Why are we sewing? For the clothes or the experience?

Back to school shopping time? I don’t think so.


I just saw an article in the New York Times about how U.S. retailers are in trouble, because Americans are less interested in acquiring “stuff” and more interested in paying for “experiences,” like travel, restaurants, or gym memberships.

Which is so unlike us. Even though we value individual freedom, there’s definitely a herd mentality when it comes to style and shopping in the U.S. Here’s the link to that article: “Stores Suffer From a Shift of Behavior in Buyers”

It’s true for me, though, and I used to love, love, LOVE to shop! But back in the day, shopping was an experience. New clothes would only hit the stores a couple of times a year. They were made of better fabrics. You would buy just a few pieces, so you’d spend a lot of time in the fall dreaming up your school or work wardrobe.

I used to mull over what I would buy, and think about how it would go with what I had in my closet. I’d look through magazines and pattern books to plan what I’d buy and sew. Then I’d go to Goodwill and throw in some vintage, too.


Retail stores were much more pleasant places to go, too, and not jammed with ill-fitting, poorly sewn stuff like they are now. Then came online shopping, which, though it was fun at first, has become overwhelming and weird.

So I’ve embraced the “experience” of sewing instead. Let’s say you take 70+ hours to plan and execute something like a Chanel jacket, for example. When you’re done, let me tell you, you’re really invested in that jacket! It feels luxurious and looks unique. When you wear it, it’s yours alone, and it fits! The whole process is a lot more satisfying than shopping.


(One of the zillions of times I’ve worn that jacket)

And I really enjoy the “experience” of communicating with sewing peeps like you, because it alleviates those moments when modern life is dull and crappy. (Like when I’m procrastinating about the dishes I’ve been abandoned with. Which is now.) Most sewing people are friendly and encouraging online and that’s something every girl needs, right?

I was reminded of the ickiness of shopping when I was looking through U.S. Vogue Magazine’s September issue the other day. It’s not terribly inspiring because nobody in there has a body like mine. (Medium height, short waist, spare tire.)

And even though some of the modern designs are cool, the advertising people have clearly run out of ideas. Most ads can be grouped into the following cliches:

I Love Animals:


“Hello little birds! I plucked your friends to make this puffer dress!”


“I risked ripping my $800 down jacket to rescue this dog. That’s just the kind of person I am.”


“I am your trophy spirit animal. Pull the Beemer around to transport me.”


“I am your spirit animal when you’re skiing in the Italian Alps. Or I’m a muppet. I’m not really sure.”

I’m so angry:


“I’m so angry that I have to hold two bags. Where’s my assistant?”


“I’m so angry that I can’t find my brush. Where’s my assistant?”


“We’re so angry that we’re unpaid intern assistants. And we have to wear Pleather. But we’re too cool to emote.”

I’m so ennervated:


“I’ve been in bed so long, I’ve become one with the sheets.”


“Can you help me?…get out?…of the corner?”


“It’s so boring here at this Swiss boarding school. Let’s throw ourselves off the rocks and end it all.”


“Zut, they found out we were going to throw ourselves off the rocks, and locked us in the library.”


“I’ve had so much peyote that I’m starting to over-accessorize.”

Not sure if we’re gay, but we are trite:


“Let’s play kissy-face and then show off our expensive bags.”


“Does my lipstick need to be touched up, Kate?” “Sorry, I’m not getting paid to turn my head right now.”

IMG_3776“Astor, when we get to Trump Tower, don’t tell my father that we’re sorta gay.” “But what if he hits on me again, Wisteria?”


“Oops, I’m so sorry! This dress is so heavy and my heels are so high!” “I know, and this clutch weighs a ton.”

It’s time to RIVERDANCE!



(My dancer friends think it’s hilarious when models try to be ballerinas.)

From the land of clueless gifts:


“One year old today! Here’s your bag!”


“Lagerfeld wants you to have this $10,000 concept bag. Just watch your fingernails–it’s bubble wrap.”

But there was one ad that tempted me…


Hosanna! Come to mama! (Rats, I just realized that I spent that $200 on my 13-year-old’s school books, supplies, and soccer equipment. And a couple of patterns. And fabric. And some Steam-a-Seam. And some thread. And a zipper. And one of those little rolls of fleece. Because you know when you stop at Joanns just for one thing?)

After combing through the entire magazine, I only found two or three ads showing women who are within 20 years of my age, either way:


I’m down with looking like that in 15 years.

But then I saw…


Jeez, having lunch with Madonna, Donatella?

I know where my fall wardrobe’s coming from–my trusty sewing machine. How about yours?

Hope your sewing is going well!

32 thoughts on “Why are we sewing? For the clothes or the experience?

  1. I usually enjoy your blog but this is the Best Blog content in a while. You’re right – advertisers (and many designers) aren’t remotely in touch with the population and /or choose to target a VERY limited demographic!

  2. That was delightfully amusing.

    I do need and want to embrace the experience of sewing. So far the experience itself has largely been one of boredom, irritation, and frustration, even when the end results are satisfying. I haven’t been successful in enjoying the process nearly as much as I do shopping, alas. I keep hoping if I find the right patterns or fabric…but then I am just shopping for different STUFF.

    • I totally share your point of view concerning shopping I don t think the experience is much better in France alas
      Great post and yes it is so comforting to know thar people share our passion all over the world

  3. I think this is a very interesting question – I’m always fascinated by why some people sew and others don’t. For me it’s an essential part of my life. I have to sew – it gives me meaning and pleasure and a creative outlet. I feel better about myself when I sew. RTW in my price range is absolute rubbish. I’ve got zero interest in buying it unless it’s an unusual piece, something that would take too long to sew to be practical and / or on major discount. My most recent purchase was a really nice chambray shirt from The Gap, which was reduced to $18.00, and would have taken me longer to sew than would be worth it right now. I can’t think of anything else I’ve bought recently other than tee-shirts and those sorts of basics that I can’t be bothered to sew. I find the idea that Americans are shifting over to buying “experiences” very encouraging. Let’s stop supporting these toxic, planet-destroying corporations.

  4. This amused me! I loathe shopping, when I have to do it it tends to be at cheap places because even though I am just starting to learn to sew I can see how shoddy the higher end high street clothes are made so I may as well pay less for shoddy made – why can’t the stores pattern match???
    I am 30 and never look at fashion magazines as all completely away from what I enjoy wearing (which to be honest at the moment isn’t a varied amount) but I want to complete a sewn wardrobe of high quality pieces for this reason!
    Brilliant post 🙂

  5. I so look forward to your posts – there is always stuff in there which seems to be relevant to me. Non more so than this one! I don’t need more clothes, but I do love them and I love the feelings of inspiration that sometimes come, and I can’t wait to get to me sewing machine. I too love many of the vintage sewing patterns ( even though most of them are far too small for my “frame” – but I still buy them – if I am lucky and try and attempt to sew something similar. No one I know locally in England, sews any more, so it is a delight to take a peek around the world and see that there are still lots of sewists creating their own clothes. Thanks for all the inspiration!

  6. I’m delighted to hear that people want to acquire less stuff and more experiences. Consumer culture is out of control and I also find it sickening to see shops full of crappy, poorly made clothes that have been made at the expense of exploited workers. I do enjoy buying clothes now and again but mostly am so happy I can make my own

  7. This is such a great post. It really put a smile on my face this morning! Sewing has opened up a whole world of creativity for me. Not only do I enjoy the challenge, but I get to wear great clothes in full knowledge that no slave labor was used in their making.

  8. You are so right! Experience wins over shopping. With out shopping I designed a bathing suit to cover my radiation therapy skin burns. A tee shirt with short shorts. We are having a ball at Emerald Isle with Diane and Gene, Keith and Jordan.

  9. Great post! You have really highlighted the disconnect between the fashion world and the real world – humor and style!

  10. I never liked what I could find in the stores, or what fit well when I was young and I loved to sew. I ended up with things that were unique and that no one else could go buy. I hated trying clothes on! Then I compromised, I tried clothes on to see what was flattering on my body, that would help me to pick a better suited pattern in the future. I recently was looking through one of the fashion magazines and cannot believe how much fur was being used. Now the goal is to use up my fabric stash, there are plenty of things to wear in that once I get them sewn up!

  11. I too smiled, while drinking my coffee when reading your post. It was wonderful and loved the pics! I want to get back to sewing clothes and can anyone recommend any online fabric stores for really good quality fabric. If I am going to put the effort and time into sewing, I want beautiful fabric. Also how does one obtain a body form or dress form made to one’s measurements? Thanks for your help.

    • I am able to shop for fabric in the store, but from what I’ve heard would recommend, in no particular order:

      Mood Fabrics
      Paron Fabrics
      Elliott Berman Textiles
      Emma One Sock
      B and J Fabrics
      Emma One Sock
      Gorgeous Fabrics

      As for dress forms, I got lucky and found a used Wolf dress form on Craigslist for an excellent price. If you’re going to spend the money, buy a sturdy, professional form that can be used with ease and will last. I have to pay someone to help me pad it out to match my measurements. We’re going to use a Fabulous Fit kit and two packages of synthetic quilting batting. This is the low-rent method, and it still will take a business day and be fairly pricey. Look for a form that is two sizes smaller than you are so it can be built up.

    • I draft and sew a skin tight cover for the form and pad a form slightly smaller than the finished measurements. Get a sturdy professional form with a metal base. It won’t tip over and you will be happier in the long run.

  12. It’s unfortunate that one good development — acquiring less stuff — undermines another — a strong economy that depends on consumers. A Gordian Knot.

  13. Regarding dressforms check out Uniquely You. It is a firm foam and has a zip off cover that you fit to your body. You can pin into it also! I have had mine for over 30 years.

  14. LOL!!! I love the process of sewing for myself and others. I don’t mind shopping when I need something specific but I’m not a huge fan of trying on clothes and then realising I want to “fix” one or two things on it. There are brands I know usually work – with these I sometimes just buy the clothes, try at home and then return if they don’t fit.

  15. Oh this is just downright hilarious….actually not only is my sewing an experience, every one of my garments has a story – like the one I made for my niece’s wedding (when I had gained 10 extra pounds – where did that come from?!) – or the one of my Ultrasuede/Issey Miyaki rain coat I made for trip to London (it was also my blanky on the plane!) – or the whimsical see-thru knit top (with my skin-colored cami) that sends folks at the grocery store crashing into each other thinking I have nothing on underneath! When I open my closet it’s more like story-time rather than – I have nothing to wear!

    But I wonder if the premise of “having an experience” is more indicative of the disillusionment and boredom with the same old ripped-up, frayed-edge, ill-sized look. The kids who supported that through high school, college and graduate schools (after all looking post-apocalyptic while you’re getting a doctorate makes you look like you’re studying harder – I guess), worked. But today now that they’re in the market place, and they are watching the nerd in the khaki suit get credit and the raise for their work, and wondering if it just might have something to do with their clothes….ya think?!!!!

  16. Absolutely riotous post and very true. Why anyone would be enticed to actually buy those fashions is a mystery. You might enjoy reading “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion.” An insight to the worlds of shoddy workmanship and how it is designed to create a need to buy, buy, buy more poorly made clothing.
    I read the article about decreasing sales volume. Maybe the consumer is finally catching on. I would rather have a few beautifully constructed garments than loads of junk.

  17. Fabulous post! There are so may things I want to quote you on! It’s also wonderful to hear a sewing voice from closer to home than usual. Most of the sewing blogs I enjoy reading are written from England, Baltimore, California, etc. I grew up north of Boston and now live n Maine and am always eager for the possibility for more local sewing information.

  18. Hear, hear! The experience of sewing is so much better because you have control over everything and you can tailor fit it to your own actual life and body. But I do love to look at the pictures for the sewing details. Thanks for the Vogue low-down… very funny.

  19. Fine post! Highest compliment possible: the 15 year old teen laughed at the spirit animal jokes.

    My last day shopping was in 1995, looking for something to wear to my wedding. I had the money, I hit the good shops, I found expensive polyester.

    I went to the good fabric store. I found good fabric. I had the pattern already.
    I’m still good with that arrangement.

  20. I used to love shopping. And used to love fashion magazines too. I kind of miss that – the instant gratification of finding a great piece of clothing. That happens very, very rarely these days. The fabric, the colour, the fit, the style, the price – there’s so much that need to be right (I have a lot of opinions when it comes to what I wear!). So I sew. And I really, really love it – both the process and the result.

  21. I enjoyed this post. This reminds me of when I was in high school and preparing for back to school. Shopping at Ralph Lauren for clothes. I had a job so I was able to purchase my own clothes when I was in high school and I would supplement with things I made myself. I use to look at fashion magazines and figure out how to sew or knit a similar item. Nowadays, most of my sewing is home dec, alterations (I rarely buy new clothes anymore, except thrift store finds for jeans etc, and I get on the machine to fix it. ) I also have a huge fabric and wool stash that takes up the entire cold room in the basement so, I picks things out from my inventory and create a color story and sew a few new pieces .. a la high end RTW. I still follow trends looking at vogue, GQ, etc to see what is hip.

  22. Spot on! Five years ago, my husband and I decided that we have enough ‘stuff’, and that from here on out we’ll spend our disposable income (whatever that is with one kid in college and another going next year) on making memories with the boys. And I subscribe to magazines via NextIssue, so I can skip right by all the ads.

  23. This was hilarious, Julie, but there’s a lot of truth in those words of yours! I really do not understand why the high end fashion brands seem to be obsessed with “shock” factor in their ads. It’s a total turn-off. Aren’t we lucky to have sewing skills?!

  24. I had the same reaction to that tired old Vogue september issue. Lots of retread stuff in there. Even the young models look weary of it all. I love vintage and fashion history but the recreated Vogue/Target ads are dull. Why waste time and resources redoing something that’s been done better before? I don’t get it.

  25. So enjoying your blog and comments! You are right on with your observations! Quality has taken a serious blow.I grew up in the 60s and couldn’t wait to see what the back to school fashions were. I sewed most of my clothes back then and used the fashion mags and sewing mags for inspiration. Clothing and fabric stores carried beautiful wools and silks. The clothes were built to last. Fashion layouts made sense. Vogue magazine today is way, way out there now and not worth a look. What surprises and saddens me though is the bland, simple look of something like Vogue Sewing Magazine. If you pick up a copy of one from the 70s it’s shocking to see. First, the clothes were gorgeous…wool coats, ball gowns, men’s suits and coats, trench coats, designer suits…and the list goes on. The clothes were photographed on location all over the world. I have one particular issue with Christie Brinkley as the model photographed in London. For contrast, September 2015 issue shows dresses that used to be called “Jiffy” photographed against a solid white wall. I realize that back in the 70s sewing skills were common and advanced sewing skills were just as common. Not so today. Sure we belong to a group of sewers, but don’t have the numbers that supported the effort VPM out out in the past. So, I’m just happy I can purchase some of these old patterns again and make a quality garment that fits!

  26. This was really a fun read. But yes, the state of fashion magazine adds are sad. Maybe thats why the sales are going down. I used to work in the fashion industry and it was part of my job to read these type of magazines. I don’t miss it. Today I work with work wear which isn’t required to make you want to buy new garment every week/month. It’s has focus on quality, which is much nicer. And I agree with the rest of you. Sewing for yourself gives a much higher value than just going shopping for rtw.

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