April 1, 2015

How sewing changed my body image

Hi lovelies!

I wrote a piece for the online Colette Seamwork magazine about how sewing has helped me come to peace with my body – you can check it out (for free) here. They also commissioned this lovely watercolour of me – quite an unexpected surprise!

Has sewing helped you become more body positive? I’d love to hear about it.

Sarai at Colette also let me know that they’re looking for more stories about how sewing has changed people’s lives – if you have a story to tell, you can submit your idea here.


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47 thoughts on “How sewing changed my body image

  1. I just read your article over at seamwork, it was well written and perfectly summed up how so many of us feel. Thank you!

    1. Thank you very much! I’m glad that you liked it.

  2. Lana LeesVoer says:

    I cried, seriously. You perfectly summed up my childhood, teenyears and early twenties. I still struggle with sewing because i’m not great at adapting patterns for curves yet but I am learning. And also I am typing this next to my full size body double, a manaquin we made to match me, this has helped me with sewing but also helped me accept my size. Thank you again for your blog, I am always excited to see a new post come up

    1. I think it’s amazing how universal so many body image issues are, ironically regardless of people’s actual bodies. Learning to sew and fit is definitely a journey, but what I found is that I went through periods of great progress, then I would plateau for ages, then progress again. I also started choosing patterns and fabrics that were easier to fit, if I’m honest – you’ll have way less problem making a wrap dress than a darted woven dress! But I’m so glad you’re already starting to see the benefits, and I promise you that if you just keep on practicing sooner or later you’ll be amazed at what you can do regarding fit!

      1. You’re sewing is amazing, your clothes just so look good from the pics we see and you just seem so confident. Thank you for being an inspiration to people of all sizes. I’m still struggling with fit issues and things that will suit me as opposed to the clothes I like. In my mind I’m still size 12 (or was that a size 6??)- I’m not sure what I am now but its a lot larger! and full gathered skirts just don’t cut it anymore!

        But for the moment I’m literally in a place where people don’t really know their sizes. They just wear what fits (mostly!) or has been made for them. It’s really liberating to be in a country where people get their clothes made for them and manage to look fabulous and shows we don’t need to be tied to sizes as you point out. Thank you for reminding us that you can look good no matter your size

    2. Hi Lana, Might be me asking a really dumb question but how did you manage to make your mannequin double? Do you really make them?

  3. Great article, and of course it resonated with me too. I remember when I first started out sewing, I felt like it wasn’t “fair” that I had to grade up patterns because I was out of the size range on most of the designs I like. Even though I was learning that I could make clothes that fit, it still hurt that I had to do more work than smaller girls. And because I didn’t know any sewing people at that point, I was under the misconception that patterns fit all the smaller people pretty much out of the envelope, so it only added to my frustrations. Luckily, I started meeting up with sewing people and seeing that people of ALL sizes have to make all kinds of adjustments. That was really what started opening my eyes. And thanks to the hard work of people like you, pattern companies are listening and expanding sizes and giving us cute plus-size designs. I think the community is more inclusive than ever.

    Now, I feel the same as you–a measurement is just a measurement. An adjustment is just an adjustment. I kind of love that I know my body’s “quirks” now. I spent my entire life thinking my body was symmetrical and now it’s like, “Woah, did you know one of my shoulders is higher than the other? Hmm, and my hips are different too! Huh, and one boob is a little bigger!” I feel like you were to tell me back then that I wasn’t symmetrical, I would have felt like a freak or something, but now it’s just all knowledge to help me get a better fit. And I have to say that I feel a teensy bit smug about recognizing proper fit now. For example, I’ll see my sister (who is like a size 6) wear something RTW that she thinks fit just because her body literally fits into it. But in my head, I’m like, “Hmmm, that would be cute, but the waistline’s in the wrong position and the shoulder seams are too far back…” It’s like, yes, sewing, I love you!

    1. Thanks Nicole! There’s so many of us out there that feel like this, I’m just glad that we’re getting more airtime now. I can’t even begin to imagine how different my life would have been if I’d have started sewing and discovered the curvy blogosphere as a teenager! It’s funny what you say about fitting – I went through the same thought process too, until I realised that hey, if you’re a size 6 but your hips are a size 8 you’ll have just as much problem fitting into stuff as me. That said: many patterns still don’t even go to plus sizes so some of the time we do have unique challenges.

    2. I’m the same as you, Nicole – I think it took me learning that EVERYONE had fitting issues, no matter their shape or size, before it really sank in that learning to fit is an advantage, rather than it being a disadvantage that I HAD to fit

  4. Beautiful article – just read it. Whenever I read your blog and see your lovely makes, my first thought has always been, “hot damn, that’s a sexy lady who knows how to dress well!” and not, “she’s plus-sized.” You look so confident in your handmade garments, and that’s the most important thing – not the number on the pattern size!

    1. Aw, thanks! I don’t think of myself as sexy *at all* – I’m just a doofus in real life – but I guess that’s just another mental hurdle I”ll have to get over at some point 🙂

  5. Cadi Young says:

    I was so pleased to see you wrote an article for Seamwork, and after reading it want to say thank you for putting words to what so many of us, of all sizes, go through to dress ourselves. The blogging community has given me wings so to speak when it comes to my sewing, I have learned so much from you all and it’s given me a ton of inspiration as a curvaceous vixen who wants to wear twirly swirly skirts and dresses and hates shopping for pants. Keep up your infectious vibe, it inspires so many of us!!!

    1. I’m so glad it resonated with you, Cadi. You go, curvaceous vixen!

  6. LaraG says:

    That was a great article, thank you for writing it. It sums up the way I have always felt about my body and how freeing sewing has been for my physical appearance and my psychological wellness. I have grown to hate clothing shopping, but not because of the number on the tag. It’s because I know that my custom made gear is of a higher quality than I could ever find in the shops, and it bugs me that I used to be such a chump and resorted to wearing such ill fitting clothes.

    1. Isn’t it great? It actually sort of shocks me when I look back and see how much I’ve changed. And yes, it’s made trying to go clothes shopping a total nightmare because there’s no way I’m going to accept a garment that should have an FBA, or that was sewn shoddily!

  7. vickygorry says:

    Thank you for putting it into words in your thoughtful and inspiring article. It’s slowly dawned on me that I should be sewing my own clothes to have dresses that fit me properly and the inspiration out there on blogs and Pinterest is incredible.

    1. You’re welcome Vicky, thank you for your kind words. Sewing is really such a liberating thing to do – you should definitely give it a go!

  8. Janet Hasselblad says:

    Thank you for your excellent article and for your blog in general. When I happened upon the Curvy Sewing Collective it was a happy day. I’m still not at a sewing prowess to execute “fitted” clothing, still leaning towards “loose and flowy”, but I am excited about adapting my current looser clothing to be more fitted and learning the sewing skills for making clothing that fits me and all my uniqueness. Body self acceptance is a big one for me and your blog has helped tremendously. Thanks!

    1. Jenny says:

      Thanks Janet! Sewing is definitely a long-term learning curve but I think it can help how we feel about ourselves even from the beginning. Good luck with your quest!

  9. Ginna says:

    Thanks for this! I know learning to fit myself is really been eye-opening, and helps me get over my numberitis.

    One of the things I’ve noticed myself doing is eyeballing clothing at work, around my friends, at the mall etc. If you know what you are looking for, the vast majority of people, men and women, are wearing clothes that don’t really fit them properly.

    A friend recently bought a bunch of clothes and was modelling them for me, and every single one of them had major fit issues. The shoulders on her jackets were way too big, because she bought the size to fit her bust, sleeves too long, some of the blouses gaped. Of course, I didn’t say anything, because she doesn’t sew and probably would never start. But it’s amazing what we as consumers put up with.

    Thank goodness we sewists don’t have to take that anymore, no matter what size we are!

    1. Jenny says:

      It’s sort of a mixed blessing, right? All of a sudden you see issues with fit which on the one hand means you can improve your own fit but on the other means you see problems everywhere! I think it’s important to remind yourself regularly that hardly anyone else sees it even if you do 🙂

  10. Thank you for this post Jenny! I too thought your article was very well written and I thought could be applied to many people. As another viewpoint, I remember as a kid stuffing a washcloth or other small item into the waistband of shorts or pants because they wouldn’t stay up (I have kids and it’s so lovely that a majority of waists now have an elastic that can be adjusted for any size waist). I’ve always been really self-conscious of my small chest and I think have slightly poor posture because of making myself stand a certain way growing up to hide my chest (which sounds odd saying it now, so I’m not sure of the logic behind it at the time, lol). Now that I make clothing for myself I don’t think of how inadequate I am, but what a good job I’ve done making the best garment choice and fitting the pattern to the best of my ability for ME. You are right in that it’s wonderful to just sit down and sew according to your measurements and it doesn’t matter what the size is, for sewing, it’s just a measurement. I follow a lot of garment blogs now and the bloggers are of all shapes, sizes, and races, and it’s wonderful to see that every item looks perfect on them because it’s truly one-of-a-kind. 🙂

    1. Hi Sara – oh yes, there are so many of us with so many shapes who all have such similar experiences! It just goes to show how arbitrary clothes sizes are and frankly stores have an impossible task trying to fit everyone. Sewing is really the only way to get a great fit for the 95% of us who don’t exactly match the block

  11. Randi Dombek says:

    Such a great article!!! That is exactly why I started garment sewing! You summed up my feeling exactly and more!

    1. Thanks Randi, I’m glad it resonated with you.

  12. erniek3 says:

    Very happy to see your writing over at Seamwork, and happy to see the landscape changing for what is ‘beautiful’. I used to admire women who were obviously happy in their own larger bodies, and now feel that way about…pretty much everybody. We are so absurdly beautiful, all of us. Sweet watercolor!

    1. Isn’t that so great? It’s amazing how different the world is when you frame changes.

  13. Alison says:

    Thank you so much for this article. I nodded my head the entire way through–what we go through to find clothes! And the plus size stores don’t always have the clothes I want to wear. I am going to start sewing my own clothes this summer (I am a teacher–how else would I want to spend 2.5 months!). Thank you for giving me an entry into the sewing community online. Cheers!

    1. I’m so glad you’re going to start sewing clothes Alison! It’s so much fun and so rewarding. You should check out the tutorials on the Curvy Sewing Collective (www.curvysewingcollective.com) – we have quite a few resources for beginners to garment sewing.

  14. Eleanor says:

    Thank you for your article. It put a lot of things into focus for me. Now that I have a clearer view of myself, I feel much better and look forward to sewing lots more custom clothing for myself.

    1. That’s great Eleanor! Thanks for stopping by.

  15. Now that I’m firmly into “middle age”, I’ve been finding it more difficult to find chino-type pants that fit me well. I’m pretty much average-sized, but it seems that most RTW pants are cut for a younger man’s body shape. A few months ago, I went into a men’s shop wearing a serviceable, but old pair of pants, 33″ waist and looking for something equivalent but in a 34″ waist. When I explained to one of the clerks what I was looking for, he took a look at me and told me that I’d need a 35″ or 36″ waist size. Surprised, I asked him why, and he told me “Because you have a butt,”, apparently because the RTW chinos that they were selling were cut in a way that I’d have to put up with a baggy waistband to accommodate my rear end. So I decided that they didn’t have what I was looking for, and I left the store. I later told this story to a woman friend and when I finished, she told me “I’ve never heard a woman blame the clothes for not fitting”, and told me that most of the women she knew would feel that the problem was that their butt was too big, and not that the pants weren’t cut correctly for their body shape. I don’t yet have the sewing skills to make my own clothing yet, but I’m looking forward to the day when I can make whatever I need and know that it will fit well. Thanks for the article.

    1. Hi Ken! I think the gender aspect of it is so, so true. I used to work for a huge razor company, and they found that when men cut themselves shaving they attribute it to the razor being bad, but when women cut themselves they assume they’ve done something wrong. The feelings of agency and responsibility really are very different in many of the cultures in which we live. I think that sewing really helps women shift on this mindset, though – you start to realize that it truly is the problem of the clothes for not fitting you in the stores, rather than the other way around.

      1. This is enlightening Jenny! I liked your article because as many said it’s not just about plus sizes…anyone is bound to have some body ‘quirks’…even picture-perfect models! With RTW we started thinking we have to fit into standard sizes…and this couldn’t be farther away from the truth. That said it’s clear that doesn’t mean we should blame brands for not catering for our unique bodies…that’s what bespoke is about ;o)

        I also wanted to say that you are the perfect example of a beautiful woman. Honestly I look at you and think I wish I was as beautiful as Jenny…and I am not just saying this because it’s your blog!

  16. emadethis says:

    What a beautiful article! And the watercolor is stunning! In my before sewing days, I always hated going to stores and not being able to find anything that find my chest that wasn’t falling off my narrow shoulders. I’d leave dressing rooms sad and frustrated, thinking there was something wrong with how I was put together. I pulled and yanked at my clothes all day long to try and make them sit in the right spot. When I started sewing and realized that I had total control over how things fit, it was a revelation. However my body has changed in the past 8 years that I’ve been sewing, I just figure out the fit issue du jour and work out the issue and end up with something that looks like me. I no longer think that I’m put together wrong–I’m grateful for the body I’ve been given and I’m glad I can sew for it.

    1. Thanks for your lovely comment! “I no longer think that I’m put together wrong” – that resonates with me so much. Even realising how fundamentally small the differences are between bodies by seeing pattern pieces made a difference to me – you start to see things so much more objectively when you sew.

  17. That’s a lovely article. I agree that it is a powerful moment when the numbers on a tape measure become tools rather than judgements. I feel sad you worried you wouldn’t find a date, but that’s obviously been blown out of the water! And I LOVE the watercolour. Will you get a print framed?

    1. Thanks! And yes it’s in a frame in my sewing room 🙂 And….errr.. I’ve been single for years. But there you go!

  18. Great article Jenny. I think it’s a very healthy attitude to just look at the numbers and measurements as tools to help you look awesome, as you do. Lovely painting of you- so special!

  19. It’s a lovely article, and I can relate, as retail doesn’t fit my middle-aged body properly, either. Also the clothing designed for people me age is dowdy, expensive, and poorly made. My wardrobe’s a lot more fashionable and luxurious since I started sewing again! I think a lot of boomers who are sewing feel this way.

    1. It’s all of us really, isn’t it? I guess it’s too much to hope for that retailers can fit all of us, quirks and all – just as well we know how to sew 🙂

  20. Susan Neidorfler says:

    Hi Jenny:
    I have been reading your blog for awhile (off and on). It is amazing how many sewing projects you have done and all of them look so nice. I sew a few things a year but mostly for someone else as a gift. Soon I will measure myself and start sewing something for me. Funny thing, I went with a friend to a Good Will yesterday and found myself a pretty wrap dress. I tried it on and ended up purchasing it. I think it was fate to get me started on sewing myself something. Thanks for being an inspiration. Congrats on all your accomplishments. I miss seeing the posts of your craft sewing bees with your friends.

  21. Denise LaTrace says:

    I loved your article. I’m sure it resonates with everyone who reads it. I have a grandmother who was a tailor, a mother who sewed, sometimes as a job, but I was never interested (I’d much rather find a corner to hide in, with a good book!). That is until Grade 8 Home Ec class. We had a substitute teacher for half of the year who loved sewing, so she didn’t teach like a “teacher”, but imparted that excitement about sewing.

    And that was right about then that I learned about fit and that you can’t just sew straight from the patterns and expect a great fit, even when you’re 13 years old. Of course, that came as a lesson I would never forget. Having spent hours on a beautiful dress, with half packets, and set in, gathered to a band sleeves, and a seamed, elasticized waist, I remember being so disappointed when the waist was way up where it didn’t belong (besides the big boobs, I’m also long waisted). I still wore it, but made another then, with the changes, and it was wonderful seeing the difference in the fit. So now, even when I’ve made a pattern before, I always just double check things.

    I think something we should remember is that ready to wear started to “vanity size” in the 80’s. And every company has their own version of what a size should be. So it really isn’t about the “number” anymore, and when you sew, you really begin to realize it. And that is empowering, especially to get that perfect fit that you know you would never find in a million years in ready to fit.

    My mom has always said, “When you look good, you feel good” and how true that is. We all have enough things to worry about in life. Worrying about our shirt gaping, or pants riding up, or waistband digging in shouldn’t be any of those things. We can make what we like, how we like, with the perfect fit, and that frees us up to deal with the myriad other things in our lives.

  22. Beautifully written! I love the bit about a measurement simply dictating what size to cut instead of stressing on what size will fit in a store. I wear a conventional size but my proportions are much different than standard. I’m working on figuring out how to make patterns fit better, thank goodness for the Internet!

  23. Like many of the girls before, I cried reading your post. It is so cruel! I’m not a plus-size, my manequin is like.. 40 (I have no idea what size that is on US), and I can’t find anything that fits. Here in Brazil is very hard to find something wearable to young women in my size. Everything is ugly, like.. I don’t have a Barbie body, so I should not wear beautiful things. It’s absurd!
    You, my dear, just made my day with this post. You helped me convince myself of that. We are perfect the way we are, no matter what.

  24. Kay Pocock says:

    We are goddesses! I took great pleasure in sculpting a version of MY body shape onto a donated mannequin. She sits in full view in the creation room and all visitors can see her and my shape. I derive great pleasure from making clothes from beautiful fabrics that are comfortable on and around my body. Free from size tyranny. Eating cake in spirit.

Let me know what you think!