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Sewing Challenges

Good news and bad news as of late. Good news is that my sewjo is running at high gear. I’m on a roll constantly sewing something or other these past couple weeks. I have several projects going on right now which is good because if I get bored or frustrated I can work on something else for a bit while still feeling productive.


I’ve been thinking about what got me so inspired lately and I really owe it to a bunch of great people I met recently. Susan, Miss Lulu and I took a trip to Dallas to see Oonaballoona perform in a new musical (she’s amazing!). We had lunch together and I was really excited to meet her, she’s like the sweetest person ever. I left with lots of ideas brewing in my mind about fun things to make. Hi Oona!

And before that, I was lucky enough to meet a bunch of Austin sewing bloggers. I had lunch with Lauren of Rosie Wednesday, she’s super nice, too!

And then I met Melly from Melly Sews and Miranda from One Little Minute (who just moved here! yay, more Austin sewists!). Miranda and Lauren even came to our meetup group last night for a sewing party.

All of this has made me so grateful for the friendships I’ve made (and have yet to make, I swear it’s my goal to get every sewist in this city to come to our meetups, haha!) through this hobby. I definitely feed off of other people’s creativity. 🙂


Bad news is I’ve had a sewing epiphany – I think my handmade wardrobe has reached critical mass. After sewing consistently for about two years I’ve filled all my wardrobe gaps. This is tough because normally when I begin a project I ask myself “what do I need?” Lately, the answer is “not much.”

Without having a real need I’ve felt less excited to sew clothes for myself. I still am sewing clothes, I’ve got an Archer shirt and an Anna dress in the works at the moment, and I love wearing what I make but I think I don’t feel challenged enough. I think I need to try something new. I still want to sew clothes but maybe I can mix things up a bit? Make the clothes I do sew nicer or more creative.


When I think of the “challenging” garments I’ve made I think of all the swimsuits (I have like, 8, now. I think that’s enough…), or the couple coats I’ve sewed or the bras (which I’ve kind of lost interest in, mostly because it’s still more cost-effective for me to buy them). Those were all fun but I still feel like I need to spice things up, ya know?

I’ve come up with a few ideas on how I can challenge myself to sew better and more creatively and expand my creations beyond casual everyday clothes.

Project Wedding Dress and Couture techniques


I bought Susan Khalje’s couture dress sewing class on Craftsy and now I feel like I get to use some of the techniques. Nothing crazy but for my wedding dress I’m underlining the body in organza and doing a ton and a half of hand stitching. It will definitely be the nicest dress on the inside that I’ve made. I’d love to try to apply what I’m learning to other dresses, maybe even really fancy gowns??

Handbags and leather


I’m currently working on Amy Butler’s Weekender Bag pattern. I’m probably 40% done but I’m liking the stiff, structured look of the bag. You know it’s an Amy Butler pattern when it calls for 3 layers of interfacing on one pattern piece! It’s going to be a traveling essential, I can already tell.

I want to try making some nice professional looking handbags, complete with metal hardware and leathery bits. Nothing says “expensive bag” like leather bits – handles, straps, buckles, zipper tabs, pockets. Plus, although I technically know how to work with leather I’ve never had much practice.


True Bias’ lovely version of the It’s a Cinch tote has really inspired me. How freakishly gorgeous is that bag!??



I just finished a quilt top using a pattern and now it needs to go get long arm quilted. I think I might be ready to start experimenting with modern designs and even free-form patternless quilts. Ya know, throwing scraps together into something cool. Sure, I have no idea what I’m doing but that’s part of the fun, right?

Sewing and fitting others


Susan, Miss Lulu, and I are working on a challenge where we design and make a garment for each other. I’m really excited about this because I never make clothes specifically for other people (besides babies…) and I’ll get to do a real in-person fitting rather than just having measurements, sending the garment off, and hoping it fits.

I know it sounds silly but I never get to do cool stuff like full bust adjustments so fitting someone with a completely different shape than mine will be a fun challenge and I can try out fitting techniques I’ve never had the opportunity to use before.

Sewing for Dudes


Ok, I’ve made one article of clothing for my man, this shirt, which I’m not in love with. Justin has kind of an odd body shape – long torso but short, stubby limbs, a thick neck and, ahem, some junk in the trunk. I kind of think he has the body of an oversized hobbit. Just don’t tell him I said that…

Anyway, I think I want to dive back in to guy sewing but this time I want to make something he’d actually wear – aka, t-shirts and shorts. So I’ma give the man what he wants! I have a t-shirt pattern that I think might work and I bought Thread Theory’s Jedediah trousers/shorts pattern which with a lot of tweaking I think might fit his odd shaped lower half… I hope… we’ll see. I’ll definitely be putting my skills to the test with this one.


And finally, the coup de gras of my sewing challenges – costuming! Ok, hear me out, I’m not crazy, at least I don’t think so. I want something challenging, right? What better than costumes? I’m thinking more in the historical vein… but I don’t want to get too in over my head to start.


So I bought the simplest Victorian-era dress pattern (which still eats up nearly 9 yds of fabric, eek! thank goodness for Joann’s 40% off coupons) and some teal and cream gingham. I still have to find fabric for the bodice lining.

(so much fabric!!)

Even if I finish just this dress it’s not enough. I’ll need lots of extras to complete the look – petticoat, chemise, drawers, corset, cuffs, collars, shoes, and socks! The chemise and drawers should be pretty easy to make and I think making a corset would be pretty fun, right? Or am I crazy?

Anyone else into historical dress/costume making? Any tips, patterns, suppliers you recommend?
Any other suggestions for ways to challenge myself and grow my sewing skills?

Comments (34) for post “Sewing Challenges”

  • Isn’t it a great feeling to leave a meet-up feeling inspired? I always feel that way, plus, Marci’s personality is infectious.

    I love how you’re challenging yourself with new kinds of sewing projects. I think this will broaden your skills and who knows, maybe you’ll be able to apply them to “regular” clothes sewing.

  • I’m so jealous you got to see Oona’s play!!! I know she rocked it!!
    As for your sewing delima. I can only say that I hope to reach that point, someday. I love that you have a wardrobe filled with handmade goodies! How awesome.
    Maybe you could do a techniques challenge, where you incoporate advanced techniques into one project. Or, maybe focus on making everything from one pattern company or pattern book. I think sewing for your dude will present its own challenges, too. No info on the costume front, but I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

  • gee, you a a girl with great plans! i think there is a lot in there to keep you challenged for a while 🙂 and i’m also in love with true bias’ bag. it made me look up bag making techniques and supplies, and i daydreamed for a bit. please make one too!

  • I feel the same way you do about sewing nowadays, like “do I really NEED another dress?”. I want some more challenge too, so I think your plans are great and inspiring! Good luck and I look forward to seeing that costume.

  • For growing your sewing skills, I recommend taking an in person couture sewing class from Susan Khalje. Her knowledge and enthusiasm along with meeting other students is always so inspiring to me and I always learn something that I can apply to my sewing projects. I believe she teaches classes in Houston each year.

  • Aww, thanks Dixie! I’ve really enjoyed getting to hang out/sew with you, too! I’m so glad you’re on a mission to get us all going to the meetup. And I can’t wait to see the end result of all of these projects! Particularly that Civil War one.

  • I love all the swimsuits you’ve made! ANd i understand the need to keep it interesting by using new skills or finding new challenges. I’m so impressed with the wedding dress you’re making yourself. I can;t wait for the big reveal…

  • I’d love to come to an Austin meet-up one day, but to be honest, I’m kind of scared! I’m just a beginner and I’m also pretty shy, so I’m worried I’ll end up sitting by myself or something. But I also know I could learn so much from getting to hang out with other sewists. For example, it’s pretty frustrating because I’m a few sizes too big for most of the indie patterns I really like, and I’m not entirely sure how to go about altering them to fit me. I hope you post about the next meet-up, and maybe I’ll get over my fear!

  • This post has just gone ahead and added eleventy-billion items to my ‘to-sew’ list. Sadly I haven’t finished the gaps yet (not even close!) but everything above sounds so damn exciting.

  • Whew!!! Go Dixie!!! A seriously inspiring, and ambitious list of goals! I like it! I love that you’re really looking for projects that will challenge and stimulate you and not just mindlessly churning out more of the same… not that WE ever felt like it was more of the same, it’s always fabulous! But I know sometimes it can feel like that – like, “why am I making this? I already have elevendy-billiondy sundresses…” Anyway – I think I might need to drink some of your kool-aid…

  • meeting y’all was just the best! it made me so excited to get back to my NY sewing sisters– i know miss lulu & susan will support you in all of these goals. you. gals. ROCK.

    as does your wedding dress peek from your last post…makes me want a vow renewal.

  • It was fun to meet you – I’m hoping to make it to a sewing meet up eventually (maybe September). And costume sewing was kind of my first love, so I’m excited to see what you come up with. I used to love sewing corsets.

  • A good source for the large amount of fabric you’ll need for your Civil War underpinnings is the thrift store. Buy cotton bedsheets. You end up with a ton of fabric, extra wide, for less than $1 per yard. Also good for muslins.

  • Oh honey, I know I’m new to your blog, but if you want to challenge yourself sewing-wise – and get into historical stuff – I feel like we should talk, lol. But getting the couture sewing book is a good start – I have it too and I love it. Employing couture methods is definitely a way to stretch yourself – just take your time and have fun! And there’s a whole online community in itself for historical sewing stuff, it won’t be hard to find (I’d maybe start with looking up, and the Dreamstress is great too). If you ever wanna go Colonial, I can point you to an old project blog of mine on 18th century reconstructions ;o)
    Again – have fun!

  • You have a lot of stuff up your sleeve! That’s a lot of challenges that will be fun and exciting! I personally wouldn’t necessarily make costumes, but then again I haven’t hit my critical mass of handmade garments yet either. 🙂 It will be fun to watch your sewing endeavors unfold!

  • Oh my, I’ve discovered so many historical sewing blogs, I’m totally hooked! The Dreamstress is great. It’s like a whole new world of sewing blogs just opened up for me. Regency, colonial, Elizabethan, bustle, Titanic era, it’s overwhelming but seeing such pretty dresses has me swooning. I’ve picked up a couple couture books from the library but I really should buy one to keep. Thanks Carolyn!

  • Yeah, I read about your theatre costuming history. 😉 I may have to pick your brain if I get the chance. Hopefully you can make it to a meetup!

  • Aww, thanks, lady! You were the sweetest. And I know you’re probably so happy to be back with your man!

    I think Susan is interested in what the costume will end up like and Miss Lulu might be thinking I’m nuts, lol!

  • Thanks Sallie, I’m kind of inspired by you in terms of challenges, you hand dye your own fabrics for pete’s sake! I think that might be a little far away in my future but how cool is that?

  • COME!!!! I mean it. We welcome beginners. You can come to one of our pattern review meet ups and you don’t even need to bring anything to show, you can just sit and listen and get a feel for the group. People bring patterns and books to pass around, they ask questions and get advice, and of course they show off fun clothes they’ve made.

    Oh, and my friend Susan comes to most meetings. She usually has to grade up indie patterns, too, so she can totally help you out. You can check out her blog:

    This is the next meetup scheduled:

  • Thanks Nothy! I still love sewing swimsuits but I feel like I have too many now and I hardly ever go swimming. Maybe I could unleash my creativity on some friends and sew suits for them…

  • That one’s my favorite! (that and the bombshell) It’s a good old kwik sew pattern and while it’s really simple I think it looks pretty cool.

  • I have a friend who has taken one in Houston. She loved it. I really wish she could come to Austin because paying for a place to stay in Houston on top of the class fees is a little out of my budget range right now. It’s a dream, though, definitely. Thanks!

  • Oooh, I remember that. I think she even posted about going to reenactments with her mom all dressed up before, too. Thanks for the link, I’ll check it out!

  • She was really cool to meet in person.

    Thanks Maddie! I’m inspired by your clothes lingerie making skills, you always seem to be coming up with something more beautiful and technically advanced than last time. And you share what you know which is great for people like me who want a challenge. 😉

  • Omg, she was awesome! Her voice blew me away.

    I like your idea, I can totally make a regular old dress more special with better constructions details. And it’s a good way to practice for future more advanced projects.

    And everything from one pattern company!? I think Victory might be calling my name, haha! Thanks!

  • Dixie, first of all CONGRATS on your upcoming wedding! I’d love to watch wedding dress progress. It was the one garment I didn’t get to sew so I live vicariously through others’ experiences with it ;). And it’s fun shifting around to new projects. I hope sometime to get to an Austin meet-up. Tuesdays are so horrible for me, and I know this last one was a good one!

  • Cage crinoline/hoopskirt suggestion: get the Originals by Kay cage kit. Avoid the Needle & Thread kit for now. It’s much more authentic in materials (both have great shapes) but it’s terribly finicky and unless you have the patience of a saint (nope) and put it together perfectly (oops) it’s going to pop apart and need constant maintenance. 😛 Speaking from experience. It’s a great kit, I just…er…should have bought it fully made. 😀

  • Just read this – one thing I can tell you. My husband and I did Civil War Re-enactments (Southern) for about 10 years, and I made many dresses for myself and my daughter, along with all the underpinnings and a few hats. All are do-able, some just more than others. Anyway, to the point I started out to make…corsets are horrible things to make, at least I thought so. I did buy a kit that had the pattern, the stays and the boning that goes in the back where you lace it up and the boning w/ fasteners that goes in the front. Only thing I had to supply was the fabric. Use something very tight weaved – I used a heavy (but smooth) twill weave fabric. It can’t have any stretch to it, and also, the pattern will tell you to use a bias strip to enclose your boning. Don’t. Use something with more substance and more padding. Otherwise it will come out to poke you at a most inconvenient time and in a most inconvenient place. That said – have fun!

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