Sustainably sewing your me-made wardrobe

Hello! Ahead of the May Sewcialists theme of #sewcialistsloveMMM, I’m back with a post on thinking sustainably about your wardrobe and making clothes you will actually wear. You might know me from the sustainable sewing challenge #makeyourstash. In case you don’t, I’m Kate from the Time to Sew blog  (aka @timetosew on Instagram) and I am obsessed with sustainability, textiles and sewing. Outside my day job and my family I spend most of my time thinking about reducing my sewing footprint and adopting a mindful approach to sewing.

How many clothes do you need to sew?

How much do you sew? Have you ever thought that you still don’t have a lot to wear despite the amount you sew and the volume of fabric in your stash? Or maybe you sometimes think you should just chuck it in and go back to buying clothes instead. Patterns just don’t fit, fabrics are troublesome and you don’t have time!

In the UK, women tend to wear only 55% of what is in their wardrobe
(source: Weightwatchers survey via

If I consider that I have a different wardrobe for summer or winter, then I’m probably not doing much better than the 55% listed above. Then within each season there are pieces I can’t bring myself to discard and others that I consider to be just in case. So I guess there might be room for a few more things that are a bit more functional and a bit more me, but I certainly won’t be suffering without them! My idea of wardrobe builders means making clothes to increase the percentage worn. Last year I went a bit nuts and made 27 things in the space of a few months – most of them get some sort of wear but if you asked me what they were I’d have no idea unless I looked at my blog post on the matter and reminded myself.

Alex dress

One of many dresses I made in 2017 (Sew Over It Alex)

What do you want in your wardrobe?

There are so many different approaches to building your wardrobe. At one end you might love a lot of variety and don’t stick to any particular style. At the other end you might be going for a minimalist wardrobe with a few key pieces that go with everything. Or you might just love a particular type of print and want everything in that print. I don’t believe that any approach is necessarily is right or wrong, as long as you are happy with what you have and you understand what you want. If you are interested in trying to keep your wardrobe sustainable through sewing, my key piece of advice would be to remember:

Sustainability is not replacing your RTW wardrobe with a handmade wardrobe.

And with that, here are my top tips for understanding what you want in a functional wardrobe and sewing the gaps:

  1. Assess your lifestyle and your wardrobe.

It is really worth being honest with yourself and thinking about what kind of clothes will get the most mileage in your wardrobe. I love the idea of having less clothing in my wardrobe but I find it challenging to be a true minimalist. The clothes I wear depend on the day and as a result my wardrobe has corresponding categories. One day I might be in town in the office; another day I’m stay at home mum covered in yoghurt and other unmentionables; or I might want to look smart for weekend lunch.

If you are working, what do you wear? Formal office wear? Smart casual? Activewear? Uniform? Are your clothes going to be covered in finger paint? How often do you work? My point is that there is unlikely to be much point sewing up a load of delicate floaty spring dresses if you need to be in formal office wear most days (me), or chasing around children at nursery all day, or a personal trainer.

Once you have decided the types of clothes work best for you then it is worth digging deep into your wardrobe and seeing what is lurking in the closet. You never know but there might be some forgotten pieces that you might actually like! Or you might find something you can potentially alter or upcycle into something you like better.

Penny dress

This Sew Over It Penny dress has been mended 3x after ripping it at the arm reaching for something. I have had a lot of nice comments on this dress – but actually the shape doesn’t work for my everyday lifestyle at all (hence the rips)! and I don’t love the vintage vibe on me

  1. Decide where you want to spend your time and effort

A lot of people have a goal to have a complete me-made wardrobe. I don’t have this goal. It would just be wasteful to discard perfectly good clothes already and to add to those for the sake of it being me-made would just end up in wardrobe clutter and my brain suffering even more choice stress in the morning.

So take the time to think about what it is you want to spend your time making to fill in the wardrobe gaps. You don’t need to make everything and/or all at once! Many of us have “maker’s guilt” – feeling guilty for buying things that we could make ourselves. I think this is often misdirected seeing as sewing is a hobby for most of us. This means spending time enjoying the making process and ending up with something awesome. Whilst I have made black blazers and skirts in the past, officewear really does not fill me with excitement and happiness. Neither does lingerie for that matter.

Some ideas to help alleviate the guilt would be to buy second hand or from a sustainable fashion brand. Or probably most importantly maximise the use and life of the things you have already.

  1. Prioritise shapes and styles that you know you like.

I don’t believe in most fashion and sewing “rules” – my theory is you should wear what you like and to be comfortable and confident! However in the effort to avoid having a silly amount of clothing in my wardrobe I will always tend to turn to shapes and styles I know I love and let me feel like the person I am (rather than who I think I am or want to be!) For me that generally means knee length dresses, semi fitted for work and loose for casual, and simple shapes with no frills or ruffles. That is not to say that I never deviate – I recently made a black velvet dress after caving into the velvet trend, and in January I made a green sweater dress on a whim that I saw in a sewing magazine (I have worn it most weekends though, if that counts). Part of the fun of sewing is the ability to try new things, adjust them to your liking, and maybe learn a new technique. Which brings me onto (4).

Green sweater dress

The Chica dress from La Maison Victor. Organic cotton sweat shirting by @chatchocolat

  1. Go window-shopping in stores and experiment with trying things on.

As a serial RTW shopper in a previous life, trying things on that I thought I might like to have or make has saved me a lot of time and effort sewing clothes that would otherwise have been disasters. I go in with the mentality that I might find something that I like and will decide later whether I will make it or buy it. This tends to mitigate one of the few downsides of sewing that you can’t try before you invest time and effort into making something. Also as someone who likes variety, I do occasionally want to try new things. (I know I feel silly and dwarfish in a maxi dress but every summer I try one just in case….)

  1. Shop your stash first before buying new fabric.

This was the genesis of #makeyourstash – it is so hard not to be distracted by things in magazines, social media etc. and wanting to make them immediately. Fabric shopping (especially online) is instant gratification, sewing is not! Fabric shopping can be a fast way to end up with too many handmade clothes you don’t love, and a load of fabric taking up space in your house. This is regardless of whether you buy fabric which is considered eco friendly (which probably won’t save the world by the way). So how do you avoid being distracted by shiny new patterns and fabrics on Instagram that don’t fit your plan? My answer is to wait for at least a couple of weeks before buying anything. If by then I’m still feeling enthusiastic I’ll look for something in my stash. Whilst there is a lot of fabric I have fallen out of love with, I still like to think my stash is my own personal store.

Spring is a popular time to sew. My stash is primarily cottons, jerseys, linen etc. as opposed to wool and sweater knits. If I think about the learning process of sewing where the starting point is generally woven cottons, and then add in the popularity of floral floaty prints, I suspect I am not alone with the types of stuff in my stash! Because of that I will be focussing my energy on layering pieces which I hope to carry through to autumn.


Agnes top

Last year I made a bunch of Tilly and the Buttons Agnes tops (see above) so this year I’m thinking about clothes that might go with them – potentially a couple of jackets, a pair of weekend cotton/linen trousers and a skirt or two. Then to keep it a fun I’d like to make a jersey tee with a watermelon print – just because there’s enough to make something for my toddler and we can match outfits 🙂 All of this will be from the stash and I hope to continue not buying fabric for a few more months yet – but we’ll see how much I manage to sew!

What sewing do you plan to do to fill the wardrobe gaps this season? How have you come up with the things you will sew? Do you look at your wardrobe on a regular basis and plan everything you make or do you sew when inspiration strikes?