Despite the creativity that sewing my own clothes affords, I still find myself stuck in a sewing rut sometimes, making similar things over and over again – or, on the other end of the scale, making things I wouldn’t usually wear and ending up, surprisingly enough, never wearing the finished garment I’ve spent so long putting together.
I like to think I’ve got better at this (I still wear and like everything I made last year, which I consider a win), partly because I’ve developed more of a sense of my preferences (by doing the things I’ve listed below) and partly because I’m more particular about the fabrics and patterns I use now than when I first started sewing. Here are a few of the ways I ensure that I sew what suits me whilst still keeping things varied. I’d love to hear your tips on this too.
1. Embrace all genres. Perusing sewing blogs is addictive – and, indeed, essential for those looking for handy sewing advice, tips and all-round handmade prettiness – but you’ll be missing out on a goldmine of ideas if you limit your reading to craft blogs only. In fact, I probably spend just as much time checking out fashion blogs as I do sewing ones as it ensures I don’t just stick to sewing the same old styles.
Interior design blogs also have plenty to offer the dressmaker – homeware trends often go hand in hand with fashion, but there can be a little more scope for creativity when it comes to designing a home, so you’re likely to spot unusual fabrics and unexpected prints that you wouldn’t see elsewhere on these kinds of blogs.
As a film and TV addict, I also love to look to what’s on screen for inspiration and can spend hours pouring over costume design blogs such as Sweet Sunday Mornings and Guise. This might have something to do with the fact that, had you asked me what me dream job would be aged 16, I would have said a costume designer for film and theatre, but I promise sites like these are not just for costume geeks.
Film is increasingly influencing designs on the high street (remember all those 1920s-inspired dresses when The Great Gatsby was released?) so it might just put you ahead of the curve if you’re up to date on the new releases, as well as the timeless classics. Also, costumes are often some of the most well-researched pieces of design you’re likely to find, with a high level of attention to detail, especially when it comes to period pieces, so are a great place to look for those who want to incorporate some vintage style into their sewing and get a particular classic design or shape just so.
2. Get out there. The internet is, of course, a huge (and occasionally overwhelming) source of ideas and inspiration, but it also pays dividends to log off, get outside and open your eyes to what’s going on in the big world outside as well as the world wide web.
Obviously, visiting exciting new cities and far-flung places is a fun way to do this, but, if your budget won’t stretch to a holiday, just going for a wander in your home town or city can feed your imagination. Street style isn’t just to be found outside Somerset House during Fashion Week, you know – take a look at the people on the streets where you live (not too close a look, mind) and you might just find some sartorial gems (and, even if not, you might find out what you definitely don’t want to wear).
I like to see as many exhibitions as I can too – especially at the Bath Fashion Museum. There’s nothing like seeing a historical garment, worn by a real-life person many years ago, up close – I love imagining where they might’ve worn it and the life they might have led.
3. Start a collection. Online pinboards are a convenient and quick way to collect things that inspire you, but it does mean you have to fire up the computer every time you’re in need of ideas (and can lose hours and hours of your life to the internet. We’ve all been there). Having inspiring things around you in your home, always on hand, is a sure-fire way to kick-start your creativity. I don’t mean you need to rush out and invest in expensive art – small, inexpensive things are often the best. For example, every time I go to an exhibition, I buy a postcard or two featuring a few of my favourite pieces from the display, or a particularly stylish photograph, and I pop them onto the noticeboard propped up on my desk.
4. Go window shopping. As tempting as it may be to splash the cash on ALL THE FABRIC, try to stop yourself from making impulse purchases too often. Instead, I like to go window shopping, both in fabric shops and clothing stores, before making a fabric purchase, so I can get a full look at the styles on the high street and all the fabrics on offer before I part with my cash.
It also gives you a chance to think about whether what you’re planning on buying will fit well with your existing wardrobe. Not to say that impulse buys can’t be fun, but personally I’ve found that I don’t wear certain garments I’ve made because the impulse-bought fabric I’ve used isn’t really me. Boring, but true.
5. Look in the mirror. Knowing your shape is probably the most important factor when it comes to choosing what to sew. In fact, this probably should have been number one on the list. It’s surprising how little you can know about your own body shape and proportions, especially when buying clothes off the rack. Spend some time really looking at your body in front of the mirror (this should go hand in hand with measuring yourself properly – the Colette Sewing Handbook has a great guide for doing this).
This is definitely NOT an exercise in spotting flaws – on the contrary, this is about getting to know your shape, whatever that may be, and finding the styles that suit your body best. For example, as I’m very petite, it’s all about proportion for me – I generally choose quite fitted styles, as I don’t want to look like I’ve borrowed my mum’s dress. If I do opt for something slouchy or oversized, I make sure I wear something fitted as well to balance it out. The moral of this story is: get to know your body, and the sewing inspiration will follow.