so bad, the fit was devastating, that I left.

I went home disgusted and thought: “Wait, the pants pattern I have is already fitted, has everything I want; why am I wasting time at the store?” I went home and in 1½ hours had a pair of pants that fit, had deep pockets, had the rise length I love, the side cargo pockets (with a button to keep the stuff inside), and felt great. I wondered to myself, “What in the world was I thinking?”

But it’s that easy to get lured into thinking that shopping will be faster and better than making. It ain’t so, and from someone who’s tempted by the same thing but refuses to purchase something that doesn’t work, sewing is actually a much more efficient use of our time. Think of all the times you’ve walked the malls, or driven from store to store, or gone from page to page, site to site looking for that perfect garment

But what about the person who doesn’t sew? What about the person who’s never been exposed to sewing, and therefore doesn’t have the slightest idea that clothes can be customized, fitting can be make flattering, styling can be made to enhance your figure and the construction can be made to be comfy on your body? Those people don’t even know those options are available, much less that they can have them. The newbie might suspect it, but is in for a very big surprise when suddenly the realization hits that, “Oooooemmmmgeeee! I could do anything!” And that’s the bottom line.

We can keep this little secret to ourselves. So when we go out, the common phrase is, “Well, you’re lucky cause you fit into a perfect size (you fill in the blank) !” Yeah, right and we all have perfect figures too! ?

I do! Don’t you!!!!

Posted in

Claire Kennedy


  1. Debra Smith on February 6, 2021 at 9:37 am

    You could not have said this better

    • Claire Kennedy on February 6, 2021 at 11:54 am

      It constantly amazes me of those who don’t sew, that don’t understand all the options you have. I even find this with students, when I get to know them a little better and they want a short waistband around their waist or a short collar (or even no collar) and ask them these things and they look at me like “Oh wow, I wouldn’t have thought of that, but I don’t like collars, let’s not put one on!” And off to the races they go. It’s fun to watch this cause it does cause a lot of creativity.

      I think I’m going to have to come up with a customizing checklist, just to remind folks of all the things you can do with variations!!!!

  2. Judith Rickard on February 6, 2021 at 12:23 pm

    I have been making shirts for the men in my family for several years. It gives me great joy to customize (beyond just fitting), and they are so amazed and grateful: the cuff on their wristwatch arm a smidge larger; my son’s breast pocket sized for his smartphone, with a button so it won’t fall out when he bends over; the first button below the collar placed based on how open they like to wear their unbuttoned shirts, etc. So fun.

    And here’s a funny story about customization: when my son visited Viet Nam, he had a suit made to order. I coached him ahead of the trip on things like having it made of tropic weight wool (perfect for his home climate). I also told him to be sure to tell the tailor, when being measured for the pants, which side he “dresses” on. Of course, he had never heard of that and I got the expected reaction when I explained it – “Mooommm, you are embarrassing me!” Yes, I said, but you will be glad later. And he was!

    Off to the sewing studio this morning to make DH’s Valentine’s Day shirt!

    • Claire Kennedy on February 6, 2021 at 7:33 pm

      I know isn’t is so much fun to do these little things and things that they had never thought of. I do silk “camp” shirts for Walt cause he wore suits most of his life and now he doesn’t want to wear another one again. (I think we may have to bury him in his camp shirt and cargo pants!) But I can do all sorts of things on the camp shirts that make them elegant yet totally casual enough for his “style”. He loves them, they breathe beautifully and feel like a million bucks. You’re right, it’s fun to do so many things like that!

      BTW I hadn’t hear that expression “dresses” in a very long time! Love it!

  3. Barbara J on February 7, 2021 at 3:12 pm

    Just a note – look at your hardware store for Yak Trax. They are ice grippy things that slip onto your shoes.
    They don’t cost much – under $20 at our local store – and are great. https://yaktrax.implus.com/products/yaktrax-walk-ice-shoes

    • Claire Kennedy on February 7, 2021 at 3:33 pm

      OMG – those look fantastic….thank you so much. I’m ordering some today as the weather is looking monstrous for the next week or so here! Thanks!

  4. Jean Moore on February 8, 2021 at 4:41 am

    You are so right! The world of possibilities is endless … and sometimes that’s the problem. I can find myself paralysed by indecision when presented with too many options. I have to be very firm with myself when it comes to adding those little extras and keep firmly in mind that function is as important as form and appearance (so I ask myself just what is the purpose/reason for adding those extra little touches). Last time I set out to make a simple jacket I got so carried away with the idea of all the nice touches I could add that it turned into a huge production that wasn’t finished in time for Christmas.

    • Claire Kennedy on February 9, 2021 at 4:55 am

      Yeah – that’s my old expression that I’ve made up a fabric 20 times already and haven’t cut a line!!!! It is difficult and the best you can do is make a list. It’s the plague of being creative. At some point, you know you can’t do all of them and let them go. This is why I say that the truly creative people are really the most generous. They have a ton of ideas and are more than happy to give them away so they can get on with their other ideas!!!! The nice thing is that you will never be without ideas!

  5. John Yingling on February 25, 2021 at 4:54 am

    If you get tired of interrogating your spouse about his preferences and he cannot give you any answers, you might try just taking his favorite pants and copying it. The clothing companies have done most of the hard work of fitting, proportion, and location of pockets and trim, you can alter as much as you deem necessary.

    • Claire Kennedy on March 1, 2021 at 12:04 pm

      This is a valid solution for this. I think the part that was so astonishing to me was the basic questions that either he couldn’t answer because those choices hadn’t been afforded to him in ages and the fact that he never thought to question it. This lays more at the feet of RTW and their magnificent marketing which has managed to quell any sort of thought that, “is there something wrong with this picture?!”

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