Sewing and your wardrobe


When it comes to clothes, I’ve come to feel that there are just too many choices. Every season, designers and manufacturers roll out new styles to try, the magazines feature new looks, and people on the street give you fresh ideas about things you might like to wear. Don’t get me wrong, I love new ideas and I think change and newness is part of the appeal of fashion for a lot of women (myself included). It’s fun!

But another part of me, a big part, wants to keep it simple. I want a curated closet of only my favorite things. I want to wear only what’s comfortable, what looks good on me, the colors and fabrics that really make me happy. I want my clothes to be me. But the constant influx of Brand New Fashion makes this tough. There are just so many things to choose from.

And when you make your own clothes, the problem is magnified tenfold! Not only can you choose from almost any style, but you can pick from hundreds of fabrics, choose almost any color of pattern, and add limitless details.

Maybe I need a new black pencil skirt in my wardrobe. It’s a simple project, but I can think of several ways to make it a little more interesting, to make something really perfect that I’ll wear all the time. I’m excited about making it. Then I go to the fabric store, and I’m overwhelmed by beautiful colors and lush prints. Suddenly I feel like the plain black pencil skirt can wait. I pick up a sweet printed blouse-weight silk, a striped jersey, a bit of lace I just have to have. Then they sit in my fabric stash, or get made into cute things that I hardly wear at all. Is it just me?

Studies have shown that in many situations, the more choices we have, the less capable we are of making good decisions, and the less happy we are with the decisions we make. We hem and haw over all of our choices and then finally, in the end, choose something that doesn’t even make us happy.

How to overcome this in your sewing? Well, here’s what I’ve found that works:

  • Choose quality over quantity: My ideal way to shop, if I had all the time and the willpower to do so, would be to shop just once or twice a year, buy very few things, but have them be exactly what I need. I’d buy just a few high quality things that would last forever, but that I would adore and wear all the time. Why not approach sewing in the same way?
  • Invest time in your sewing projects: Sometimes I feel I have so many ideas that I have to rush through a project (which I may or may not end up wearing) to move on to the next idea. How else could I possibly get through all my ideas? But in doing that, I’m doing myself a disservice. Instead, I’m happier if I can whittle down all the possibilities to just a few things I really love, and focus my attention and time on those.
  • Examine your wardrobe: This is the tough part. Take a look at the clothes you have, and think about what you actually need to fill any holes. Look at the things you wear vs. the things you don’t. Personally, I have a close half full of party dresses I hardly ever wear. What I actually need are cute-but-comfortable dresses, clothes I can ride my bike in, and jackets for our mild-but-wet Winters.
  • Create a plan: The best way to make happy sewing decisions is to narrow your choices ahead of time. What I like to do is sketch out a mini-wardrobe a couple times a year, one in Spring and one in Fall. It’s a little sketch of maybe 10 to 15 pieces I’d love to wear all season long. Some of the pieces will be things I own and love. The rest I’ll plan to buy or (preferably) make.
  • Stick to the plan: Having a plan is one thing, but sticking to it when you’re in a sea of pretty fabric is quite another! Sometimes you’re inspired by a particular fabric, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Of course I deviate from my plans somewhat. But try to keep in mind that you’re trying to narrow your choices, not widen them.

I’m curious if you guys have any planning strategies when it comes to your sewing. Or do you think planning too much takes the fun out of things? Do you plan, but just one project at a time? Or do you find it helpful to plan for a season or a year? Do you get overwhelmed by too many choices (like I do), or do you prefer the happenstance and making whatever you feel like at the moment?

{image above: from the Biba catalog, courtesy of liebemarlene}

Sarai Mitnick   —   Founder

Sarai started Colette back in 2009. She believes the primary role of a business should be to help people. She loves good books, sewing with wool, her charming cats, working in her garden, and eating salsa.

Comments 39

Robin Denning

Great post! Since I started sewing my own wardrobe, I faced all of these issues. It took a couple years to wrap my mind around my needs and focus on what I want & need. I’ve gradually developed blinders to the styles, colors and fabrics that don’t work for me.

Now, I have just the right amount of clothing and most of it is sewn by yours truly. I don’t need a large walk-in closet anymore. I don’t feel like I have more than I need. That is a powerful & rewarding feeling.

How did I do it?
a quick summary:
Fit – I got Bernina My Label and finally got patterns to fit me.
Flatter – I splurged and paid for an image consultation to learn about my particular body proportions. Worth every penny.
Skills – keep sewing, keep learning
Fabrics and notions – the internet
Planning – a necessity that comes easier with practice.


I live on a tight budget so I can’t go fabric shopping whenever the mood strikes. That’s why I’m very strict on myself that I don’t fabric unless it’s for the project I’m working on at that time. Even then I don’t buy any extra. When I do buy fabric, I buy quality.

Also as I’ve altered my view on what I want to wear, I have big gaps in my wardrobe. Before I bought casual, easy to mix clothing of the latest fashion, because that way I could do with a minimal and cheap wardrobe, but still buy new stuff every season. Now I’ve decided on wearing clothing that fit my personality, style and body. Instead of changing every season, I will go for quality that lasts a long time. All this means that right now I’m sewing for the gaps in my wardrobe and am slowly buying the stuff I can’t sew. In the meantime I’ll just have to do with very few items to wear.

Robin Denning

Follow up :)
Now that I have a basic set of patterns that fit me, I use them to adapt commercial patterns that I want to sew.

That’s how I will make the Lady Grey coat work for me

Fitting has been my greatest challenge and that’s where I devote the lion’s share of my energy.


Wonderful post, because I know exactly what you are talking about. :-) The worst are bargains and sales! That can be lovely fabrics, pretty patterns, fabulous yarns and tempting buttons. Discipline and restriction are not my greatest assets. It is wise though to know and set your limits. But how? Oh dear, it’s like dieting isn’t it?

@Robin, Bernina my label looks very tempting (even more choice?) but it’s for Windows only…


When you’re sewing on a tight budget, that’s when sewing is even sweeter than ever…every purchase becomes a conscious choice, not unlike what occcured during World War II, even the Great Depression. You can still end up with quality. Use coupons, student discounts, scour the Internet for good buys. Check out return policies before you buy too. Pre-wash or pretreat your fabrics, interfacings even embellishments…any of these things can shrink later.


This is a great point. Constraints like a limited budget really have a way of focusing your creativity sometimes.

✄ Fabric U ✄

I also meant to say with trickier patterns and more expensive fabrics, sew a muslin first. Save the tears of frustration…for the tears of joy with your beautiful finished product!


It’s always been hit or miss with me what I’ve chosen to wear over the years. I’ve not felt very daring, but I don’t want to look like a grandma either. A friend lent me this great book to help me find what I like. She also guessed which style I was (American Classic), and she was spot on! I made a spreadsheet of the different pieces they recommend. Now I have a shopping guide and know exactly what I need!


Oh man, I can so relate to this! I always end up sewing things in fun, colorful prints, and then find that I have nothing to pair those lovely colorful garments with in my closet! I also suffer from the too many party dresses/not enough bike clothes problem. I can’t say I’ve really fixed this problem (I’m working on a party dress right now, in fact!), but one thing that does help for me is drawing sketches. Really, really detailed sketches, in color and on my digital croquis. Something about doing that makes me feel like I’ve captured the inspiration so I won’t lose it if I don’t make it right away, and then I can also evaluate more objectively which one of these many things that I’ve drawn is actually going to be flattering and useful.


I totally agree. Sketching out a plan and attaching swatches really helps me to keep my vision in mind.


I also have the problem of not enough bike clothes/too many fun clothes. I really like your idea of a full color, detailed sketch. That would help me focus my projects and help me focus my fabric shopping!


Here’s some of my first attempts at doing digital sketches, if you’re interested:

I’m still learning how to use this tablet, but the idea was to start with an actual photo of myself to use for sketching, and eventually to use digital swatches (I do most of my fabric shopping online) to fill in the sketches. Lots of things I haven’t figured out yet here, but I’m hoping this will be a really useful tool when I get the hang of it!


Great post, and one I need to “star” in order to re-read from time to time. I hate the feeling of “too much” and especially in clothing. There is a frantic feel to fashion that has an addictive quality to it. I stopped reading fashion mags some years ago and recently have become aware that some sewing sites feed that same addictive quality in me.

I have been working to refine my closet for the last year + and am down to clothes in half of it. The other half contains sewing projects in progress. My goals include sewing travel pieces for winter (I go south and camp all winter) and fill in with colorful fun pieces for the warmer months like Nicole mentioned above. Ideally I’d like all to work together ala Eileen Fisher.


This is a great post, and I agree with all of your points. I have the combination of a body that only looks good in certain shapes and the soul of a cheapskate, so that keeps my wardrobe pared down. My tendency has been to buy inexpensive clothes and keep and wear them for a long, long time. I have had some of my current clothes for 15 years or more, which sounds terrible, but I do retire things when they wear out, stretch out, shrink, or otherwise don’t look good anymore. (The other day, my husband complimented me on a skirt I was wearing, and I reminded him that I was wearing it on our second date — 14 years ago!) As for being “in style” — well, I just try to pick what’s flattering on me and leave it at that. Now that I’ve started sewing again, I am trying to be very selective about what I make as I’m building my skills. Anything I make has to fit in with my other clothes in style and color and be made of easy-care fabrics. I finish each project before I start another one, taking as long as it takes. So far, my only wadders have been muslins, so I guess that’s good.


Wow, what a great post. I’m also on a pretty tight budget, so I have to force myself to think very carefully and sleep on it for at least a week before I buy anything.

One thing that I do love about sewing is that, in general, the choices available seem to be real choices, resulting from actual variety… unlike, say, in grocery stores, where the 700 different yogurts are just marketing/an illusion of options.


I think because I have two small children and no permanent sewing station it’s easier for me to stick to my plan because I know I can only do one small project at a time. Unfortunately I am also quite a novice so I don’t want to spend a ton on fabric because I know my finished product may leave a lot to be desired. However, I hope that with continued perseverance I’ll be able to make more and more of my own wardrobe.


I completely related to this post. It’s hard for me to stay on track if I don’t find exactly what I’m looking for at the fabric store. Suddenly, the bright prints seem to be beckoning to me!


Thanks for a great and relevant post!

I have been sewing now for about five years. In the beginning I just wanted to sew up things that were pretty! Nowadays I have become more aware of what a) I want b) what I need and c) what looks flattering on me.

I feel that the sewing community on the Internet has helped me to reflect more about what I sew. I really got an eye- opener during Zoe´s initiative Me-Made-May. Every day I was supposed to wear something I´d made. I all of a sudden understood that I have a tendency to sew skirts, and no tops! I would NEVER have seen this without Me-Made May.

So I think what I´m trying to say is that discussing sewing and consuming with fellow seamstresses has helped me stay in focus.


That is really cool. I also really like the way these kinds of projects can make you reflect more about your habits, spending, and creative energy. I had a similar experience when I did the Wardrobe Refashion challenge for a year.


I just finished a wardrobe for myself and the plan for my daughter’s. I do much of what you talk about, I find I have to plan and organize or I end up wasting time and money. In-depth post on the subject.


I’ve been sewing for a loooonnnggg time. Plus, my weight is the same as it was when I was a teenager. That means that everything I have sewed or owned still fits me. As a result I have all of my basic needs (like work clothes) covered. So now I really enjoy just making something for the sheer fun of it. Keep in mind what sewing is all about for you will likely change over time.


I just recently completed a SWAP wardrobe, and I find it helpful bring along a little piece of material that consists of little bits of the fabric from my wardrobe sewn together every time I go fabric shopping. That way I can keep track of whether this pretty fabric will actually look alright with some of the different fabrics in my wardrobe. This also keeps me from buying that pretty teal satiny fabric since a) I look horrible in blues and b) would never wear satiny fabric on a regular basis. :)

Seams Forever

i just want to say, AMEN. i feel the irksomeness of this dilemma almost every time i open my closet these days. i love the idea of “making a plan,” even for how i want my style to progress going forward. (for instance, i crave less bold prints and brightness and more neutrals and textures… with bold accents instead) but as you say, with what’s available in general, it’s hard to have control over your wardrobe in those ways and still be efficient with your $ and time. so let’s try anyway!
the other side to all your fantastic suggestions would be “the purge”. letting go, donating, handing off to friends items you haven’t worn in X # years or just don’t fit your body or aesthetic anymore.
thanks for such great inspiration this morning!


Great post! I fight this all the time, too many things I want to sew and hurry through but then I have too much to choose from. I need to slow down and sew some nicer things, quality rather than quantity. I’m on a fabric diet so hopefully that will help.

I’ve tried to sew a SWAP but ended up sewing things I didn’t like or want just to make the whole thing match. This year I did an old fashioned collage. I cut out pictures from magazines, got out my glue stick and pasted pictures to construction paper. I put it up in my sewing room for inspiration. So far it seems to be helping keep me on track.


My latest project has been shelved in favor of making my nieces’ birthday presents, which shows how well I plan. Had a t-shirt with “feathered” shoulder pieces all planned out and this is all the farther I got before I realized I had less than a month to do the gifts.

And that’s not even taking into account the fact that I’d managed to sew the feathers on upside down the first time, thinking I was on the sleeve side when I was actually on the shoulder…

I think my problem is that I spend too much time brainstorming and too little time following through. I’d need a dozen of me to get everything done that I want to.


My goal for sewing this time around has been to create clothing I would actually wear. This has meant a LOT of restraint in terms of pattern and fabric selection. I have made a few outside-the-box pieces, but I’m really most happy with the ones that have become solid everyday workhorses in my wardrobe. For the most part I’m doing pretty well… but I definitely need to get on the winter jacket I’ve been planning and putting off…

I find asking a few questions helps:
1) does it look nice (of course)
2) would it look nice on ME
3) would I actually wear it or would certain features bug me or make it impractical for everyday wear?
4) do I have other items that fulfill the same purpose?


This post struck me as true in so many ways. I think one problem is that sewing lovers are fabric lovers, and when you go to the fabric store your imagination runs wild. I’ve been stock-piling fabric this last month, determined to sew myself some nice Fall pieces, almost none of them universal. I’m getting better with sewing muslins to ensure fit, as there have been too many disappointments. But one real tip I’ve learned is that when you’ve perfected a pattern so it’s perfect for you MAKE IT A FEW TIMES. That way, the time you put into fitting can pay off even more, and experimenting with fabric can be a more controlled activity!


Wow when I read this I felt like our minds were in sync. This is exactly what I am doing right now. I just went through my closet and pulled out all the summery stuff and switched in my fall sweaters. I have the same problem with being over whelmed with my choices so I tried on all my sweaters and only added what I liked and fitted well, if they didn’t fit I put them in the scrap fabric pile to be reused. Now that I’ve gone through my closet I know what I am lacking to be up to date for this years fashion so I am sketching ideas for what I need/want to make. I am glad to know I am not crazy for doing this :) also my boyfriend just gave me crap for rushing threw my ideas and sewing things with crap fabric I had laying around rather then buying the perfect fabric to do the job right.


honestly, I don’t need anything more in my wardrobe. That doesn’t mean that I don’t add; I shop and add when I find something that’s a great deal, well-made, AND that I could use to swap out for an older garment that’s on its last legs, or that will fit in perfectly with what I wear. I left home at 20, got a job, put myself through the rest of college; as such, I started building a work wardrobe (for business and business-casual) early on. My weekend wardrobe is, granted, a bit crummy-looking, but I honestly don’t care what I look like when I’m writing articles in a coffeeshop or working in the yard.

For me, sewing is a cheap alternative to shopping – I use it to create pieces I know I won’t find at an acceptable price point for my budget. And since we all know how expensive sewing one’s own clothing can actually be, a big part of my approach is finding quality materials on the cheap. I keep an eye on fabric sales and stock up once or twice a year with 3-4 yards of this, 2-3 yards of that, etc. when I can find silks, wools, linens etc. for $2-$4/yard in colours that I love and weights that I know I can sew. I make sure I have more yardage than I need for my intended garment, and then when sewing time comes around (breaks from university), if I don’t already have a pattern, I’ll hunt one down (on sale, preferably!) or draft one up, and I always have a good stock of fabric on hand. It’s just like my wardrobe: years of careful, patient shopping and an aesthetic that has been remarkably consistent at its core.


or as Devo says:
Freedom of choice; it’s what we’ve got
Freedom from choice; it’s what we want!


I like this post a lot. I am a victim of too many choices and now a stash of fabric that is never ending. Your plan is a good one. I am going to try and implement it.


This is the perfect article for people new to sewing. I just received my first sewing machine 6 days ago and my mind is swimming with all the possibilities! After reading this I am going to write down my ideas and weed out the “just because I have a sewing machine” plans. Thanks for the wonderful information!


I love sketching outfits and imagining combinations; however, when I don’t have the time/inclination to draw, I like to lay out the clothes I have/want to wear for an upcoming season, sort them by garment type, and place my existing fabrics next to them according to what I plan to make.

From there I can easily see what I still need, what I have too much of, and what straight up doesn’t match the way I thought it would. It’s also a fun, easy way to visualize my future outfits!

This offers a place to start if someone doesn’t already have a seasonal palette in mind. I also think someone could do this without any drawing ability (although it does require that you have some idea of what clothing looks best on your shape). Just snap a picture with your phone and there’s a palette in your purse!


I’m so glad to heard this said among sewing types! I feel uncomfortable when sewers talk like sewing loads of garments all the time is desirable or sustainable.

I enjoy sewing because it makes me grateful for the things I have. It makes me glad to have 1 piece that is exactly what I want and fits me perfectly, rather than 5 similar pieces that each aren’t quite right.

I have plans and requirements for things, but I think it makes me more exacting rather than taking the fun out. Also I might have 3 or 4 plans at once, so if I go shopping and only find the right fabric or buttons for one project – hey at least I got one! That said I can only sew sporadically – those 4 plans will be a year’s worth of sewing.

It took me a while to learn that waiting and searching for just the right pattern and fabric, doing a muslin and getting the garment as good as I could manage made me appreciate it so much more.


I needed this post in my life!!! Thank you!!

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