by Kezia Rice
I have vague, drifting memories of my mum teaching me to sew when I was about three or four. This seems crazily young to be wielding a needle, but I still have my first sewing project (sewing ribbon onto felt, as seen above) as proof, created during the long afternoons when my big sister was at school and I had my mum to myself. My sewing experiments as a kid were haphazard and eccentric: bright pink dyed trousers, a floor length cotton skirt (see below and then call the fashion police), ear warmers for my toy Kanga (did you not know kangaroos’ ears get cold?!). The skill lived on in my muscle memory, and as a teenager I called upon it now and then for a quick clothing fix or adaptation. The top I wore to my leavers’ ball was bought from Topshop in the sale and adapted to make a tighter fitting halter top - I occasionally wear this on nights out even now, dissolving worries that my sewing won’t hold with several double G and T’s.
But it is during the last few months that I have most frequently and recklessly taken scissors and a sewing needle to my clothes; I think this is partly because of my resolution to mostly purchase second hand garments, which occasionally means making alterations to create the perfect fit. Then there is the brilliantly comforting and kitsch The Great British Sewing Bee which always has me itching to get my hands on a new sewing project. Thirdly, the possibilities that come from creating your own clothes from scratch are endless: you can, with a bit of skills and knowhow, make your outfits look exactly how you like. Yes, there is equipment to be sourced, but ask around before you purchase a whole haberdashery brand new. You may have friends or family who could lend you needles or a sewing machine, or a local swap shop (or search on gumtree) may bring up someone trying to get rid of fabrics or spools of leftover thread. And yes, there are skills to be honed before you can make clothes drape exactly how you like them, but the fun is in the practise. YouTube has endless tutorials, or maybe your friends or family could pass on their knowledge via Zoom. This is part one of what I’ve been sewing over the past few months, detailing the super simple projects that’ll be easy to give a go even if you’re new to sewing - I hope they provide some inspiration.
Raw Hem Cotton Trousers
Equipment needed: an unpicker, an iron
Have you ever bought a present for someone else, and struggled to hand over the package because you wanted to keep it for yourself so badly? This was me and these Topshop trousers. I bought a pair for my sister for her birthday nearly a year ago, (of course trying them on before I wrapped them up) and they haven’t left my mind since. If my sister lived in the same house or indeed country as me, I’d be nicking them from her wardrobe whenever I got the chance. But our relationship is pretty much always a long-distance one these days that doesn’t facilitate many hangouts or clothing swaps. Instead, I had a look on Depop, and found the exact same pair (for £8! Rather than the original £20 odd), and even though they were a couple of sizes too small, I thought I’d buy them anyway.
When I tried them on, they were drastically too short - reminiscent of my final year of primary school, where I wore what were essentially three-quarter length trousers for the whole of year six because me and my mum sensibly, if shortsightedly, agreed there was no need to buy new uniform for one year of wear. After that traumatic memory resurfaced, I decided I needed to take drastic action. Using an unpicker, I gently went round and pulled out the stitches holding the hem up, giving the trousers a good 2.5 extra inches of length. Whilst it might look pretty messy, I like the raw-edge vibe that’s reflected in the waistband, and after a quick iron to flatten out the new hem, they were good to go!
Equipment needed: sharp scissors, tape measure, needle, thread, pins, an iron
I got this oversized Champion sweatshirt from a friend who was getting rid of it, and whilst I liked the longline vibes, I thought it might look a bit lighter and be a bit easier to throw on if it was cropped. I began by pinning the material up and trying it on to see how cropped I wanted it - when I was happy with the rough sizing I took a pair of sewing scissors (use the sharpest scissors you have for a clean cut) and chopped off the excess material, leaving plenty for a hem. From there, I repinned the hem very carefully, using a tape measure to ensure it was cropped the same amount all around. Then, I hand sewed the hem (I don’t have a sewing machine - RIP the wasted hours spent hand sewing hems) and after a quick press (ie iron) to flatten it into shape, the new sweater was done!
Maxi to Mini Wrap Skirt
Equipment needed: sharp scissors, tape measure, needle, thread, pins, an iron, chalk
Maxi skirts are not my style, but when I found this blue cotton floor length wrap skirt of my mum’s, I thought it had potential to be turned into a summer garment that I’d actually wear. I began by wearing the skirt and roughly marking how long I wanted it to be with chalk. I then cut the material a couple of inches below this line - this has left me with a sizable piece of fabric which could definitely be used in another project! Next, I pinned up the skirt to the chalk line, using a tape measure to ensure I was accurately cropping throughout. After another try on to check the length was exactly how I wanted it, I began sewing the hem (the metres of wrap skirt material meant this one took sooooo long to hand sew. I put on a podcast and got stuck in). Again, I pressed my finished skirt to give it a good finish, and I was good to go. This skirt is so wearable and lightweight for summer, so I’m keen to recreate it in other colours, using this one as a pattern. As soon as I can get my hands on some new material, you’ll find me on my bedroom floor amidst metres of cotton, lost in a sewing daze, listening to podcast after podcast and sewing endless hems.
I hope these projects give you some sewing ideas of your own - stay tuned for the second part of this article where I detail the more complex sewing adaptations I’ve attempted!
Kezia Rice is the Founder and Editor-in-chief of imprint mag.zine. As well as running imprint, she has made a podcast @kezsbookshelf, and can often be found taking scissors and a sewing needle to her clothes or having a refreshing dip in one of Lancashire's rivers. She has previously written for imprint about everything from living without a car to the problematics of Love Island to her passion for charity shopping, and also published a poem with illustrations about female beauty standards.