Meet 5 Canadian women who sew their own clothes
Driven by a decline in the quality of store-bought clothing combined with a proliferation of online tutorials (and pandemic-induced free time), more and more Canadians have recently learned to sew, and in doing so, they have achieved total autonomy over how they dress. “Finding clothes that fit me hasn’t always been easy, and when I do, it’s not necessarily the style I like to wear,” says Susan Quann, who was born with spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia, a form rare dwarfism. “It was a huge relief for me when I realized I could create perfectly fitting clothes.” Read on to learn more about Quann and four other Canadians who picked up a needle and thread during the pandemic and still haven’t let go.
Susan Quan; @eli.sawey
Miawpukek First Nation (Conne River, NL)
When my son was born in 2018 with the same type of dwarfism as me, I decided to learn to sew. I wanted him to wear the clothes he liked, a luxury I didn’t have.
My husband’s grandmother, a lifelong seamstress, gave me a crash course, then I started watching videos on YouTube and joined a bunch of sewing groups on Facebook.
I’m aboriginal—Mi’kmaq and Tuscarora—and in my community we don’t have a lot of powwow badge makers anymore. When my son was four months old, I decided to make him a badge, so I told my elders about it. Then I laid my baby on the fabric and traced her body to make a badge that fit her perfectly.
I didn’t start sewing for myself until the pandemic. But finding a model that fits my body is about as difficult as finding clothes. Eventually I found a blog post from a company called Ellie and Mac on how to edit templates. I bought one of their patterns for pants, cut it out and put it together. He’s really good.
As I started to make myself more clothes, I posted pictures on instagram and ICT Tac, and companies started asking me to test their models, a great opportunity to create a little more exposure for people with different body types. And in June, I started my business, Eli’sawey, making traditional aboriginal badges and clothing.
Recently, my son asked me if he could learn to sew. He’ll pull a cloth out of my pile and say, “Mom, you have to do this.”
Joann Liu; @lemonwearsclothes
When I had my first baby in 2017, my body changed – rightly so, after fostering a child – and I needed to start my wardrobe all over again. I found myself drawn to slow fashion because paying workers a fair wage and being mindful of consumption are very important to me. I ended up finding a whole community on Instagram whose values were similar to mine. Eventually, it seemed like everyone in the community had started learning to sew.
At first I was very envious. I looked at the clothes they made and thought, “I could never do that.” My only exposure to sewing at that time was a single home economics class, which I was very bad at. But in May 2020, a relative offered her sewing machine, so I thought I’d just give it a try. I started making a pair of baby pants. When I finished them, I felt like I had finished my master’s again. Once I conquered the baby pants, I made a pair of Anna AllenThe Pomona pants, which broke my brains a bit. I’m not really a spatial thinker. But I was addicted to that sense of accomplishment.
Through tailoring, I learned that clothes should cost a lot more. There is no magic machine that pumps out $10 T-shirts. There is a person behind every article who has done all this work. Sewing has given me an identity outside of parenthood, being in a relationship, or my job. Mothering is a huge undertaking, and seamlessly I would feel detached. It’s really mine, and I think it’s important.
Cassie Taton; @makingcassie
I was fired from my marketing job pretty much as soon as the pandemic started. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I originally got into sewing because I saw it as a more lasting relationship with consumerism – I wanted to learn how to alter my clothes and thrift shop (transform second-hand finds with funky fabrics into other thing). I borrowed a sewing machine and taught myself through YouTube videos. It became a calming practice, something I invested myself in when everything was so chaotic.
One of the first things I made was overalls, which was tricky, but when you think about it, sewing is just following a lot of steps. I shine with pride every time I wear them. They are now falling apart – I didn’t know how to finish the seams well when I made them – but I’m mending them as I go because I really cherish them.
The moment you start a project is filled with so many possibilities. The first steps are always quite easy and you feel invincible. Then you have to do something complicated, like a zipper, and it all falls apart. My sewing style is very slow and intentional.
Before starting a project, I take a step back and think about what I want to bring into my wardrobe. It really made my style more cohesive. It sounds dramatic, but sewing changed the trajectory of my life. After I got laid off, I realized how depressed I was working in marketing. Slowly, I made sewing part of my daily life as much as possible.
Chidinma Durosaro; @houseofchyda
I learned to sew on my own in 2019 because I’m drawn to one-of-a-kind items, like blazer dresses and extra wide pants, that I struggle to find in stores. In order to wear exactly what I wanted, I had to learn how to do it. I taught myself by going to YouTube and watching videos of people sewing and took it from there. I also make my own patterns. To do this I had to draft a body block [a basic pattern template]. For each garment I want to make, I start with the block and adapt a pattern from there.
In January 2021 I lost my job as an office manager and had a lot of free time, that’s when I decided to take sewing a little more seriously. Now, when I want to do something new, I do it first in a fabric I don’t care about, in case it turns out to be rubbish. If it’s good, I’ll make it in the right fabric.
In June 2021, I started my own youtube channel and posted videos showcasing my different sewing projects. I thought I was just going to upload some videos and start making money. It didn’t quite work out that way, but my DMs are full of people asking, “When are you going to make us outfits to buy?” I generally refuse them. Even though I love making outfits for myself, I don’t feel confident enough to start sewing for others.
Every time I put on an outfit I made, it’s like heaven. Sewing made me realize that I could accomplish anything I wanted. I never thought I’d be patient enough to learn to sew – and I want others to know that if I can learn, anyone can.
Dr. Emily Bruusgaard @loveaslugtoo
After my great-grandfather fell ill, my grandmother’s family didn’t have much money, and it was thanks to sewing that they maintained a middle-class appearance. She taught me to sew when I was seven, and I mostly made doll clothes, which I did until I was a teenager. As an adult, I had given up sewing, but things changed a lot when I went through menopause in 2020. Suddenly none of my clothes were right for me. I couldn’t take anything tight.
I started to develop tissue sensitivities. I’m a knitter, but suddenly I couldn’t stand the feel of wool against my skin. I was trying to get dressed when everything stopped.
The first thing I made from scratch that looked good on me was a pair of elastic waistband pants; I adjusted the pattern so they were long enough for my legs. I made them with black linen that had been lying around in my closet for about three years. I ended up wearing and washing them so many times that the linen turned grey.
Menopause also changed my relationship with gender. I’m a teacher and a few years ago I started asking my students to share their pronouns because I wanted to respect them. A light bulb has gone out. I always play with what seems right to me, but for the moment, I have opted for the gender fluid. Making my own clothes gives me the freedom to dress exactly how I want.
I’ve never felt comfortable with feminine styles; I prefer oversized silhouettes, like box tops that aren’t constricting or constricting. Every time I put on the drop crotch balloon pants I made from a Tina Dons model, I feel like my best 53-year-old gender-fluid self.