What I Learned: Sewing and Knitting Handmade Clothing (30x30 Project)

My 30x30 Project | How It All Started

Have you ever looked into your closet and thought, “this stuff isn’t me?” Or, “I have nothing to wear?”

Have you ever realized that the key piece in your wardrobe - the one you reach for over and over again - is so worn out when held to the light the sun streaming through the worn spots hurts your eyes?

Are you with me?

Well, confession, that is the state that my closet is continually in. An assorted mismatch of second hand clothing (with the occasional professional item thrown in), past its prime. Lovingly chosen by me to fill out the ranks of a rather threadbare closet. The amount of shopping I do for clothes is minimal, with a dose of emergency thrown in when my day job absolutely requires something better. Because the truth is this: I’d rather buy yarn. Period.

And, if I’m being completely honest here, the clothes on the market really and truly do not fit me. Normally, I am referring to size (I’m very curvy), but also in color, texture, and silhouette. So what’s a girl to do? Well, towards the end of my stay in Michigan, I came up with the P-E-R-F-E-C-T solution.

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Ditch it. All of it.

Kididing. As I sat packing my life into three overstuffed suitcases - bound for Alaska - I decided that when I restart my life just shy of thirty I was going to do it with the essentials. And only the essentials. Ann Arbor, Michigan is a thrifter’s (slash hoarder’s) haven, but I gave back to the thrift store some of my best clothing and replaced most of my wardrobe with yarn, sewing notions, knitting supplies, and a serger and sewing machine. I also managed to stuff my clothes mannequin into an extremely large duffel bag meant for hockey players (and no: I don’t play hockey). TIP: you may look like you’re carrying a body bag so act chill.

When I arrived in Sitka, Alaska with all of my clothes making gear in place, I decided that I would use the island’s rain to my advantage begin making thirty pieces of clothing by thirtieth birthday. It was 2013. So, I knew that I had plenty of time if paced myself. After unpacking, I set-up my machine on a old desk and …

Didn’t touch the darn thing for about a year.

 

My 30x30 Project | It Begins

Fast forward to another move - this time to sunnier Anchorage, Alaska - and I was ready to finally begin sewing again. Seriously. As I looked at the calendar I realized that I had less than two years to get my act together so that I could start making my wardrobe. In addition, due to ditching most of my acceptable clothing in order to take my crafting, knitting, and sewing supplies with me (a decision I have ZERO regrets about), I was running out of clothing.

At first, in the carefree months of a new job, I was on a roll. In a matter of months, I had whipped out several knitting and sewing projects, and explored “new to me” making frontiers such as sweaters, skirts, and shirts.

 
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But gradually I began to hit a making wall. I would work here and there, but the intensity of the deadline seemed to disappear. And the harder I tried to rally, the more I felt stuck. I still had the desire to make my own clothing, but my thirtieth birthday felt far away. Surely, I would regain some of my lost energy and plow ahead.

 
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My 30x30 Project | It Begins. Again.

Fast forward again - this time to April 2016, two months prior to turning 30 - and I am in a mad frenzy trying to regain so much lost time. I can see very clearly where I want to go, but the pressure I put on myself to sew, knit, vlog, and blog was ridiculously (and hilariously) short sighted. Where previously I went through a long drought; I now found myself at the machine religiously, late into the night. Willing each project to come into being with zero flaws or mistakes. Two months, thirty garments.

And I did it.

Kidding. I failed spectacularly! And what’s more, there is proof of my failure still up on this website. Because, I don’t want to forget the effort, even it didn’t ultimately turn out as I was expecting.


My 30x30 Project | What worked.

Making My Own Patterns

For everything that went wrong, there were some amazing things that went right. I (stupidly in hindsight) decided that I would make all of my own patterns, for both sewing and knitting. This decision cost me a lot of time, but I also learned about what patterns work for my body. Curvature, fit, construction were all so new to me, but the process of designing and then trying to piece together the mechanisms to make a wearable piece of clothing with my current skill set pushed me to think outside of the box and to try over and over again to get it right.

Urgent Deadlines and Project Completion

This might seem like a weird “what worked” given the fact that I did not complete the project by the deadline that I set. But I think this fits for three reasons:

  • (a) urgency is a good motivator for beginning,

  • (b) by establishing a priority - finishing my 30x30 Project - I gave myself permission to push other projects to the side, and

  • (c) because I had an urgent deadline, I was more likely to discuss the project with others - friends or family - thereby, adding an extra layer of responsibility.

The truth is that like most people, busyness provides many (often valid) reasons for why something can’t be done; or put another way, there is always a reason to neglect your side hustles and hobbies.

The urgency pushed away the excuses - ranging from “AH, I don’t have the time and energy tonight” to “Sewing clothing is complicated” to “After I figure out where I put the manual to my serger, then I will begin” - and made me realize: It’s either now or never. Find the time, overcome your fears, and either find the manual or don’t; but get started or you might as well call it quits.

Another helpful element was a very concrete project end date. My thirtieth birthday wasn’t going to miraculously hop around on the calendar and time wasn’t going to slow down. Either I was going to make my deadline or I wasn’t. And after I turned thirty, the project would end (or would it? DUN DUN DUUUUN).

Focus and Clarity

If you’re a serial hobbyist like myself, then you know that there are so many great projects, activities, and events calling your name. Personally, I am drawn to video, photography, graphic and web design, knitting, sewing, writing, spinning, etc. There is always a reason to get excited about a new, exciting path. And there are ample reasons all around me to drop one activity or project to begin on another. But having a distinct goal, with an urgent deadline, provided focus and clarity to what I should be working on and why I should be working on it.

For this project, if I was tempted to take on another project that wasn’t handmade clothing related, then I knew that I should stop thinking about it.

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My 30x30 Project | What didn’t work.

Waiting Two Months Before Thirty To Start

DUH. I’m all for letting the procrastinators take their time, but what I did was firmly outside of the scope of procrastination and into the realm of magical thinking. The amount of time I needed for each garment and the amount of time I actually had to work on the project were completely mismatched. As someone with administration and program management experience, I think I knew that deep down I was setting myself up for failure, but I just couldn’t let the idea of my 30x30 die.

I am both amazed at my tenacity and freaked out by my willingness to lean into failure.

Insisting On Making My Patterns From Scratch

This was by far the best/worst decision I made of the project. Given that I had very little drafting skills, this slowed me down a lot. I tried to use a mix of pattern drafting and draping, but really I needed to take my time and learn some drafting techniques first. Pattern drafting is hard, and it’s a process worthy of time, thoughtfulness, and plenty of room for mistakes.

Sharing Over Making

For me, half the fun in making is sharing what you’ve done and learning from the large community of makers and shakers that exist on the web. It’s what energizes, inspires, and motivates me to keep going. Given the deadline of my 30x30 Project, though, picture taking, social media posts, blog posts, video editing, and vlogs were just too much to handle. If posting was really important, I should have found one medium - probably social media posts - and stuck to a consistent schedule.

Easing Up On Myself

There really aren’t a lot of gray areas when it comes to fit. Or, put another way: Clothes don’t lie. I put so much time and effort, joy and pain into each piece that, if by the end of the project, the fit was off I was devastated. Instead of viewing the mistakes as part of the process (even the sewers I admire go through this), I found myself sinking into self-shaming.

Why I am not better? Why do I keep making dumb mistakes? What’s the point of this? Will everyone laugh at me if I post this?

Funnily enough, after prepping for this post and going through a major refresh on my website design, I looked back at some of my old projects and realized: Honey, they’re really not that bad. In fact, some of my 30x30 projects are worn to threads because I’ve used them so much. I wish I had taken more time to be grateful for the fact that I was in a position to challenge myself, and that this project was the closest I’ve come to living my hobby dream.

Enjoying the process and not being terrified of the destination would have helped a lot.

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My 30x30 Project | What I’d do differently.

For those of you contemplating your own challenge, below are some things that I would do differently.

  1. Participate in group challenges. Since my 30x30 Project I’ve participated in group challenges, and (drumroll) SUCCEEDED. I really believe the difference is having a committed group of folks engaged in the same pursuit. It reminds you that (1) you’re not alone, (2) others are counting on you, and (3) it can be done. The challenge that you choose doesn’t have to be in an area you’re good at, and you don’t necessarily have to post everything you do. Just the action of choosing to start, and then successfully finishing can be the ego boost you need to develop a skill (and a work habit).

  2. Establish a routine. I was better at this early on. I would come back from work, put on the hot water kettle, and sip a glass of tea before heading down to my studio sawdust corner of the garage to begin work. And then, at some point, I dropped this habit. What a mistake! Having a mental go-to for switching gears is essential. Even a brisk walk can prep your mind for pivoting from work to the challenges ahead.

  3. Use a calendar to create blocked out times for making. I am creature in search of a good list. Writing down exactly when and what I needed to do was something that I fell away from. Again, what a mistake! The act of committing your goal to paper, and then reinforcing it by placing it on your calendar (with its own cozy time slot and everything) can make a big difference. It also makes it harder to “forget” about the task at hand.

  4. Create a rewards system. Rewards do not have to involve money. Even something as simple as a sticker signifying success can help to make you feel like you’ve accomplished something. Something worth sacrificing your “relax” time for. Something that you’ll be proud you did.

  5. Just start. Today. On the first of a new month. In the beginning of the week. I find it really tempting to wait until two distinct times of the year to start or restart “lost” or unfinished projects: December (in preparation for the New Year) and June (in preparation for my birthday on July 1st). The truth, though, is that any time in the year is fair game for starting something. I discovered this recently while restarting my Instagram posting schedule. There was no pressure. No challenge. I just decided that today I will post this picture, and I will stick to my new posting schedule for at least the next month. I’ve been following the tips above, and I’ve accomplished my goal. It has now become a habit. (Here: See for yourself! ).

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My 30x30 Project | What’s Ahead

Thank you for reading my rather long take on a personal failure, but I’ve realized that these types of posts are sorely missing from the Internet. It’s so much easier to share all of the successes, than it is to share the details of #hobbyfail. But, I hope in sharing my story you:

  • Learn some tips to try if you start your own handmade clothing challenge (or really any challenge for that matter).

  • Restart that project you’ve been meaning to, but just haven’t.

  • Be the brave maker and shaker that you are and share more of your successes (and your failures) with the world.

Because, personally, I’ve come to believe that a little failure can lead to some pretty awesome things.

After this post, I can officially wave goodbye to my 30x30 Project, and welcome in new handmade clothing challenges with open arms and a few tricks in my back pocket. This post, in many ways, is bittersweet. On the one hand, I am beyond ready to let this project go, but on the other hand a part of me still believes I can rescue the project.

Insane, right?! Yep, which is why it’s time to say goodbye to a surprisingly impactful time in my handmade journey. Here’s what I’m not saying goodbye to, though: Handmade clothing.

It’s in my veins now, and I plan on continuing with all sorts of shenanigans that get me closer to the reality of the handmade closet of my dreams. Even if it takes me awhile to get there. Step by step, or as the great marketing guru Seth Godin would say, “drip by drip.” If you’d like to follow along (and I sincerely hope that you do) you can:

Thanks for stopping by. Make on!