6 September 2013

Sewing For Your Style: Hints and Tips

Learning to make your own clothes opens up such a wonderful world of sartorial possibilities. No longer reliant on whatever happens to be on trend right now and available in the shops, home dressmakers can dream up an outfit - any outfit - and get to work creating it.

Yet sometimes the sheer number of different combinations of colours, fabrics, patterns and embellishments can become overwhelming. When I first started sewing, I got a bit overexcited at the possibilities that were suddenly available to me. Many of the things I made back then sadly no longer get worn - they just don't feel totally me. These days I have a much stronger sense of my own style and make more of an effort to make things that will fit that style. As a result, I am dressing handmade nearly every day and feeling very much myself in my wardrobe.

I once remarked to a friend of mine that she always looked stylish and so very "Rachael". She divulged that she considers the way she dresses (black and gold, modern, grown up, sexy - my words, not hers) to be part of her personal brand, alongside her website and everything else. Initially I was taken aback as I'd never thought of clothes in this way, but the more I thought about it, the more it made absolute sense. Why not make the way you dress distinctive? Carrying her branding through to what clothes she turns up to events in has contributed to Rachael's brand recognition, which particularly important in her work as a freelance consultant, but also just... well, I just think it's really cool!

While I'm not suggesting we should all match our blouses to our marketing brochures, I do think that having a signature style can make you feel more comfortable, confident and authentic. Some of you asked me to share some tips on developing a signature style, so here goes, and do share your own tips below...

1) Define your look
Being able to articulate your personal style is a strong step towards building a handmade wardrobe that you're excited to wear. Maybe you don't yet dress like this all the time, in which case, what is the ideal look that you would like to achieve? For example, I would describe the style I'm aiming for as classic, preppy, Nouvelle Vague chic, a hint of sixties mod and a large serving of seventies denim, shaken up into a cocktail of modern wearability. If you're not sure about your own signature style, have a think about who your style icons are and what kinds of looks make you swoon. Set up a Pinterest board or IRL scrapbook to document these looks, and over time you should be able to see a theme emerging. When choosing your next sewing project, ask yourself whether it matches your signature style. After all, there's no point spending all that time making something if wearing it doesn't make you really happy.

2) Develop a colour palette
Walking into a fabric shop, all the colours of the rainbow are before your eyes, and it's easy to get overwhelmed. Books such as this one will guide you through choosing shades and tones that complement your skin, eye and hair colour, and thus make you look amazing. But choosing a colour palette isn't only about looking good - it's also about feeling like yourself. What colours do you love? Furthermore, what colours will work well together? My own colour palette is red, blue, yellow, navy, teal, black and white. I'm not saying they're the only colours I'm going to sew from now on (watch out for a pink coat that I'm dreaming of making in the next few months), but focusing on these colours makes it much easier both to pick out fabric and to get dressed in the morning.

3) Choose prints wisely
I lurrrrve browsing fabric shops - both online and IRL. The prints! The prints! It's so easy to set out wanting to achieve a sophisticated-sexy look but get overexcited and end up making a dress with badgers on it. If woodland creature chic is the look you are going for, then that's great (and why not? Elks are in right now). But if not, have a think about what prints will work for your style. Geometric? Floral? Quirky? Abstract? And don't forget solid colours - so often neglected by home dressmakers, yet they are so wearable and will show off the style lines of a garment so well. If you're still excited about the badgers, you can show your love in other ways without turning it into a dress. For example, you could make a cushion out of it, or again, give props on Pinterest.

4) Sew for your lifestyle

I love dresses, don't you? Especially dresses in bright red with big skirts and fancy details. Yet I hardly ever wear things like that - unfortunately my life isn't one big cocktail party. One of the most important lessons I've learnt about dressing handmade is to sew clothes that I will actually wear on a daily basis. Do you spend most of your waking life sitting at a desk, holding small children, presenting at power meetings, digging flower patches, standing behind a till, schmoozing clients...? What kinds of garments will make you feel comfortable in that situation? As Tasia so eloquently puts it, sew more cake and less frosting.

5) Be yourself
Cliché alert! But a cliché worth mentioning with images of clothing abounding on the interwebs and competing for our attention. It's easy to find yourself influenced by what other people are making or to get caught up in the frenzy any time a new sewing pattern is released. But catch your breath and ask yourself whether the project you are considering making matches your signature style. If it doesn't, and you still really want to make it, well that's great! We all need some diversity in our lives... go wild! But if you're keen to build up a wardrobe full of handmade garments that will make you swoon on a daily basis, then make sure that whatever you spend all that time sewing makes you happy and feels you.

The image above is a mood board put together by Breanna, the lovely and talented designer of my new logo, bringing together some of the images I chose to reflect my style and the look I wanted for my brand. Every time I look at this mood board, I feel a bit gooey inside and want to do a little dance - I just love it so much! It perfectly reflects the signature style I'm aiming for. Why not try making a signature style mood board of your own?

Over to you... How would you describe your signature style? Whether dream or reality! And who are your style icons? I'd love to hear...

PS. Don't forget to join us for the #SewingSocial Twitter chat on Sunday!

PPS. In other exciting news, my genius brother Joe has just launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund his latest invention - a slim, wireless flash that takes great photos for the iPhone without the harshness of regular flash lighting. It's such a great idea! You're in safe hands here - one of my earliest memories of Joe is him aged about seven taking apart any household appliance he could get his hands on and rewiring it to work better, go faster etc. As a grown up, he went on to help set up Google's London office and develop web and mobile products, before emigrating to Chicago to write code I'll never hope to understand, and spending his weekends tinkering away at his amazing inventions in the basement. And this one is gonna be big. So go on, pledge all your money and tell everyone you've ever met :)