Wrap Up :: Thoughts on a Handmade Summer Wardrobe

Thoughts on a Handmade Summer Wardrobe || a happy stitch

I have a tendency to move quickly from one thing to the next but I really wanted to be sure and do a wrap up on my handmade summer wardrobe even though it is late October.  Originally, I wanted to jot down reflections so I could have a record of the progress I made toward my goal.  But, as I started writing I realized that I am also sorting through some conflicted feelings. I started the handmade summer wardrobe idea with a deliberate plan that involved assessing my fabric stash and finding the gaps in my summer wardrobe so I could make wearable items from what I have. I set out to make three dresses, three tops, two tunics, one romper, two pairs of shorts and a cardigan.  I ended up making two rompers, three pairs of shorts, three tops, one tunic, one skirt and a cardigan. Overall, I’m thrilled I could tick off accomplishments and am proud of some strong additions to my handmade wardrobe. Most are things I will wear (the tunic and ikat top being the possible exceptions).  It’s so neat and tidy as a little plan, isn’t it?

But, sometimes we create boxes to organize things and then we resent that we are sat in a box, you know?  I guess it is the push and pull of creative limits? As it turns out, I hated my self-created limitations and often found I was reluctantly dragging myself back to stick to the plan.

Thoughts on a Handmade Summer Wardrobe || a happy stitch

As much as I was dragging myself down, I stayed committed. See, in the nearly two years of my Nothing New Project I’m still either buying used or making my own clothing.  The trouble is, I get frustrated with my handmade clothing because I do not always make things I want to wear in real life.  On some level, this isn’t always my fault. The challenge of making your own clothes is that you don’t get to try them on beforehand, right?! You have to go through the effort of MAKING it to find out whether it suits you are not. When that doesn’t work out, it feels like a real pain. (Even if you make a muslin first, you still have to prepare a pattern and make it).  I do think the more you sew garments, the better your design eye gets but it’s still a process of trial and error, no matter what. The idea behind this structured, deliberate plan was to make clothes I would wear again and again.  I was gonna organize the chaos of my mind. I really wanted to tackle this one.

But, good planning always hits up against a solid limit with me. The joy of sewing doesn’t come from a practical, planned place; it comes from a place of passion. I love the challenge of sewing, I love the creativity.  I love that I have all the options in the world and I have to narrow them, focus in on something and then I get to try it out. I love that I am free to explore a new style and a new idea. I spent much of my early life dressing in a safe, conventional way…just hoping to fit in. I love that sewing frees me up to explore color, shape and construction while also celebrating that my sense of belonging comes from something more authentic in my old(er) age. I like this journey and its uncertainty is part of the thrill.  Sometimes staying on track with my plan made me less adventurous and that was a bit sad.

(Just as a random aside, I fully reject the ecological damage and cold inhumanity that accompanies conventional clothing manufacture but I do sometimes long for the ease of just shopping, damn it!).

Some of this joy and passion was lost in the weeds of my big summer plan. And, truthfully, this whole sewing thing isn’t about ticking boxes.  Sewing, really most sewing, is about finding the balance between the joy of making and the practicality of use.  I want to find that place where I’m free to explore but also making something useful. In order to leave room for exploration; there has to be space for mistakes and I have to forgive myself for those.

Thoughts on a Handmade Summer Wardrobe || a happy stitch

It’s a struggle I plan on working through for a handmade fall and winter. Maybe it’s something I will struggle with for a while. Who knows? Perhaps a super structured plan isn’t exactly the right thing but I was successful at making handmade clothes I wore and will wear again and that counts for something.

After all those big process thoughts, I will say I”m proud of a few details.  Everything I made for the summer plan has professional-level finished seams. Most of the time I made french seams (there is a great tutorial here) and sometimes even flat felled seams (tutorial here).  It makes a huge difference to know that I can place a cleaned garment back into my closet without having to wrangle loose threads. Maybe this is where the intersection of practicality and creativity meet! At the seams?!

City Shorts in Double Gauze

Comfy City Shorts in Double Gauze || a happy stitch

Mmmm, double gauze is like the ice cream of fabrics. It’s a double layer of soft, light, sweet goodness and I have made myself a pair of City Shorts so my skin can celebrate this fabric as much as possible.  Truthfully, these shorts are really for lounging but that is all the more reason to focus on comfort, cuteness and scrumptious fabric.

Comfy City Shorts in Double Gauze || a happy stitch

The fabric is, of course, Japanese.  It’s designed by Ellen Baker for Kokka as a part of her charms line in 2014.  I bought it on a trip to Portland, at the amazing Bolt.   It only gets softer when it’s washed so I look forward to falling deeper and deeper in love as time passes.  Even ice cream can’t promise that much. I used blue chambray for the trim and a sea green shot cotton for the waistband.  Essentially I used all my favorite types of fabric in one place because lounging should be like that. 🙂

Comfy City Shorts in Double Gauze || a happy stitch

These shorts are the final ‘make’ for my handmade summer wardrobe plan  and since it is October that is a very good thing. I’m looking forward to a re-cap of how the whole planning process went and what I decided to make and what I skipped.  I’m also excited to put together a handmade fall wardrobe plan but I think I might stick to a few key items because this fall is already filling up with classes and markets and things are going to get crazy.  As they usually do this time of year!

Comfy City Shorts in Double Gauze || a happy stitch


Handmade Wardrobe Basics :: Thurlow Shorts

Handmade Summer Wardrobe Basics! Thurlow Shorts in Chambray -a-happy-stitch

A good pair of shorts is at the heart of any basic summer wardrobe and I was determined to make them.  I didn’t have a solid plan when I added them to my handmade summer wardrobe plan but I knew they had to be there if I was serious about making what I will actually wear. So here it is, summer is OVER and I am thrilled to show off two pairs of thurlow shorts…one in speckled chambray and one in olive twill.  Neither pair are traffic-stopping exciting to look at but I’m positively thrilled!  It was a sewing accomplishment to be sure with a good fit, functioning zipper, fitted waistband as well as welt pockets. If only sewing skillZ COULD stop traffic, right?!

I put more research than usual into deciding which pattern to use for these.  I always have a hard time finding shorts that fit and I wanted a simple but polished look. No crazy front pleats or fussy hems. Normally, if a pair of shorts fits comfortably in the hips they are huge at the waistband and vice versa.  I really didn’t want to bother making a muslin but I knew that a good pair of shorts would take a lot of time and if they fit poorly I would be super sad. I was very tempted by the Maritime Shorts pattern from Grainline and I love their simplicity but I ended up deciding on the Thurlow Shorts / Trousers from Sewaholic.

Handmade Summer Wardrobe Basics! Thurlow Shorts in Chambray -a-happy-stitch

At first glance, the picture accompanying the pattern isn’t at all what I was looking for.  They look too decorative at the hem and overly blouse-y. BUT, I saw a pair that Lladybird made and I loved them.  As it turns out, Thurlows are designed to accommodate hips and they are exactly what I was looking for.

Handmade Summer Wardrobe Basics! Thurlow Shorts in Chambray -a-happy-stitch

Are you checking out my welt pockets? 🙂 I hope so because they are designed to impress.

Handmade Summer Wardrobe Basics! Thurlow Shorts in Chambray -a-happy-stitch

Ok, well, truthfully, as much as I am impressed I do have a bone to pick with these welt pockets. See those little puckers at the corner? I was so frustrated that I couldn’t get them down.  A friend directed me to this tutorial from Liesl and Co and it looks like I need to clip into the corners further next time. It’s not exactly a surprise, what my cautiousness as an obstacle? Shocker.  Harrumph.  I suppose all of this sewing would get pretty boring if I wasn’t still learning new things at every turn.

Handmade Summer Wardrobe Basics! Thurlow Shorts in Chambray -a-happy-stitch

My shorts in olive twill are probably more worn than the chambray pair.  They are just so durable and easy to throw on. The welt pockets are even messier but not enough to stop me from wearing them.

Handmade Summer Wardrobe Basics! Thurlow Shorts in Olive Twill -_-a-happy-stitch

Both pairs of shorts have all flat-felled seams. I really realized as I stitched up garments with real-life in mind that how I finish the seams matters A LOT. I just need them to be low-maintenance in the wash or they will set in my bedroom waiting for me to clip seams or do laborious ironing.  Not what I need.

Handmade Summer Wardrobe Basics! Thurlow Shorts in Olive Twill -_-a-happy-stitch

Nitty Gritty: The black chambray is from Rock Paper Scissors and the olive twill is what was leftover from this Minoru Jacket.

Handmade Summer Wardrobe Basics! Thurlow Shorts in Olive Twill -_-a-happy-stitch

Ikat Tank Top


Remember the accidental skirt? The one that was the bottom half of a hacked Sanibel dress? Well, what remained of the top half was calling to me and frankly, would not shut up.  My close and tearful assessment of the top was that it had three main complications, a) it was voluminous at the hem, b) I had made a lining that was a bit smaller than the outer portion so it didn’t lay straight, and c) it was too short.  You know, I’ll just come out and say it: the top is CROPPED and VOLUMINOUS.  I mean, what the what? Who am I? Is this Hot Topic?

I wanted to give up on this top and I put it on the dress form in the studio because I didn’t know what else to do.  It looked really pretty up there and kept inviting me to try get back together. I blame it on the neckline. I reached out to Instagram, as you do, and got lots of fantastic ideas (sewists are really the best people). Lots of people suggested adding a band to the bottom, Jess (coralbunnyandlo) even suggested adding a wide lace band for a boho look, which I thought was brilliant. And I tried. I really tried to make something like that work.  But, you know what? It wasn’t working.  I had the darn ‘too small lining’ thing going on and it kept making puckers.


So, I decided to keep it cropped. Gasp! I know! I don’t really buy into the rhetoric about what people can wear at different ages but I still did a little “Woah. I’m a 41 year old woman in a cropped tank top?”. I just couldn’t say no to that neckline and couldn’t stomach trashing such beautiful fabric.  Again, Instagram is to blame because my friend Anne (splendidjunkvintage) suggested the layered look and I trusted her judgement. Except I was too lazy to actually stitch in a layer and just decided wearing a tank top underneath is good enough.  Honestly, I think I can wear this? (Can you hear that note of doubt from where you are sitting?) Especially with a little jacket or a mustard cardigan or something. Right? Right.


As for the details: The pattern is basically self-drafted with this Sanibel Jumper hack as my sloper. I reworked the top to eliminate the button-up and added the (dreaded) lining and extra (dreaded) volume (all the mistakes). The tank has no exposed fabric with all french seams inside. The fabric is from Michael Levine, which has a stunning selection of woven ikat fabric, all of which I covet.

For the record, this is my ‘me with confidence’ look.


By the way, don’t you love the cat’s little cameo?!  She is the sweetest, quietest, most gentle, shy cat ever.  She has the most clever techniques for hiding herself when more than three people are at the house, and that includes the boys.  We’ve had friends for years, who see the cat and are stunned to find out we have a pet.  As soon as it’s quiet, you see her slink out and back to her spot on the porch or on my side of the bed. She would not leave me alone while I was taking these pictures. She is pretty much perfect. She seems to be ok with the top and that might be all the approval I need.ikat-tank-top-_-a-happy-stitch

Coral and Navy Datura Blouse

The Lovely Datura Blouse in Coral voile and Navy : An elegant sew! - a-happy-stitch_

Among the t-shirts and jeans and shorts and other standards in a closet is another, more exciting wardrobe basic…the dressy but not too dressy top.  It’s the top that does all the work for you; not requiring any extra effort from other items of clothing.  Know what I mean? You can throw it over jeans for effortless styling while running errands or put it on for a low-key date night or kid’s performance at school. It’s the “I have an everyday thing I’m going to that’s a little bit more than a mundane thing but not an exciting, over the top thing”.  It’s always been a bit of a closet unicorn for me. Easy to imagine but hard to find.

It seems, however, that my moment has come.  I have found my unicorn in this navy and coral Datura Top. This top is going to work-it-work-it for me.

The Lovely Datura Blouse in Coral voile and Navy : An elegant sew! - a-happy-stitch_

The pattern is from the lovely french pattern maker, Deer and Doe. I am in love with the beautiful cut-outs and they are just fancy enough to be fun.  The top is breezy and casually wearable.  I used a coral lawn fabric for the bottom portion and a stiff flat cotton for the top.  Using a standard cotton for the cut-outs portion really helped them come out crisply. I had to use two layers of the coral fabric for the front of the shirt because it is a little bit sheer.  As for the shirt construction, I love the side darts on this top, they give it just enough shape.

The Lovely Datura Blouse in Coral voile and Navy : An elegant sew! - a-happy-stitch_

I made a few alterations.  First, I lengthened it a few inches because I have a long torso.  I also graded out a size at the hips. I knew I would need more width around my, ahem, juicy parts especially since I had made it longer. I could have made the hip portion even wider, there is a lot of juicy, but I’m happy with how it looks. I didn’t notice until it was too late that the picture makes the back look like it gapes but I’m pretty sure that’s just how I’m standing?

The Lovely Datura Blouse in Coral voile and Navy : An elegant sew! - a-happy-stitch_

The Lovely Datura Blouse in Coral voile and Navy : An elegant sew! - a-happy-stitch_

This top is the seventh item of my handmade summer wardrobe from my big plan. I’ve got a bit more I need to blog about before it is officially fall.  Speaking of fall, it just occurred to me that another bonus of this blouse is that I’m pretty sure I can throw on a cardigan and make it will a decent cold-ish weather top.  Seriously, is there anything this top can’t do?

The Lovely Datura Blouse in Coral voile and Navy : An elegant sew! - a-happy-stitch_

By the way, I recently started writing a newsletter with updates on my classes but also fun links to patterns, fabric and other things like music and movies that catch my attention.  I found I really enjoy the format, it’s more personal and intimate. You should totally sign up!  

Starry Pink Dress + a Skill Swap


It’s quite possible that hidden inside of most sewists is a desire to make dresses for little girls. I’m don’t even think it stems from a longing to put clothing on a small being.  It’s really about two factors with irresistible appeal, 1) little girl dresses look great in fun fabrics and 2) they don’t involve complicated fitting issues.  Basically, kid bodies are popsicle sticks and little girls look adorable in every print known to the universe.  Whether or not one gets to follow through on this perfect sewing storm depends on circumstance and for me the circumstances rarely arrive.  It’s the downside of having two wild boys.

I could feel the pull to make a girly dress getting stronger, though, when I received the Sundressing book and it was full of so much cuteness for little girls. So many cute dresses!  I hatched a little plan to make one for a friend’s daughter but didn’t realize it was going to turn into an all-around magical adventure.  My friend Sabrina is a super talented photographer and we decided on a swap…she would spend a few hours giving me a one-on-one photography lesson and I would make her daughter a dress.  What a win. I really want to improve my photography so I was thrilled she agreed.  All of these gorgeous photos are hers, by the way, I’ve not mastered it yet!  But, I’m really hoping that as I work with her, you will start to notice the difference.  By the way, don’t miss exploring her website, it’s stunning and heartwarming. (more…)

What The Hack? An Accidental Skirt

Ikat Woven Skirt with Pockets | a happy stitch

Hello friends. I’m not exactly sure how it happened but it has been nearly a month since an update.  It was completely unintentional but it turned out to be a ridiculously busy time; I had a birthday (41!) and my sister got married.  In fact, I was the officiant at my sister’s wedding. It was a beautiful honor to marry my sister to her incredible husband but I was really nervous.  I did manage to get through the whole ceremony without too many tears. Score!  Nobody wants a blubbering officiant.  I wish my recent sewing had been as successful as my words, but no luck. Instead, I present to you this accidental skirt. (more…)

As it turns out, I don’t need a mountain-scape tunic

Plaintain Tee to Tunic | a happy stitch

I know.  You didn’t even know that a ‘mountain-scape tunic’ was a thing? Because it is not.  And, you know whose closet doesn’t need one? This girl.  I got started on this idea after seeing a top in a random catalog I receive called Poetry.  Except their top was darker colors and more artsy-looking. (It doesn’t look like it’s even available anymore.)  I thought I would recreate it and then my brain piped up with a contribution of its own, “what is better than a top? The answer is always a tunic! Let’s make ours special by making a tunic! Yeah, a tunic!”  So, I shopped for a similar fabric and found this mountain-scape fabric on the Mood website. It was brighter and more figurative but was the closest I could find.  So, I went for it. My brain is still excited and egging me on.  “Yes! A bright and detailed mountain-scape tunic!”  Well, as it turns out I don’t need a mountain-scape tunic. Like, I don’t need it at all. (more…)

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