I am a Sonya Philip fan and have followed her on Instagram for years after discovering 100 Acts of Sewing and reading her articles here on MDK. Sonya shares so much inspiration and joy through her handmade outfits. (I mean … Wear What You Make: Does This Color Make Me Look Happy? Yes, it does.)
Let’s start at the very beginning
After reading Sonya’s words and learning more about her handmade story, I felt a yearning for the act of sewing in my craft repertoire. I could knit … maybe I could sew too. Too many hobbies? Never. So when Sonya’s new book The Act of Sewing: How to Make and Modify Clothes to Wear Every Day came out, I had my supplies ready to go.
When I say supplies, I mean the somewhat unconventional kind. Yes, I had a sewing machine and a pair of shears and lots of pins, handed down from the ladies of sew who came before me. (My grandma Minnie was one hell of a quilter.) But I’m always a bit of a rule breaker. I could have bought a few yards of fabric, but I did not.
My first project from Sonya’s book? I was going to make a dress out of my IKEA duvet cover.
You know the moment when Julie Andrews wraps the curtains around herself in the Sound of Music, before making matching curtain outfits for all the Von Trapp children? It was like that, minus the singing. A very homebound quarantine-chic moment of inspiration while making the bed. I had that look in my eye … the look my family knows well. She’s up to something.
I went for it in one of those semi-frantic states of “I have to do this right now” while I felt inspired and bold enough to cut into our bedding. I laid the duvet cover on my floor and followed Kay’s advice to use parchment baking paper to trace out the patterns from Sonya’s book.
The Act of Sewing includes four patterns—Top, Shirt, Trousers, and Skirt—plus tons of ways to customize them. I used the Top pattern and elongated it with the Skirt pattern to make a dress, and then I cut two long rectangles to make a tie for the waist. I decided to do the interfacing for the neck instead of the bias tape, because I still need to work on my bias tape skills. (The book gives you instructions for both methods.) I made the sleeves a bit longer because Sonya gives us permission to make all the mods we want.
I did not know what I was doing but I took it step by step with Sonya’s book at my side—my sewing companion always reassuring me with a sprinkling of humor and anecdotes. And the dress came together beautifully. I am a sucker for bold IKEA prints and fabrics and this is such a “me” dress … I would wear this anywhere and am proud to have made it myself.
I even have enough fabric left over to make more things for my kids. (My own little IKEA duvet cover Von Trapp family singers!)
Ain’t no stopping us now
Not long after finishing my first Sonya garment, I repeated this process with a Kaffe Fassett lotus leaf fabric that I really loved. I kept my traced parchment/baking paper pattern from my first dress, so sewing up a second one took less time. And practice really helps. This time, I had a roadmap for where I was going and a better understanding of each step.
I could make this dress again and again, and I seriously might. I love the way it fits and I’m still in awe to find that it’s possible to make an entire garment in a couple of evenings, or a Saturday afternoon. Pick your pattern, choose your own adventure! Sewing is so cool.
Fabric can be stashed . . . just like yarn
Up until this point, I had been (and still am) a novice sewist. I had made two very imperfect quilts, hemmed a few things, sewed a bunch of masks and one dress. I really enjoyed sewing but still found it intimidating and never quite felt I was doing it right. But I’ve come to realize that sometimes you need to just jump in, give it a try and enjoy the ride.
Just like knitting, your first projects aren’t always totally perfect. But you just keep knitting. And eventually you get better and better … and if something has gone terribly wrong, you can rip it out. It’s the same with sewing. You can undo. You can rip out the seams and start again. No one is going to examine your seams and shame you. Nothing is unfixable. Unless you’ve made a mistake while cutting your fabric … but I think that’s where the whole measure twice, cut once thing comes in.
Are you feeling inspired to give it a go? Sonya’s book is a great place to start. You too will want to use her patterns over and over again to create your dream wardrobe. I dare you to just go for it. Grab some muslin, thrifted fabric … or a duvet cover. And jump right in. The water’s fine.