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Hey, Sonya fans: Great news! Sonya has a brand-new Creativebug video class, Wardrobe Basics: Sewing Shirt No. 1. The class comes with a printable PDF of the Shirt No. 1 pattern, and Sonya’s clear guidance on how to make the basic version and three modifications. 

—Kay and Ann

One of the things that started me on the path of making clothes was the idea of having a uniform. Now, my younger self would absolutely cringe at both the statement and sentiment. After spending years flouting rules of what to wear, how could I willingly self-impose them? Uniforms are boring, bland things forced upon school age children and teenagers. A sampling of school-uniforms-I-have-worn include double breasted pinafores, pleated plaid skirts, ties; none of which I’m eager to start wearing again. I think it’s safe to say nostalgia wasn’t the reason behind this desire.

Sonya is wearing:  Tea Leaves Cardigan by Melissa LaBarre in a Verb for Keeping Warm Toasted; dress (own pattern); and 100 Acts of Sewing Pants no. 1.

What I was craving instead, was a sense of simplicity. If I could distill the components of what I wore into discrete units, then just maybe I could avoid the daily What to Wear Problem. I will often use the word fraught to describe what the process of getting dressed was like when my wardrobe was made up of store-bought clothes. Having to make decisions, combined with an unhealthy dose of body shame, created a minefield of over-thinking and unhappiness.

February Lady Sweater by Pamela Wynne  in Beaverslide Dry Goods 2-Ply Naturals; Dress no. 1; and Skirt no. 1.

It’s only too easy to find yourself between a rock and the proverbial hard place as far as fashion is concerned. The choice is either keeping up with the whiplash-inducing pace of modern trends or giving up and feeling invisible as a result. It took me many years to learn to dress for myself, not just the physical body I have right now, with its various bulges and peculiarities, but also for what makes me happy. What’s important to me is to feel comfortable, so my clothes are usually loose fitting and made of natural, breathable fibers. My personal belief is that if you feel good, the looking good part is secondary.

Joan Fuller by Ellen Mason in Beaverslide Dry Goods Merino/Mohair 90/10; Shirt no. 1; Dress no. 1 (Modified); and Pants no. 1.

When I determine the shapes and silhouettes, I can then re-make those pieces in different prints and colors. It’s a little like blocking out the composition of a painting or the courses of a dinner party. The elements are in place, those broad strokes, then what’s left is to work out the finer details. The garments act as a container I can fill with anything, saturated color or polka dot prints, creating variety through different yarns and fabric, turning the idea of a boring uniform on its head.

Featherweight Cardigan by Hannah Fettig (modified) in A Verb for Keeping Warm Farm Series Yarn; long sleeve stripe shirt (own pattern); Dress no. 1 (modified); and Pants no. 1.

What does my personal uniform consist of? Usually it’s a cardigan, over a dress, plus pants. In some ways, I trick myself into the idea of simplicity. By having a range of sleeveless dresses in various prints, there are still choices to be made, but I’ve created a basic scaffolding from which to quickly create an outfit. Pieces can shuffle around, layer over or under, depending on what’s just come out of the washing machine or the season. This time of year, I still like to indulge in the notion of autumn, even though in San Francisco it usually means stripping off the wool by late morning. I guess there’s something to be said for a few “free dress” days here and there.

Scoop Neck Cardigan by Debbie Bliss in Noro Silk Garden; Dress no. 1 (modified); and Pants no. 1 (modified).

About The Author

Sonya Philip is an artist, designer, teacher, and the author of The Act of Sewing. She has made it her mission to convince people to make their own clothes, by teaching classes and selling patterns. When not covered in bits of thread, she can be found knitting another shawl or cardigan. Sonya lives in San Francisco with her family and their scruffy terrier duo, Willie and Hazel.


  • I’m retracing all my 1000 Acts of Sewing patterns onto heavy brown paper, stacking all my pre-washed fabrics and will start on a new sewing adventure next week!! Thank you, Sonya!

    • Hi Elaine 🙂 I left a reply for your comment, but it posted it way below!

  • Through reading your content on MDK, and another blog I’ve recently begun reading, the itch to start sewing clothes again for myself is becoming undeniable. A desire for good fit and quality natural fabrics is more important to me than it used to be, and finding those two elements in purchased clothing isn’t easy. Thank you for your inspiration.

    • Thank you Elizabeth, I’m so glad you enjoy reading my posts. What you’re describing are some of the forces that drove me to sew. Trying to find natural fabrics seemed like a gamble from season to season, one year they would be available, then the next everything would be synthetics.

  • So inspiring.

    • Thank you Mary Lou!

  • Being someone who works on her feet, I can’t help but notice your shoes and would like to know more about them. I think they add subtle interest to your clothing choices — a bit like punctuation. I enjoy your essays immensely. They inspire me to think about my own style.

  • I just want those pants. BRILLIANT PANTS, SONYA.

    • Thanks Ann! They are bright + kicky.

    • SRSLY. The yellow ones! You look fabulous. I was musing as I read this that my wardrobe has as much to do with the fabrics I can find as what I choose to wear. I might choose to make bright flowered pants – but finding a fabric that’s MY bright-flowered-pants fabric is no small thing. So it becomes like a collaboration between me and the world … what fabrics is the world bringing to my hand right now, and what am I making of them? It’s hard not to be frustrated by that but maybe seeing it as a collaboration is the way to go.

      • Erika, I love that way of thinking. I am a big believer in things (yarn, fabric or whatever raw material) letting you know what it wants to be. And fabric is perhaps the primary player in my garment making, I can’t tell you how many times my head has been turned by a rich color or gorgeous print winking at me from across the room <3

  • Awesome, you look fantastic in every outfit. You inspire me to get sewing

    • Thank you Linda! For me knitting + sewing = life changing.

  • There is something to be said for having “uniforms” at any age, whether the pieces are store-bought or handmade. I have a few in rotation and they come in handy on those mornings when “adulting” is hard but you still have to go to work.

    • I totally agree Sarah! Uniforms are great for those other days when I don’t want or can’t expend brain power.

    • Agreed. One of the best dressed women I knew when I was young had a set of classic well-built work jackets and skirts that varied only by fabric and color. She indulged her whims with shirts and accessories. Always looked great and polished and smart, and all the jackets and skirts went with each other. So, she said, the best part was she never had to worry about whether one jacket was clean, or spend more than 30 seconds deciding what to wear.

      I’ve tried to adopt that goal since, though over the years it’s become harder to find the plain stuff I want for my own “uniform,” and sadly I don’t have time or skill to make my own.

      • Thank you for sharing that Nancy, it’s so smart to have that core jacket + skirt. Sadly you’re not alone, I hear from a lot of women that finding well-made, classic work wear is increasingly difficult. If only women’s clothing styles fluctuated a little less. With men’s suits the differences are SO SUBTLE: two buttons versus three buttons or a double vent!

        • Lands End has lovely easy to wear, classy dresses. They are my work uniform. Classic, no wrinkle, not bulky, professional.

      • Nancy, if you can manage the cost, I highly recommend Talbots for that timeless but well-dressed look. Their clothes are well-made and will last forever, so probably worth the somewhat higher price. I used to rely on them for a few “go-to” outfits when I was working.

        • True That!! I still have a dark purple (read arguably neutral) raincoat with a zip-in/out lining that is long enough for all but a floor grazing skirt or dress that I got from Talbots maybe 30 years ago. It still looks terrific.

        • Talbot’s also has great sales throughout the year. Get on their mailing list, check out their clearance racks. I’ve going very nice items that had been on sale for 20% that then were on clearance for an extra 70%of! I bought a beautiful cashmere sweater jacket for $60-less than half the original price.

        • That’s a great suggestion, thanks Judy! I’m glad to hear they are well-made. We really need to shift back to seeing good quality clothes as an investment.

  • Sonya, where do you find your fabrics?

    • Hi Michelle, I just wrote a post about this very topic. I’m very fortunate to have many fantastic fabric stores like A Verb for Keeping Warm, Britex, and Stonemountain and Daughter in close proximity. As for online, I really like Miss Matatabi and Hart’s Fabric. If you go to my contributor page, you can follow the link to my Facebook page and there are lots of great suggestions in the comments as well!

  • I guess I don’t get it. She keeps making the same two basic shapes – a top and a bottom – with variation. (length, the addition of pockets, etc.) Yes, the fabric and color combinations are interesting. And she looks great. But to me, I’d much rather make a garment that is more challenging in construction and style (I’m currently into vintage Vogue patterns). But Brava to her unique sense of style and color.

    • Thanks for writing Gail, this is something I think of a lot. I guess in knitting it would be considered the difference between a process knitter and a product knitter. My relationship with sewing is kind of a checkered one, which puts me pretty firmly in the product category – happy to make and wear simple pieces. I find comfort in the repetition, allowing me to zone out in a meditative way. I imagine what you look for is the challenge that thinking part brings. It’s pretty cool how one craft can scratch both those itches.

      • These patterns also are inclusive for a real newbie like me who desires a simple set of patterns so I have the ability to begin sewing a closet of uniform pieces. My mother was a very accomplished seamstress and her skill intimidated the heck out of me, so I am just now learning to sew and to sew simple things with confidence. For me, Sonya’s patterns really help with that.

      • Yes, that’s the kind of knitter I am. I generally knit simple things, because the best thing about knitting for me is the comfort of fiber running through my fingers. I work with many different weights and types of yarns—made of materials that I find useful, or beautiful, or both, to make things that I find useful, beautiful, or whimsical! I sometimes knit from patterns, but often make up my own designs. So for me, the creativity is in the materials and how you use them, rather than how challenging the pieces are to make. That being said, I love the look of intarsia, or intricate lace, and other (to me) complicated knitting!

      • Oh that didn’t work – my last comment was supposed to be in response to the earlier comment about your wall hunting talents 🙂

        I love your work Sonya, and especially your Instagram feed – it always leaves me inspired! I’m only fairly new to sewing for myself, but I’m going to give the Creativebug class a go…

        I loved your response to Gail above, about process vs product – for me I find the balance shifts depending on the day and the mood and the weather… Right now my challenge is to sew enough to keep up with two young girls who are growing like weeds. I’m curious to know if you’ve considered sizing your patterns down for kids, or if you are able to recommend any kidswear designers who work with a similar customisable capsule wardrobe/uniform aesthetic??

        • I’ve had a bit of a time replying to comments, they just seem to floating around and posting wherever. Good Wall Hunting – I like it! I’m really happy to hear you’re inspired to sew, I hope you enjoy the Creativebug class. Can’t wait to see your shirt!

          Sewing with young children can be tricky, when my kids were younger, knitting definitely offered more flexibility – namely being able to drop and pick it up easily with the constant stream of interruptions. As far as sewing girls dresses, I really like Alexia Abegg’s Greeen Bee Patterns, specifically Iris dress.

    • Well you don’t actually have to get it. She dresses for herself,not you. Find your own uniform❤️

      • Well — what I meant is, I don’t see the attraction. We all [should] dress for ourselves, though not everyone can. (dress codes, anyone?) Her colors and fabrics are great, but as a sewist I just see the same shapes appearing over and over again. But to each his/her level of comfort. Its the same basic shapes over and over again, the ‘uniform’ changes in color and palette, with the addition of a knitted sweater/shawl for warmth/artistry/individuality. I see the shapes/patterns of the garments, that’s what I am referring to. Some of us aim for more variety in what we sew, that’s all I’m trying to impart.

  • Love everything about this. It took me a while to figure out I could have a uniform and be happy with it because it was MY uniform, not someone else’s. You are waaay ahead of me.
    PS you also have excellent shoes. xoxo

  • Love the outfits and they look so great with those wild and colorful walls she finds!

    • Thank you Francie! And I think I need to refer to myself as Sonya, Wall Hunter 🙂

  • Sonya, I just can’t get enough of seeing and reading this stuff! Thank you for the inspiration.

    • Thanks so much Annie, I’m glad you enjoy the posts! <3

  • I always adore your writing and work, Sonya. I especially love that tea leaves cardigan and the dress under the February Lady sweater.

    • Thank you Ariana, you’re sweet, so happy you enjoy my work!

  • Sonya, I love looking at your outfits! I think that your formula is really Uniform + Creativity = Style! Thank you for the encouragement!

    • Laura! I replied to your comment, but the gremlins posted it at the end 😉

  • You’re so welcome Elaine! That makes me so happy to hear, the tracing and the stacking. There’s something very satisfying about getting everything ready for a making immersion. Have a great time!

  • Sonya, you’re a charmer. I love your sense of style, it suits you to a T.

    • Thank you Laura! It’s taken a while, my Sonya Style is a work-in-progress!

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you! It gives me hope to see someone bravely follow their heart. You are an inspiration!

    • That’s is very kind of you, THANK YOU!

  • Oh Laura you’ve totally deciphered the formula – I LOVE that! In my head I’m imagining a dusty chalk board filled with calculations with UNIFORM + CREATIVITY = STYLE in the center circled multiple times.

    • <3

  • “Good Wall Hunting”?

  • I’m a bit confused by the dichotomy of follow-fashion-slavishly or disappear. My mother was a seamstress and made my clothes which were always lovely, well constructed, and beautifully finished. As an adult I’ve been able to construct a flexible wardrobe without spending to much or having to make too many decisions each day. I am not a high fashion person – not deeply interested, not very rich. I like to look nice and feel comfortable, but I never thought of myself as ‘disappearing”. I guess I don’t relate to the rest of the world mainly through my clothes.

    • Some women have two distinct sets of clothes– For example, I work in one set that are intended to convey authority, competence, and integrity. That wardrobe has research-based guidelines set by my employer (3 pieces of jewelry, contrast according to hair and skin tones, hose and closed-toe shoes, basic modesty, at least somewhat tailored, etc.) I don’t think of them as “disappearing” but they certainly are less expressive and more representative of traditional norms. The second set is play clothes– more revealing of who I am, and much harder to get “right” according to how I perceive myself. The wardrobe we are seeing today is more expressive than my work clothes (and many of my play clothes) and conveys a certain sense of self and style. I think we each have to find our own comfort level with expression, shape, and styles.

      • set that *is*, not set that are.

  • Your outfits are so terrific, and it’s clear they make the wearer happy, but they also make me, the observer, happy! 🙂 I mostly knit, so while the focus of your work and articles here are your sewing, I’m always amazed by all your beautiful handknit sweaters! I’m a slooow knitter, so I’m also always impressed by how many finished sweaters you achieve. Handmade head-to-toe: that is a happy thing!

  • ❤️ I love this and you.

  • Thanks Sonya – I’m definitely going to look up the Iris Dress pattern this weekend!

  • I love your images and ideas- I also like the idea of a uniform- a self- designed one is even better. I’m inspired!

  • Not only do I love your patterns and style, I love how endearing you are.

  • I hightailed over to Creativebug & started the wardrobe basics class. As a lifelong seamstress, I’m always looking for good designs that produce garments I will wear again & again. Thanks for the inspiration & instruction. I’m ready to get going!

  • I just read through all the comments and comments on comments. It amazes me how we each interpret what we see and read.

    I’ve made four Dress No. 1 in tunic length in linen blends, one Pants No. 1 that doesn’t fit the way I want it to, and two Tunic No. 1 in cotton and linen blend. I’m finding that the current uniform that makes me feel the happiest is some solid capris I’ve had for years and either sleeveless or short-sleeved solid-color tee shirts that have been around a while worn under one of my Dresses or Tunics. So in reality only the top layer is new but these few garments have added more dressing pleasure and made me feel much happier about the way I look than I’ve felt in years.

    In the past I slavishly followed the pattern, adjusting the length but rarely anything else. Sonya’s patterns and her creativity have emboldened me to combine fabrics when I don’t have enough of the main one, add a gusset when I defaulted to a 5/8″ side seam and the tunic was too tight from the underarm down to the hem, and work out how to add fabric to a too-wide neck opening.

    Yes, Sonya’s patterns are simple shapes with simple construction but Sonya’s genius is giving permission to take those shapes and run with them to make a “uniform” that’s right for each individual–that’s Individual with a capital I. Thank you.

  • I find the discussion about the idea of a uniform very interesting. And I see some in the comments who get it… It’s not about if I would wear your (Sonya’s) uniform, it’s about finding my own uniform. Which might be bright color tailored shirts with jeans (70’s college), asymmetric shirts over pegged skirts with 40’s jackets (my 1980’s uniform… god I loved that look), or my present bold print shirts over knit pants.
    But here’s the thing… I’m not completely happy in my present uniform. It’s a default, not a choice… the shirts look sloppy and the pants are blah. And that’s what I’ve gotten out of this article… If I like the idea of bright tops and knit pants (which I do) then I have to make the elements each a choice. Find that silhouette of pant, or even pants, that has the spunk I want and make those my uniform pants. Find the shape of top, or tops, and do the same.
    And I sew (very well), so… what am I waiting for? Beats me!
    I’m off to trawl my stash for funky style, simple lines, easy fit, interesting fabrics, overall comfort, and…
    Make. My. Uniform!

  • Brilliant, entirely brilliant. Understanding just the degree of detail and structure and where those points of interest can happen is the key. So often we knitters are seduced by an intriguing and unusual construction, only to find it at odds with our wardrobe. So encouraging when someone cuts through in such an individual and expressive manner. Yay, Sonya!

  • I am SO frustrated with what is available in the stores for post-meno women whose bodies have evolved into non-standard shapes! I do wear my hand knit sweaters and socks. Now I am learning to weave and want to learn to sew.

    • I agree!!

  • Hey Sonya – you’ve inspired me to breakout of decades-old thinking about my clothes/image – switch it up a bit, mix up some patterns (gasp), branch out for god’s sake and get more comfortable too. Thank you!

  • I admire and love your personal sense of style. You look awesome!!

  • Thank you! Thank you for giving us the tools (delightfully simple patterns that fit!) and the inspiration (your fabulous style and encouraging words) to make our own clothes in a style that pleases us! I am happily well on my way to having my own uniform style of dressing. I love that once fully in place all I will need to decide is “what color do I feel like today”? As a woman who will celebrate 65 years soon, I find it fantastically freeing! So thank you. Again.

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