Better Late Than Never: MMMay18 Reflections

I know most people are probably well over Me Made May (how is it already July!?), but I never got around to summing up my thoughts and experience this year. We seem to have packed all of our summer excitement in the first part of the season so I’ve either been busy or just haven’t felt like blogging for the past several weeks.

Anyway, my pledge for this year was to wear one handmade garment at least five days a week and to spend at 20 minutes a day sewing. The second part of the pledge was, in my mind, the crux of the challenge I gave myself. Since I had Jude, I’ve really struggled to find time for sewing so I really wanted to prioritize carving out little spaces of time when I could get back to my machine and work on some projects for myself.

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I kept track of both parts of my pledge on paper. Wearing a handmade garment five times a week wasn’t a problem, and I managed more than five days most weeks, although my wardrobe is so small right now that I was doing laundry frequently. I also managed to squeeze in sewing time nearly every day—I think I only missed five days, and four of those were days were days when we had visitors. During that sewing time, I managed to complete two projects that I’m looking forward to blogging soon: a striped Jenna cardi that I cut out more than a year ago and a black voile Willamette shirt.

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Striped Muse Jenna Cardi

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Hey June Willamette

Aside from two finished garments, here is what I took away from my challenge this year:

  1. I really do like my handmade clothes best of all. I’m still firmly an advanced beginner sewist, I am not a master of fit, I make a lot of boring basics, and I am not the kind of person to invest in really high quality fabric. And yet—the things I’ve made myself seem to fit better, feel more comfortable, and make me feel better about myself than the stuff I purchase from stores. This was a worthwhile reminder for me because while I tend to keep a pretty spare closet, I am especially low on clothes right now. Having a baby didn’t just change my body size and shape—it has also changed which styles I find most practical, comfortable, and desirable. With so little in the closet, it’s tempting to go out and buy a bunch of new stuff, but Me Made May served as encouragement to invest my energy in making time to slowly make new stuff rather than going shopping. (And it assured me that I can get by with what I have.)
  2. Time spent on alterations is worth it. One afternoon I spent my sewing time hemming a pair of too-long jeans I’ve had since February. And after having worn them only rarely, I’ve now been wearing them nearly every day. Alterations are pretty tedious, but especially when my sewing time is so limited, it’s worth using my sewing skills to improve what I already have.
  3. I can get a significant amount done in small bursts of sewing. I think we all intellectually know that this is the case, but it’s hard to commit to the practice of working on things in small bursts until you actually see what you can get done. I kept track of what I accomplished each day in my sewing time, and it was just really nice to see everything I was able to get done in those little stretches of time laid out in front of me. It also helped me better visualize my sewing projects in very small, discrete steps.
  4. But getting in a good stretch of sewing helps. I only finished two sewing projects this month because I did manage to squeeze in a couple of longer sewing stretches of at least an hour. At the same time that it was helpful to see how much I could get done in short stretches, it also felt kind of frustrating at other moments—like I was just plodding along on a project that felt like it would never be finished. I think, at least for me, the only way to make sewing in short bursts successful is to balance it with occasional longer sessions so I can make a good bit of progress that renews and refreshes my interest in the project.
  5. I need to invest in my warm weather wardrobe. I spent so many years as a student and most of my life in northern states with fairly mild summers that I never really made an effort to make or buy summer clothes that I enjoyed. I did as much as I could to get by on the same clothes I wore the rest of the year, which usually just meant wearing jeans and t-shirts. But now I live somewhere with hot, humid summers that stretch at minimum from May through September and while I have some time off, I’m still teaching and going to meetings for a good deal of the summer. I need clothes that are more suited to the climate while also helping me look just a little more put together. A big part of the problem is that when I look at warm-weather clothes, I have a really hard time finding something that feels like me. It’s not entirely surprising—I mean, if my personality were a season, it would be deep winter. But it’s time for me to figure out a way to dress for the heat in a way that will allow me the ability to both step outside of the AC for more than 5 minutes and still feel like myself.

Unrelated, look at this child! It’s already time to start working on making him an outfit for his birthday!

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My Me-Made-May Pledge for 2018

Oh, Me-Made-May.

I participated two years ago and managed to wear at least one item I’d made myself every day. The challenge ultimately encouraged me to stretch my skills a bit and incorporate some more interesting things into my wardrobe. I skipped last year because I was pregnant with Jude and so my priority when I was getting dressed was just wearing whatever fit. When the call for pledges came around this year, I just kind of assumed I’d skip it again.

Between changing sizes since I started sewing and weeding out things that were worn out or that I simply disliked, I’m down to a handful of items I’ve sewn in my closet. I’ve got a few tees, a cardigan, a few hoodies, a couple of pairs of leggings, and a pair of jeans. (Also, all of my underwear is sewn by me, but I don’t really count that since I wear it every day.) Of course, I’ve got some hand-knit garments as well, but even in our eternal winter, it’s getting too warm for those things to be wearable.

So I didn’t feel like I really had enough clothes to participate this year and just kind of wrote off the possibility. But then I was seeing other people lamenting that they wanted to participate in Me-Made-May but that they didn’t have enough to wear something they’d sewn every day, and I just wanted to say: “It doesn’t have to be every day! Set your own challenge! Do whatever makes sense for where you’re at!”

And after longer than makes sense, I finally realized this advice applied to my own situation.

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Anyway. So here’s my Me-Made-May pledge for 2018:

I endeavor to wear at least one handmade or altered article of clothing five days a week for the duration of May 2018. Further, since I would like to prioritize getting back into the practice of sewing clothing for myself, I will dedicate at least 20 minutes every day to working on sewing or altering garments for myself.

My hope, clearly, is not just to wear the handmade clothes I already have, but to start to get more handmade stuff into my closet. I’m not looking to binge sew (is that a thing?) just to see how many finished projects I can pump out in a month. I don’t have any goals or even concrete plans in terms of what I might make. I’d just like to get back into the habit of sewing for myself again and will be happy with whatever progress I make towards finishing some new garments that I will love wearing.

I am not planning on doing any kind of daily documentation on Instagram—especially because they would be the most boring outfit shots ever—although I will probably write down what I wear just to make sure I’m hitting my goal of 5 items a week. But I am planning to do a mid-month check in and an end of month wrap-up here on the blog.

I feel like one of the fun things about Me-Made-May is that it’s impossible to predict what, exactly, you’ll end up taking away from the experience. Will learn something interesting about myself? Will I get some kind of insight into my style? Will I unearth handmade items I forgot about? Will I be incredibly comfortable since most of my handmade clothes are loungewear? We’ll find out soon!

My Clothes Are So F****** Boring: Me Made May 2016 Recap

At the beginning of Me-Made May, I pledged to wear one piece of handmade clothing each day and to alter five pieces of clothing to make them more wearable. I didn’t take pictures everyday, but I did keep track of what I wore in one of my journals. I easily managed wearing at least one handmade garment everyday. However, I only got around to altering one garment—I took my Ottobre “Get Moving” hoodie in at the sides and shaved some of the depth off of the pocket bags since they tended to poke out of the bottom when I put anything in them. We took a week-long trip to San Francisco in the middle of the month (where I wore my altered hoodie almost everyday), and when we got back I was tired and busy and needed time to recover the energy to sew, so ….no more alterations. I at least made a list of alterations I want to make and actually intend to take them on, so there’s that.

Simplicity 1062

S1062, which I still really like

The biggest thing I learned during Me-Made May is that I find my clothes very boring. There are, of course, some exceptions (I got a lot of joy out of wearing my Simplicity 1062 shirt and my newest Onyx shirt this month). It would have also been different if I had done this during colder weather, since I have a lot of hand knits that definitely do not feel boring. But for the most part, my closet—store bought and hand-made alike—is lean, utilitarian, and uninspiring.

So I’ve spent a lot of time this month thinking about my history and experience with clothing. I grew up in kind of a big family, living in very small Midwestern farming towns. My father is also a pastor (as was his father). I don’t ever describe myself as coming from a religious family or as having been “raised in the church” since people in the U.S. tend to have very specific associations with these ideas that don’t at all reflect my experience growing up in a very liberal, progressive church environment. But, looking back on my childhood and my family, I feel like there was always a distinctly Protestant moralism to the way my family looked at clothing.

Paprika Onyx Shirt

Love this Onyx Shirt, although I need to more permanently secure the sleeve cuffs

The basic goals for clothing in my family were that we had enough (and not much more), that our clothes were practical, and that they were economical. My family did not shop for clothing for fun—we got things as needed (and my dad is a no bullshit kind of guy so the need had to be real and demonstrable). My dad was also really suspicious of trends and a lot of the more ornamental aspects of fashion, which he saw as frivolous, irrational, and as a distraction from inner, personal growth. I remember having several conversations with my dad in which he basically argued for the value of intentionally eschewing trends and changes in fashion as a way of demonstrating humility, challenging the cultural value placed on material things, and developing a sense of self that does not depend on external validation. I think my dad has actually relaxed his view a bit as he’s gotten older, but I’ve really internalized a lot of his ideals and I can see now how much my attitudes toward clothing are tied to a very specific set of ethical principles that have shaped who I am.

 

Madigan Pullover

I really like my Madigan pullover (although it was too warm to wear it this month), but it’s actually too big now

But before I was thinking enough about my clothes to see how they are tied to a set of ethical principles, I just thought about myself as a person who didn’t care about clothes. This attitude was bolstered by my deep, deep hatred of shopping for clothes. Shopping for clothes feels like such a massive waste of time and just an ongoing exercise in disappointment. For basically all of my adult life, I’ve waited until I was at the point where I didn’t have enough clothes to get through a laundry cycle and then I would do one big shopping trip where I would fill in the holes with new clothing that was just minimally acceptable to my tastes. I go through cycles of being deeply dissatisfied with my clothes and then just deciding not to care about what I wear until the angst surfaces again. In Overdressed, Elizabeth Cline argues at one point that if we all think about it enough, we are actually very particular about the style and fit of our clothes, although the conditions of fast fashion tend to force us to settle for things that are just okay. I’ve done a lot of settling and had basically given up on finding things to suit my particular desires because they just didn’t exist.

Ottobre 05/2015 Get Moving Hoodie

Wore this a lot after I altered it to fit better. This falls in the category of boring but very useful

Even when I started sewing, I didn’t really focus on sewing things that would suit my particular tastes. I started sewing so that I could quit shopping for clothes, so my concern was being able to produce enough and on producing things that were practical enough to get a lot of wear out of. So I’ve made a lot of basic things like t-shirts, underwear, leggings, pajama pants, etc.—basically things that are fairly easy to make and easy to wear. I’m happy with what I’ve learned about sewing in the process and happy enough with the things I’ve made to keep wearing them, but a lot of what I’ve made still leaves me feeling a little cold. I think my closet still says, “I don’t care about clothes,” which seems like the wrong message for someone who cares enough to take a lot of time and effort to actually make my own clothes.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that I’m gearing up for some kind of radical shift in style. I lean towards minimal, casual, and monochrome so the garments I really love and find joy in (all three or four of them) are things other people would find very boring. I don’t see that changing. I guess I’d just like to have more clothes that I actually enjoy wearing and that I care enough about to really want to preserve and take care of (unlike a lot of my handmade t-shirts, which frankly feel about as disposable as the ones I’ve bought from Old Navy).

SBCC Tonic Tee

I wore my Tonic Tees a lot this month. They fit better now than they did when I finished them, but I don’t actually like them anymore than my t-shirts from Old Navy.

 

Me-Made May was helpful in terms of helping me see that I have enough clothes, so I can shift the way I make my sewing and knitting plans. I don’t have a specific project list in mind. Instead, I guess I’m just trying to focus on slowing down and paying more attention to my internal sense of what I’d like to make, what I’d like to wear, and on the details that will make things all the more enjoyable. I’d like to move away from super easy projects, take some more risks, and try to learn some more things. I want to become more confident in altering patterns (not just in terms of fit but also in terms of changing details) and more proactive in terms of caring for and altering my clothes. Basically, I don’t want to keep replicating the generic and dissatisfying results of fast fashion in my own sewing. If my closet is even 25% less mind numbing next May, I’ll be very happy.