The Holistic Seamstress

The Holistic Seamstress Logo

Wardrobe sewing is personal lifestyle choice. If I was a scientist, I might even hypothesize that it’s coded in our DNA. Whatever its origins, making clothes puts a seamstress at the intersection of her physical body, skills, available time, tools & materials, and even her personality. These five elements come together in a unique way for every sewist, leading to a handmade wardrobe that is not only a reflection of individual style, but a wearable record of personal growth. In an effort to understand the relationship between these elements and how they influence my approach to clothes making (and life), I am going to explore these topics in a multi-part series.


Background

After writing about how sewing has shaped my self-esteem, a whole new world of navel gazing about my craft opened up for me. I started connecting dots that I know will bring a balanced awareness to my sewing that I’ve been missing. Discovering my core style and preferred silhouettes through the Wardrobe Architect challenge was a great tactical exercise, but making my own clothes is a lifetime commitment that has more layers to it than just choosing what I want to sew. Every garment I make says something about WHO I am, WHERE I’ve been, WHAT I know (and don’t), HOW I sew, and WHERE I am going. I want those stories stitched into every seam.

The 5 Elements of Wardrobe Sewing

To live holistically means living in balance with ourselves and our environment by understanding and honoring the interconnectedness of all things. When I say stuff like that my friends call me a hippie and make jokes about my crunchy granola lifestyle —it doesn’t help that large batches of granola are actually baked twice a month in my kitchen —but, I don’t mind the teasing because I’m secure in my hippiehood and embrace it. In fact, most makers are part hippie, part nerd, and part artist. The best sewists leverage all of these traits while navigating what I like to think of as the Periodic Table of Wardrobe Sewing Elements.

Periodic Table of Wardrobe Sewing Elements

I believe that examining what’s true for me about these five elements —skills, body, supplies, time, and personality—will elevate my sewing experience, molding it to fit my reality. Too often I have looked to books, experts, other bloggers, or even sewing patterns to help me make sense of my sewing journey, when the truth I seek comes from the same place as Dorothy’s power to leave Oz and return home. It comes from inside. Knowing my constraints, what I’m bringing to the table, and what motivates me. I have a feeling that making those connections will change everything about the way I sew.

The Schedule

I am usually pretty casual about when I blog. A breadwinning mom with a toddler in the final stages of potty training gets a get-out-of-jail-free card when it comes to following the rules of blogging consistency. But, writing about this feels so right, it can’t be wrong. Nor can it wait for the time when life slows down (by my estimate, that will be in the year 2031). So in the continued spirit of sharing the start of projects that equally scare and thrill me, here is the schedule for The Holistic Seamstress blog series. If the stars align, new makes will be shared in between:

  • Part 1: Skills (Week of October 12th)
  • Part 2: Body (Week of November 30th)
  • Part 3: Supplies (TBD)
  • Part 4: Time (TBD)
  • Part 5: Personality (TBD)

Thanks in advance for sticking with me through what I think will be a close-up look at a seamstress’ attempt at sewing enlightenment.

A Rack of Self-Esteem

rack

My decade-long adventure in self-taught sewing has got me doing a lot of self-reflection lately. Since returning to what I love after such a long break, I have been trying get my groove back and rebuild my sewing self-esteem. I didn’t even realize there was such a thing until I started reading sewing blogs again and scrolling through my Instagram feed for what was supposed to be inspiration. Seeing so many others have the success and accomplishment that I wasn’t at the time, did a number on my psyche and I started to get that underachiever feeling that can either paralyze or energize me. Fast forward to today, a year after I ended my sewing hiatus. How am I feeling about how far I’ve come? AWESOME!!!!

My handmade wardrobe began that day in January 2012 when I joined the The Sew Weekly and constructed my first wearable garment after seven years of fumbling my way through a foreign craft (with the Internet as my seeing eye dog) and basting together what must have been a million muslins. Since then it’s grown enough for me to wear something I’ve made most days of the month. And, each day that I do is better for it. My attitude and posture shifts when I wear Najah-made. I stand taller (some days I feel as tall as 5 foot 2!). My walk has a confident, purposeful strut, and the work I do while wearing Najah-made always seems to be of higher quality. I smile at strangers when I wear my Najah-mades out and folks always reciprocate, matching or exceeding my enthusiasm. The garments I sew act like super suits, enhancing my natural abilities and giving me the power to engage the world with the strength and assurance of a triple stitched seam.

I am successful at sewing. Boy, was it hard to type that. For someone who has trouble accepting imperfection in her work, saying that to myself (and believing it) is a therapeutic breakthrough. This is coming from the girl who took thirteen years to finish her bachelor’s degree and only invited her husband to the graduation, assuming the event wouldn’t be that significant to the people who supported her perseverance all those years. The irony of my struggle with recognizing my own accomplishments is in the fact that my name actual means SUCCESS. For real. In Arabic, Najah means “success”. So not only can I finally admit that I am successful at sewing, but I AM SUCCESS. Literally. When I first learned the meaning of my name, I thought the whole thing was unfair and way too much pressure for a short black girl, raised by divorced parents in Northern California. Now, I embrace it. Striving to live up to my name everyday by putting 110% in all I do…especially sewing, because it is such a critical part of my self-discovery.

When the Day 17 theme for this month’s Sew Photo Hop came around (Proudest Achievement), I couldn’t choose one garment because I try to outdo myself each time in an effort to make myself proudest of the latest. So, it was clear that my pride lies in my progress. Filling up an entire rack with clothes I made with my bare hands (while living a very full life!) is an achievement I will no longer hesitate to celebrate. Because we all know, self-esteem is self-made.

How much has sewing affected your self-esteem or how you see yourself in the world? Your stories will help me celebrate my own.

Man of the Year

IMG_1457 As usual, a new trend was catapulted into the sewcial community by a post yesterday on oonaballona inspired from a post by Lori of Frivolous At Last about the heroics of their husbands during photoshoots. A well-deserved #unsungsewingbloghero hashtag was bestowed on them and I’d like to honor my man with one, too. Because he is the water that floats my boat. Especially when said boat is contorting herself to pin darts on her ass.

My husband, Matt is many levels of amazing. When Josephine was born, he was more than okay with staying home with her while I worked. His nickname is “MattGyver” because of how handy and resourceful he is. When I come home from work to my domestic hunk, I’m greeted with things like tomatoes from the garden, a DIY deck sandbox for our daughter, folded laundry, and an upgraded OS for my neglected computer.

Most importantly, he lets me sew ALL DAY on Sundays.

On one of these lovely Sundays recently, I decided to tackle a darted skirt muslin I’d been tinkering with for years. I’d finally worked out that three darts at my high square hip did the trick, but I was struggling to reach that part of my body to drape and pin the darts properly. Enter Mr. Carroll. All he says is “Here”, takes the pin from my hand, and starts to finish the job. Whaaaaaat? What is going on here? Is this really happening? Many women want their husbands to buy them flowers and take them out for fancy dinners…. I just want help with fitting.

DIY-ing a wardrobe is hard damn work and I always assumed I’d have to kidnap a local teenager to be my unpaid intern. But, so far, no felonies are required. It took him some time to get the pinning right, but I let him take all the time he needed. At one point, I started to nag about his technique, but stopped myself from ruining the beautiful, historic moment. Because I so want it to be repeated.

Now that I think about it, Matt has always been my sexy sewing assistant. There’s the floor-length hem he marked for my Amercian Geisha kimono, the photos he took for my Make My Lucky Day dress, and all the diva drama he endured while I rushed to finish the Driving Men Mad dress for a challenge deadline. He doesn’t even give me shit about the shirts I’ve never made for him. Needless to say, he is staying.

Tell me about YOUR unsung hero. Who in your life makes sewing or blogging about it easier?

The Best of #OOTD

On the heels of the recent Me Made May marathon (applause to all of the participating sewists with brilliant handmade wardrobes I developed crushes on), I was inspired to assemble my own round up of ensembles that feature garments I’ve made (as documented on Instagram with an ‘outfit of the day’ hashtag). Mostly to prove to myself that there really are seven days worth of gratifying outfits in my closet after its February diet.

These seven outfits weren’t worn consecutively, but they could be. They include my favorite makes (read: the ones with tolerable flaws) paired with my most appreciated RTW pieces. I really need them to play nice together while the minority population grows.

mondayMondayLinen floral dress with skinny floral belt.

ootd collage

Tuesday. Liberty dress with belted, gray linen blazer (popped collar, optional).
Wednesday. Green linen, leaf-print skirt with RTW top and bolero (DIY smile required).
Thursday. Pale day dress in signature silhouette with RTW bolero.
Friday. Kimono tee (unblogged) with RTW knit pencil skirt and DIY necklace.
Saturday. Yellow plaid cotton dress with blue plaid RTW shirt (worn under or over & tied)
Sunday. Patch pocket linen dress with RTW cardigan and Monday’s floral belt.

And there it is. A full week of pre-planned wearables to rescue me from indecision, pack in a suitcase, or simply bore my Instagram followers with as repeat #OOTDs….at least until I sew up another week’s worth.

Making Time to Make

Clock

I think about sewing as much as men allegedly think about sex. All the damn time. But, these days, both activities need to be scheduled into the tiny cracks of my life. And, when the cracks fill up with the unexpected, it’s my sewing time that takes one for the team. What happens when you discover the thing you love to do the most is getting the least of your time?

If you’re like me, you troubleshoot.

To find the “sweet spots” in my schedule where I could be sewing more, I considered how I spend a typical weekday. My 9 to 5 job eats up most of my day, but I don’t have to worry about dropping off my daughter to daycare in the morning because my magnificent husband is a work-at-home dad who lets her sleep in until after I’ve already left for the office. But, when I get home, it’s non-stop Mommying from dinner to her bedtime, and Dad goes off duty. When the yawning adults are alone, there’s barely enough energy to enjoy a 25-minute Netflix episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (that Titus character causes epic belly laughter). And by the time the credits are rolling, one of us is doing the pink-slippered zombie shuffle to bed while the other uses his remaining consciousness to squeeze in another load of laundry.

Lately, I’ve been in denial about the fact that the sewing sweet spot of my day is early morning. Probably because I don’t want to get my lazy ass out of bed. But, if I don’t, real life kicks in after 9AM and by the time Kimmy is over, the day is gone and mama didn’t get to sew. And, when that happens for too many days in a row, little bits of my humanity start to flake of like dandruff and I’m just not myself.

So, it’s time for a habit makeover at Team Najah. Starting with my morning ritual. I’m bringing back daily yoga. Before motherhood, I was a pretty dedicated yogi with a daily home practice, but now I’m dissing my mat (and my poor tight muscles) worse than my sewing machine. The energy I get from yoga is just what I need for more sewing. Which is why it makes sense I start the day off with both! A round of 6AM sun salutes and a bit of pattern cutting or maybe it will be a short vinyasa with standing poses followed by some hand sewing for meditation.  I’ll call it sewga”.

Blogs are great for making a public pledge to get your act together. Consider this mine and I’ll be back in touch with progress updates.

How do you make time for making?

Unselfish Sewing on the Horizon

Josephine's 2nd Birthday

Happy Mother’s Day!

I’m back to blogging after a lovely vacation visiting family on the west coast followed by a short vacation from the vacation when I returned home. My daughter, Josephine turned two and we celebrated thoroughly with family, friends, plenty of cake, barbecue, and California sunshine. Good times. The kind that make you want to start sewing for tiny people.

Like most parents, I put a BC (before children) marker on the mental timeline of my life. In 2011 BC I got deadly serious about garment sewing. In 2012 BC I joined The Sew Weekly and nearly knocked myself out sewing like a junkie for 25 weeks. Later that year, I got knocked UP instead. Fast forward to 2015 and I am still deadly serious about wardrobe sewing, but now, I’m starting to get the itch to sew for my daughter, too.

I’ve always been a selfish seamstress. There’s still so much to do to properly clothe this grown woman body, that I haven’t put much energy into making clothes for a growing baby. Except for the cute little denim dress I made for Josephine’s 1st birthday (which still fits as a tunic), her wardrobe is all gifted and hand-me-downs. But as she grows up taller (while staying narrow), I realize it may be time for some custom-fitted garments that apply the same size grading I use on mine.

For the past two years, I’ve watched her personality emerge. Sewing for her expressive little toddler body will be fun. She runs EVERYWHERE, has never seen a Disney movie so thankfully knows nothing of princesses, enjoys counting, identifying shapes and colors, riding her stroller/tricycle, coloring, exploring and sorting things, and stacking tall towers of blocks. I think any of the Oliver and S patterns would suit her perfectly – at least that’s what I’m telling myself after stalking their cuteness for so long.

The key to managing my new motherly sewing urges is careful planning around my own projects. My recent coast to coast flight reminded me: If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person. Adapted for this context: If you are sewing for a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your invisible zipper first, then sew for the other person.

Do you sew for children? What are you favorite patterns or companies?

How to Return to Blogging with a Vengeance

I'm Back

When your whirlwind blogging adventure goes on an unscheduled, two-year hiatus, there’s only three steps to take:

  1. Remember how awesome you are.
  2. Figure out how to do it better this time.
  3. Tell your story.

Remember how awesome you are

I had no idea what I was getting into when I started this sewing blog in 2012. I thought it’d be fun to sew a garment a week and joined The Sew Weekly’s challenge. Being a contributing blogger on another site was a wild, life-changing experience. The community was amazingly supportive, the sewing challenges kept me on the edge of sanity, and the weekly blogging format was manageable for a newbie like me. But, my personal blog never quite found its way.

Since it was custom for contributors to have their own blog, I started this one and tried to keep it going along with my posts to The Sew Weekly. I sucked at that. And, when life and work got crazy, I got further and further away from my last blog post (and my last sewn garment), until I looked up, and two years had gone by with no blogging.

I felt like a failure for a while. As if the time that had past was a missed opportunity I’d never get back. Then, one day, I started looking at old photos of garments I’d made during that year of blogging. I sewed 24 garments in as many weeks. I went from never having sewn a wearable dress, to learning to custom-fit and construct several. I’ve sewn many different types of fabrics and taught myself pattern drafting, couture sewing techniques, and alterations. As a result of my experience, I have a set of custom-fit patterns I can make over and over again.

Favorite Garments of 2012

My favorite garments of 2012

Figure out how to do it better this time

Now that I’ve accepted that I suck at blogging, I am getting help. I’ve enrolled in a Blogging 101 class to refresh my skills and build some good habits. There’s no grand plans to take over the world with this resurrected blog. Just a near-daily post about sewing and something sewn each week. Getting reacquainted with the sewing blogger community will keep me thoroughly engaged, inspired, and entertained. Old friends and new are sure to encourage my blogging longevity.

Tell your story

My break from blogging began with a string of back-to-back business trips that made it nearly impossible to keep up with weekly sewing challenges. When I came home from the last trip, I was desperate to get back to making clothes. Instead, I found out I that my husband and I had made a human being!

Motherhood became my new craft and growing and raising my daughter, Josephine has been my latest whirlwind adventure.

Meet the Carrolls

Last month, I sewed a dress for myself for the first time in two years.  The moment I finished the hem, I knew I had to make room in my life for wardrobe sewing again. Photographed in front of my house after spending the day with my two favorite people, here is The Family-Friendly Floral Frock.

The Family Friendly Floral Dress

I’ll continue to enjoy this dress into the fall with a cardigan or this pink plaid shirt, an instant smile-generator and reason for pink lipstick.

The Family Friendly Floral Dress

The Family Friendly Floral Dress
Yeah, I’m definitely back. All I had to do was…

  1. Remember that I am a kick-ass seamstress.
  2. Get help so I can become a kick-ass blogger.
  3. Introduce my family and the dress that rekindled my love for sewing.