Thoughts on not sewing everything

Last month, I bought twenty items of clothing – basically a non-capsule seasonal wardrobe, all at once.

I bought:

  • 6 knit tops
  • 4 pieces of workout gear
  • 3 blouses
  • 3 sweaters
  • 2 pieces of outerwear
  • 2 dresses

Fifteen of them were purchased second-hand, three purchased new.

This was very unusual for me and, I’m guessing, for most people. (Shockingly, everything fits in my tiny closet and tiny bureau.) As a sewer, my MO for the past few years has been to sew everything I want or need. It’s brought me to a place where I can stitch myself up a new pair of jeans, undies or even a winter coat. It’s been the best way for me to learn how to sew and I put in tons of hours to make it happen.

Other equally-rewarding activities have started to gain a foothold in my schedule, though, like dancing, reading and getting eight hours of sleep every night. With these positive changes, planning to sew every garment I needed wasn’t working anymore. My sewing queue was growing longer as my output had slowed, and even with my new budget, fabric and patterns have been building up waiting to be sewn.

The revelation that I no longer aspire to sew everything I wear has hit me gradually over the last month. I think it started when I wrote up my IG post for Sew Photo Hop’s “knit vs. woven?” theme. I love me some wovens. I barely tolerate most knit projects, nor am I as excited with the finished garment when I’m done. As I was typing out my post for that day, it dawned on me that maybe I don’t need to sew knits. And I felt a twinge of relief. There will be exceptions – I do what I want, when I want, and contradict myself constantly. I’ve enjoyed making my own undies and even swimsuits. Plus, I have some knit fabrics stashed. But it’s 100% ok to not sew all of my t-shirts and tank tops.

This was my liberated mindset when I walked into one of my favorite local second-hand stores, and I was richly rewarded. I found things I needed (like a knee-length down coat) and things that make it easier to get dressed for work in the morning (a jeans jacket, some dresses, work blouses and knit tops), and they all fit acceptably well, even in the shoulders. I was elated and made two more trips to the Goodwill. I found a few pieces of workout gear and yet more knits. Finally, I bought three other harder-to-thrift workout garments new from a retail store.

I feel satisfied and done with shopping. I’m grateful the capricious thrift-store gods were on my side. I’m going to be warm and well-dressed this fall and winter and I won’t be trying to convince myself I could and should sew a down jacket as I shiver on my walk to the bus in the morning (even though that would be an amazing project….)

Now I can focus on sewing projects that bring me satisfaction. I didn’t buy any jeans or pants, by design – I love sewing those and I love the fit I can achieve. I’m also yearning for more outerwear projects. I’ve been sewing for others, and have a pair of jeans for my husband almost finished in addition to a dress for my best friend and a baby quilt project. I’m even considering refashioning my husband’s beat-up winter coat for him (don’t hold me to that) instead of sewing him a new one.

I can easily imagine a day in the future when I want to return to sewing everything, but for now I’m thoroughly enjoying my new paradigm.

And on the topic of jeans, I’ll be back shortly with some Morgan jeans variations I sewed this spring, summer and fall!


Budget cuts / trying to be a grown-up

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 10.56.36 AM

In January, we decided to try something new with how we budget. Instead setting individual budgets for various non-essential categories like coffee, eating out, entertainment, and, oh, fabric! (basically any spending beyond food, bills and housing), we decided we’d each get a set amount of cash to cover all discretionary spending.

The amount is on the VERY lean side compared to what I’d really been spending in each category added together. And so, I was suddenly faced with choices: daily coffee with my coworker, a dance workshop, occasional brunches out with my husband competed with denim for new jeans, yarn for my next knitting project and even new zippers and thread. (PS Did you know zippers and thread cost real money?! I’d been writing them off as free…)

I’ve always prided myself on being a thrifty-ish person, thinking I never really needing a budget until recently because I’ve always lived so cheaply. I have amazing restraint in most retail settings. My expenses have gone up in the past few years, though, especially since I’ve prioritized eating well and taking classes that get me moving like dance and yoga. We started budgeting when we both took time off from full-time employment a couple of years ago (an absolute necessity!) but when I went back to work, I didn’t do a great job of factoring in the increased “fun” spending I felt entitled to. I expected my natural thriftiness to effectively temper my spending.

And to some extent, it has; I don’t spend more money than I have. But my savings goals really weren’t being met. And equally importantly, what I was buying – all sewing stuff – felt burdensome by the time I had to make room for it, like shoving a bite of the most amazing chocolate cake into my mouth when I was already full. I’d been sacrificing my financial goals only to create a sense of stifling obligation.

I know lots of people find joy and make great use a large stash, but I’ve realized I’m not one of them. I like constraints. Any more than several full cuts of fabric in my stash, and I can easily feel overwhelmed and uncreative. I have plenty more than that now but I’m excited to see how the budget will help me use the lovely fabrics I already have.

Which brings me to the project above! I was holding off on buying yarn for a new knitting project, which inspired me to turn my attention to a lawless region of my stash: scraps, large and small. I sewed myself a new dance bag. I’d long regretted the state of my freebie drawstring backpack every time I went to dance class – too small with a busted grommet, impossible to pull one thing out without everything flying out, etc. – but I never wanted to buckle down and sew a better bag. The sewing one wasn’t as boring as I feared, though. Neither the construction nor the shapes were complicated, but I had fun playing with the pocket design and making some construction changes based on the materials I had. Instead of using interfacing, I used two layers of blemished thrifted shirting fabric.

Continuing on the frugality theme, the bag is based on the free Everyday Tote tutorial from Purl Soho, with a few modifications – shorter contrast panel, lining instead of bias binding, front pocket and longer straps inserted at the contrast panel.

I’m on a bit of a high from a good first month of budgeting, but I’m not expecting this to be easy. I’ve already spent time today not buying stuff on two different online fabric shops! I think breaking that habit of constant browsing will be one of the toughest things about this whole endeavor. But it’s time to adjust my spending and stashing to support my goals of creativity and thrift alike, and I’m pumped about it.

I’ve been storing up some inspiration on budgeting, stash reduction and mindful crafting; here are some of my favorites!

  • The impressive Stash Less series by The Craft Sessions
  • This fantastic post by Gillian from a couple of years ago specifically about sewing budgets (the comments are awesome too!)
  • Andrea’s stash assault is fierce and thorough, just like Andrea herself
  • I love Tasha’s blog for the thoughtfulness she brings to her making process; it shows in every post.


Couch denouement

Anybody remember this couch?

Over two years ago, I attempted to make my own fitted slipcover. I also cavalierly dismissed the services of professional upholsterers. As I’ve mentioned before, this is how I ended up with 16 yards of the uninspiring mid-weight tan linen that has been such abundant shibori fodder.  It turns out, upholstery fabric is different from apparel fabric for a reason: it has to be BURLY. I got as far as making the seat cushions, and then watched them burst open at the seams in a matter of a few weeks.

Discouraged, I procrastinated for about another year. When our recent move was certain, however, I decided to bite the bullet and get the couch reupholstered.

I’m so glad I did. | shibori pillows

The dump was never an option (this was my grandmother’s couch), and I’d proved myself both unworthy and unmotivated to reupholster it or make a nice enough slipcover. I was able to assuage my fears by getting a recommendation from a coworker who’d had vintage furniture reupholstered. It was a huge splurge, but I’m so pleased with how it turned out. It looks great in our new place.

We’ve had our couch back for a couple of months, but I recently decided to fete its new look with some shibori pillows. I used linen pieces that I’d cut out last year with the intention of sewing napkins. It was lovely, thick white linen, and it caught my eye when I was getting ready to dye my romper. I decided to include them in the dye bath with my romper (yep, these were the other projects that prevented me from agitating my dye bath properly!) | shibori pillows

I dyed the pieces before sewing them into pillows. The back of the pillow is, coincidentally, more of that bountiful tan linen – the fabric that just keeps on giving!

(This is a very silly thing to notice, but the couch fabric really sets off Orson’s lovely orangey coat nicely.) | shibori pillows

The question of when to craft came up in my post last week about my experiences crafting for our wedding: do you have to craft everything because you can? A resounding “no!” came from you wise people. I know I could have persevered and probably succeeded at making a slipcover, but it would have taken me a long time and eaten up all of my sewing hours. There undoubtedly would have been tears of frustration. I regard my sewing time as a precious, mind-clearing time and this project wouldn’t have fit the bill. It also wouldn’t have looked as good or been as permanent as reupholstery. There can be relief in paying money and letting an expert take over, especially when that expert is providing a service I whole-heartedly believe in.

If I commit myself to a home dec project again, I’ll start with something smaller. Or, I’ll just stick with throw pillows for now!

Things made in the U.S.

My very own Made in the US Pinterest board: more here

I buy mostly thrifted things, but of course, the occasional new purchase sneaks in.  I have a complicated process for evaluating whether or not I should buy something, which I will condense for you:

Do I need it? (I have to say that cases of real need are rare.) If yes, I try to borrow, thrift, or make it myself. My last resort is buying something new that is well-made and will last.

Do I just really really want it? If yes, borrow, thrift, or make it myself.

If my evaluation process is working, the occasion for me to buy something new are few – but they do happen. Something I’ve become aware of lately is the dearth of goods made in the United States. So I’ve added “American made” as a bonus criteria for new purchases, since it seems that there would be lots of good reasons to buy American-made (higher consumer safety standards, better labor laws than many other major manufacturing countries, generally lower carbon footprint due to less transport, and generally higher quality products that wouldn’t reach a landfill quite so quickly.)

That said, I’m still new to this concept and would relish any information, discussion or opinions from our dear readers!

A Tale of Two Boots, aka So Long, Steve Madden


You might think that these shoes were old as dirt, from the looks of them. Wrong. I bought them new last year from Steve Madden (the Troopa boot) and I am utterly and completely irked that they are so low-quality. The backs of the heels, which looked like wood or leather, appear to be made from packing materials, and the soles split clean down the middle.

They cost about $100. Where I come from, that’s a decent amount of money to spend on shoes! $100 should buy shoes that last longer than 6 months. So, I won’t be making my very occasional new shoe purchase at Steve Madden. I’m not even sure they’re worth repairing.


I think Orson says it better than I could:

On the positive side, I thought I’d share some pics of my newly restored thrifted cowboy boots! I wore the crap out of them, walking everywhere in them for a few years straight. I finally took them in to get repaired, et voila!


New leather soles with Vibram rubber over top to make them last longer, plus a new heel. I’m smitten! They’re broken in perfectly but still feel new somehow.


A few good links

Man, Zo at So, Zo… keeps on killing it with her posts on consumerism. And not only is her most recent post great, but the comment section is just as good! Check it out:

The author, lookin’ mean
but not dirty

Also, I’m halfway through “No More Dirty Looks”, graciously lent (well, shoved into my hands) by Erica! One resource they high recommend is the Skin Deep Cosmetic Database, which is, in their own words, “Skin Deep is a safety guide to cosmetics and personal care products brought to you by researchers at the Environmental Working Group.” Since the personal care products industry is all but unregulated for safety, EWG’s Skin Deep is picking up the slack:

The No More Dirty Looks girls also write their own blog that continues the theme of their book:

That’s all for now! I plan on spending this weekend blissfully buried in projects, including the slipcover and a (fingers crossed) a surprise project that uses a ton of fabric scrap.