Alright! Time to get sewing these clothes for school. I’m starting with the toughest to sew for, and working from there–in our house, that’s our tween girl. She’s 8, so just barely a tween, but old enough that a lot of the available sewing patterns on the market either don’t go up far enough in size or look too juvenile for her to realistically wear to school (or both, let’s be honest). My goal was to fill the gaps in her wardrobe with things she’ll really want to wear and like wearing, that make her feel excited and also let me feel confident that she’s dressed well–truly well, in things that are well-made and good quality, and that don’t have crappy “sassy” or “juicy” logos and skeezy messages all over them, that encourage her to think well of herself.
There are times when I think my attitude about how my girls dress is so fundamental to how parents think that I skim right over it. And then there are others when I realize that for a segment of the population, they REALLY don’t think about the messages our children’s clothing can send, and how that will impact them throughout their lives. Mainstream media–like this article from ABC or this one from CNN about skimpy fashions–have even begun to report on the long-term negative effects of overly “sexy” tween clothing and how that impacts our girls. I would extend that argument to include the “sassy” contingent, who seem to want to imbue tween girl clothing with messages virtually guaranteed to breed a whole host of Mean Girls in the fourth grade. It makes me gag, over and over, and I know I’m not the only one.
At the same time, I am a mom of older girls, and I totally get it: there just isn’t much on the market for them. And it’s hard to sew clothing, especially, beyond just buying it, that allows our girls to look…well…normal, for lack of a better word. I don’t want to send my girl off to school looking like Holly Hobby (oh, how I miss her, though!), or like some homemade bumpkin who doesn’t fit in and never could. But I also don’t want to send her to school looking like a miniature adult–which she isn’t. It’s a tough age, and a tough transition, and I know I am not alone in wanting to make it gracefully.
So I’ve worked to locate patterns that satisfy our goals: well-made, nice-looking clothing that is classic and that a young girl will love to wear. I’m less concerned about “fashion-forward” than classic shapes, but confess that there isn’t much being designed right now for this age that is fashion-forward without showing more skin than an 8-year-old needs to be showing. (There does seem to be a movement in the right direction–there is Yellowberry, a line of bras and panties for young girls, and some argument in the media that we’re headed “away from trashy twelve and more toward sweet 16.” A recent article pointed out that “there’s a trend toward…something that’s a little more timeless, a little more quality,” which I think is amazing.) When it comes to sewing patterns, though, at least for the moment, the choices are often between large-toddler and mini-grandma styles–I suspect that will change rapidly, but finding patterns to sew for your tween is still more time-consuming than for your toddler girl, where there are seemingly new crops of patterns out every ten minutes. The gap seems to be in finding patterns that are suitable for girls as they try to figure out how they want to dress before they understand that what they wear sends messages, intended or otherwise.
I am all kinds of willing to fight this battle, with my needle as my sword and an oversized bobbin for a shield, y’all. Our To-Sew list for my eight-year-old includes the following items:
I created a printable to organize these projects, just the ones I’m sewing as opposed to the ones I’m willing to buy. It lists what garments we need, what patterns I’m planning to use, and what fabrics I think will work best for each one.
And I’ve rounded up a short list of the patterns I have on hand or have already sewn up, that I think work for what we hope for our girl while still giving her the sense that she’s free to make her own choices. Lots of these are meant to be mix-and-match, too, so that I don’t have to sew a zillion separate pieces for her to have a wide number of wearable outfits.For the knit tops, she needs at least two short sleeve and two long sleeve tops. I have been hoarding striped vintage-feel jerseys from Girl Charlee all summer, and am planning to make three striped and one solid top for her to supplement the ones she already has. The Bateau Top, above, is such a sweet and versatile pattern, which I’ll be using for both the long sleeve and one of the short. I’m thinking of modifying the Schoolbus Tee from Oliver + S for the other short sleeve, and giving it a little more volume and a lower neckline.
For the skirt, I’m thinking my 20-minute skirt, with just a dirndl shape and an elastic waist. We have a mess of these that she’s handed down to her younger sister, and she keeps trying to wear the too-small versions, so some larger ones might be in order. (On a side note, this is HER, in this photo! Man, it all goes so fast…) These skirts are the PERFECT place to use novelty and seasonal prints–they look great with solid or striped tees plus a cardigan, and allow me to indulge my long-standing passion for silly prints. Plus, our kids really, really groove on the almost-but-yes-ok-totally-tacky seasonal prints from the big box stores: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Fourth of July. They looooove that there is fabric that’s specific to a special day, and a quickie skirt that uses just a half-ish yard is the perfect place to let them choose their own fabric and wear it with pride (and for tweens, they can even make the skirt themselves!).
She’s already got one new pair of shorts, using my go-to self-drafted pattern, and needs one more. I’m not really sure what fabric I’ll use here, but suspect I still have some cotton twill down in the basement in a box that I can dig out. I feel like, to minimize the sheer NUMBER of garments I’ll be sewing, I should focus on versatile fabrics and colors that can be incorporated into a LOT of outfits. I think this is a really important point, and while it might seem to contradict using those seasonal prints for the skirts, they go hand-in-hand: I want my children to have unlimited choice within an edited palette of options. By making quick and simple-to-sew projects in fabrics that don’t go with much but that they love, and making more challenging projects in fabrics that are versatile and go with everything, they get to have freedom and have a solid foundation from which to make choices.
For church dresses, I like this simple and classic shape with princess lines: Simplicity 1382. I know it doesn’t look that great in these line drawings, but if you look closely, you’ll see that this pattern can be easily adapted with a lot of fabrics and made to look both classic and chic, and not-so-little girly. She’ll need at least one in a nicer fabric for the holidays (I have some silk-blend plaid left over from a holiday skirt I made myself) and another in a pretty cotton print (I’m thinking a Cotton + Steel print). Yum.
For a woven tunic, I also love the Ice Cream Dress from Oliver + S. (Their blog even has an article posted about all the versions of their patterns made in tween sizes–did you know nearly EVERY O + S pattern goes up to a size 12??) I also really like the idea of sewing up the Book Report Dress, with its cool pocket detail, in a knit. Our girl would wear the stink out of these both on their own, now while it’s warm, and later over leggings and skinny jeans. I have some heavier knits (including a polka dot Ponte de Roma) that might be great for this.
She needs a couple woven blouses, to balance out all the knit tees in her wardrobe. At first glance, this Simplicity 1625 is total crap–I don’t have the first clue what’s happening with that weird overlay, for one thing. But I do like the view C top, and think she would look great in a slightly longer version of that–somewhere between the dress and the top length–in a Liberty floral. Yes, I will sew Liberty for my child. But only because I know she can pass it down to her little sister.
I also totally love this fun vintage look that I discovered on Etsy. There are SO many great vintage patterns you can dig up in girls’ sizes that have a classic vibe with clean, classic lines. If you’re struggling to find things you love, you could do worse than to haunt Etsy and eBay looking for great styles from the past.
And that’s that! A total of 10 garments to sew for our oldest girl, and a stack of those are repeated patterns. Now tell me: am I crazy in thinking that pickings are SUPER slim out there for tween girls? Did you read all this and think she has lost it/I know of a zillion patterns & stores to get great stuff for this age/geez, Deborah, when did you get so uptight? Tell me in the comments! I’m still on the hunt for a great tween girls’ skirt–share your pattern numbers, folks!