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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. 

About The Author

Jen Geigley is many things: knitter, author, knitwear pattern designer, graphic designer, and knitting instructor. There is a modern sensibility and a ton of love in everything she makes.

You can see Jen’s work in many publications, and most exquisitely in the six pattern collections she created herself, from start to finish: WeekendEveryday, Visions, Visions Kids, Luna, and Chroma. Originally trained in the arts, Jen creates her own patterns, illustrations, schematics, and graphic design for these collections. She also designs for Quail Studio and for Rowan Yarns.

Jen’s designs for MDK Atlas yarn are stunning examples of her sense for graphic design and color combinations. You can find them here.


  • Wow!! This is really SO (SEW) inspiring!!! I really must take the plunge. So fun to read about your adventure!!!

  • Love this! Creative and looks so FUN!

  • The dresses look great! And now I know what to use for a kimono—a faded duvet cover I’m too lazy to seam again.

    You are right about first projects—sometimes you just have to accept them as a learning and skill-buildings experience. (Says the person working on her first adult-sized sweater since March.)

    “Measure twice cut once” is the sewing version of “swatching” 🙂

  • Jen, these dresses look SOOO great! I would add a couple of patch pockets to the front;) Who can resist a pocket

  • Thank you for the inspiration and encouragement! Headed out to look for fabric that makes me happy and I can wear with joy!

  • Love this! Might just have to go out and buy a sewing machine to go with Sonya’s book. Thanks for the inspiration Jen.

    • Absolutely beautiful! Jen, you have inspired me yet again!

  • Sonya’s book is da bomb! One hint I found though – I too was using my dear departed mother-in-law’s pins, but I just chucked them all and got new ones. What a revelation! Pins that actually go into fabric easily! Turns out they get dull over 50 years, even though they look brand new.

    • I’ve been sewing since age 9-60 years. I never knew they got dull; I thought I was just getting weak in my old age! Time to try new pins.

  • I recommend making a “muslin,” or a test garment, out of cheaper fabric. It’s the swatching of sewing. It’s great practice for new sewers and a good idea for anyone making a new pattern for the first time.

    • Yes to a making a muslin mock up for fit!
      Sometimes called ‘a cloth.’
      Especially for something more fitted in design.

      • Yes. Make it in muslin first. Make all of your modifications–cut, pin, sew, tape, glue–whatever works for you. Then use the modified muslin pieces to cut new muslin pattern pieces that are specific to you. Sounds like extra effort, but you only have to do it once. Good fit and the right proportions make a real difference. And it is much easier to see what works if you can try the garment on. Plus, you have made a trial garment. You can see how everything goes together before cutting into special fabric.

    • Said by someone who made all those mistakes at the age of 14 or so. I was lucky enough to have sewing class in junior high.

      • In the Paleozoic era.

        • Yes, Nina, in the Paleozoic era! And when we were sewers, not sewists. In my NYC public school, we had to sew our 8th grade white graduation dresses. En masse, we were very pretty. (I still remember my lopsided neck facing.) Sonya is inspiring and Jen did a fabulous job.

  • Terrific! I, too, was inspired, bought her book, but have yet to take the plunge. This may be the little reminder I need to repurpose some fabric. Thanks:)

  • Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    I have been a sewer since grammar school and was stunned to find out that I am now called a “sewist” (said with a smile, auto-correct keeps trying to say socialist). I bought Sonya‘s book and took her pocket class at Shakerag because I love Sonya and it was fun. Going back to basics of construction was a really valuable exercise in the same way that Karida’s Beginnings Field Guide brought us back to very simple patterns with very beautiful yarn. Thanks MDK.
  • “I saw it in the window and I just had to have it.”

    • Ha!

  • Me, too. Bought Sonya’s book, bought muslin and have not set up the sewing machine — yet. I was at IKEA just yesterday and they have a small (but nice) selection of fabric on the bolt — heavy, 100% cotton and inexpensive.

  • You have inspired me to start sewing again – just as soon as I clean up my yarn room ! Your duvet reminded me a lot of some Marimekko fabric I used for a dress when I was young – big yellow flowers. Thanks!

  • Butcher paper – from a huge roll cheap at Costco – is great for patterns.

    Keep sewing – the intricacy of designs is so much fun. It’s interesting to me as someone who has been sewing forever to see a resurgence w these simple designs.

    • And also, at JoAnn, in the wedding department! A one hundred yard roll of non-woven white (like tyvek) that is used as an aisle runner, a lifetime supply, lol. I think I paid about $30, but I sew a lot.
      Not as cheap as butcher paper, way cheaper than parchment, but, it doesn’t tear!

  • I love the fabric stashing idea – so many pretty prints out there. But I’m not sure yet about the sewing part…

  • Your dresses look great. I’m impressed that you knew where to line up the skirt and top to have the waistline hit right. I’d love to know the source for that striped fabric. I’ve bought the book but been chicken to cut. Now you’ve made me ready.

    • Hi! The striped fabric is from Kaffe Fassett!

  • “Fabric can be stashed like yarn” — exactly, which is why I am REALLY trying to avoid having my yarn stash compete with the fabric stash. I, too, learned to sew from Mrs. Walsh in 8th grade in another era–thank heavens! (We also learned how to bathe baby dolls and apply mascara correctly.)

  • Love this. There was a big trend in the 70s for making things with patterned sheets. They certainly provided the most yardage for the money and came in a range of styles— from Marimekko to Ralph Lauren. Almost everyone sewed at least some of their clothes then, and patterns were quite complicated. One of many late lamented NYC haunts: the entire floor of Macy’s that was devoted to fabric.

    • I love this – that sounds like a dream!

    • I know what you mean about department stores. I learned to sew by machine in the 70s through a couple of Sears classes. Mom paid $10 apiece for each class—not cheap—which consisted of several sessions. Every Saturday I’d show up early so I could hang out in the fabric and pattern section of the store. I soon discovered other department stores also had extensive fabric sections. Wow!

  • I already bought the book, because not only is it inspiring, but it’s a great bargain. One “Hundred Acts of Sewing” pattern costs about $20, and the book gives you four! I love a good deal!

  • I loved reading about your dress sewing adventure Jen. I haven’t made my own clothes in years, but, I am inspired to make a skirt again.
    I used light weight non woven material to transfer the patterns & make any adjustments by taping on further strips if needed. When I was happy with the results I would transfer it onto freezer paper. Cut out the freezer paper pattern & iron the waxy side directly to my fabric, No pins needed. You can remove & reuse the freezer paper again until the waxy surface no longer adheres to your fabric.
    Happy sewing!

  • Sonya’s book is wonderful! I’ve been sewing forever (big girl issues) but her book is great for beginners & more advanced alike! Your dresses are beautiful! You are so right about just keep on trying. It will get better & easier.

    My tips & tricks are to use Dr. exam room table paper for tracing. It’s relatively inexpensive & if you have a connection, you may be able to buy it from your Dr. -ask, the worst they can say is no.

    As for bias tape, iron it in a curve before you try to sew it. It really helps!

  • Thanks for the inspiration! Now to remove the book from its display position…

  • Good for you!
    I have a maxim that I try to follow: no cutting anything after dinner. That means no seam trimming, no cutting out of clothing pieces, no quilt piece cutting. I can undo any number of stitches, but I can’t undo cutting.
    Sew on!

    • Good advice!

  • A friend gave me an Amazon GC and the first thing I did was order The Act of Sewing from my Wishlist. I’ve already made three of her Dress #3 and two of her Tunic #1 and I’m raring to go now!

  • I’m so inspired by this article nd Sonya’s book. I’m just about to try sewing my own top from one of Sonya’s patterns. But am I the only one who’s worried about what’s covering Jen’s duvet now?

    • HA! I ended up keeping the queen-sized duvet cover on our bed and then purchased another twin-sized one for my dress (because it was only $15.) 😉

  • I’ve had the book since Christmas. This is the impetus I need.

  • Eye opening and heart palpitations! Being brave and different is a journey!

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