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How we perceive color is a strange thing:  wave lengths of light enter the retina and send information to our brain.

Sonya is wearing: Earth and Sky Shawl by Stephen West in The Fibre Co. Road to China Light; 100 acts of sewing Dress no. 1; and Pants no. 1.

In middle school, a classmate made pronouncements on the relative merits and mistakes of color combinations. I remember her words despite the passage of thirty years. You should never wear pink and red together, she lectured, and if you wore blue with black, you would look like a bruise.

Hearing this spoken with authority, I took it as fact. Save for a shifting series of favorite colors, I didn’t really think about what colors I wore, much less a set of rules restricting certain pairings.

From Middle School to Magazines

While that exchange wasn’t the singular apple of knowledge, thus began the wilderness years of my adolescence and early twenties. I didn’t know what to know and this made me easy prey for magazines and marketers. Adding to all this was being a young mother, my body shifting from one hormonally-fueled state straight into another.

Radiance Shawlette by Tina Whitmore in Freia Handpaints Ombré Sport; Dress no. 2 cut to tunic length; Pants no. 1.

I have spent much of my life in conflict with my body and, sadly, I’m not alone in this among women in the US. It never fails to surprise me when I hear women complain of being fat, when all too often I would give a limb to have their physique. What if the equation was all wrong and the enviable body doesn’t equal happiness, what if happiness needs to come first?

Clothing Talks

Last year, listening to a radio program, I learned about concept of Enclothed Cognition and the unconscious effects clothing can have on an individual. What we choose to wear either reveals or conceals the body, but the colors and shapes also telegraph meaning to others. Sometimes those garments can also reflect back meaning to the wearer, be it white lab coats garnering higher test scores or the addition of a cape helping a child get over their fear of flying.

100 Acts of Sewing Shirt no. 1; Dress no. 1 cut to tunic length; and Pants no. 1.

Someone once described to me how wearing handmade clothing was a defense to help with anxiety and that each stitch acted as a metaphorical time-release capsule of self-esteem. Clothing as armor is in no way a far-fetched concept and when we knit or sew garments, we get to make decisions on the color and materials. Instead of relying on what is on the page or screen as the predetermined colors for the season, year, age or other construct, you get to be in charge. It seems so simple, yet it is extremely empowering.

Let an umbrella be your umbrella. Forest Canopy shawl by Susan Lawrence in Kaalund Yarns Enchanté; Jacket (own pattern); 100 Acts of sewing Tunic no. 1; Dress no. 1; and Pants no. 1.

Such a notion! Dressing in whatever color sends delight to your brain as it is translated from light waves. Colors can affect emotions and evoke memories. What’s the color of your favorite sweater? Or the perfect cerulean blue that reminds you of that trip to France. Not everyone wants to wear fuchsia and orange together, because not everyone may want to stand out. But by reaching beyond the monopoly that jeans and a t-shirt has on our day-to-day wardrobe, handmade items can help to add a vibrant dose of individual variety.

Dip a toe into wearing more color with a shawl or a scarf. It’s less commitment and who knows, wearing it just might bring a smile to your face.



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 love any post with pictures of Sonya 🙂

    • DITTO.. You look lovely and are so inspiring.

    • Romney, I answered your sweet comment, but it was posted all the way at the bottom. Thank you for the column love!

    • Yep, me too. Isn’t she wonderful? After her first post I went right out and bought some of her patterns on Etsy.

      • Thank you SO much, for your kind words and for buying my patterns!

      • Same here. Today I’m cutting out 2 pairs of pants no. 1 and at least 1 dress no. 1. I love the permission pictures of Sonya gives me to finally dress the way I’ve always imagined I could.

        • Barbara, that makes me so happy! I’m glad you’re making your dream wardrobe and you are so very welcome.

  • I am very glad to leave behind those 1980s punk years of varying shades of relentless black … bring on the colours and our own choices!

    • Ah Lisarr, the memories! I went through a brooding color stage in my teens and twenties. And yes, bring on the bright and vibrant hues.

  • Basically, color keeps me knitting. Almost everything I have knitted was made because of the colors. My stash consists of colors I could not resist, with no idea what they will become.

    And I agree: I love all posts with Sonya and her wonderful clothes (and wonderful smile!).

    • Thank you so much, I’m glad you enjoy reading my posts and I know exactly what you mean about irresistible colored yarn, only too well!

  • I seem to have always been at war with my body too, and I’m waiting for that magical age when I stop, but at 53, it hasn’t happened yet. As I age, my color choices are getting more and more brighter, and I no longer care if it matches or coordinates. So that’s progress! I love Sonya in the blue!

    • Thank you so much Susan! I think (and hope) it’s a gradual process, being gentler with ourselves, loving and appreciating the bodies we have instead of struggling for what we don’t have. Hurrah for dressing in bright colors and patterns that please you!

  • Raise your hand: who was not influenced by the weird rules of dressing promulgated by some 14 year old authority, or your mother? It is so hard to get that totally out of your head. And then you go back to a high school reunion, and you see that girl, and you think “why on earth did I listen to her?”. One of the bonuses of growing older is the realization that you can dress entirely for yourself, and it is so much more fun. I love these pictures because Sonya truly looks like someone who feels great about herself, and we all should have a wardrobe that does that for us. Our clothes should bring us joy, not just efficiently and unobtrusively disguise our bodies.

    • Thank you ever so much Ellen. You hit the nail on the head and I am nodding my head in complete agreement. Here’s to the hindsight that age brings and to wearing our happiness!

    • Yes.

  • Now maybe I’ll get out the Dress No. 1 pattern I bought last year and get cutting out some fabric! In color!

    • Yes! No better time to stitch up a colorful frock!

  • I, too, love the pictures of Sonya and her wonderful, colorful clothing and smile!

    • Thanks so much Cathy!

  • You reminded me of a moment years ago. I had read or heard about people having their “colors done” and I think there was a seasonality component to it as well…”I’m a summer” type thing? Anyway, I thought, “Huh. I don’t think I have a seasonality or a wardrobe palette or anything.” So when I got home that night I opened my closet and burst out laughing – literally, nearly everything in it was either blue or black. Your youthful advisor would have called for an ambulance!

    • Quinn you made me laugh! Color is such a subjective thing. I used to work at a yarn store where the owner’s favorite color was green, needless to say I ended up bringing home *many* different skeins of green in the period of time. And I remember those color consultations being all the rage in the 80s.

  • I often will intentionally wear all hand knit clothes ( not a sewist yet) on days when I fear in need of extra protection. Or extra love. And it works somehow, as I am reassured. I’m not sure if it’s the color or the magic of the fiber itself. I like the idea that as I knit, I’m creating a store of esteem to use later. Thanks for this. Sonia, your clothing is very inspiring and approachable, Friendly and fun.

    • So glad you enjoyed reading it Meredith and I really like the idea of the protection being in the fiber. We should all wrap ourselves in stitches of extra love!

  • Thank you!! Color is personal.

    • You’re so welcome!

  • Love this post! Wish You make wish I knew how to sew.

    Btw, when I was very ill with chronic illness and had been home for so many years any major socila efpvent scared me, a knitter suggested a knit something soecific for the occasion. I bought a skein of “fancy” yarn which with garter stitch gave the iimoression of a Madon Dixon Scribble scarf, l long skinny one. It was so simple and is somewgat ekegant. For years after I knit myself something for every looming event. Its amazibg how well it worked to quell my silly fears and make me excited about going and being seen.

    • If I can sew Marilyn, you can too! And thank you for sharing your strategy of knitting something special for events to shore you up. I think there’s a sort of alchemy that happens and all that time and skill put into a project must shine through.

  • Thank you Sonya for another bright pause in my day.

  • My mother was a seamstress. She was apprenticed to an expert seamstress as a young woman. She supported herself and helped support our family with her skills. I was able to have many experiences,piano and dance lessons etc., owing to her work. She took great pride in her work. She made all my clothes up into high school.

    The clothes she made were beautiful. At a time when home made clothes were considered second rate, I was always proud to say ‘my mother made this’. Each piece was beautiful and beautifully finished. Wearing home-made clothes to me meant pride in my mother’s skills, design sense, and love for me.

    • MaryLi My mother taught me to sew, a home ec teacher helped me hone my skill so I have been able to supplement family income with sewing. When I became a single mother 20 years ago sewing really became my therapy. Now I am an empty nester and I make quilts because of the huge stash of fabric I accumulated over the years from making clothing for my family. I was proud when my daughter got married several years ago and she sent me a link to a wedding dress she wanted me to make for her out of raw silk … and … dyed a golden yellow. She envisioned what she wanted and I was able to create her dress just the way she wanted. I have raised my children telling them constantly that “sewing is my therapy” now I have added “quilting is my therapy…that pays for itself”. I still surprise myself when I am drawn to fabrics because of the colors or print and I know exactly what that yardage should become. Home made, hand made or bespoke; whatever you call it can still make the wearer feel confident. That is a good feeling.

      • What a wonderful skill to have Lisa and one that gives to you and to others – therapeutic and practical. Your daughter’s wedding dress sounds amazing, truly individual and made with love.

    • Thank you so much for sharing, what a beautiful tribute to your mother and the clothes she made. I can’t help but think how lucky you were to grow up with these clothes, but also how lucky your mother was to have a child who truly appreciated her handiwork. The love and pride really comes across in your words.

      • Thank you for your kind words.

    • I don’t think I’ve ever with a color I didn’t like, just because it was fashionable, not avoided a color because it wasn’t.

  • And that’s why I love making clothes! When you look good (according to yourself!) you feel good! What a feeling to take out into the world. Thanks for another great article. Love her outfit photos.

    • Thank you so much Margo and hurrah for making clothes that make you feel good – looking good is the bonus!

  • Since I was a child, I’ve always loved wearing clothes made by my mother. A more rare occurrence now, but I do treasure the pieces I have. Just like wearing gifts of jewelry from family and friends, wearing clothes made just for me by someone who loves me makes me feel like I am armored in love. 🙂

    • You are so right, clothes made just for you truly special. When I make things for others, especially knitting, I find I can’t help but think about the who or why I’m making, filling those rows and stitches with thoughts and love.

  • Heh. My color-averse husband bought a couple 4-packs of underwear yesterday. One pack had one pair that was bright red, and I complimented him on them when he wore them. Not sure if he will ever buy more; I may have to be satisfied with the fact that he no longer restricts himself to tightie-whities.

    • That’s very funny! Stealth color. I make my husband boxer shorts – he is also color averse and I make some neutral pairs but can’t resist some fun and colorful prints.

  • Thank you for this post. I could feel myself relax and feel good as I read. It brought up a lot of memories. It reaffirmed difficult choices I made because of how girls treat girls in primary and elementary school. I was the girl who wore a unique shade of green Liz Claiborne sweater in 1989 in high school and knew the bully who dogged it in front of the class was truly the insecure one.

    • Thank you for bringing this up, when we’re growing up between parents and school it’s wall-to-wall authority figures, it’s no wonder children clamor to ape that authority. That you knew then that the person bullying you was doing it from a place of insecurity – a very valuable thing to realize.

    • *primary and secondary school . . .

  • Sonya’s outfits are utterly gorgeous, fun and make me happy!! I have been knitting for about 8 yrs, and started to sew about 6 months ago. so far, I’ve only sewn a few easy handbag patterns and super simple skirts, but hoping to move on to bigger and better patterns. Absolutely the best part of making your own clothes are the color choices that are your own – and not some brand’s choices.

    • Knitting + Sewing! It’s an incredible wardrobe concoction. I can see a colorful and individual wardrobe in your future Wanda. With great handbags too!

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you. You so inspired me in your last posting here that I immediately bought your patterns, lots of fabric, and started sewing my own clothes for the first time since the early 1980’s. Last weekend I made Dress 1 and Dress 2, and I can’t wait to do some more this weekend. I am 60 years old, plus sized, and I hate to shop. I can’t believe that sewing my clothes did not occur to me years ago. I have also begun to feel really invisible to everyone around me. As I wore Dress 1 to work on Monday, I sensed little glimpses of visibility again. It was so empowering. Not because anyone noticed or commented, but I felt a little bit more alive, more present. And instead of concealing my body with black and gray oversize clothing, I am beginning to honor the size I am and to put on a bit of color. I saw this quote somewhere last week and it is my new mantra “Wear to be Different” which I interpret “wear to be more myself, the me I’ve been afraid to be”. I’m torn now between my knitting and my sewing and want it all done now, but I remind myself that this is also about slowing down. You are my inspiration!

    • I had a similar “middle-age women become invisible” conversation with a clerk in the grocery a month ago when she commented on my mismatched socks. I think the saddest part of that is that we become invisible to ourselves as we age. I’m 65 and plus size. I’m finishing up my first Dress no.1 later today and will cut out two more this week. Got Pants no. 1 cut and ready to sew next. Can we finally be turning into ourselves with Sonya’s help? I believe we can. You go, Dawn’L!

      • Thank you for bringing this up and I think you raise a REALLY important point of becoming invisible to ourselves. I am very excited to hear of your sewing Barbara!!

      • I so appreciate those comments! I finished another Dress 1 today and want to get pants done next. I really do feel like I’m turning into myself at last. I’m deliberately choosing fabric colors & patterns a little outside my comfort zone, but guess what…they all go perfectly with the more colorful things I’ve knit that I have been mostly too chicken to wear. Ha, it’s all coming together! And, now that I am wearing tunics & dresses, I can knit some fun cropped cardis that don’t have to cover my entire back side. Win win.

        • YES to color!!

    • Dawn’L I’m 59 and plus sized. I work part time and have several black and gray dress slacks that I have been making bright tunics to wear with. It is a sense of pride to see others look and wonder where you got that. I have a phrase that I have used with my daughter from the time she was little that every girl needs an “I feel pretty dress” no matter the age or size. I am trying to build an “I feel pretty/confident” wardrobe and sewing my own clothing does that for me.

      • Lisa, I love that phrase, it’s such a fantastic idea. And hurrah for building an “I feel pretty” wardrobe!!

    • Oh Dawn’l, thank you so much for writing. Feeling a little bit more alive and present. YES!! Reading your words makes me want to jump up and dance! Having to hide yourself, I know that only too well – baggy clothes, dark colors or stripes purported to “slim”. All these wardrobe acrobatics I’ve tried over the years to take up less room or not call attention to the extra inches and pounds. I am so glad your are becoming visible. Honor yourself and celebrate yourself with beautiful colors.

      As for knitting or sewing, it is a little bit of a Sophie’s choice. Personally I prefer to sew during the day with natural light and I save my knitting for the evenings. But I know exactly what you mean about wanting to get it all done, it’s like a dam bursting! I am SO EXCITED for the wardrobe you’re creating for yourself.

    • I am in the same boat. Sonya’s patterns have been very fun for me to make and wear.

      • Hurray for feeling more alive and colorful!

  • Hear hear!

    • Thank you!

  • Love, love, love this!

    • I’m so glad, thank you Laura.

  • Where did you get the brolly from? I love it!!!!

    • It’s really fun! I got it last year from a museum gift shop.

  • I recall being told as a child that red heads could not ear red or pink. I was only slightly auburn but took this very seriously. My gran and aunts were in to the whole fallwinterspring or summer color thing and they determined i was a turquois wearer. for ever. Thank the godess I grew up and found my own color preferences. I now own a pink coat and a red one as well. Now that my hair is white it makes no diff!

    • Another reader mentioned the color recommendations too, it was a big fad back in the day. I’m sure there must be an online iteration these days. I’m glad to hear you have a pink AND a red coat now!

  • former life graphic designer here
    Everyone sees color differently
    Light is different all over the globe/world it is reflected in the clothes people wear, the landscape and even animals of the country.
    florescent light is hideous on everyone.
    As I have gotten older I don’t care about Vogue, what is in, nylons, Harpers Bazaar, PANTONE COLORS, heels or store windows. In fact I go to the mall maybe two times a year. (Bras)

    I want wearable clothes that function if I have to step on my desk, walk the steps, or run to the bank. Shoes have to be comfortable. After 9/11 I could care less if I am keeping in fashion, I just want to be able to walk or run from a disaster, a power failure, a car wreck. yes, I want to look nice, but no longer skirts but skorts because I don’t want pictures taken of my private parts. If I need to run, a pencil skirt puts me in danger, a skort I can and do run in.

    My weight, yup I am carrying around extra, but not as much as I use to. i was a scrawny kid, I never looked at my weight, lack of bust, height as an issue. I could not control them so I wasn’t going to try. I was not and am still not a beauty. I accept that and I know that beauty can be fleeting, and isn’t a real measure of a person.I embrace my average looks. the most wonderful thing my husband said to me was that I am more beautiful now than on our wedding day. I replied honey, I am fat, overweight, and not looking great these days. What are you seeing that I am not? He said I am seeing you. Flash.Bulb.Moment. He saw the me that was struggling and coming to terms with everything.

    Anna Wintour has nothing on me and my fuchsia yarn.

    • Oh Patty! Reading that, seeing the you that was there all along, my eyes got all prickly. Hurrah for fuchsia yarn and comfortable shoes!

  • I have made dress 1, pants 1, and tunic 1 and I love them !!!!! Plus I bought fabric at church sales for $1 each-most had almost 4 yards each!!!

    • Ooh, good tip about church sales.

    • I’m so glad to hear that Lizzy! And while I love going into fabric stores and looking at all the pretty prints online, there is nothing better than the treasure hunt of finding fabric at a church or white elephant sale. It’s thrifty AND I feel like the fabric is finally realizing its potential.

    • Yes, Lizzy – Gotta love reuse, repurpose, resale! <3

      • Agree 100%

  • Love this post, so clearly expressing Sonya’s philosophy!
    Shortly after my husband passed, I opened my closet and saw to my chagrin that nearly everything in it was some flavor of greige! Blyeah!
    Since then, I’m always on the look-out for “joyous colors” – in clothing, fabric, furniture, wall art – everything!

    • Thank you so much Karen, I have to say, I am loving your philosophy of joyous colors. More of that in the world!

  • Totally agree! Wearing your favorite colors is like wearing armor!

    • It really is, colors can totally brighten my mood too!

  • Romney, you are so sweet THANK YOU
    ps: I love how the backgrounds of our avatar photos are almost matching – Sister Color Lover!

  • I love this article! Very enjoyable, and true! <3

    • Thank you Amy! I’m very glad you liked it.

  • I love you Sonja! You speak straight to me heart. Actively working on a hand made wardrobe with mostly your patterns. It’s like you designed em just for me!
    Don’t forget to publish that beautiful dress pattern with the yoke that is cut on the bias!

    • Awww Kate, thank you so much! And I won’t forget about the curved yoke tutorial 😉

  • Thank you for this, Sonya! And for your amazing patterns and light in the world.

    • You are very welcome! It makes me so happy to see others making their own clothes, since it’s made such a profoundly positive impact on my life.

  • Love this post & the clothes featured. Where does one find good cloth, though?

    • Thank you so much, glad you liked it. There are several yarn + fabric stores – A Verb for Keeping Warm in Oakland, Fancy Tiger Crafts in Denver or Gather Here in Cambridge. I also like Stonemountain & Daughter in Berkeley, which just sells fabric, as well as Harts Fabric in Santa Cruz. All of these have online shopping available.

      As for fabric companies, I love Robert Kaufman – especially their Brussels Washer, a linen-rayon blend and they have a lovely cotton lawn line called London Calling. Merchant & Mills from England has beautiful kadhi cotton, some block printed and some indigo dyed. For gorgeous prints, both Cotton & Steel and Cloud 9 offer a sumptuous variety. Have fun!

  • My mom told me that Chinese people don’t wear brown. 5 decades of avoiding brown, only to discover that brown looks great! Now willing to wear green, too…

    • Oh those sweeping maxims and generalizations, there for bending and breaking. Here’s to wearing colors without boundaries!

  • Love the sentiment and I could not agree more — thank you for this!

    • You’re very welcome Sue. I’m really glad you enjoyed it!

  • Sonya reminds me of my best friend growing up. What we didn’t thrift we made and wore proudly. I have shared stories of my early clothing projects with my daughter and she wishes I would have saved them …. for her. Not knowing at the age of 14 that I would have a daughter later I life that would want my creations I didn’t save them. I recall the confidence of wearing OOAK garments that I made when other girls followed trends. With reading all the articles and seeing Sonja in all of her fun clothes I am pulling out some of my vintage fabrics and setting a goal of making something, for me, to wear between each customer quilt order I work on. Thanks for being the inspiration to get back into finding my joy in making more of my clothing.

  • As you know black makes me happy, grey and blue make me giddy with joy. Mostly I wanted to go on record as noting how dang cute you look in all these photos. Carry colorfully on!

  • I’m usually the only guest at the wedding in a hot pink dress – – everyone else seems to be wearing black now. When I was a lawyer my only rebellious item = colorful socks. Thank goodness, gave that all up long ago! Love your choices!

  • I love Sonya’s designs, fabric choices, and energy and creativity to complete the 100 Acts of Sewing! I haven’t seen one item yet that I wouldn’t love to wear.
    I am tall and thin (but at the age where I don’t want to go sleeveless ever again) and wondering if Sonya’s dress patterns can be altered in an easy way so they would hang a little more snug on me? Or maybe someone could suggest a one-piece dress or tunic pattern that I could get elsewhere that would work for my body type? Love and peace!

  • Lovely, colorful article. I usually feel best in cool colors, blues, purples, greens, I LOVE teal. However, recently I’ve discovered how certain shades of yellow, mostly mustardy ones, make me feel bright, and bring out the color in my face, in a good way. Yellow has never been a favorite color of mine, but every now and then I love how I look in it.

  • All I want to wear now are my Sonya Philip patterns. They are so versatile, comfortable, and easy to sew. I’m walking with a new confidence, it is fantastically exhilarating!

    I said before that I feel invisible. Initially my response was “Well, who cares than what I wear, or if I wear makeup or not…(defeatist much?). But now I’ve turned it around to “Well! If I’m invisible anyway, I can wear fun colors and styles, I can wear dresses and leggings, and hand knits!!!!” It doesn’t matter to me what “other” people think. I am standing proud in my me-ness, just the way I am right now, for the first time in my life.

    Today, I am so empowered by colors, patterns, and change….last week I even changed my hair color and put in some purple swatches! Not too crazy, but I’m sure my kids think I’ve gone off the deep end.

    I took to heart Barbara’s comment about becoming invisible to ourselves. This article and the comments have stirred some long overdue self-examination.

    Sonya, you have changed my life. Your style and the inspiration it created in me, and the timing of it, was exactly the spark I needed.

  • Sonya, I loved what you said about clothing, colors, and HAPPINESS.

  • I just have to say that reading your words, Sonya, always makes me smile! 🙂

  • I love the joy and freedom your style emanates! I cope with the strange topography of my changing middle aged body by wearing handmade clothes in the brightest, mismatched prints I can find. It brings me joy and that is wonderful to me.

  • I love sonyas style. I save her photos on Pinterest and I bought my sister her fab book.

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