Meet Maggie. She makes her own clothes.

During my recent foray into wardrobe minimalism and a general engagement on the philosophy of what to wear and where to find it, I’ve been thinking a lot about buying well-made clothes. And well made in two senses: made with a high degree quality and made in an ethical and socially responsible way. I’d love to jump off the fast fashion train entirely, but let me tell you, it is hard to find affordable, ethically made garments. If you get tired of searching, you could be like my friend Maggie, who just makes her own clothes.

Yes! She makes her own clothes. Even though I was homeschooled, I cannot even imagine attempting the same. But I find her endeavor so inspiring, and I wanted to sit down with her and talk about her lifestyle of dressing herself in handmade garments.

Interview with Maggie Stein, Who Makes Her Own Clothes

Maggie one of her handmade dresses: polka dot in polyester.
Maggie one of her handmade dresses: polka dot in polyester.

When did you start making your own clothes? (And how long have you been doing it now?)

Growing up, my mom made a portion of my clothes. I had a number of jumpers with very full, satisfying-to-twirl-in skirts during the early grade-school years, and flowy butterfly-princess costumes. I was very opinionated about clothes and the feelings I wanted them to evoke. When she could create something to fit my vision, she would. Otherwise, I’d wear boring department store clothes.

In my sophomore year of high school, she agreed to make my homecoming dress. We worked together during every step of the process. I was uncomfortable with my changing body, so I asked her to make alterations to the pattern that were either beyond her skill level (what we thought at the time) or completely impossible (what I now believe), and she made a gorgeous dress that couldn’t meet my expectations. We both cried over it and I wore a cardigan over my dress the entire night.

After that is when I started making my own clothes.

What was one of the first pieces you made? Do you still wear it?

The first few pieces I made, as a teenager in the late 90s, were HIDEOUS! They were my own lazy/unique interpretation of the strappy, backless tops that club kids and hippies wore.

Since you were homeschooled, I’ll include some visual aids: Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C

I probably wasn’t brave enough to wear them out of the house, so my parents never told me I couldn’t. They were quickly discarded.

(c) Maggie Stein

What inspired you to attempt to make your own clothes?

I was about to say “teenage shenanigans aside…” but I think that was a great example of why I sew. Sometimes I have an idea in my head of something I’d like to wear, and I’m unable to find it in stores, or unable to find it in my proportions, or unwilling to pay the asking price if I do find it.

Another example: I was given my own sewing machine in college and spent years making nothing but flannel and fleece pajama pants, mainly because I’d never been able to find loungewear pants that were long enough.

How has making your own clothes changed the way you dress yourself? Your sense of style?

I no longer have to figure out how to fit my body into the clothes I find or the current trends but instead can accept my body as it is and create a wardrobe that fits my particular shape and style preferences.

I guess the real question I want to answer is, “How has this changed my relationship with my body?” I no longer feel like there’s something wrong with my size. I’m taller and curvier than standard RTW sizes, which means clothes in stores are often too tight across the bust and hips, too loose on the shoulders and waist, too wide and too short on the arms, waistbands are too high, hems are WAY too short… I used to approach these thinking, “If only my hips were narrower and my shoulders wider! There is something wrong with me!” But, in reality, I have an awesome body! I am TALLER and CURVIER than the standard woman! I am TOTALLY WINNING! The problem is not my body, but those clothes, because they weren’t made to fit my body.

The way I dress myself and my sense of style were influenced by my mom’s strong eye for color and knowledge of what flatters (I still have her copy of Color Me Beautiful) and years of watching What Not to Wear every Friday night. (Maybe I shouldn’t admit that. I would watch it with my best friend! We would always have beer and popcorn, so it was almost like a party!) Making my own clothes has allowed me to take what I’ve learned and apply it without being restricted by what’s available in stores.

(c) Maggie Stein

How has this changed the way that you shop? Do you look at clothes in stores differently? Do you have higher (or lower?) standards for store-bought clothes now?

Well, for starters, I rarely expect to find what I want in a store. So I’m often shopping for inspiration, or I study the way something is made. I’ll ask, “Can I make this? If I made this, what would I change?”

I’ll buy something if it’s well made in a fabric that I might not be able to purchase or wouldn’t want to sew with (silky, sheer, difficult to source). I’ll also buy something if it’s super-trendy or inexpensive. In both of those cases, I have to ask whether it’s really something I need.

Given the cost of supplies, and the time investment, it’s not always less expensive to make my own clothes. It might be more ethical — at least I know who made my garment, but I don’t necessarily know who grew the fiber or where the cloth was made.

About what proportion of your regular wardrobe is handmade by you?

Hmmm… good question. I mean, I have a lot of T-shirts and sweaters and pants that aren’t made by me. But a majority of dresses and skirts I wear at this point are handmade.

What’s one of your favorite garments to make?

There are so many! I have one pattern that I’ve made perhaps a dozen different dresses from — the pattern itself came from a dissected Target dress that fit me perfectly. Each version is different — the original was sleeveless with an A-line skirt, then I made one with a fuller skirt, then I figured out how to add sleeves, and it became my staple day dress. I have it in a lightweight cotton for summer and long-sleeved in flannel for winter. I attempted to make it out of a suiting-weight wool, with lining, but that version is currently in Time Out. (I made some mistakes. I’m making it up as I go along, and some of the choices aren’t very flattering, so I need to unpick a lot of work and start again.)

I finally overcame my fear of knits and have enjoyed the freedom of sewing with fabric that stretches! My three most recent favorites are all knits: a ¾-sleeve ballet-neck skater dress, a scoop neck loosely fitted T-shirt, and a wrap cardigan that I drafted myself using pieces of the T-shirt pattern.

(c) Maggie Stein

Is there any type of garment that you would never attempt to make yourself? If so, why?

Until recently, I would have said jeans and bras. But a few indie patternmakers have started tackling those. Not only are their instructions clear and detailed, but they often post sew-alongs on their blogs, sharing pictures of each step and discussing the more complicated techniques. (Also, I can wait until other people/bloggers have made the patterns and learn from their lessons.) In my room right now are supplies and patterns for both jeans and bras, waiting for me to be ready.

What are some of your favorite fabrics to work with? Least favorite fabrics?

Lately, I’m moving away from very simple, sturdy, inexpensive woven fabrics (think bedsheets) to higher quality fabrics with more interesting draping qualities. Fabrics that require more attention/preparation when sewing are often more beautiful to wear, so I’m slowly learning how to handle them well. I’ve also started using heavy-weight knits, which are so cozy and delightful!

(c) Maggie Stein

If someone wanted to make his or her own clothes, what advice would you give them? Where does a person start with such a venture?

I’m tempted to say, “Start with something simple!” Easy wins will give you confidence to move forward. But really, I think it’s just as fun to start with something you’re REALLY motivated to make for yourself over and over again. There are things that fall into both categories, but no matter where you start, you’re going to have a lot to learn, so my advice would be to have patience, to expect mistakes, to learn from them, and to keep going!

Okay, one piece of solid advice: Start with an indie pattern. They tend to have instructions catered to a beginner versus established patterns that assume you know the lingo.

What are you wearing right now?

My winter wardrobe: a cozy handmade dress, black tights, and sturdy black ankle boots.

For more of Maggie’s musings and examples of her impressive handmade clothes, check out her great blog: Maggie Makes It Better. Thanks so much, Maggie! A delight to feature you and your work.

All photos in this post: © Maggie Stein.

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169 thoughts on “Meet Maggie. She makes her own clothes.

  1. Wow. I am thoroughly impressed — how liberating to be able to make things just for your body. Not sure if I’m brave enough to attempt it myself in the near future, but I plan on tackling curtains in the near future. That counts for something, right?

  2. What talent Maggie has in making her own clothes. Do you know if she has a favorite color she likes to use? I can’t imagine this kind of talent. What a wonderful blog you have.

  3. I’ve been making my own clothes for years–pants, kimonos, scarves, ponchos, cowl neck pullovers. My designs are original and every piece is unique. People have stopped me in public to ask where I get them.

    And No, I’m not going to turn it into a business so my ass can be permanently glued to a chair all day, so don’t go there. I do this when I choose, for me.

  4. awesome! So inspiring. This is a goal of mine. So far I only make clothes for my daughter and once I made myself a dress… but especially with spring and summer around the corner, it´s easy to throw together some simple warm weather outfits. Love the post! Thanks for sharing

  5. My mom made me clothes when I was little too. She was really into “Little House on the Prairie,” so she literally dressed me like them. It was… an interesting childhood?

    I love these clothes so much, especially that rainbow dress!

  6. Finding collared shirts in cotton or linen that fit me and that I can afford is very difficult. A couple of years ago, I started buying two of each shirt when they were on sale at the end of each season. One is cut into pieces to combine with the other in strategic places. Initially, I just included a reverse-V-shaped insert into each side seam, but then I decided I liked them longer – a kind of shirt dress but still worn over trousers and jeans. Now I lengthen them as well. Darker colours are best as the patchwork is less visible, but no-one has laughed at the white ones yet. And they are so comfortable when compared to normal shirts.

    The best bits … collars and cuffs take time, this method is quick and I have a new shirt in less than an afternoon … and, as Megan found, I have clothes I love that fit my body.

    The down side … these usually come from the cheap stores and I’ve yet to come to terms with how they were probably originally made.

  7. Well I bet that is cheaper too,instead of wasting money on expensive clothes when you can invest them in something else.I am thinking of investing in a sewing machine too.Making your own clothes sounds like fun.

  8. Oh my goodness! This is beautiful… I’ve always wanted to make my own clothes, but my parents preferred me to stick my head in books rather than near a sewing machine. Seeing someone do it herself makes this warmth bloom inside of me, like I’m vicariously experiencing the pride and joy she has with making her clothes. I wonder if her blog will feature more of her creations. Thanks for sharing this interview!

  9. That’s great your friend sews often her own clothing. Hope she keeps it up. I used to sew 80% of my wardrobe for over 10 years…before cycling bug bit me and I lost interest / time. I did sew my jeans, cords, tailored shirts and lined dress jackets.

    At least, it’s made me a very discriminating clothes buyer in terms of assessing for durability and quality.

  10. Wow that is so cool! I don’t think my clothes would turn out so well (I’m not good with detail stuff haha) but she looks gorgeous! And it would be such a cool way to have something no one else would be wearing!

  11. Fantastic. My daughter is keen to learn which means I’ll be on a steep learning curve but you’ve inspired me and the indie pattern tip sounds great. Thanks!

  12. I love that Maggie creates such simple and beautiful designs through this sadly, dying art. I love cute little minimalist dresses which are impossible to find these days. My mother-in- law was a splendid tailor who too made all her own dresses and instilled in my husband (her son) a love of sewing. He recently purchased an old Singer sewing machine to use in making fabric covers (to prevent rusting) for his machinery that he keeps in our garage. He relayed how he was laughed at (in good nature) in the sewing store by several women when they learned of his hobby but I am grateful for his talent as I can just manage to sew on a button. I wrote a short and humorous tale about the very topic of poorly made clothes and the consequences I suffered as a result of, in my younger years. If you have time in between FP comments, please take a look as I think you will enjoy reading, given the nature of this wonderful story. https://nynkblog.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/you-get-what-you-pay-for/

  13. I will NEVER EVER regret the day i bought a sewing machine, nothing better than being able to sew/adjust/customize your own clothes… i feel like i have a very precious gift in my life! 🙂

  14. Such a brilliant idea! I’ve been urging myself to learn to sew for ages now!
    Love this! I will be visiting Varanasi soon, an will pick up lessons from Aunts there!
    Great going Maggie!

  15. I loved reading this,it’s really difficult shopping for the body I have,with every part of me being so petite, I really want to add making my own clothes to my new years resolution xD So enlightening reading this

  16. I love this: “I no longer have to figure out how to fit my body into the clothes I find or the current trends but instead can accept my body as it is and create a wardrobe that fits my particular shape and style preferences.”

    Totally agree 🙂

    Best wishes,
    ALice

  17. I thought this post was a brilliant way to encourage a greater self awareness and appreciation for oneself and body type. I sometimes like to make a few original pieces but not to this point This post shine a light on a really good topic and I will make a better effort not to engage in body shaming the next time I go shopping. Good Post. Peace

  18. Reblogged this on francejoanne and commented:
    My ultimate goal is to be able to make my own clothing and I really don’t know where to start and don’t know where to seek help. I really hope one day if an do it and I will. This continued to inspire me.

  19. Reblogged this on Dragon's Belly and commented:
    Wow. That’s amazing. I remembered my home economics classes were a complete disaster. I believe that my form teachers expressed their confidence in my growing abilities in math and science but if I could apply some of that enthusiasm in home economics, it would go a long way in improving my overall class grades.
    [category fashion]

  20. wow this is a great post and by the way one of my biggest dreams is to make my own clothes and decorate them with jewelry. This post inspired me to keep dreaming and take action.

  21. Maggie is very impressive and inspiring! I’ve been thinking a lot about trying to ditch fast fashion as well and making my own clothes seems like a logical next step. Thank you for writing such a lovely article, and thank you to Maggie for being such an inspiration—you make sewing your own clothes seem appealing and accessible, even for a beginner like me!

    slowstyleblog.wordpress.com

  22. Great to see one more convert to the art of sewing. There are many, many more out there who are sewing their entire wardrobe content. 🙂
    Great interview. Congrats to Maggie for discovering and sticking with a great life skill.

  23. Maggie sure is talented. It’s rare for a kid to know or find what they’re passionate about and follow that passion from their teenage years right through to adulthood. Thanks for the great write up!

  24. This brings up such a Pretty in Pink romantic desire to also make my own clothes but I barely even know how to sew a straight line so far. I really LOVE how you point out that it made you realize that there is nothing wrong with your size – it’s the mass-produced clothes (and shoes for that matter) that are constantly pinching, bagging or whatever, making us feel like insecure about how it looks. Big kudos to you!

  25. Clothing construction is the traditional craft of women. It is pretty much the female equivalent of carpentry. Many men and women today are returning to various modes of traditional craftsmanship. The skill and self-reliance that Maggie shows here is amazing! By making our own things we can gain control of our physical surroundings, ensuring both quality and decent human behavior. I know a lot of younger women who are dipping their toe into this current by re-discovering knitting and such.

  26. This is so great! I have been wanting to try making my own clothes for a while now and it’s really neat to hear another’s experience. I hope I can stick with it to get as far as Maggie! So awesome!

  27. I am happy to find someone like You! Since the world goes to a higher level of consciousness of getting back to the nature, such ideas are so grateful; I wish you the best!

  28. I admire this so much! Ive been sewing since I was 11, and in High school took every fashion and sewing class, always with the highest grade in the class because I put so much effort into my work: I loved doing it! I need to start sewing more of my own clothes; for my own creative sake 🙂

  29. That’s such an amazing talent and it’s so cool to identify with yourself and create what you like, opposed to buying what society thinks you should wear.

  30. I can’t help but think of Harvey Dent making his own luck. But seriously, I’m a huge fan. I recently read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and I’ve been thinking about craft, and my own craft as a woodworker and how I can use that to help make the world a better place, it’s fantastic to see other people out there doing the same.

  31. This is cool! She’s really cool. I feel her sentiments about not finding dresses that compliment my awesome body (haha) and having to concluding there is really few dress maker who could really do their job well (you know I’m just kidding) Unfortunately I can’t make my own as awesome as Maggie could, I never tried though…

  32. Reblogged this on lecherrytree and commented:
    This is an inspirational article about homemade clothing. I have bought a my first machine and it has been sitting for months in used. Maybe this was just the push I was waiting for…

  33. As an aspiring accomplished artisan, this article and lady who is frugal enough and talented in proficiency, to make her own clothes, is inspiring. How much more can we achieve if we seed away from the societal recollect of “how” fashion is provided for us, and justly grow our own dreams? Dreams fabricked and solidified through hard work and ingenuity. Sew on. Sew on. 😀

  34. Reblogged this on Ketchastar and commented:
    As an aspiring accomplished artisan, this article and lady who is frugal enough and talented in proficiency, to make her own clothes, is inspiring. How much more can we achieve if we seed away from the societal recollect of “how” fashion is provided for us, and justly grow our own dreams? Dreams fabricked and solidified through hard work and ingenuity. Sew on. Sew on. 😀

  35. I too am pledging my heart to slow fashion. I love making my own clothes. I learnt on YouTube a couple of Christmases ago. I started with cushion and PJ bottoms and now I’m making my own dresses that fit me just right. It’s easier than you think! Thanks for a great post.

  36. I do the same. After taking a tailoring course I now make my own suits. It is very rewarding and I encourage everyone to do the same.

  37. Very inspiring post. Envious! Makes me want to go and look at patterns and fabrics. Wouldn’t know where to start. Skills like these should be fundamental basics taught in schools, along with cookery and budgeting!

  38. Gosh, that’s awesome! I started making clothes for my Barbie dolls when I was little, and moved onto real clothes from there. Although I do still make things to wear, they tend to be costumes, or ‘fancy’ items for special occasions – this has really inspired me to embrace it for everyday wear too!

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