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10 Tips for How to Actually Make a Hand-Sewn Wardrobe

Have you ever felt drawn towards having a completely hand-made wardrobe, but it felt unattainable? Like a hand-made wardrobe is just for a few select sewing bloggers, and that you are not skilled enough, or don’t have enough time? I’m here to tell you that a few years ago, I felt exactly the same way. I admired those who sewed a complete custom wardrobe for themselves, but it only ever felt like a pipe dream. Now, fast forward to the present . . .

vintage swim suit fifties black and white stripe
A few years after getting seriously into garment sewing, I now have an entirely hand-made wardrobe!

Without having even intended it, I now have a completely hand-made wardrobe, full of pieces I love! There is not anything special about me, but I have picked up several pieces of advice along that way that will help you on your own hand-made wardrobe journey! I hope you will come away from reading this with a newfound belief in yourself and your ability to create the wardrobe of your dreams!

Let’s jump into it.

Enthusiasm + Realism = Success

I am a big believer in starting a new hobby with something that deeply excites you - even if said project isn't traditionally considered to be "beginner friendly". For me, this was starting with making historical corsets, which typically aren't considered a "beginner" sewing project. This is important because it gives you the enthusiasm you need to power through your project, and that amazing sense of accomplishment once it is completed.

white blue victorian corset 1850's
Corset-making was my initial draw into garment-making, but I started with designs much more simple than this one!

However, one caveat to that is that you need to have a realistic sense of what you will actually be able to complete, and not choose something so ridiculously difficult that you get burnt out along the way. An example would be: perhaps you are excited about corsetry, and want to make a corset, but said corset should be a simple design, not extremely complex. My first couple corsets were very plain and utilitarian. It wasn't until I became more comfortable with the skills involved that I ventured on to making more complex types of corsets. The same goes for any type of garment sewing. If you are excited about making a classic or historical dress, it can still be a more simple design.

Aesthetics and Planning

painting young woman corset bougeureau
Many of us are drawn to sewing our own clothes so we can create unique pieces of "wearable art"

Taking time to evaluate what aesthetics please you is incredibly important, as well as planning out colours and fabrics. This is not my greatest strengths, but speaking as a teacher, I can tell you that it's important.

This will look different for you as a unique individual than it does for anyone else, but loosely speaking, you should first look for general inspiration of what types of aesthetics appeal to you. What lights your fire. Cottage core, history bounding, fantasy, classy, vintage. There are any number of combinations that can go into creating your own unique wardrobe.

Secondly, once you have an idea of what aesthetics you want your wardrobe to include, you can get down to planning the actual garments, fabrics, and colours you plan on using. In other words, picking things that work well together, and make sense for your life. This can be as simple as a few colour sketches in a notebook, or as complex as a set of miniature paper doll outfits that you can physically mix and match.

If you don't have the time and money to invest into planning and creating an entire capsule wardrobe at once, you can use a simple, yet conscious approach. In fact, this is what my own sewing practice has looked like. I have personally focussed on only one garment at a time, because I become easily overwhelmed at the thought of creating an entire capsule wardrobe at once. I also don't have that kind of time to spend.

red hand made sew dress fifties
I prefer to plan only one garment at a time, but I make sure it will fit in with my wardrobe

Instead, I carefully plan out one garment at a time. First, I choose the pattern I will use, or draft it myself. I then choose a fabric that I believe will suit that specific garment well. In other words, I don't typically buy a whole bunch of fabric at once and "stash it" - I only buy fabric once I have a specific project in mind for it. This saves money and works well for my brain and style of working. But you do you!

Choose Your Battles

hand made bras vintage bras
Focus on sewing unique, one of kind garments that are custom fit to you!

Prioritize sewing pieces that are difficult to find or buy elsewhere. One of the hardest things about sewing your own clothing is getting the motivation to spend hours on something which you could easily buy for probably less money than the cost of your materials. I'm talking about fast fashion of course. If avoiding the use of fast fashion is a strong personal seeing motivation for you, then this temptation would not apply!

Another way to motivate yourself to begin sewing your own garments is to focus on things which would otherwise be very expensive to buy, or impossible to find. Things that are unique. For me personally, this was corsets. Another aspect of this is being able to make custom fit garments that fit your body perfectly. In today's age of mass production, that is worth its weight in gold, and can easily justify the time and money spent creating a custom fit garment.

Faithful Fabrics

Something I talked about in my Fabrics 101 article was the importance of finding your tried and true fabric and fibre types that you love working with, and that work well with your life. For me personally, this has been linen, because it is relatively affordable when found from the right sources, it practically sews itself, and it lasts a long time for me in my life. It also is very versatile for the amount of different garments it can be used for. Your own tried and true fabrics will be unique to you, and it comes with practice, but just know that things get easier when you find fabrics and sources that work for you.

Buying Break!

A great tip for naturally incorporating hand-made garments into your wardrobe, is to simply take a buying break! Take a break from buying clothes for 6 months or a year, and make them instead. Keep in mind of course, that most of us already have an adequate wardrobe full of store bought items that still work for us - keep wearing those! As you sew a garment, add it into your closet, and it won't be long before you have more hand-made things than store bought. You will also be amazed at how much more the hand-made clothes appeal to you than the store bought stuff.

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

spin circle skirt orange curly hair
It's easy to get burnt out with sewing, so I suggest focussing on items that are important to you and leaving the rest

If you are anything like me, you may let your enthusiasm get the better of you, and begin to feel that you need to sew absolutely everything for yourself. This is a sure recipe for burn out - trust me! Now, I know this somewhat contradicts my last point about taking a buying break, but let me clarify. Most of us, when we begin sewing, already have a whole wardrobe of clothing that still works for us. So taking a buying break doesn't mean you suddenly have to make everything for yourself - you can keep wearing the garments you already have! Also, taking a buying break should have boundaries.

For me personally, I have very little interest in sewing my own underwear for example, and have continued to simply buy that. I have also continued to buy bras, stockings, socks, that kind of thing. As a mom, I have also made the choice not to sew for my kids! I know, it sounds selfish. But sewing for me is a self care practice, and if I suddenly felt that I was obligated to sew a bunch of clothing for my boys, which I have zero interest in doing, sewing would simply become another chore and I would want to quit in no time. Also, when it comes to the ethical consideration of buying fast fashion clothing, an easy way around that is to simply buy thrifted clothing, which would have otherwise been thrown away, and when it comes to kids clothing, because they grow so quickly, it is no problem finding great quality gently used clothing for them.

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

black white victorian corset
Spending time making garments that are higher quality, and mending when needed, is worth it in the end!

Let's face it: slow sewing makes higher quality garments that last longer. Garments I have spent more time on and used higher quality sewing techniques have lasted me

longer, both in terms of holding up physically, as well as me continuing to love them as the years go by. This is the most sustainable way to create a hand-made wardrobe!

Another application of this is of course, mending. Once you have created a garment and worn it lots, chances are, it may need some mending. I don't love mending, but learning to sew and seeing the work that goes into just one garment has really shown me the importance of mending. It is easier to "mend and make do" than sew a whole new garment! It is also a more slow, meditative approach to life that can help counteract our modern day culture of using something for a short time and then throwing it away. The same goes for sewing high quality garments with couture sewing techniques. This takes more time, but it produces a garment which will last significantly longer than a garment that was whipped together in a day.

Slow and Steady

orange 18th century jacket curly dark hair
Set realistic expectations. Sewing clothing takes time, and that s okay!

Take a gradual approach to creating your hand-made wardrobe! Something that is very important to stress especially for sewers today, is that it is okay for your hand made garments to take a long time! In today's day of Instagram and Youtube, it can be so easy to get the impression that sewing a garment should be a quick process, when in reality, that video you are watching of someone just whipping off a garment (supposedly), had actually been filmed over a period of weeks, and edited together in a way to keep viewers attention. I know, because I am guilty of this myself - that is simply the way Youtube and social media works.

So if you are just starting out sewing, be aware that things will take a lot longer than you may expect based on others videos and Instagram posts, and that is okay! Rome wasn't built in a day, and the same goes for a hand-made wardrobe. I personally did not set out and say, I am going to have a completely hand-made wardrobe. Rather, it was something that happened gradually over time - and we're talking years here- as I chipped away at more projects, and slowly came to phase out my store bought clothes in favour of the hand-made ones. Rather, most of my store bought clothes simply wore out, and I didn't buy more - I made more!

Schedule it!

orange skirt linen white shirt spin
Prioritizing your sewing is important if you are interested in making hand-made garments

The only way to make even a single hand-made garment, let alone an entire wardrobe, is to schedule a consistent sewing practice into your life. Having a consistent sewing practice in your life is not only therapeutic, it is also incredibly rewarding when you see what you have been able to create! The key is to make this realistic for your own life and situation. It might be an every day thing, or once a month, but either way, if you prioritize sewing on a regular basis, you will be amazed at what you can accomplish!

Consider Using Thrifted Fabric

A great way to save money and reduce waste in your garment sewing is to use thrifted fabric! In most cases, this will mean buying thrifted garments made from good quality fabric, and re making it into something you love! Personally, this is something I want to try more of in the future. Refashioning old clothing items has been practiced for all of time, and it is an art form unto itself!

I hope these 10 tips have helped encourage you on your journey to a hand-made wardrobe! Let me know what you think, or if you have any of your sewing tips, in the comments section below!

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Thank you so much for your words of wisdom at such an early age!!!! I love to sew and I have so much fabric for all the projects I’m “going to make” and never getting anything done because of the one thing you said…… schedule it into your life!!! this is something I MUST DO from NOW ON!!!!! I have tried in the past but I really need to do this!


Oct 22, 2022

Very good advice!

Katherine Sewing
Katherine Sewing
Nov 28, 2022
Replying to

Thanks! 😍


Mindy Flowers
Mindy Flowers
Oct 22, 2022

Thank you so much for all of these! I’ve been sewing historical clothing & costumes for many years, but after having kids now my figure has changed. My mom did all the fitting back in 4-H when I was younger, so now fitting on my own is a struggle, as I’m very petite, but also never learned to do it myself. BUT this new *challenge* has been SUCH an amazing opportunity for me to learn about altering patterns and customizing on my own!

My advice would be to grab up those copies of pattern fitting books (my current go-to is “The Fitting Book” by Gina Renee Dunham) and Take The Time To Make As Many Mock-Ups As Needed!! Making just…

Katherine Sewing
Katherine Sewing
Oct 22, 2022
Replying to

Hi Mindy, Wow, thanks so much for your comment, kind words, and sharing your wisdom with us! 💕💕 As for the linen question, in the States I would recommend ☺️ When it comes to basic garments like dresses and blouses, I personally use medium weight linen. Some might use light-weight depending on the garment, but I almost never use light weight because I am more hard-wearing on my clothes. However, light weight is a great option for undergarments like chemises, Victorian split drawers, corset covers, camisoles, and even vintage bras. It would also be a great option for a loose, flowy, or ethereal blouse or dress, or something with a lot of pin tucks like an Edwardian blouse. Heavy weight linen…

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