(TRIGGER WARNING: Discussion of body hatred and self-harm.)
Until very recently, I hadn’t made myself any clothing in years. Part of that was a scheduling issue– I had tiny babies who were always outgrowing their things and then active toddlers who always needed new shoes and new patches on their pants– but mostly it was a self-love issue.
I’ve never loved my body. Not ever. My earliest memories related to my own physicality are about feeling awkward, being too big, too fat, taking up too much space for a girl. I was too tall, my feet were too big, my hands weren’t dainty enough. I spent years outright hating my body, wishing I could afford to have it surgically mutilated into a more socially-acceptable shape and size. I didn’t always wash my hands before eating when I was a teenager because I was hoping I would get a tapeworm. In college I wished I would get mono or even tuberculosis. I had a persistent fantasy as a young adult about literally carving away the parts of myself society deemed excessive with a kitchen knife, and how much more attractive I would be afterward, even if I could never show my skin.
And I was punishing myself whenever I acquired new clothes. I was buying cheap synthetic crap for myself at enormous retail markup (even though I worked hard to never pay full price) and I was stuffing myself into too-tight, too-short, and poorly-designed clothes that pinched my arms and gaped over my belly when I moved and simply didn’t work over my breasts. Worst of all, I didn’t feel entitled to complain about it, because I had internalized the notion that the clothes were intrinsically, even morally, correct, and my body should change to accommodate them. I wore the angry red welts from clothing designed too small as a mark of shame.
I wish I could say that I had an awakening and decided that my body was worthy of love, but actually it was my penny-pinching that saved me. I decided that commercially produced clothing was a waste of money. I stopped buying new clothes. What clothing I had continued to decay in the way that fast-fashion does: ripped seams, patches where the elastic snapped out and the fabric became translucent, runs and pinholes, pilling. It was amazing and disheartening how quickly my gorgeous new favorite top became pajama-quality, and then finally a rag, as the shoddy workmanship and poor materials took their toll on something that, I finally realized, was only designed to look good long enough to sell, and had never been made for a body like mine, regardless of what it said on the size tag.
One day, when Númenor was recently home from the NICU and having trouble gaining weight, and I was snuggling him, dressed in my appallingly ratty pajamas, we were listening to a song from “Free to Be…You and Me” called “When We Grow Up”, and it all came together.
Yes, I thought. My 10-pound former micro-preemie is nice small. And I don’t have to change at all. We are both okay, and we are both still growing up, and however we end up, we’ll be okay then, too. I might be pretty, and he might grow tall, but we don’t have to change at all! I realized that I deserved to be happy, and deserved to have better clothing, and I became committed to making myself some new things– nice things– that worked for my body and were made from high-quality materials. I realized that I deserved to take up space.
And that’s why, as I mentioned, I’m currently in the middle of a big infusion of new, homemade things into my own wardrobe.
So far this year, I’ve made two tops, a skirt, pajama pants, and a shawl, and none of them is quite perfect, but they were all faster to make than waiting for shipping on something storebought, which would not be perfect either.
The draped velvet top with the satin sleeves is quite pretty in a Tudor-ish sort of way, and shows off the tattoo on my back. It’s still a little big, even after I went back and took in all the seams by half an inch. I might sew up the shoulders a little further yet to make it a bit more modest.
The faux cable velveteen yoked top is actually an adaptation of a top I bought once, and my version is better in every measurable way, except that it’s a little too short. I’ve been casting around the studio for something to add to the hem to lengthen it, and when I find it, this will be an awesome piece.
The skirt is a Victorian-style gored piece with a flat front and elastic gathering over the back waistband to recall the effect of a bustle. It’s a little too big in the waist, but otherwise lovely and sweeping and dramatic, just like I wanted.
The pajama pants were quick and easy to sew, but have two major flaws: first, the yoga-style waist isn’t enough to hold them up when I’m active (say, chasing chickens around the yard), and second, the rise isn’t quite enough, which is why they’re in the mending right now and not picture-able– I tore the seam out trying to sit down!
The shawl turned out beautifully– but even after adding another half-skein of the original yarn, I was some 20 stitches short in the bind-off and had to meet the sewn binding I prefer with crochet binding from the other edge, so there’s a little strangeness in the elasticity of the bottom edge. I was also expecting it to be bigger when I finished blocking it, but not using any lace means that there was less “spring” to it than I anticipated.
None of these pieces is just right– they are all workable, though, and well-made, and will last longer and better than what I could have bought. They were also an order of magnitude cheaper, since I only had to pay for materials, even though those materials were better quality.
I’m excited for the next elements of the collection– some undergarments, which probably won’t be featured here, and some accessories, which likely will. There is such pleasure in doing things right, and I am finally coming to accept that my body is worthy of having well-made clothes. I like what I look like, and I don’t have to change at all.