Life of Johanna / Sewing cardigans

Why do I sew?

I was thinking about this the other day and realized that the reasons have changed a lot over the years. When I started sewing at the age of 11 it was mostly because I was bursting with ideas and really really wanted to be different from the other kids at school.

The second reason was the most important. I know a lot of kids at that age just want to be part of a crowd, but for me it was the opposite. I wanted to be different and I wanted my clothes to reflect that. And even though some kids teased me when I proudly sported my bright yellow beanie that looked like a rolled condom and basked at my tartan wool pants that I found in a surplus store sales bin, I really didn’t mind.

That was what draw me to sewing and the first couple of projects was so successful that I soon became pretty ambitious. I sewed my first insulated winter jacket when I was 13 (it probably looked vile by today standards) and taught myself to sew single welt pockets with a little help from the German pattern magazine Neue Mode, which was the hipper cousin to Burda magazine (who was incredibly dowdy back in the eighties). I also entered a couple of design competitions that a Swedish magazine held (with no success, it should be added).

When I hit my mid teens my focus started to shift a bit. I got more into vintage clothes and became obsessed with recreating the styles I saw in the fashion history books that I was carrying home by the dozens from the library. I started to make high collared Victorian silk blouses and sewed my own puffy riding breeches as I had decided that they were the only pants that was acceptable to wear. And as I had problems finding suitable patterns I also began drafting my own, but was only mildly successful at best. But back then I was pretty oblivious to things like proper fit, so I didn’t care much.

Half a lifetime ago. A 20’s style flapper dress that I made for my graduation.

When I was a teenager I wowed to never wear modern clothes again, but, alas, my retro period started to phase out when I hit my mid 20’s. Instead I begun to shop more clothes in regular stores and only sewed occasionally. It wasn’t until I was about to turn 30 that my sewing passion took off again. This time the Internet was instrumental in getting my mojo back. In 2003, while searching for a pattern, I stumbled onto Patternreview and realized what a wealth of information I had access to. Suddenly someone could explain things like why some knits grow when sewing and how to prevent it. Another eye opener was realizing that I’m petite and need to alter my patterns accordingly.

One of my first successful attempts after my sewing comeback. A wool cardigan with rick rack trims and metal snaps that I made in 2004 and still wear.

I started to read up on everything I could, I prowled sites, rekindled my interest for pattern drafting and bought and borrowed numerous sewing and pattern books. I also learned to use a serger and subsequently bought one in 2004.
My purpose also started to shift, it went from different and retro – to perfect. I know this might sound incredibly anal and boring, but I get a thrill out of trying to understand all the components; i.e. design, fabric, pattern, fit and sewing and then putting those things together in a hopefully happy union. But for me perfect is not about sewing Chanel jackets with couture techniques, actually I’m more interested in making the perfect t-shirt or pair of cords, since that’s what I mostly wear.

I suppose that my reasons for sewing will continue to change as life goes on. Maybe I’ll even stop sewing some day, but I hope that won’t be the case since clothes making is the only hobby that has been a constant in my life. It hasn’t always been a love affair, but sewing has somehow become a part of my personality.


  • cidell
    February 17, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    What a great post! Thanks for sharing it.

  • Kat
    February 17, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    This was incredibly interesting and self-reflective. I hope you have many more years (and reasons) for sewing.

  • Betty
    February 17, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    Great post. Sewing has always been a constant in my life too. The past couple of years, I haven’t produced much at all, but I know I will eventually pick it up again, because I always do.

    And I think it makes sense to strive for perfection in your everyday clothes. They are the clothes you wear the most, so shouldn’t they be the best?

  • luckylibbet
    February 17, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    Great post! I too have found my reasons for sewing changing over the years – but the constant is that I still sew!

  • Christina
    February 20, 2009 at 4:37 am

    Interesting to learn your story. BTW your vintage-inspired graduation dress is gorgeous!


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