I’m excited to introduce Carolyn of Handmade by Carolyn, sharing her thoughts on Sewing and Style. She set herself the task of wearing only clothing that she has personally made for this whole year. I’ve been excitedly watching her document her progress with her Paper Doll Project and now I’m thrilled to share her thoughts on the connection between her ability to sew and her style (and I can relate oh-so-well to her final statement “then it’s off to the fabric store” !).
Hello! My name is Carolyn, and I live in Perth, Western Australia. I make all my own clothes, and sometimes I make things for my family too. They are gracious enough to actually wear those things too. I have a blog Handmade by Carolyn, where I document all my handmade goings-on.
Describe your style.
Hmmm, it’s always hard to pinpoint your own style! But overall; I think maybe it can best be described as simple, natural and contemporary, with plain colours, clean lines and a slightly sporty vibe. And I do like clothes that have a tiny touch of weirdness, a twist somewhere.
Describe what you sew.
Everything! Literally everything I wear is sewn or knitted by me: from my jeans to jackets, to my socks and tights to my hats, and all my lingerie. The only things I do not make for myself are shoes and handbags. I figure I can give myself a pass somewhere ;)
What inspires or influences your style?
I am a crazy fashion-loving freak and have little fashion-passion moments every day. Could be a friend proudly wearing something new, to an outfit in a shop window, to something worn by a character on the TV. For example, right this second I am watching Elementary (multi-tasking…) and Holmes is wearing a black and white fine gingham shirt with a floral collar. SO COOL! If I can find the fabric I might make this for my husband. I love fashion magazines and soaking up the gorgeous offerings in Australian Vogue is my favourite monthly self-indulgence. I often get inspiration for colour combinations and design features from editorials. Pinterest is a pretty great source of style from all over the world too. I’m following a couple of really stylish ladies whose boards are a constant inspiration.
I look at every day as a chance to play dress-up. How do you play dress-up?
I love to dress up, but then I’m equally happy to dress down too. Ninety percent of my lifestyle is really very casual; I work from home, plus I look after my family and the garden, I walk my dog. I still want to look my very best for these activities too, so I put a lot of my sewing efforts into creating little casual skirts, shorts and jeans, and comfy tops and cardigans; all in natural fabrics like cotton, silk, wool and linen.. But we do have a busy social life, and I love to have a selection of elegant stylish dresses and evening coats to wear out to restaurants, parties and the theatre. The fashion high points in my year are the handful of occasions in a year when I get to wear one of my ball gowns.
How does your passion for sewing influence your style? enable your style? hinder your style?
My passion for sewing has definitely enabled my style, maybe too much; in that I have a far larger wardrobe than if I was buying any clothes!
Does your passion for sewing influence the style of those around you?
Hmmm, I don’t know. I think my family like to wear the things that I make for them.. they certainly do wear them. I get a burst of pride and joy when my husband or one of my children comes out wearing something I have made for them. My husband is kind enough to say that he’s not interested in RTW shirts anymore, because the ones I make him fit well! He is too kind :)
What about over time: Has your style changed with time? Have your sewing abilities changed with time?
I do feel like my style is always evolving. A few years ago I lived in lean, longline skirts worn with layered thin Tshirts and little, cropped cardigans. Then I moved into more short skirts, worn with loose fitting tops. Then I had a dress phase.
As for sewing abilities, well I sure hope my skills have improved over time! Having said that, occasionally I find something I made years and years ago and am kinda impressed with the workmanship and perseverance of my old self to finish something meticulously. Other times I’m appalled at my old self’s lack of technique! But you can sew your entire life, and each and every project is a fresh and stand-alone work in itself, and a new opportunity to learn and to create something interesting and beautiful. A beautiful and successful outcome is not a given, no matter how many years you’ve been sewing. I’m always amazed when I read someone saying that they think they’ve learnt it all, after three years of sewing, or something. Really?! I’ve been sewing for forty years, and I still feel like I have plenty of room for improvement! There is always new territory to explore.
Has a change in style caused you to change your sewing abilities? Has a change in sewing abilities caused you to change your style?
Both of these follow on from each other so are both true to some extent. I start with the inspiration, for me it always starts with an idea of something I want to create and to wear. I have that picture in my head, and then set about in trying to make it happen, and don’t spend much time worrying about my abilities, or lack thereof. So then I have to work out how to do it. Sometimes this leads to new techniques and skills, which is a nice side effect. It is always the vision of the thing and the passion for creating it keeps me going.
What about in the beginning: Did you learn to sew so that you could have a certain style?
My mother taught me to sew and knit when I was a very little girl, and I have been sewing and knitting every since. I started out making simple crafts and doll’s clothes, and my first knitting project was a scarf for our cat. I started making clothes for myself when I was about twelve. So, sewing and knitting have always been a part of my life, and have constantly played a major role in additions to my wardrobe. The past few years has seen me really up the ante, when I decide to eliminate rtw [ready-to-wear] from my wardrobe completely and to make everything I could. I made my first pair of jeans in response to this decision, and knitted my first pair of socks, inspired by my mother who has been knitting her own socks for years. Now I have about a dozen pairs of my hand-knitted socks. I made my first set of bra and knickers last year and now have seven sets I am very happy with. I can’t imagine myself going back to store-bought clothes ever again.
Does your style require that you are able to sew?
That’s interesting, I do think that yes; my style now requires that I am able to sew, since I have got so fussy about how I want my clothes to look. And even back when I was buying my own clothes I would nearly always be dissatisfied with the little things about a rtw item, something I would want to change immediately. The best way for a fussy dresser to achieve the wardrobe she wants is to make it herself. Now when I go into a boutique I’m not even tempted to buy, even if I see something really really cool all I can think is how I am going to make something like that, but always just with a few little adjustments here, a few little improvements there. The technical stuff interests me, and I love to inspect a cool pocket, a unique collar, unusual sculptural folding or draping, interesting seaming or piecing, intricate inner workings etc. Then it’s off to the fabric store….