One Year DIY Clothing Experiment

I am taking a break from posting about the wedding, my workouts, and food logs because I am so buried in it in everyday life now that I just need to talk about other stuff for a while. I will say that we finally met with the notary who will be our officiant, received about 75% of our party favor stuff from Oriental Trading, placed orders for the rest (pretty red bulk order chopsticks from, and still need to figure out how to do flowers for under $150.

Last night I also tried on the red Chinese qipao dress I bought a few years ago in California and was somewhat surprised to discover that while my backside (barely) fits into the thing, my back and shoulders are now too broad for the bodice. I had altered it a bit after my first BFL challenge in 2004 by taking it in at the side seams to adjust for my long back-waist length, but I remember that it fit my upper body very well back then.

Not so much last night. I had to struggle to pull the dress on over my head, and when it was time to get back out of it…well, it got stuck right around my lower shoulder blades and would NOT come off.


I had to dig out my seam ripper from my sewing basket and tear out the stitches from my alteration just to give myself enough ease to escape from the dress.

I guess I’ve finally succeeded in bulking up my top half.

My lower half should come down enough in the next 4.5 weeks to fit comfortably in the dress, but I don’t think I’ll be able to do much about the extra muscle in my back, chest, and shoulders now.

As much as I hate to spend more money on another unitasker of a dress, I opted to order a new red qipao from Chinasprout that should make my parents happy when it’s time to do the traditional costume change at the reception.

And that is my last official ready-to-wear clothing purchase for the next year.

I recently came across artist Alex Martin’s Brown Dress Project, in which she made and wore the same brown dress for 365 days, and her more recently-begun Recycling Project, which entails wearing only clothing that she RE-makes herself out of the materials and clothes already in her closet.

I am not quite as brave and will make an exception for one category of items that I don’t know how to make myself–decent sport socks–but otherwise, I am going to give her challenge a go to the best of my ability. I am by no means a clotheshorse, but even I have managed to amass more than enough sale clothing, clearance bolts of fabric, 99 cent patterns, and $0.10 zippers (from a Hancock Fabric liquidation sale) to make and re-make at least a year’s worth of new-to-me clothes. My packrat, bulk bargain-shopping ways have also ensured that I have enough spare pairs of last season’s clearance running shoes to keep me shod without risking injury from working out in flat kicks that are past their prime.

I am doing this for several reasons:

  1. I want to save some extra money to pay off my 2002 Toyota Camry early and start putting away money in an emergency fund.
  2. I am tired of looking at the stash of unmade patterns and fabric in my home office closet and really want to turn all of those raw materials into wearable clothing before I start accumulating more.
  3. I need a reason to get off my butt and be creative again in some way. I think that attempting to knock off current fashions and design my own stuff using only the materials at hand for a year should do the trick.
  4. My wardrobe is starting to skew heavily toward nothing but workout clothes, jeans, and amusing t-shirts from Threadless. I need a closet makeover!
  5. I want to prove that “home-sewn” doesn’t necessarily mean “un-hip” and “godawful fugly.”
  6. I hate shopping for clothes at the mall.

So in the name of frugality, creativity, and the DIY spirit of reuse, recycle, or repurpose, I am cutting off all spending on clothing, shoes, fabric and accessories for myself through June 6, 2008 and following these DIY Clothing Experiment rules:

  • I can still wear and use anything already in my wardrobe, but if I want something new, I have to make or re-make it myself using fabric, patterns, old clothes, thread, magazines, books and notions I already own as of today, June 7, 2007, or freely available sources such as library books or online downloads.
  • I am not allowed to cheat by asking for ready-to-wear apparel items for Xmas or my birthday, and I will also refrain from snagging cast off clothing from my local Freecycle groups. The goal is to cut down on the quantity of unwearable (due to unmade state, poor fit, or outdated style) clothing in my house, not add more to it.
  • I will also (sniffle) NOT purchase anything apparel-related–including 99 cent patterns and Halloween costume materials–at fabric and craft stores or even the sad little fabric department at my local Ghetto-Mart.
  • I will complete a minimum of one item every two weeks, even if it is something as simple as taking in the side seams of a t-shirt so it fits properly. Items made as gifts for other people also count.
  • Photos of the materials used and of the final product of each item of clothing will be posted to this blog.
  • A minimum of two self-made or altered items will be worn each week.
  • I must use up all of these two bolts of pink boucle’ suiting fabric I picked up at the Hancock’s inventory clearance for a grand total of $6. In case you were all wondering, yes, a cat bed is definitely on the slate for these bolts.

    Pink Fabric 2

Wish me luck!

7 thoughts on “One Year DIY Clothing Experiment

  1. I totally understand what you’re going through Maggie. I’m taking a bit of break too because right now I just need to focus on getting my book written (I’m writing a 365-pager for Women’s Health Magazine) and keeping myself sane.

    I also know how you feel about the dress fitting issue. I’ve almost cried giving my clothes away because my thighs got bigger (it’s muscle, I swear) and my back is huge. But, that’s why I workout,,, right?

    Good luck with the wedding plans. Looking forward to reading from you when you have time to post. 🙂

  2. Hi. I found your website through pattern review. I used to be a florist and I wanted to suggest carnations. If you use them in bulk , they’re quite striking, and I think they are about to make a comeback. You can be ahead of the curve. Seriously.

  3. Maggie, I’m intrigued by your clothing challenge. I seriously need to learn how to sew actual clothing (I’ve only done basic pillows and curtain scarfs). I get so ticked off when I can’t find specific styles I want for clothing or when I can’t find specific shades of colors (especially when it’s really basic, timeless stuff that should ALWAYS be in stores!). I will be following your challenge with interest.

    I do have one trackable item to add to your challenge: time. How much time you spend in each part of the process. I’ve always wondered how the time translates into money, i.e. when I see the cost of the product in the store, I wonder how much of the cost goes toward materials and how much goes toward labor and store profit.

    I know that if I started sewing my own wardrobe I’d start off with simple clothing cuts and simple fabrics so I could mix and match and accessorize a lot more, and then when I had all the basics covered I’d start up the more personalized, recognizable clothing that you can only wear once a week max because everyone recognizes it. Wow I am getting so excited about your challenge! lol :mrgreen:

  4. Elanor – Thanks for the suggestion! I’ve always loved carnations anyway–I think they may even be the official flower for my birth month of January.

  5. Meghan – Good call. I’ll add the time tracking to the experiment. I can tell you now from previous experience that some things like taking in the seams of a boxy t-shirt or dress only take 10-15 minutes tops, re-making a basic t-shirt into something cuter is 20-45 minutes, constructing a basic knit top from scratch is closer to 60 minutes, and pants with a zipper and belt carriers or dresses with buttons or zips are closer to 3-5 hours. Suit jackets with set-in sleeves and lined evening wear can take 6+ hours spread out over several sessions. I’m not really into extra embellishments like trims, embroidery, beading or the like, so those are just times for finishing the basic garment.

    I have a TON of basic tops already, so I will be focusing on the following when it comes to fully-constructed clothing vs. alterations of existing stuff:

    – 4+ pairs of non-denim/non-stretch pants, shorts or capris
    – 2-3 dressy outfits (probably dresses that I can wear for New Year’s, nice dinners, etc.)
    – 3-4 everyday skirts
    – 2-3 casual dresses
    – 1 full suit made of pink boucle: long knee length coat, pants, and skirt
    – 1 Halloween costume (TBD)
    – 5+ party tops
    – workout bottoms (including at least 1 running skort)
    – workout tops

  6. Impressed!
    I love this challenge and will love following your progress. I used to do so many alteration / sewing projects and haven’t in the past three years. This is great inspiration to pull out the tools again.

  7. Still looking to get flowers on discount? My sister went to a craft store and bought ribbons and fake flowers. She spent under $40 with her bridal bouquet and 5 bride’s maids together. And on top of that, she got a keepsake that won’t attract bugs or fall apart as the night goes on.

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