Reality Bites

How I’d Like To Dress:

How I Normally Dress:

As I stood in front of the wardrobe this morning, deciding what to wear, I faced a familiar dilemma. My fingers brushed against the lovely dresses and skirts hanging there, but then I pulled a tunic top off a hanger and climbed into my skinny jeans. Another day cycling into the office meant another day wearing practical clothes.

As I cycled, I thought about this. I like clothes and love the things I make. But the majority of my time is spent in jeans and Converse. (Our office has a very relaxed dress code.) Because I am currently attempting to exercise some extra lard off, I am either on my bike or in the gym when I’m not in the office – neither of which lend themselves to handmade wool dresses or that pretty pair of shoes.

I could remedy this by just telling myself to try harder – to pack an extra bag with a change of outfit in. But, honestly? After I’ve packed my gym kit, my make-up, the hair brush, deodorant, achingly heavy bike locks and swimming cossie with the elastic that’s going a bit, do I really want to add more bulk to the amount I carry around on a typical day? No.

In theory, I should be making more pretty tops out of fabrics that can be chucked in the washing machine and come out uncreased. Or skirts that can be worn whilst cycling – the Holy Grail of cycling Sewists. (Just the wrong size hem has seen me getting caught in the chain or ‘trapped’ on my bike seat and nearly falling off. My Lisette tunic nearly killed me!)

It makes sense, then, that I’m making a bombshell dress right now. You don’t have to be mad to sew here, but it helps.

Do you have similair challenges, wearing your handmade clothes? Do jeans and sneakers rule your life? One last question – is your house over run with spiders right now, too? They’re ruddy everywhere!

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42 Responses to Reality Bites

  1. Louise says:

    I have exactly the same problem, I seem to sew for the lifestyle I would like to have rather than the one I do have! In the winter I’m definatly the jeans and boots kinda girl, the summer is a little better, I’ve managed to master the bike skirt (simple a-line darts at the waist knee length) so I have quite a few nice patterned skirts but I end up just wearing white t-shirts on top. I even bought Simplicity 2599 but haven’t got round to making one yet. I haven’t quite decided what to do about the winter yet but determined not to end up stuck in jeans all winter…..

  2. Andrea says:

    Ditto! I love the look of smart and sassy pencil skirt and blouse combos, but they don’t really work for crawling around the floor teaching preschool. Unless I decide to teach older brats…I mean darling preteens (so not going to happen) it’s circle skirts with bike shorts underneath for me. LOVE your purple dress, btw. 🙂

  3. Anne says:

    The same here, right now i’m not cycling jet but i’m moving so i can cycle to work. Better for my weight, but i should really try to sew what i wear. I’m still not as elegant in real live as i would wish, but i like to sew elegant….
    On top of that: i’m scared of sewing pants ;). Maybe i should give them a try?

  4. Ashley says:

    So far I only have a couple of skirts and a dress in my handmade wardrobe. I got sick of wearing jeans and a cheapo vest tops that used to be white or now have holes in. So I decided, stuff it, I’m going to buy a whole new wardrobe.
    I ended up with 5 dresses, a pair of cute denim shorts, two pretty tops/blouses, about 8 pairs of funky warm tights, two pairs of new shoes (my feet have just grown a size and a half so my brand new converse from my birthday in July don’t fit me!) and some pretty jewellery. I don’t have to cycle anywhere, so I’m lucky that I can wear dresses everyday. I feel so much more confident now that my clothes look nice, and I enjoy getting dressed in the morning. I feel like I have a wardrobe worth building on, and I have a better grip of what suits me so I’ll actually wear the garments that I make.
    So yeah. That’s my wardrobe status. And get this – I have a colour palette! Yeah!
    Ramble over. Great post 🙂
    Ashley x

  5. Priz says:

    Tasia over at seems to bike in dresses and skirts, she might have a suggestion for patterns that are bike friendly =)

  6. Clare says:

    Exactly the same problem! If I can wear jeans, I do, and if I’m walking far or cycling, I wear things I don’t love. I made several new look 6802 jersey dresses which I can wear on the bike with leggings or pack easily – v fast on an overlocker! My house is also full of spiders but at least they’re dealing with the flies.

  7. Marie says:

    Firstly – you do jeans and sneakers very well, always looking elegant in my opinion due to the lovely tops/blouses you pair them with!

    Second – there’s nought wrong with jeans and sneakers! But like you, I also wish I had more occasions to get dressed up for! I too work in a very laid back office, so I end up feeling over-dressed when I do make the effort. And my social life is also lacking in the glamour stakes and allows me little opportunities to get dressed up!

    I know I need to start sewing more practical stuff, but part of me is still in denial. Haha!

  8. Elisabeth says:

    I haven’t sewn very many clothes yet (3 skirts and 1 dress) but I am also drawn to patterns that do not match my current style of dress (jeans and a t-shirt). I keep thinking that, maybe, if I sew fancier clothes, I’ll change my look because I’ll want to wear the stuff I make!

    One potential solution to your problem is to wear a cute top, pack a skirt (or make some you can cycle in) and leave a pair or two of cute shoes at work to change into. I always left shoes at work in the winter when I lived in Chicago (in California now) because I wanted to wear snow boots to get to work, but didn’t want to wear them all day.

  9. Graca says:

    First, you rock that converse look and love the dress, the colour is great on you. Is it Vogue pattern 8667? But I can totally relate to your post. I love to cycle, but a knee injury/surgery put me behind the wheel way too much this past year resulting in some extra pounds and a whole stash of patterns that don’t fit anymore. But I digress. I also like the comfort and look of dresses over wearing pants, but you’re right when you transporting a heavy load you opt for what is more practical (I carry three locks). And in the summer with the heat cycling shorts under a skirt is just not all that comfortable.

  10. I do SEW things that I can wear on a regular basis, but I tend to BUY a lot more cocktail/party/bombshell dress patterns than I need. I have a box full of those patterns, and have made only one or two. Somehow they are irresistible to me! And yes, I have had a lot of spiders in my house lately, here in the southeastern US. It’s a sign of autumn, I think (I hope).

  11. Suzy says:

    I know exactly what you mean and I’m now trying to make more of an effort to make clothes I can wear frequently. Saying that I’m also trying to be a bit more glamourous and girly by wearing more dresses and skirts. I have it a bit easier that you as have strict dress code at work and drive.

  12. Andrea says:

    My problem is the same, only opposite. I have to wear a suit to work. Every.Single.Day. Which in my books, just sucks. My self-made clothes are comfortable and quite informal which is the look I favour (although I really like that nice dress on this post… pray tell what pattern is that?). I’m not about to sew a suit, but I’ve realized it’s time to step it up and sew some feminine blouses in fancy fabrics and dresses that I can wear to work. While I don’t really enjoy dressing up, I think it will be an opportunity break away from the boring corporate beiges and grays. Who knows, I may even enjoy dressier clothes if they are self-made.

  13. I think how you normally dress is cute! I wish I could sew and make myself dresses, but I’d probably be in your shoes then. Maybe you could compromise by wearing dresses on the weekends when you’re not cycling to work?

  14. superheidi says:

    That’s why I try to stick to seperates. Most pretty blouses go with jeans. The effort of sewing is in balance because I actually wear many of these tops and blouses.
    But not dresses, mostly I keep the dresses for swing dance events. That comes with another dilemma. How often can I wear the same dress to similar events?

    And you know about me and skirts on bikes, there are some options. 🙂

    For some weeks, I’m walking into spider webs each morning on my way through the garden. The spiders are still small, but come october, the fat ones occupy the place (or the small ones put on weight by just hanging around). But I like their mosquito diet.

  15. Kerry says:

    Hmm, I do know what you mean. I’ve found that my work wardrobe of dresses, skirts and tops is more ladylike and more homemade than my weekend wardrobe of jeans and, of course, Converse. My sewing machine won’t sew jersey so I’ve been unable to make any casual tops similar to the ones I wear at the weekends.

  16. Sarah says:

    Sigh, I feel exactly the same. I would love to float around looking like Kirstie Allsopp (have you ever seen her in trousers, let alone jeans?) with the perfect accessories and beautiful heels but in reality I am either doing the school run, looking after our horses or sat at home so I go to jeans and tunics every time.

    In the last couple of years I have even started changing into yoga pants when I get home because they are like pyjamas (it’s an age thing I think!!) so there seems little point dressing up – plus heels cripple me and most accessories either annoy me or make me hot!!

    S x

  17. MrsC says:

    Isn’t spiders in your house a sign that there are no Basilisks in the walls? Got to be good surely? heheh.
    I worked with a guy who kept his wardrobe of work clothes at work – on Sunday he’d bring in a week’s supply of shirts, suits and ties and during the week he biked in, went to the gym, went for a run, probably saved a few babies from burning buildings, and then showered and dressed. We was one of the most self disciplined people I’ve ever known. Lovely man, made me feel like a slob hehehe. Anyway, perhaps there’s some usable thought in all of that.
    I love that I work in a liberal corporate environment that suits my style of dressing – in my last job at a heavy engineering company, it didn’t matter. I loved it though as I lost a lot of weight just before I started there and discovered jeans for the first time in 25 years so I got to wear jeans all the time! The novelty has now worn off and even on fridays jeans are not my first choice.

  18. ericapenton says:

    I agree with politeandparanoid – your casual look is cute too!
    When I worked in an office last year, I wore the gym clothes while cycling and packed the office clothes. I kept a few pairs of ballet flats at my desk and limited myself to carrying one bag, including a tiny make-up kit (I asked for samples at some of my favourite counters). I was occasionally a little wrinkled, but mostly that system worked well for me.

  19. Uta says:

    I know what you mean! Between cycling-friendly bottom garments and trying to find shoes that look good with skirts yet let me walk a couple of miles comfortably, I’m never going to look like I belong in a fashion mag. (And yes, I’ve been stuck on my saddle by the wrong length hem, too. Embarrassing and risky!) Oh well. Also, though I’m in Germany, I have been “rescuing” spiders with increasing frequency recently. A world-wide conspiracy maybe?

  20. Nikki says:

    Not for me, My jeans are stashed away and only see the light of day in the winter on days I need to do some heavy duty gardening. I am very much a skirt and dress girl and a floaty ruffle skirt and dress girl at that, I’ve managed to get quite a few 1970’s patterns that fit the bill very nicely. I live in my handmade skirts and dresses, I just need to start making tops to go with the skirts and stop sewing stuff I can only wear in summer!! Yep, loads of spiders but they make handy snacks for the cats!!

  21. Scruffybadger says:

    O mega comedy memories of being a cycling sixth former wearing handmade long skirts ( some kind of hippy gypsy look going on). These skirts ALL got caught in my greasy chain and therefore all sported a mini oil slick once I’d managed to free them from the seized up mechanics. I didn’t stop wearing long skirts ( trousers werent allowed even for 6 th form girls),and I didn’t tuck skirts in knickers. My work around involved either tying a knot in the skirt for cycling to take up the excess and billowing fabric or using a hair elastic to do the same kind of thing. Fancy putting your hand made lovelies through such an ordeal ???!!

  22. Trisha says:

    YES! It looks like this hit a cord with many readers. I have been thinking about this issue lately, and it’s exactly why I plan to sew more separates. So that they will get more wear with my lifestyle.

  23. Roobeedoo says:

    Hmmm… I have a different problem in that I seem to have a blind spot for dresses and only sew things that I can wear to work. (My two Lisette tunic / dresses are rare exceptions to this rule!) So I am always in awe of sewists like yourself who make gorgeous frocks: I just never think of it because I have such a presbyterian practical streak!

  24. Suze says:

    You just wrote what I’ve been thinking. I love “dress up” clothes (Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes is what they’re called in the American South) but rarely have the opportunity to wear them. Our lifestyle if so casual. And yes, we are overrun with spiders too! I think of August-Sept as Spider Season!

  25. melissa says:

    My office has a similar dress code (err, none. and I’m the only girl), but the main difference is that I walk to work instead of cycle. I actually wear a pretty big proportion of dresses and skirts to trousers, and dress up just because I feel like it at least once a week. Like tomorrow, my leather skirt and silk blouse are getting an airing, just because it’s Friday and I feel a bit less stressed when I look nice.

    But no spiders round here. Though we do have *&$&%& slugs in the kitchen. I killed three more tonight!

  26. CamberwellGal says:

    Hmm. Perhaps what you need on the skirt/cycling front is skirt guards? I happily lug round a modern Dutch bike with a low step through frame and plastic skirt guards clipped into the rear mudguard and the chain safely inside a plastic case which keeps me more or less grease/road grime free. Although I still haven’t worked out how to stop said skirt flying up at inopportune moments!

    On the clothes front, I work in a university where fashion as a female member of staff seems to suggest you have interests other than academia (sin!), so my work clothes try to give me the nerve to stand at the front of a lecture hall, not frighten the un-fashion horses, and to look older than my 1st yr undergrads, without looking 3 times my age. Oh – and being bicycle friendly, which seems to mean smart jeans and long cardi/jackets, Angela Kane’s pinafore and Kiwksew 6802 in lots of different iterations.

  27. Rosesred says:

    I do ride my bike to work, but it’s only a 20 minute ride and I have no shame, so I’m perfectly fine in a tight skirt that rides up till it’s no more than a mini-skirt (Although I do always wear leggings or bikershorts under my skirts.) The only thing I change at my job are my shoes. Pedalling is killing for high heels. This post on biking and clothing was very illuminating for me

    My job requires pretty formal clothing, but happily ‘formal’ translates equally well to ‘fabulous 50’s dress with a jacket’ as it does to ‘suit’. The bombshell dress might be taking it a step to far, but it’s going to show up at work anyway. (although I might wear a top under it)

  28. Shivani says:

    My office has a fairly relaxed dresscode, but I usually wear skirts and dresses. I also cycle to work (it’s only 20 mins away), and apart from wearing sensible shoes and changing into heels at the office, I don’t change. I cycle like an old woman though – I like to pootle along at a gentle pace (so I never get all sweaty), and my bike is a step-through with a skirt guard, so the only problem is the occasional flash of knickers if it’s particularly windy!

  29. mooncalf says:

    I’ve only ever sewed one skirt (which I do wear to work from time to time) but I’ve definitely had to address this with my knitting. It is so easy to get swept away by the lifestyle and image of the knitting. I’ve made the same mistakes with choosing the colours of yarn I like to look at and work with rather than the ones I’ll wear.

    I wouldn’t say I’ve cracked it but I’m getting better. I haven’t knit a cape for years now…

  30. prttynpnk says:

    I have the option of dressing like a girl or wearing scrubs- my boss has no urge to discuss dresscodes with his all female staff- but everytime I throw on the pretty stuff everyone acts like I’m up to something!

  31. Cecelia says:

    You mentioned your gym bag, what about all your other stuff? I have a very hot and sweaty walk to work, carrying my Mary Poppins bag with breakfast, lunch, water bottle, diary, knitting, library books, etc., so usually the only change of clothes I manage to throw in is undies and maybe a poly/knit top. Which aren’t the most fun to sew or wear, but at least I don’t look like I slept in my clothes.

  32. LinB says:

    Split skirt for cycling? Trousers or slacks instead of always jeans? Some sort of blouse that ruches up the sides with drawstrings (like an Austrian curtain) that you could let down into a dress length for work? Tricksy problem, the bicycling to work. I mostly wear pants and overblouse to my secretarial work in the church office because I am too lazy to shave my legs every day.

  33. Alessa says:

    Yup, lotsa spiders. My sister had a huge one sitting next to her head on the pillow last week. Good thing it wasn’t me or I would have died…
    I mostly bike to uni during summer, and my skirts and dresses mostly work rather well for cycling. They’re even modest enough, if I wear my lacy shorts underneath… 😉 But: I sew a lot with knits and quilting cottons.

  34. Lydia says:

    I have been wrestling with this dilemma for ages! I sew and buy clothes for my ‘imagined self,’ but I end up wearing jeans and trousers to work, and leisure. I have worn more dresses in summer and fall this past year (the right boots with skirts and dresses have really encouraged me to wear them more in cooler weather).

    When I started sewing years ago, I decided to sew items that were not things I would normally buy — In other words, I sewed quite often with silks, or patterns and colours that I wanted, but could not find in stores, and as a result, I had clothes that were more unique and special, that could sometimes work for everyday, though were not as practical as my bought clothes.

    As much as I would like to sew everyday things, I have decided to keep buying more everyday clothes — tops, blouses, dresses from jersey (I do not sew with knits, though sometime…. maybe), while sewing items, such as skirts for work, and funkier summer/ fall dresses. This is a sort of sewing compromise for myself. I will keep working on nicely fitting skirts and dresses, and keep the rest of my wardrobe a shopping wardrobe. This way, sewing stays in more of a fantasy/ special/ quircky/ clothing realm.

    By the way, I really enjoy reading your blog — I have never commented before, but follow your sewing adventures with interest and admiration!

  35. Amy says:

    That picture of how you normally dress looks pretty cool too! but I know what you mean. I live in jeans as well, despite all the pretty dresses in the wardrobe… they’re just so lovely to make! Sigh. And yes, lots and lots of spiders. Big ones.

  36. superheidi says:

    CamberwellGal is right, skirt guards and chain guards (probably depends on the amount of gears) should be obligatory. Wide leg pants can get caught in chains as well (there are pant clips though)
    As for carrying stuff around, get back panniers for your bike. You can stuff so much in there:
    Or get your inspiration on site and visit the Netherlands. 🙂

  37. Roisin says:

    You will wear that bombshell dress though, my dear, you will!

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  39. dixie says:

    I was the same way for awhile. I kept sewing cocktail dresses for parties I’d never attend. That’s when I turned to more casual attire and started sewing t-shirts, tank tops, shorts and skirts. More for the wardrobe I’d actually wear. But now I realized that I need more useful, throw-on, head-out-the-door kinds of dresses so I’m adapting some of my old cute cocktail dress patterns to simpler fabrics so I can still use the design but the end result is more casual and easier to wear day to day.

    Oh, and here in Texas, it’s not spiders I have to deal with – it’s tiny lizards invading my home!

    BTW, that purple dress is to die for!

  40. Jessica says:

    Wear some shorts under the dress/skirt (I often just chop the legs off some leggings) and hike it up the dress while cycling! That’s what I do! I normally lean toward pencil shirts, so hiking it up is the only option if I don’t want to get stuck on my seat. All you have to pack are shoes…unless you wear some nice flats! I leave the shorts on all day, they help with the ‘chub-rub’, and also save me from any Monroe mishaps on a windy day.

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