In general, the Selfish Seamstress thinks it’s pretty cool when people try to make their own clothes.  She’s all in favor of exercising creativity and being self-sufficient. But that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t mentally roll her eyes from time to time at some particularly homey-looking garments. You might not know this though, since the Selfish Seamstress is more is much more of a mock-you-behind-your back kind of person than an insult-you-to-your-face type.

Unless the person knows that you sometimes make  and wear your own clothes, it is generally NOT a compliment if someone asks you, “Did you make that dress you’re wearing?” :) So, I’m going to pass along a couple of handy tips to avoid that frumpy homemade look. Now, I’m not about to claim that my own creations can pass for store-bought, designer, or professionally made. I am, myself, something of a newbie at garment sewing. Even so, the Selfish Seamstress has strong opinions and is generally under the impression that she knows better than everyone else, and that that somehow gives her the right to tell you what you should and shouldn’t do.  Particularly what you shouldn’t.

The Selfish Seamstress’s Tips for Avoiding Cringe-Worthy, Mock-Inducing, Amateur-Looking Results:

1) Don’t make apparel out of quilting fabric
I know how hard it can be.  Your local fabric store is hit or miss with apparel fabric and sometimes you walk in and nothing looks good.  And then you wander over to the endless walls of calico and broadcloth, and everything just looks so pretty and the prints and colors are so tempting.  Do not do it!  Unless you have a very artistic plan for it, clothing made of quilting fabric screams dowdy!  The texture and drape of quilting fabric is very recognizable as not-garment fabric. So unless you’re making jammies or aprons, wander back over to the apparel side of the store.

2) Look beyond the print 
Don’t forget that fabric isn’t going to stay fabric; it’s going to become clothes.  Avoid being seduced by a print just because it looks great on the bolt. If you wouldn’t buy a garment with that print from a store, you’re not going to want to wear it just because you make it yourself. Seriously, before you pick out that dainty pattern of blue roses on a lavender ground, the cute poplin with frogs holding umbrellas, or the linen covered with romantic Victorian ivy vines, consider not just whether you like the print, consider whether you would like to wear a garment in that print.

3) Lining fabric goes on the inside
We’ve all been there.  You’re new at sewing, you don’t want to invest in expensive fabric, you’ve got a particular color in mind, you want to try something a little dressy… hmm, this lightweight satin looks good, and it’s cheap too!  No, no, no. Do not make dresses out of lining fabric. Why?  Because it’s going to look janky.  And if you don’t know what “janky” means, make yourself a dress out of lining fabric, put it on, and look in the mirror.  That is what janky looks like.  If you’re just getting started, find yourself an inexpensive fashion fabric.  There’s no point in putting in all the work for something that’s just going to gather dust in your closet because you feel weird if you wear it out of the house.

4) Say “no” to no-sew dresses
The Selfish Seamstress will readily admit that she has been known to cut a corner or two. She’s not proud of it, and she strives to be diligent, but we all have our weak moments.  Even so, no-sew dresses are a no-no.  If it seems too easy to be true, it’s going to look too easy to be true to everyone who sees you in it.  At the end of the day if all you have to do is wrap some raw-edged fabric around yourself in a certain way, you’re going to look like someone wrapped in fabric, not someone wearing real clothes.

5) Don’t skip the darts
We’ve all seen it done.  Someone cuts two pieces of fabric into a slim shape, stitches them together at the sides and calls the result a pencil skirt.   Or wraps a rectangle of fabric around the torso to form a tight bodice, and then fulls a skirt to the waist to make a strapless dress.  See all those weird horizontal wrinkles forming everywhere? Those wrinkles are the sartorial equivalent of scrawling, “I made this outfit and I didn’t know what I was doing” across your forehead. Unless your body is a perfect cylinder (in which case you have probably have bigger problems than dowdiness), fitted clothing needs darts (or some dart equivalent like princess seaming).  Darts are your friend.  Don’t be afraid to use them.  (Obviously this doesn’t apply to garments that are meant to be loose or to made from knit/very stretchy fabrics.)

To prove myself correct, as I often feel compelled to do, let’s see what happens when we violate some of these rules:

Quilting fabric?  Looks like it!  Fun print that doesn’t work for clothes?  Yep!  (Perhaps our very handsome president would have been better on a whimsical purse or a political button to accessorize a dress that is somewhat less…. nuts.) No-sew dress?  If there’s a seam in there, it’s certainly well hidden.  Badly in need of darts?  Oh yes. There you go.  Four out of five rules violated to disastrous results. I guess Ms. Victoria Rowell couldn’t find any Obama print lining to wear to the 2009 Emmy Awards. But she did break another rule which I thought was so obvious that it didn’t need articulation:  If you absolutely must wear a head-of-state-themed calico print, avoid laying it out in such a way that he’s grinning out of what looks like a window to your womb.  [Before you flip out for not having recognized this garment as a traditional Ghanian dress, read below where I apologize for having been culturally ignorant. My statement above was purely meant as a joke about sewing, and NOT intended as a slight on anyone’s race, ethnicity, or traditions. And thank you to those who informed me of this type of dress with civility and understanding as opposed to retorting with comments about MY race and ethnicity.]

Obviously there are exceptions to any of the above rules, particularly if there’s something specific you’re trying to achieve and you want to emphasize certain aspects of the materials or construction for artistic effect. But if you just want to make a nice skirt or pretty dress that you will wear, adhering to those five things above will go a long way in making sure I don’t point and laugh when I see you walking down the street.  After you’ve got your back to me, of course.

How about you?  What are your homemade clothing pet peeves and tips for avoiding the frump?

UPDATE: Ericka kindly pointed out, “the dress that Victoria is wearing is by no means quilting fabric…this type of fabric is used often for dashikis and other garments in Ghana. the edges of the garments are usually ‘raw’ and they typically have positive african words on them, fruits, or faces of prominent people in Africa like this dress.” I apologize for my cultural ignorance!  Victoria Rowell: 1, Selfish Seamstress: 0.  But I guess some of it still holds– do not do this with a big length of flowery quilting calico :) I will laugh my ignorant butt off!

UPDATE #2: Ok, person who just left a very indignant comment (now trashed). I completely apologized for not having recognized Victoria’s dress as inspired by a particular traditional cultural dress.  Obviously I didn’t make fun of it BECAUSE it is African, and had I known that is what it was, I would not have (see update above).  Am I culturally ignorant?  Yes.  But to imply that I intentionally wrote this out of an desire to mock African culture or dress is simply ridiculous- as ridiculous as your insinuation that I did so as a result of my Asian decent.  Spreading hate is no better than spreading ignorance.

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