Sonya Philip is a revolutionary. She has been sewing easy-to-wear and easy-to-love garments since the early days of the slow fashion movement. And from the start, she has been a powerful advocate for the idea of a handmade wardrobe that prioritizes the celebration of our bodies. Since her own first stitches, she has been generously and encouragingly sharing what she knows.
Where it all began
A decade ago, Sonya took a sewing class and made a single dress that became an art project called 100 Acts of Sewing. She made 100 dresses in a year to show the practical, creative, and conscious act that is the sewing of your own clothing.
Her 100 Acts of Sewing site and patterns—simply shaped and easy to make, even for a first-timer—became an integral part of a movement of makers for clothes that fit, are comfy, cute, creative, and are not part of the fast-fashion industry. (“It has pockets” memes are part of this movement—not entirely funny to women who are utterly exasperated and wholly pissed at the offerings of the commercial fast-fashion machine.)
Fans of Sonya have been waiting for her to publish a book, and The Act of Sewing: How to Make and Modify Clothes to Wear Every Day is worth the wait. It has everything I want—except for Sonya dropping by for cake and a chat about textiles.
In the MDK Shop
Come one, come all
The Act of Sewing is a book for both beginners (like me!) and more experienced folks who want to make simply shaped, beautiful clothes that fit in a way that’s comfortable for their body and life.
Four full-sized patterns are included in sizes XS–5X as part of the book: a top, a shirt, a skirt, and pants.
The patterns in this book are not the same as Sonya’s 100 Acts of Sewing patterns, but they are kin. Sonya sees them as “100 Acts of Sewing 2.0, riffs on the existing patterns.” She also points out that all the modifications and embellishments in the book work with her 100 Acts of Sewing patterns.
This book is a revelation for me. I am the product of 1970s Midwestern Home Ec sewing classes where having curves was distasteful, if not outright heresy. My options: sewing tent A or tent B in a pastel calico. I was sewing-scarred for a long time.
Sonya’s 100 Acts of Sewing opened my eyes to making my own clothes, and The Act of Sewing firmly puts my sewing machine pedal to the metal.
It’s not just the patterns and the ease of sewing and modifying them, it’s Sonya’s attitude. I would sew anything she told me I could. Her enthusiasm and utter embrace of body positivity—showing the world exactly who you are with your clothes—make me feel powerful.
The Act of Sewing is broken down into two parts. Part One takes you through the basics of assembling everything you need including tools and techniques and sewing the four basic patterns.
While this book is suitable for beginning (and lapsed) sewers, if you have never sat at a sewing machine before, I suggest you take a class before using this book.
The basics are solid—perfect refreshers from my beginning sewing classes. Sonya speaks with such succinctness and clarity; her instructions make things I fret about seem like no big deal (tension issues, anyone?).
She sequences the patterns to allow for skills to build on each other, so that by the end of the fourth pattern, you will have sneakily learned what you need to know to build your own wardrobe. The instructions are illustrated with line drawings, which I find much easier to learn from than photos for sewing.
Here’s where I got really excited. Part Two shows you how to make adjustments and modifications so that you can make clothes that fit your body and your personality.
For me, I’m looking for adjustments for short everything and big boobs—they are all there and easy to find. I also found adjustments to make my pants as wide at the bottom as I want. I now dream of recreating a pair of beloved lime green elephant bell-bottoms from my childhood.
Modifications include changing the type of neckline, style and depth. There are different types and lengths of sleeves, including puffed, and different cuff treatments. You can add yokes, button plackets, or panels to the body of shirt. Widen your waistband or add belt loops or a sash. Does your top need a tie back or button tabs? It’s in there, as are hem treatments including vents, and adding contrast.
Looking to fancify your projects? Thanks to Sonya you can add gathers, pleats, tucks, ruching, and eight (!) different types of pockets.
The last chapter in the book walks you through combining patterns. The book starts with four basic patterns, two tops and two bottom, and this chapter magically transforms them into a dress, a lined tunic, a tie front shirt, and (be still my heart) a jumpsuit.
Rebel, rebel, put on your dress (or tunic)
The Act of Sewing isn’t just about the sewing. Sonya makes it clear that making our own clothes is about expressing ourselves, feeling comfortable in our skin and our clothes, and making intentional choices about where we spend our money and our time.
She is body positive and earth protective. She is the voice we all need in our head when we feel like we don’t fit in our clothes or the false constructs around them. The Art of Sewing is equally an act of rebellion and act of self-love.
There are a few color photos of Sonya in her own handmade outfits sprinkled throughout the book. I found them inspirational, and seeing her smiling face was as good as hearing her cheer me on.