Sewing Resolutions: 10 Tips for Transitioning to a (Mostly) Handmade Wardrobe

on December 29 | in Sewing + Quilting Tips, Sewing Inspiration, Sewing Trends | by | with 11 Comments

As we look ahead to the new year we’re excited about new beginnings and we’re even excited our resolutions! Allie Olson joins us for our first post in a series about fresh starts for your sewing in the new year. We can shape our lives to reflect the things we love, and we can re-work our closets to reflect our personalities and best features too.

Allie is a co-founder of Indiesew, a one-stop shop for high-quality sewing patterns from independent designers. Indiesew also offers a supportive community to share your sewing. Allie is offering a $25 Indiesew gift card to jump start your transition to a handmade wardrobe! Visit the Indiesew blog for your chance to win.

Allie spent a full year without purchasing any new clothing, making everything she needed and blogging about it along the way. Learn more in Allie’s introduction, and please share your thoughts in the comments below. Are you making any sewing resolutions? Do you make any or all of your own clothes? Here are Allie’s 10 Tips for Transitioning to a (Mostly) Handmade Wardrobe…


It’s that time of year where we feel invigorated to make big changes. It can be fun to envision how you’ll you transform your body, mind, wardrobe and home in the New Year. But it can be totally disheartening when you’ve set goals too lofty to reach. I know this, because I’ve been there too many times. But a New Year’s resolution doesn’t have to end in heartache, especially when you’re on a mission to revamp your wardrobe.

One question: Do you love what’s hanging in your closet? If your answer to that question is “kind of,” “eh… Not really,” or “heck no,” I encourage you to take a closer look at what’s on those hangers and in your drawers. Getting dressed in the morning should be fun! And I’m a big believer that garment sewing and personal style goes hand in hand.

You may have heard of the Capsule Wardrobe made popular by the blog Unfancy. The idea of a minimalist wardrobe really resonates with me. I love the idea of having a deep appreciation for every single piece of clothing you own. Mixing and matching a limited number of clothing items sounds like a fun challenge to me. I love the idea of living with less and I love the idea of wearing handmade even more.

Today, I’m giving you some tips to help you transition into a mostly handmade wardrobe. I’ll start with steps to prepare for the process and then show you how to pull off what may seem like an ambitious endeavor. I promise you’ll feel totally liberated after it’s all over. The key to the process is to be realistic, and to know what makes you weak in the knees. You’ve got this.

1. Get Rid of the Junk
We all have it and it drives us all crazy. Maybe the junk in your closet and drawers was a hand-me-down sweater from your older sister, or a screaming deal on basic tees at Target. Every closet contains clothing that, for whatever reason, you just feel less than excited about. In order to see what you actually need, it’s important to weed out what you don’t.

If any of the below describes your clothing, get rid of it!:

  • It’s full of stains, holes, pills, or is completely worn out.
  • It doesn’t fit. Either it’s too big or too small, or otherwise doesn’t feel comfortable.
  • You hate the color. Or, you’re even just unsure about the color.
  • It’s not your style or you just don’t feel like you when wearing it.
  • You haven’t worn it in over a year.

How should you get rid of your closet junk? Thrift stores are a great place to drop off items that have seen some wear but are still functional. If you have high dollar value items still in good condition, consider taking them to a consignment store. You’ll enjoy the extra cash and the extra closet space.

2. Define Your Style
After completing step one you should have a better idea of the type of clothing you just don’t like. Write down the details that are prompting you to get rid of those clothes. If fabric gathers give you the willies, take note of it. If you just can’t get behind a figure hugging pencil skirt, so be it. By making a list of type of clothing that doesn’t fit your preferences, you’ll be able to start to define your personal style.

Now, take a look at what’s hanging in your closet and folded in your drawers. Pay special attention to those pieces of clothing that see lots of repeated wear. What are their features? Do most of your tops have scoop necklines? Are your favorite jeans skinny or boot cut? Are you a basic tee (all day everyday) kind of girl? What silhouettes do you feel most comfortable in? Write as many of these down as you can.

Take this opportunity to clean up and organize your closet and drawers. It’s much easier to take a clothing inventory when everything is nice and neat.

3. Know Your Favorite Fabrics
With your newly cleaned out closet, now is a good time to take note of the fabrics you enjoy wearing most. Even if you don’t consider yourself a fabric expert, simply note whether you wear more knits or wovens.

If there’s a certain fabric that feels amazing against your skin, look at the clothing’s tag and write down the fabric type. If some fabrics make you feel too hot or are too scratchy, make note of that too.

4. Create a Color + Pattern Palette
One final look at what’s hanging in your closet should give you a good idea of the colors that you enjoy wearing. Simply unfocus your eyes to see if you’re a neutral or brighter-is-better color lover. Your current wardrobe color palette does not need to dictate your wardrobe’s future color palette, but be aware of the colors you tend to be attracted to. That likely won’t change. You can experiment with new colors throughout this process.

Conversely, know what colors you absolutely refuse to wear. As hard as I’ve tried, I cannot pull off mustard yellow or chartreuse green. At the root of my style is a neutral color palette that tends towards black, greys and navy blue. But, I do find the occasional brightly colored clothing item that makes my heart sing. Make a list of the colors you dislike, those you love, and those you like to wear occasionally.

5. Make a Wish List
Now is the time to write down what you would like to see in your closet. Maybe you’ve been coveting a leather jacket for years and just haven’t been able to find the right one? Maybe the new kimono trend is right up your alley.

If you’re a Pinterest user, go browse your style board and see what you still love even years after pinning images. Write down those pie-in-the-sky wardrobe wishes.

6. Evaluate Your Skills
Okay, you’re halfway there! Now that you’ve spent some time cleaning out and evaluating your current duds, you can start filling in the gaps with handmade items! I’ll assume that if you’re considering transitioning to a handmade wardrobe you have some sewing skills or at least will have an idea of what techniques you do and don’t know.

Make a list of garment sewing techniques where you consider your skills adequate. If sewing an elastic waist is your jam, write that down. Conversely, take note of what you don’t yet know. If a fly zip sounds terrifying, make note of it. Making a list of your sewing skills and weaknesses will help you stay level headed in the outset of this adventure.

7. Plan Your First Item + Find a Pattern
Start small. Instead of planning the next sixteen items you will sew to fill up your closet, choose just one as a starting point. Make sure the item is season appropriate for the current weather and falls somewhere on the lists of favorites you made earlier. For your first handmade wardrobe item, I suggest sewing with your favorite fabric type, favorite color and with your favorite details. If the first piece of handmade clothing you create becomes a wardrobe staple, you’re likely to stick with this ambitious challenge.

Find a sewing pattern that fits your style. If you’re looking for a basic tee pattern, something like the Union St Tee with tons of options is a great place to start for any level of sewist. If you lean towards woven blouses, take look at Made by Rae’s patterns.

Also, stick to your current skill set with this first item. I don’t recommend trying to sew a pair of jeans or a fitted dress at the outset of this challenge.

8. Buy Your Fabric + Supplies
I don’t ever recommend buying yards and yards of fabric during one visit to the fabric store, simply because you could not resist. I’ve been there, and most of that fabric is still sitting in my stash, no longer the drool-worthy item I thought it once was.

Once you’ve picked out your pattern, take a trip to your local independent fabric store and find the perfect fabric for the clothing item. Refer to your color palette list and play it safe by sewing this first item in a color you know you’ll love wearing. Search for the fabric blends that you wrote down earlier. If you have a question about the fabric type don’t hesitate ask the sales associate.

Pay special attention to other sewing supplies that the pattern requires. Needles, thread, and interfacing that are suited to that specific pattern and fabric will always create a nicer finished product than if you use the universal form of these supplies.

9. Sew Your Item + Take Notes
Now is the fun part! Get sewing! No special assignment here, because sewing is hopefully where most of the joy of this whole process should take place. If you’re an intermediate or advanced sewist, feel free to deviate from the patterns instructions to suit your style.

Once your item is sewn up, give yourself a pat on the back for creating something totally unique! Try it on. How does the item fit? Do the seams have the correct amount of stretch or stability? Do you feel comfortable with the silhouette? If so, awesome! Success on the first try!

Don’t be discouraged if the final look of the garment isn’t totally what you were envisioning. Often times, getting the perfect fit from a garment takes a little modification to the pattern. Write down where things might seem a bit off. If you’d rather your top be three inches longer write that down. With every garment you sew, you’ll learn how to adjust the fit of the item for your body shape. This is the best part of a handmade wardrobe! Every item is tailored to your measurements!

If you don’t totally love what you made, and you’re sure you’ll never wear it, that’s totally ok. But, don’t hang it up in your closet. Offer it to a friend who might like the item better, or repurpose the fabric for another pattern. If nothing else, chalk up the sewing fail to a learning experience.

10. Do It All Over Again
You’ve made your first handmade item! Take a minute to reflect on the process and what you would do differently. Go back and revisit your style, color and fabric lists and pick out another pattern. Or try your hand at creating your own pattern. Talk to your sewing friends and find out what patterns they love and which they struggled with.

If you’re ready to start creating your own patterns, here are some great resources:

Once you’ve created a few wardrobe staples you love, revisit your wardrobe wish list (you can create your Indiesew wish list here). Are you ready to tackle that leather jacket? Go for it! With a little experience under your belt, your confidence will skyrocket with more advanced garments.

If you sew one garment per week, you can have a very full handmade wardrobe by year’s end! The best part of sewing is showing off what you’ve created! Create an Instagram account if you don’t already have one and start engaging with the sewing community. Go create an Indiesew account and upload your sewing creations to provide some inspiration to the sewing world! The support and encouragement you’ll receive will keep you focused on your journey to a handmade wardrobe.

Happy sewing!

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11 Responses to Sewing Resolutions: 10 Tips for Transitioning to a (Mostly) Handmade Wardrobe

  1. Wendy Ward says:

    Brilliant post and some great advice for productive, wearable sewing!

  2. Allie says:

    Hello Ginger! I do generally recommend sewing a muslin for most garments, unless it’s a knit garment where fit is less of a concern. If you can find different types of garment fabrics on sale I would buy a few yards for each for the express purpose of making a muslin. It will ensure that your final product is one that you’ll love.

  3. Linda says:

    Great information on a timeless subject.

  4. Ginger Ratzlaff says:

    Do you recommend making a “muslin” of your garment before sewing the pattern with fashion fabric? I understand that fabric for the muslin should be the same type as the fashion fabric and that increases the cost of a garment considerably. What is your suggestion?
    I like your notebook suggestions. I have never thought of that before and I think this would improve my fashion sense immensely.

  5. Kate says:

    Fantastic post, full of really useful tips. Simple and smart! I would never have thought of checking the fabric type on my store-bought clothes – genius!

  6. Ruth Lutz says:

    Great blog post! I have decided THIS is the year that I will sew a new garment each month and add things to my wardrobe that really work for my body and my lifestyle! Your words give me the organization and structure I needed to plan what I want to make and how to go about it. Thanks for your timely advice! Happy New Yesr!
    Warm regards,
    Ruth Lutz

  7. Barbara Wilson says:

    Love this information. I am going to give it a go.

  8. So many great steps that make a handmade wardrobe possible.

  9. Lyss says:

    Thanks for sharing this post! I’m eager to apply these tips and tricks for this coming year and can’t wait to start this process. Happy new year!

  10. Alessandra says:

    Thanks for this! This is wonderful!

  11. Laura says:

    This is an excellent post. Considering that most “mall clothes” have that been there done that look, coupled with poor construction and abysmal fabric, I am turning to sewing to get the clothes I want to wear. I am, however, still struggling with fit issues and am taking classes to work through my concerns. I agree with you on the starting point and that is find a pattern you like that is not too difficult to sew,that is well written and provides sound construction principles. Considering fabric,with the variety of choices we have for fabrics you will most certainly find one you love, but don’t buy cheap fabric, it is a sure way to sabotage your project. I look forward to more articles in this series.

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