Reflecting on a year of sewing

I sewed 37 items this year. 31 of these were items of clothing or accessories for me, and 6 were for other people or projects. The items not for me included three 'nude suits' for a short film, a commission for a magazine and a dress for a drag queen that I didn't finish as he moved to Glasgow, I made it far too big and felt unsure of adjusting it without my model on hand.

Here are the nude suits in action.

I think 31 new garments (though two of them are actually bags) is quite a ridiculous amount of clothing to become the owner of over a 12 month period. My goal is to have a more focussed year of sewing in 2018, with less of the clothes I make sitting unworn in my wardrobe and perhaps (shock horror) less time spent sewing all-in-all. Over the past couple of years my job has come to involve more and more data analysis, which I really enjoy. So much so that I took an online course in data science. I'm still very far from being a pro, but I have come to love a good Excel spreadsheet and the unexpected knowledge and insight that analysing data can bring.

If I can delve into what is working for me, perhaps I can spend less time, sewing less things, but produce the same amount of 'major smash hit' garments that I did in 2017. I'm going to analyse what I made, what made me make it, whether it can be considered a success and if not, what's the explanation for that? 

Let's see what the data can tell us...

The graph above shows my sewing output over the year, the numbers up the left indicating how many items I made per month. In February, May, August, September and November I made 4 garments within the month. April was my most productive month, with a total of 8 garments made. This is clearly an anomoly, and because 3 of those 8 were costumes for my friend's film. I had to meet his deadline and I took time off work in order to do so.

Though there was never a month in which I didn't sew, my production was low in June, July and December with just one garment made in each of those months. About half way through this year I started to feel like sewing was becoming work for me. Not that I was paid, but it started to feel like a task that I allocated a large, fixed amount of time to and therefore curtailed my freedom. I gave it a rest, changed my attitude towards it (I decided not to think of it as the default activity I would do in free time I had all to myself, but something I might choose to do, amongst other things) went back to it and regained my feelings toward it as a rewarding leisure activity. I think this period happened to coincide with summer, which is my favourite time of year and a time I'd rather be outdoors exploring than sitting alone indoors, which is obviously what sewing demands!

Of the 31 items I started sewing for me, there's one I didn't finish, which is a pink sequinned top I started work on in April as I thought I could wear it to play drums for my band's last ever gig. Alas, I still haven't finished picking all the sequins out of the seam allowances. Damn that is a time consuming task! So my data set from here is the 30 completed items I sewed for myself in 2017.

What did I sew?

Apparently I sewed a lot of tops and very few trousers. I sewed just slightly more with woven fabric than stretch which surprised me, and more surprisingly exactly half of what I made used plain fabric. I'm pleased with that as I was aiming to add more plain garments to my wardrobe and I thought I'd failed.

Sewing patterns

Though I love a self-drafted project, I'm using patterns quite a bit as I move towards wearing 'basics.' 23 out of my 30 projects used a sewing pattern. However, I do enjoy getting playful with patterns, often hacking them beyond recognition. I looked at how often I used a pattern straight 'out of the box' and how often I hacked it. I made two categories for hacking, a straight up 'pattern hack' which indicates I changed some details of the design but it still includes a large part of the original. An example of this is my pink Archer shirt here where I brought the shoulder seams forward and added width to both front pieces, creating gathers at the shoulder seem. But it's still a shirt!

The other category is a 'major pattern hack.' I put my turquoise kitsch catholic cross dress into this category. It's also an Archer shirt, but the collar and sleeves are really the only design elements remaining from the original. I did the same hack as on the pink shirt, but I also lengthened it significantly and turned it into a dress.

I love the Archer shirt pattern so much - the shoulders and collar are just perfect for me and as an extension of that I love Grainline Studios for designing it for me to use. I also made a Linden sweater hack in 2017, meaning I used Grainline Studios patterns three times in total. Which other pattern companies did I turn to again and again?

Sewing pattern companies

I was surprised that Style Arc was my most used pattern company, but then I remembered I made 4 versions of the Blaire shirt. Here's one of them, made with a strange fabric from the depths of my stash, and worn with a version of True Bias's Hudson Pants.

I made 3 items using True Bias patterns this year - two pairs of the Hudson pants (both hacked) and one Ogden cami that I consider a 'major hack' as I turned it into a midi length dress.

How often do I wear the things I made?

I asked myself how frequently I actually wear the things I made and came up with the six rough categories below.

Pleasingly, there is only one item I never wear (which I'll discuss later). If looking at the 'a few times a week' category makes you worry about my hygiene standards, let me explain that two of those items are bags and one is my dressing gown that gets thrown on for a few minutes almost every day. I must admit though, the last item in that category is this orange leopard print top I made using a pattern Thrifty Stitcher drafted to teach a stretch sewing class. I throw it on many an evening when I get home from work and just generally wear it a little bit too much. 

I should note that I don't think frequency of wear is necessarily related to how 'successful' a garment is. I looked at the 'At least once a month category' and I categorised 4 out of the 7 as smash hits, as in I love the finished item and consider it a success. So just because I'm only wearing it once a month it doesn't mean it's not successful. For example, I consider my Nettie swimming costume a success, I just don't go swimming more than once a month.

Reasons for not wearing a thing I made

I thought it would be good to explore why I might not wear some of the things I have sewn. There were 19 garments that I wear 'at least once a month,' 'a few times a year', 'once in a blue moon' or 'never' but I still class 5 of those as smash hits, leaving me with 14 garments that I don't wear much or don't love. Here's why...

I don't frequently wear 4 out of the 14 garments because of the fabric they're from. I cycle 1 hour to work wearing sports clothing, with my work clothes in my backpack. This means if a fabric creases easily it rarely makes it into my work wardrobe. I am still rubbish and being able to judge whether a fabric will wrinkle a lot when I buy it. Any tips, please do share.

An example of this is this longline shirt I made using V8903. I love it - I love the fit, I love the windowpane check, I'm proud of how I made it - but the fabric wrinkles at the drop of a hat, so it gets worn pretty infrequently.

Another reason something might not get worn is that I don't have anything to wear it with. I've been sticking to a skinny-jeans-oversized-top silhouette for a long time now, but decided I'd like to experiment with tight-top-high-waist-trousers. I made Pattern Fantastique's amazing Glacial Tee turtleneck, but I didn't have any high-waisted trousers at all until I made the Esther Pants a couple of weeks ago.

I categorised 'Unhappy with finished garment' and 'Unsure of finished garment' separately. If I'm unhappy with a garment it's usually something technical to do with the garment itself - it's too short, I don't like how I've sewed something, or the design isn't what I imagined. Being unsure is more about how I feel about the garment on me. For example, when I asked myself why I rarely wear the green top below, my honest answer was "I worry that I look like an elf." I like it I just... worry that I look like an elf. There are three garments I don't consider a success because I'm just not sure about them.

Inspiration and planning

What was it that inspired me to sew each of these 30 garments? I asked myself what it was that really kicked off the original idea for each garment. Sometimes there were multiple 'sparks' for a garment, and I've tried to indicate this by overlapping the circles that represent each reason. This graphic was one of the most interesting for me to make as I really didn't know what it was going to look like before it was finished.

Clearly fabric is my biggest inspiration when it comes to projects being born. I suppose that's not much of a surprise when I think about it. I do love fabric! One of my smash hits of the year is a Blaire Shirt (with no front opening) I made using this fabric that I was compelled to buy in Walthamstow.

I decided to look at how many projects I planned and how many were more spontaneous makes. In 2017, did ideas tend to jump at me from out of the blue or was I more likely to take action on projects that had grown and taken shape in my mind over time? My makes seemed to fall into three categories - long term plans that I often drew on paper, and had mulled over for quite a few month before making, perhaps just waiting for the right fabric or the right time. Recent plans that came to mind and were then executed within a 1 or 2 month period. And 'spur of the moment' makes, where most often I saw a fabric and decided to do something with it straight away. 

I decided to investigate whether planning had a significant impact on whether a garment makes it into my 'smash hit' list.  Did I plan my more successful makes, or did they just leap out of the creative instantness?

My planning process is not exactly scientific or especially well organised, it usually involves some scraps of paper, pens, fabric samples and some ideas I just can't get out of my head.

I've got 16 smash hits altogether. 3 were long term plans, 4 were more recent plans and 9, yes, 9, I consider 'spur of the moment' makes. For example, my cactus print tote bag. I saw the fabric on the Fabrics Galore stand right at the end of the day at the Great British Sewing Bee Live, bought it and made this bag the next day.

I was amazed that so many of my successful makes weren't planned but were born from almost chaotic moments like this. Another one is my 'Cactus Jane' tshirt (yes, I do wish Cactus Jane was actually my name). I saw the fabric on the Stoff & Still website after Portia Lawrie et al opened my eyes to its existence, bought it, downloaded the Seamwork Jane pattern using my credits, made it and wore it constantly (after I had adjusted the neck hole so it fit over my head.) Maybe it's a cactus thing...?

In total, 11 of my makes throughout the year were spur of the moment, and of these I consider 9 to be smash hits. 

In fact, there is only one spur of the moment make I don't really like, which is a royal blue Sew House 7 Toaster Sweater. I impulse purchased this pattern right after it came out, I think in around February, after I saw some amazingly glamorous versions of it on Instagram. As soon as I made it though I realised I just didn't like it. It might be the colour, it might be my un-feminine body shape, or it might be the fact that my boyfriend mentioned that I looked like someone competing in the winter olympics. Whatever it was, I haven't worn it once. After that I promised to myself I would never again impulse buy a new-release pattern as I felt I'd been swept up in the online buzz around it and stopped being honest and analytical with myself. 

Of the 8 makes of 2017 that had long term planning, there are only 3 smash hits. Oh. My. God. Does this mean I should just cease to plan altogether? I decided to take a closer look.
Of the 14 makes I don't wear much, 5 were a long term plan. Weirdly, I actually really like 4 out of the 5. For two of them, the fabric affects why I don't wear them much. These are my black dungarees and my windowpane check shirt (discussed above). I really like them, but the ironing, oh the ironing.

My dungarees were a self-draft based on a picture I saw on Pinterest, and as well as the fabric wrinkling a lot, the design is just slightly off balance at the top. Still, I do wear them, and I plan to make another pair out of more sensible fabric. So all in all this plan was not a bad one!

The other two long termed planned garments I like but don't wear much are my THREAD sweater and the black Hudson pants with the side seam ruffle I made in scuba. I really like both of them, but they are both too short as I essentially I made mistakes during construction. The bottom hem of the sweater sits a couple of cm above the waist edge of most of my jeans so I need to wear a shirt under it. Maybe I should just get over myself and wear them though!

I wonder what it is about my long term planned garments that makes them less likely to become smash hits. Maybe I'm just not very good at planning! Or maybe I take more design risks when I make a long term plan, which are more likely to 'go wrong.' Maybe I get fixated on a fabric that doesn't necessarily suit the design? I'm going to try and observe my long term plans this year and see if I can figure it out, as I don't think this data analysis has really helped much in that regard! I'm also not going to stop planning, as I love three of my planned garments so much - my pink Archer shirt (discussed above), my kimono dressing gown, and my peach fluffy disco yeti sweater (hang on - how many sweaters did I make in 2017!!? I think at least five!)

This sweater was made with a combination of fabric from my stash (the cream fluffy stuff from a Cloth House sale a few years ago) and freshly purchased faux fur. I looked at how many items I made using fabric from my stash in 2017 and I'm feeling pretty pleased with the results!

8 out of my 16 smash hits were made of stash fabric - like my kimono dressing gown, below - which really surprised me. I'm not sure I can repeat this in 2018 as my stash is now somewhat reduced. But I'm going to try. I love making something out of fabric that I bought so long ago I can't even remember where I got it.

The conclusions I've drawn from this are that it's been a good year of sewing for me. I'm going to try to be less critical of the things I make, so even if they are 'too short' I still make the effort to wear them. I'm going to try to be less lazy too. Writing this all down, it seems stupid not to wear my black dungarees much just because I can't be bothered to iron them/get the cat hair off them.

I'm going to try and pay more attention to detail when I execute my long term plans. I've got two coats planned for 2018, a Trend Patterns bomber jacket that I want to do some machine embroidery on the back of, and a fluorescent green winter coat. I'm going to toile the winter coat to try to get the fit just right. I'm hoping I can up the proportion of long term planned projects that become smash hits in my wardrobe. I'm also going to let myself just go with the flow too. I had sort of cast 'impulse sewing' as negative in my mind, but I can see that being spontaneously inspired by fabric is not a bad thing. My spontaneous makes certainly seem to get a lot of use.

It may sound strange, but I'm looking forward to the end of 2018 when I can reflect on what I've made and see if the picture is similar to or different from this year.

Happy new year all and happy sewing!



  1. Re: wrinkling. If you're shopping in person, squeeze a fistful of the fabric and see if or how much it wrinkles--that will weed out many a poor choice. If you're shopping online, look carefully at the technical specs/fabric content and they will often give clues. Underlining a wrinkly fabric can also help. I'm a big believer in purchasing patterns carefully, but making them up on impulse/inspiration.

  2. I second the fistful of fabric squeeze! It's one thing I always do before buying fabric... Fascinating reading your analysis!

  3. Excellent article, thank you.


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