Over the course of 2023, I sewed a grand total of FORTY garments for myself.
I can say, with almost total confidence, that I have never done that much sewing in a single year for myself–and also that I didn’t fully INTEND to do that much sewing in a single year, not even in 2023.
Watch The Video
A little over a year ago, I saw a sewing influencer on TikTok (yes, I know exactly how that sounds, and yes, it’s still completely true, she actually also has a YouTube channel) do a similar post to this one (you can see hers here, and another I loved in Jan 2023 right here). My first thought was, “Why have I never thought of doing a Sewing Year In Review??” My second thought was, “WOW! This is crazy inspiring.“
I really appreciated that she modeled each garment, worn with other handmade garments, plus shoes! so that I could get a sense not just of which garments she made out of what fabrics, but also how they all fit together in the context of an entire wardrobe.
I didn’t consciously dance because she dances in hers (I actually forgot that part of her video until just now, when I searched for the link), but I had salsa music playing in the background, and no human can resist that. See my compilation of all the garments I sewed for myself right here, or on YouTube:
How Did I Sew So Much??
Like I said, I didn’t set out with the goal of making myself dozens of garments last year–and yet this is the physical evidence that I did, in fact, sew THAT MUCH. So how is that possible? How can ANYONE find the time to sew that much?
Let’s start with the disclaimer: I sew for a living. Hosting the League of Dressmakers and the Murder Mystery Quilt is my full-time job. At the same time, that means I sew a lot of things for OTHER people, and things that aren’t garments at all–like quilt samples, or pattern development samples that I won’t wear myself, or garments for my family, or gifts. So while I want to be transparent about the fact that I don’t have a 9-to-5 that keeps me away from my sewing machine, I don’t ONLY sew for myself all day every day.
So what makes it possible to sew this many garments?
Three Techniques To Sew More For Yourself
I identified three clear patterns of sewing behavior as I reviewed all these finished garments, and I am confident they’re the reason I was able to make so many things this year. These habits are exactly that: HABITS. They are part of how I approach sewing philosophically, part of how I think about sewing, and that’s what I think makes them so powerful and generates such good results.
I’ve developed these habits over YEARS of sewing for myself, and years of teaching sewing to others. They may not work for your own sewing practice, but I hope that reading them will get your brain chugging along and considering where your Ideas About Sewing intersect with your personal schedule to create habits that you can re-create time and again for the best results you’ve ever gotten at the sewing machine.
Number One: Set Category Goals For The Year
January is a time for setting goals and casting vision. I talked about that in a recent Whipstitch podcast episode:
What DOES NOT work for me, what has NEVER worked for me, is making lists of all the garments and patterns I want to “accomplish” over the course of a particular year (believe me, I have tried and tried). I also have NEVER succeeded in setting a “number” goal in sewing, like, deciding ahead of time I want to sew X number of garments. I have years and years and years of notebooks FILLED with lists of patterns I want to try that I still haven’t sewn up.
I have been moderately successful in making Project Bags and then working through them–gathering all the notions and fabric and pattern and tools necessary for a list of projects and putting them all in one place to make it easy to grab a bag and get to work. This system is WAY better than a list, maybe because it’s so much more tactile and immediate–but it also fuels my procrastination and perfectionism in a way that still leaves me with fewer tangible results.
What has REALLY worked is sewing by CATEGORY. In 2023, for example, I knew I wanted to sew garments in three categories: (1) clothing for travel in warm climates, (2) clothing for a hiking trip I knew I was taking with my husband, and (3) pants.
I set two goals for myself with The League this year: I wanted to explore HANDMADE TRAVEL and test out two different made-for-purpose handmade wardrobes. First, we traveled to Israel & Palestine on a packaged tour; I wanted to learn if, when I have zero control over an itinerary and the activities, I could create a handmade-plus-thrifted wardrobe that would solve all my travel needs. Second, we traveled to Greece, where I planned the entire trip myself; I wanted to test if I could sew ON PURPOSE an entire wardrobe for a specific location.
About half my sewing for the year was covered by these two categories. I had very specific parameters that helped me NARROW DOWN my options: it would be warm both places; I needed comfortable clothes that could be packed but still look good; I wanted a variety of colors and textures but also needed an actual WARDROBE which can be mixed-and-matched rather than a bunch of separate pieces.
Included in those two travel handmade wardrobes was PANTS, a second “category” goal of mine for the year. I knew I wanted to tackle pants fitting, and filmed a video series for The League as I worked my way through five different pants patterns. These were a “sew-with-me” series where I made mistakes along the way, learned a lot about what I like best in a pair of pants, and had some definite winners and losers. About 20% of my makes this year were pants, if you include leggings.
Speaking of leggings, my final category was ACTIVEWEAR. I spend a big chunk of my week at the gym or outdoors–like, an hour every morning working out plus a walk most nights after dinner, and usually a hike or mountain bike ride at least one weekend day. I really, really enjoy the time I spend moving my body, and have become a real fan of accounts like Handmade PhD and Fehr Trade, who sew nearly all of their own outdoor gear. It’s very much in keeping with my own sewing philosophy to want to wear handmade when I’m exercising or in nature, so activewear was high on my sewing list. I signed up very specifically for a hiking trip through NOLS in the Italian Dolomites with the goal of sewing my ENTIRE wardrobe so that I would be encouraged? forced? to really buckle down and do that sewing.
Setting CATEGORY GOALS for myself in 2023 gave me very specific lists of patterns to try, and planning DEADLINES (by scheduling “test runs”) made me accountable. This was the number one way I got more sewing accomplished.
You don’t have to plan trips to travel to do the same thing! Because “travel handmade” was kinda the point (it’s a whole series of videos with The League), that made sense for me–but you might determine you want to sew more pants because you have a work conference to attend, or that you want to sew dresses because your cousin’s wedding is coming up. Setting the goal of a category takes the pressure off so you don’t feel obligated to have EVERY project be The One–you have room for failures and a learning curve along the way. But giving yourself a real-world deadline by which you want to have at least one winner in that category kept me sewing.
Number Two: Sew In Batches
Because I knew I had these very specific categories I was sewing for–handmade travel plus handmade activewear–and because I knew I had very specific dates when I would have to face the music (because the plane was taking off!), I worked in BATCHES.
This is where the Project Bags came in. I narrowed down and narrowed down the list of patterns I wanted to sew (you can watch this entire process of laying out fabrics, selecting patterns, and winnowing down to the winners on video with The League’s Travel Handmade video series). Then, I made a Project Bag for each one: I use large two-gallon zippy bags, one per project, and put every element for that garment inside the bag, together. Then, I stack the bags more-or-less in order that I’d like to sew them, in a wire basket from Ikea.
This helps me stay un-stuck when I DO have time to sew, and removes that delay when I WANT to make something, but realize I’m missing a particular element. It also helps me see in a very immediate way exactly how complicated a project is (whoa, it takes HOW MANY zippers? that kind of thing) and also where I have redundancy (ah, ANOTHER striped tee shirt?). The unexpected benefit of this is that it allowed me to reduce the number of PLANNED garments which increased the number of COMPLETED garments because it prevented me from expending energy on unnecessary sewing.
This step also helped me clean out my sewing space, because I was forced to locate the fabric & patterns & notions I needed. It also helped me tell myself the truth about which patterns would ADD to my wardrobe when sewn out, and which I just wanted to make because I loved the DREAM OF HAVING THEM. This led to way, way, WAY more actual wearable finished garments in the end.
Number Three: Sew By Chapters
This is an idea I talk about a lot: whenever I start a single sewing project, I try NOT to think of the sewing as “the project” but instead break it up into CHAPTERS. For example, reading the back of the envelope and creating the Project Bag is ONE chapter. I may do that on an afternoon, and then set it aside and go do something else–I don’t have to sew it THAT DAY, unless I want to, and NOT sewing it that day isn’t “lazy” or “failing” or any other negative word. I’ve completed a chapter. BOOM.
Next, I might cut out my pattern pieces. Chapter Two. And now, I’m done for the day! Next time I have a few minutes to sew, I might do all the interfacing and prep work, like pockets. Chapter Three. Finished! And so on, until bit by bit, the project is complete. This way, I never feel like I “can’t” begin to sew until I have “enough” time–because that’s like waiting to have a baby until you have “enough” money, LOL, there is no such thing. Instead, I can work on a chapter at a time as my schedule allows, and celebrate each step as an accomplishment without beating myself up for not doing MORE.
I talk about this at length in my Christmas Jammies video on YouTube:
How Many Garments Will I Sew In 2024?
I have no idea. Truly. I am learning from my own habits and patterns: this is not a useful metric for me. Making MORE doesn’t give me a greater feeling of success. In fact, just seeing “thirty-three” brings out a competitive edge in me that I don’t love. I want to sew more that I WILL WEAR, in a way that makes me feel good about what I made and how I made it. I want clothes that fit me AND that suit me. I want to feel good when I get dressed and good when I think about what I’m wearing. Those goals are far more important to me.
Practicing the habits I listed above (sewing a “category” to narrow my purpose; sewing in batches; and sewing in chapters) has proved it will help me stay more mindful and practical with what I plan. That helps me wear more of what I make and stay more satisfied after the sewing is complete.
What about you? What habits help YOU do you best sewing? Will you share in the comments so we can get ideas that will feed each of us, no matter what stage in our sewing development?