Can sewing change your body image?

measuring waist

My latest blog post at The Guardian has gone live and it’s on a really interesting topic – can sewing change your body image? A massive shout out to all the people who have left intelligent, thoughtful and polite comments. I’m thrilled to see the sewing community showing the world yet again just how brilliant we are!

Have a good day, peeps. Stay cool. (Not, you know, groovy. Just not warm. Though you can be groovy too, if you like.)

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31 Responses to Can sewing change your body image?

  1. JacqC says:

    Ha, ha – very Austin Powers! Great article Karen, I’ve yet to meet a woman with a RTW shape body. I loathe clothes shopping but am loving learning to sew my own clothes 🙂

  2. I cannot comment on the guardian, but great article Karen! For me it is not so much the perception of my size, that totally changed this year with having a baby, but a better assessment of my shape and how to ‘use’ it. If you are going to se your clothes I feel knowing your shape and what works is also a key to make more clothes and makes it worthwhile, as well as being able to adjust that wonky shoulder. A wonky shoulder? I should check mine…. I will probably do a post on shape soon and will definitely refer to your post.

  3. Shelley Gibb says:

    I look so much better in a frock, especially if the waist is in the right place and the hem sits at the low knee. I am a 5’10” pear shape (more of a Conference than a Packhams (yes, I have compeared myself – see what I did there; I can spell really). Unless you are a stick or like wearing tents it can be difficult to find something flattering. Boden dresses in 12 long really work for me but I don’t want to be a Stepford Mum. I am just getting back into sewing my own. Sewing blogs like yours are really inspiring and give me the confidence to make stuff which is really me. Great article by the way.

  4. Mary Carol says:

    Great article, explains part of the reason why I’ve started sewing. I’m short, but I don’t fit the generally acceptable definition of petite, in either size or style. So now I make my own and have exactly what I want, and it fits well. What a revelation!

  5. I found the article very nice to read.

    I have sort of a love-hate relationship with my body since I started sewing. On one side I can make clothes that fit me somewhat. On the other hand I actually have to face my body measurements regularly. Before sewing I knew I fitted into an 8-12 at the shops where I regularly shopped. I acknowledged that I had fat days and thin days and it was all good. Now that I am sewing on the other hand I realised that on thin days I have a waist of 28in whereas on fat days it would be 31in and somehow that seems a LOT worse. I know in my mind that it is not, but my heart sinks a little every time I measure myself and the numbers are higher then before. I know it is not the end of the world, but the measurements make it somewhat more real. At least before I had the excuse the RTW clothing fits in a variety of ways, but it is harder to delude yourself about that Friday night curry when you see the numbers (no I don’t measure myself after dinner, cause that’s just asking for trouble). It doesn’t help taking close-up pictures of oneself … sigh … I suspect it’s just one of these things I’ll get used to with enough exposure.

  6. Gabrielle says:

    Yes, great article. Sewing certainly gives you the freedom to get the sizing that fits – and fits all areas at once :), just how you want. I don’t enjoy measuring myself at all though, because the numbers do seem to creep up over time (confirmed by blog photos!).

    • LinB says:

      You can use the hint given me decades ago by a wise teacher: when measuring oneself or others, and calling out the numbers so you won’t get them wrong as you jot them down, use the side of the measuring tape that has the measuring system you don’t use in real life! For us in the USA, use the metric side of the tape. For all the rest of the civilized world, use the empiric side of the tape. (Much easier to think of the numbers in the abstract when you can’t instinctively visualize the shape that the numbers are describing. Much nier not to judge yourself or others by a set of numbers, or an arbitrary size designation assigned by clothing manufacturers.)

  7. Annika says:

    Thank you for a great blog post. There is so many friends – who suffer under their body image – that I want to share it with.

  8. hexe says:

    As a 1.60 m woman, I know the problems of shopping for clothes. I’m not particularly thin or thick, but usually everything in my size is just too long for me. I always had to shorten skirts, dresses and jeans until I started to sew for myself last winter. I love how I can just decide on the look and color, and that I’m now independent from the latest fashion style. I always felt too big for RTW clothes, but now I actually know that their measurement tables just don’t fit my body. So yes, sewing changed how I see myself. It’s not my fault I don’t have a standard cloth size 🙂

  9. Anne says:

    What a wonderful article! Since I started sewing my own clothes in a more dedicated way a year ago, I have found that I don’t stress so much about my wonky bits (large bust, no hips, sway back- it’s funny how naming them, tames them). I love how you describe our bodies as being bespoke. Absolutely. Thank you for sharing a wonderful outlook!

  10. Stephanie says:

    I caught your article in the Guardian by chance yesterday and thought it was great! It’s funny, I have always been a slim/small woman of pretty average height, so most people have assumed that finding clothes was easy for me. I could never find a dress that fit, however (small rib cage and tiny shoulders, full bust and short waist!), and had difficulty fitting pants (slim hips, muscular thighs), because of all of the unique features of my body. Sewing therefore is extremely liberating and has also helped me to figure out what styles in RTW clothing will really suit me. Most importantly though, it’s a “flow” activity and truly enjoyable! Great work, Karen.

  11. Helen Johnstone says:

    Cant comment on Guardian but I really liked this article which conveys an attitude I had already picked up from your blog which is why I follow it. I am just starting back on this journey to making my own clothes but am now mystified about altering patterns to fit my less than ‘perfect’ body. Any advice on a good book etc to help demystify this for me?

  12. anenthusiast says:

    Love your article, Karen! I think it probably hit a nerve with, well EVERYone (since it affects us all- I’m what lots of people sneeringly call “a stick” (yeah, the grass is always always greener eh? Sticks and stones &tc!) but my bod has its own idiosyncrasies, just most don’t notice because we’re all too busy comparing ourselves!

  13. Becky says:

    Karen, this is brilliant! There is no better way to come to love your body than to learn your body! You are right, we are all different, unique, and we all are worthy. I hate those clothing sizes that are all over the place to pander to the customers. I know what size I am, and it’s OK. Wonderful article!

  14. Great writing! The Carrie Bradshaw of the sewing world!!

  15. Nicole says:

    I would definitely agree. The only thing that’s been frustrating is that I’m 1-2 sizes larger than most of the indie pattern companies, so it’s hard not to wish I was a little smaller so I wouldn’t have to do as much work on the pattern to fit it to my size. However, I’m definitely happier with the garments that come from sewing, since they fit perfectly.

  16. sewloveable says:

    Excellent and well written article. I truly think when people talk about body image they immediately go to the person who they consider over weight. My tape measure and sewing machine have become my best tools. My recently turned 14 year old is tall and thin. She actually can still wear children’s clothing but it is too short for her. Shopping was no longer enjoyable when nothing off the rack fits you properly. The sad and disappointing look on her sweet 12 year old face when this all began happening to her/us. This forced me to show her how I could make it better. By making patterns and clothes for her that fit her body. This really changed the way we both felt about fashion, shopping and our bodies. The bottom line is that at any age and size people want clothing that fits and that flatters. I for one would love to see more tutorial for making patterns and clothing to fit body measurements. I recently put a tutorial together on how to draft and sew a pencil skirt based off your own measurements, which is now one of my daughter’s favorite things to wear. Thank you again for an EXCELLENT article.

    • anenthusiast says:

      That’s AMAZING. I’d love to be able to do that for my daughter (she’s three now) should we come across issues like this. So inspired by your wonderful mothering!

      • sewloveable says:

        Thank you I truly appreciate your comment. As you know when it comes to being a mother we do all we can to help and make our kids feel special and loved.

  17. Tracey Welsh says:

    I absolutely believe it… I spent a few years not sewing a thing, lost my mojo, then had the insatiable need to start sewing again. Out went the slouchy comfy clothes I was forever buying from the chain stores and in came gorgeous fabrics and patterns. Sewing like a demon now, not just for me, but the whole family. I not only look a million bucks, I feel it too. Even started wearing make up again.

  18. lisa g says:

    great article! until i started sewing, i didn’t really understand that i wasn’t one size from top to bottom! i think sewing and facing our measurements can also help us make more educated RTW choices–i feel less bad about needing a larger size for pants than i do for shirts. though, truthfully i’ve quit buying clothes altogether!

  19. Michelle says:

    Great article! I think sewing has made me aware of my body in a way that I never was before. And, I think it’s helped me take better care of myself, if that makes any sense at all… when I was buying “cheap” clothes off the rack, I didn’t stop to consider the ways they were fitting on my body. Now that I put effort into sewing garments to fit, I find myself putting effort into making sure that they continue to fit. I notice right away if my waistline starts expanding.

  20. What is helping me to embrace my body these days is reading a lot of blogs written by wonderful women of every shape and size with pictures of them. Seeing the diversity in beauty and turning OFF my TV (with all its ads) has played a major role I suspect.

    The blogs I enjoy the most are sewing related because I love learning and sewing… And I agree that those who sew might have an advantage in distancing themselves from the imposed ideal body. True that numbers become tools.

    Moreover, understanding that patterns (or RTW) are designed with a set of specific measurement/proportion is liberating. It helps to redirect the wrongful “My body is not adequate for this piece of clothing” to “This piece of clothing is not designed for my unique body”. Mastering the art of altering/sewing clothing to fit is very empowering!

    And to be our own designer, choosing fabrics and expressing ourselves doing so is fun as hell!

  21. Even as a teen who hit her adult weight some time before her adult height, I generally haven’t had issues with my body image … but buying clothes would be the one thing that really set me off. Even when I know at a rational level that (as Caroline says above) if clothes don’t fit, that’s a problem with the *clothes*, it’s been hard to believe that properly when thing after thing just won’t go over my hips. Or if it does go, gapes like anything at the waist. Or when certain ranges just stop at whatever size, as you mention in the column.

    Sewing more of my own clothes hasn’t altered how I see myself per se, but it’s removed the main source of body-related stress and that’s been a surprisingly big thing. The thought of “these work trousers are on their last legs, need some more” or “I have no summer shorts, ack” doesn’t automatically trigger pre-emptive dread of the fitting-room mirror – these days it tends to instead bring on the urge to start looking at fabric and patterns, which is much better!

  22. Debbie says:

    Fantastic article but I’m afraid I can’t get away from judging myself by rtw dress sizes. I have lost a significant amount of weight and gained great satisfaction and self esteem from gradually dropping dress sizes from a 24 to a 12/14 depending on high street brand. I have recently rediscovered sewing initially to take in and refashion my old bigger sized clothing to save money but I’m now making my own clothes again from patterns. I know it’s only numbers but in paper patterns I have to cut an 18- a number I have long left behind!
    What making my own clothes has done for me is to help me to develop my own style that is totally unique. I love wearing things that i know no one else in the world is wearing. The clothes I wore before we’re recognisably from certain shops as were those of my friends. There’s no better feeling than wearing a beautifully fitted and unique item of clothing and being complemented on it.

  23. amynxdx says:

    I started sewing again because RTW never fit my height or arm and torso length. I love that my winter coat that I made has INSANELY long arms… Sewing is amazing for your self image!

    -Amy (

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  25. Tiffany says:

    I loved your post. I stopped buying ready to wear when I was a teenager, even though I had a tiny 21 inch waist back then nothing ever fit right because I was a DDD with hips and booty to match and my waist was 3 sizes smaller than the rest of me so nothing ever fit right. Even though I’m fuller figured than I was than I still have the same shape and wouldn’t even imagine wear anything off the rack. I hate that mainstream fashion doesn’t recognize different curve and body types, but I’m grateful for the experience this has given me, otherwise I may not be as skilled as I am, nor as creative.

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