We asked community members over 5’9″ to tell us what it’s like to be tall and sew. We had so many interesting comments and submissions from tall sewists that we are breaking it into two parts, with the second post coming soon!
We asked: What patterns work best for you, and what adjustments do you need to make? Are you ever envious of short sewists (like me!) being able to squeeze a garment from less fabric? Is being tall normal in your country, or has it made you self-conscious? Does sewing help you dress the way to always wanted to? Please let us know!
Ebi from Making the Flame /@makingtheflame says,
All patterns work for me, because I alter them accordingly! I do often lengthen things — just recently, I added 5″ (~12.75cm) to the Charlie Caftan in order to make it floor length on me — in flats, no less. I am never envious of short people because I absolutely love being tall! As far as squeezing a lot of garment out of a little fabric, I do that fairly well, actually, by cutting pieces close together and occasionally piecing them or otherwise cutting creatively. Waste not, want not. I live in the US, and am Nigerian, neither place being known for its giant people. However, my family is tall — so tall, in fact, that I’m on the shorter side among the women. Sewing does help me dress the way I want to *now*, which is always something evolving, but what I really miss is the ability to buy cute shoes. My feet are huge! That’s probably the only downside to being tall (though shorter women can also have big feet, and not all tall people do).
Beth from Sew DIY has written about being a tall sewist on her blog here, which was really the first time I, as a short person, had ever thought about what it might be like to be tall, except to envy them! You can find her on Instagram as @sewDIYblog.
I’m 5’11” and have been since I was about 13. It definitely shapes how I see the world and is a big part of why I sew. For better or worse, being a tall woman automatically draws attention. Sometimes it can be really uncomfortable and awkward. And obviously shopping for clothes is incredibly frustrating. After almost 25 years of walking around in this body (and sewing for 20+ years), I’m happy to feel more at ease in it every year. I attribute a lot of that to being able to sew clothing for myself that makes me feel comfortable and confident.
Earlier this year, I was inspired by some fellow tall sewists to start the hashtag #sewingtall as a way to connect with other tall sewists and share fitting and pattern tips with each other. It’s been really incredible to see how the hashtag has been embraced. There are currently just over 1500 photos with it on Instagram. I’m continually amazed by this supportive and just generally awesome online sewing community (tall and otherwise).
No matter your size or shape, shopping for ready-to-wear clothing can be frustrating and make you feel like you’re not “normal.” I try to take every opportunity to remind people that there is no normal size. Most sewists have a little (or a lot of) experience with adjusting patterns for their own shape. And it’s not because your body is not “normal” or the pattern is wrong. It’s just that every body is unique. The more we can shift our thinking from what’s wrong with our bodies to the fun and satisfaction to be found with sewing, the better we’ll feel. Sewing is my favorite way to feel empowered and confident and I’m so glad that I found it at a young age (for which I should give 100% credit to my mom who always said “we can make that ourselves”).
Freya from Handmade by Freya /@handmadebyfreya says,
I don’t consider myself to be extremely tall but I am 5’10”, nearly 5’11”. It was one of the reasons I started to sew. Not because I can’t find anything to wear but more that it fits better. Every time I have ever bought a RTW short skirt, I can hear my mum in my ears saying ‘can you sit down in that?’ or ‘I wouldn’t bend over in that!’. (And yes, my mum usually is right about this!) I love the trend for a short skirt and I also want to show off my legs but I don’t want to wear a belt. One of my biggest bugbears in shops is that you can’t alter the hem of skirts, as in order for clothing retailers to maximise profits, they minimise excess fabric. Sometimes I get so annoyed about it, I feel like starting a campaign to ‘bring back the excess hem!’
I’m pretty happy with being tall and I’ve never envied a shorter sewist. Growing up in both England and the Netherlands, I’ve never really felt out of place (except for when I wear heels next to my shortest friends wearing flats). Being half Dutch, whenever I go back to the Netherlands, I’m a pretty average height. I’ll usually buy knipmode (a Dutch dressmaking magazine) or Burda, which seem to have better proportioned dressmaking patterns for my size. (I hear Named clothing is pretty good for tall women and Style Arc aren’t bad either.)
Do I have to make loads of alterations just because I’m tall? Not particularly. I usually have to do an FBA anyway as I have a DD bust. So it’s usually just lengthening the bodice and skirt hem to be honest. Lengthening a bodice can also be a bit of a pain, because if you are adding a good couple of inches there, it can be difficult getting the proportions right at the waist.
Thankfully though, I can pattern cut. And there is nothing better than having a pattern cut to your shape and size that fits well. You can also use it to help alter commercial patterns!
Next, Erin from Seamstress Erin / @seamstresserin says,
I hit 5’10” at the age of 12. This made me feel awkward, ungainly, and horribly uncomfortable in my own body. I couldn’t imagine that boys could ever like me since I towered over all of them. I still have struggles with feeling “big” and “unfeminine” though I’ve since worked hard to be comfortable and confident in my body (and I do wish I could go back and tell teenage me that I didn’t need to worry since some day I’d marry a short man who finds me and my height irresistible).
For me, the most important legacy of being tall is the fact that I sew. I started seriously sewing my own clothing when I was 12 because I couldn’t find anything that was long enough for me. It helped me relate to my dad’s mother – she was an amazing sewist who sewed all her own clothes for many, many years because she was 6′ tall in the 1940’s. She helped me sew my first pair of pants. Sewing is one of the most important things in my life and I’m not sure that that would be true had I not been encouraged to sew so much because of my height.
What did you learn from these tall sewists? Did anything surprise you, or resonate with your own experience? Let us know in the comments below!
Thanks for these testimonials. I was 5’6″ when I was in 5th grade – taller than many of my teachers – so I started sewing because all the children’s clothes were too small but the “miss” clothes were too “old” looking. And skirts were always too short. Then I stopped growing and everyone caught up to me. I am 5’6″ today and perfectly average. But I appreciate the resourcefulness of you tall gals!
That in between time is difficult isn’t it? My daughter is 10 and into tween / teen clothes sizes but some of them really aren’t appropriate or actually what she wants to wear. I guess I should stop selfish sewing and make her some stuff!!!
I am 6’1″ tall. My mom sewed for me when I was a kid. Actually because my family was tall, and I was among the younger kids in the neighborhood, I didn’t know I was tall until I started school! I did not sew for myself for years, spending a lot of time pulling down my shirts to meet my pants. I got triggered to go back to sewing when I had trouble finding an outfit for my son’s high school graduation. Now I sew or knit everything except shoes. It is great to finally have bras with straps that are long enough!
Maggie, your comment reminds me about how much we put up with in rtw not realizing we can do so much better. I make almost all my wardrobe now too.
Love this! I’m 6′ and started sewing clothes because I just wanted a knee length skirt! But now I sew much more – thinking about tackling jeans… mostly for the challenge. I have been this tall since grade 5 or 6 and always felt awkward and out of place. I really struggled with society saying a woman should marry a taller man and so didn’t date for years. Eventually though I met my husband (who is shorter than me) and it some how didn’t matter! Now I just think about how tall our children are going to be 🙂 For sewing, I don’t actually make that many alterations – a little more sleeve length, skirt length, etc and a good FBA. 😉
Jeans that are long enough are a total revelation! Go for it 🙂 I am 6′ too and finally love it. I can recommend the Birkin flares pattern if you want a flared jeans pattern. I have some others but haven’t made them yet so if you find an alternative for other styles let us know!
Guess what? I’m tall, too. You know, I actually (kind of) forgot when I was thinking about who I am as a sewist. For me adding two inches in length is just one of a number of alterations I make on most patterns. Hurray for beauty in all shapes and sizes!
That’s awesome – you have reached peak sewing: where you auto adjust to fit you without even considering you are “different” in any sort of negative way. “just one of a number of alterations I make”. Love this 🙂
YAY! I’ve been so immersed in sewing for my (also tall) daughter that I missed this prompt! I’m right at 5’9” but my inseam is only 30” on a good day, which means I’m almost always adding 2-3” to a bodice. I LOVE there’s an IG #sewingtall! I’m going to use it. My 13 year old is already 5’6” with a size 10 foot, so we share shoes and she takes my clothes a lot! She’s just now really interested in sewing for herself after I finished her latest cosplay for her…there’s just no way she could buy something like that, size or style, OTR.
It sounds like sewing is so empowering for you tall ladies! I’m pretty average (5‘7“) but have to consistently add length to the arms of long sleeved shirts, so I can imagine trying to find RTW that fits is extremely frustrating when your entire frame needs the extra length! (Ebi, I can sympathize on the shoes. The bone structure of my feet has forced me into extra wide shoes for as long as I can remember, and I still have to sometimes buy men’s shoes to get ones that fit.)
I also started sewing because I was the 2nd tallest girl in my school (5’9″) and couldn’t find anything long enough. I took UK size 8 in shoes (US size 10) when the largest available in the shops was 7 back in the 70s – had to resort to men’s shoes at age 15 which was a humiliating experience.
There was a fashion for tucking jeans into ankle boots and for a while that hid the fact that my jeans were 2-3″ too short! I got into sewing because it allowed me to make clothes of a length that I chose. I didn’t understand fit initially: I thought I needed to be more accurate in making a pattern up, not that the pattern out of the envelope wouldn’t actually fit very many people! My extra length is distributed fairly evenly along my body so I tend to add an inch above the bust, above the waist, between waist and hips, and somewhere in the legs depending on the garment and styling.
I have tackled trousers and jeans, out of necessity, and am making pairs I am really happy with now. Also dresses and coats. Bras are next – can’t wait to have straps long enough. Never again that fruitless quest online or round multiple shops, and the inevitable compromise with fit or fabric. I’d rather be sewing 🙂
I’m exactly the same. 5.9 and lengthen everything.
So many of these experiences chime with me. I’m 5’10”, and my height was definitely a factor in taking up sewing. As Freya said, you can’t add length on if your garment is too short, so altering RTW garments was rarely an option. There is one time when I do envy shorter sewists though – and that’s when they can squeeze a whole garment out of a small piece of fabric: I’ve never, ever managed to make anything for me out of less than a metre!
I’m not tall and I am envious as a shrinking older woman. :o)
My youngest sister is 5′ 7″ and my family thought THAT was tall. :o)
In my paternal Grandparents wedding photo they are sitting in chairs, first thing I noticed was their feet didn’t touch the floor! LOL!
I am now sewing for my 27 yr old married daughter who is 5′ 9. (adopted) She has a 6′ 2 wonderful hubby. First pattern (dress) I cut for her I realized oops! Too short. :o(
I so agree, body shapes vary so much. As I shrink and age my breasts are lower, my skin is settling in at my waist. What ready to wear allows for that?? ;o)
I’m on the other side of the spectrum with everything being made for taller folks, so it is eye opening to read about your experiences.
Maggie & Julia, it never occured to me that bra straps would be too short. What a pain indeed.
It’s also an age thing. I always had the straps adjusted to their maximum length but now I’m 57 everything is descending gradually and it is literally a pain (in the shoulders). Looking forward to solving this problem at my bra-making course in February!
Hooray for this series! I’m reasonably tall, and the most frustrating things for me is not short pants but short tops. Before long styles came into fashion it was a major embarrassment to be wearing a top that rid up and exposed my midriff. And don’t get me started on one piece swimsuits!
I’m 5’10” and like most of the posters was tall early. It was definitely awkward at first but I love being tall as an adult. My height is a big reason I got so into sewing. My height is mostly in my legs and so pants, skirts and dresses were always scandalously short. I am also just proportionately bigger than someone who is average height so I am on the largest size of trendy retail but don’t carry weight like an “average” plus size woman so found myself in an in between zone in rtw. Nothing makes me feel more like something is wrong with me than being told the xl should fit at a store because I “don’t look fat” and having it be too short and too small in the hips. Sewing reframes that to make clothes work for my body instead of the other way around and that makes me feel like an awesome amazon like wonder woman.
I really resonate with this post. I am 5′ 11 1/2″ and have always struggled finding RTW that was long enough everywhere, especially in the legs as I have a 34″ inseam. I have been this height since I was 11 but I used to be pencil thin with a massive bust. Now that the rest of me has caught up it is still really hard to get things that fit well. Plus clothes are often designed for people that are wide but they don’t factor in that you need more fabric length-wise, cue crop top time. I often add up to 5″ of length to skirts and trousers and 3 – 5″ in a bodice as well as a monster FBA.
I am proud to be tall (although I am the shortest in my family and my daughter is taler than me) and have had all the kinds of comments mentioned in the Sew DIY post. The best one was when I when I went out with my 6’5″ friend back in the 90’s when platform boots were a thing. I had huge heels with a small platform that made us almost the same height. When I went to the toilet a man came up to my friend in the pub and asked if I was a drag queen. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I think it is funny now though. I am going to keep an eye out for the sewing tall posts on IG now. Xx
I’m 5’8″ so not especially tall but I was way taller than everyone else growing up, boys and girls and most adults -the country I lived in people were on average shorter anyway. I too had to buy men’s shoes at age 14 and that was humiliating and I still don’t feel comfortable shoe shopping even now 30+ years later. I didn’t wear trousers for a decade because my extra height is mainly in my legs, then in the 90’s at some point I started seeing women’s trousers and jeans in different leg lengths – it was a revelation! I do love now being able to make trousers that fit the length of my legs (other fit issues not yet conquered!)
Hi everyone! I’m 5’11” and totally rate to all of this! I usually have to lengthen my bodices and sleeves 1/2~1″, rises 1″ and skirts/legs 2~3″. I am so very grateful that because I sew most of my clothes I am not trapped in RTW lengths.
Thank you for this! Eagerly awaiting part 2. I am 6’1”. I sew because I cannot find pants long enough. I am quite short torsod/ verging on petite and frequently got looks when I would shop for RTW tops in the petite section. I sew nearly all my clothes now. The only alterations I make routinely are adding length to skirts, pants, and shorts as my inseam is 36”.. and increasing Crotch depth on pants, and shorts.
I love the sewingtall hashtag.. so good to be a part of the sewing community
Ebi, I really feel you about the shoes!!! SUCH A CHALLENGE.
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