As sewists, we are more aware of the size, length and shape of our body parts than most people. We've measured our inseams, our back lengths and even from boob to boob. We've sewn things up and evaluated where we need a little extra length or a little less ease. We’ve altered our patterns to get the perfect fit. And probably most of those have thought that we had to alter patterns because our bodies weren't “average” or “normal".
But here's the thing. No one is average. No one. Don't believe me? Then you need to listen to this episode of 99% Invisible. Actually everyone needs to go listen to it. (And subscribe because it’s excellent!) Even as an experienced sewist, it will change how you think about size charts and sizing.
I'm taller than the average lady (which is supposedly 5’4"). I reached 5'11" probably around the age of 14. In fact, my body hasn't changed a whole lot since then. Sure my weight has gone up and down. But the arms, legs and shoulders, the length of everything has stayed the same. I've had a long time to get used to this body and also to get used to how people react to it. I’ve felt the weight of many moments walking into a room, an elevator or around a corner and seeing the surprise in someone’s face as I tower over them. There’s just no hiding being tall. (By the way, I’m sure this is the same for anyone who is just outside of average, in no way is it just tall people.)
Being a tall woman inspires a lot of questions. Mainly, how tall are you? Do you play basketball? Why are you wearing heels? You're already tall and you make me feel short. (My most recent quip is that the heels just come with the shoes.) Is your boyfriend tall? What's the shortest you'd be willing to date? (In reality, I think I have less of a complex about mate-height than most 5'8" women. There are so many more important things to consider.) Being a tall woman somehow brings up a lot of issues about what it means to be masculine or feminine and how are bodies represent gender. (cue the Gender is a Drag tshirt)
I've often been told that I'm lucky to be tall and that people are jealous of my height. I always just smile and say, yeah it's great to be able to reach things on the top shelf. And honestly I do love being tall. Over the years I've learned to take advantage of my height. When I'm in a crowded room and need to find someone, or even if I'm trying to get a drink at a bar, I know that I can use my height to my advantage. I have a horrible time finding shoes to buy (thank goodness for internet shopping!) but I can get drink and my view is rarely blocked. (By the way, tall people always feel bad that they’re blocking a short person’s view. My preferred concert spot is on the side or back because the last thing I want is for my height to ruin someone’s experience.)
After you figure out all the awkward, social parts of being tall, there’s still the issue of finding clothes to wear. My inseam is usually just passable in your average jeans but a decent fitting dress was pretty much impossible. I have a large bust and long waist so waist seams are always in the wrong place. To make my bust fit, I’d have to go up a few sizes but then it would be way too loose in the waist and hips.
And shoes were the worst. I wear a size 11 which is not crazy big but just enough to be inconvenient. Most stores stock only up to a size 10. And when they do have an 11 it’s in the ugliest pair. It’s so sad to go into a department store and see rows of pretty shoes that are all too small. In one particularly disheartening episode, a salesman told me that I’d have to go to Portland, 100 miles away to find anything in my size. The way he said it was so dismissive. It's something my mom and I still talk about. I can only imagine how doubly frustrating this is for people looking for larger sized clothing. Thankfully the internet was on the horizon. Although you still have to know where to shop. Years ago I wrote a letter to Urban Outfitters customer service because they did not stock size 11 and did not have a way to filter the sizes when searching. Customer service was not terribly sympathetic but now on their website you can filter by size. Maybe my letter helped a little bit?
When I was in high school I started to really get into sewing. My mom was never an avid sewist even though she has the skills. However, she encouraged the idea that we can make anything we wanted. Pretty much anything we saw, she’d say, “oh we can make that ourselves”. It was a great attitude to be brought up with. In high school and college, I took sewing classes in addition to lots of other subjects. The more I sewed, the more I learned and the better I became at creating the right fit for my body. Being able to sew our own clothes means that we don't have to settle for what's available in shops. And we don't have to have those frustrating shopping trips, going to store after store and not being able to find anything. As a sewist, we can trade in frustrating shopping trips for fun hours spent selecting fabric and patterns and sewing.
It was always a pretty solitary pursuit until I discovered instagram a few years ago. Blogs can be social but they lack the immediate interaction of IG. The other day Instagram, Faye of @fayeraysews shared a little intro about herself as part of #bpsewvember. I was surprised to learn that she is also a tall gal. It's so hard to tell height from IG photos. And then I thought, wouldn't it be great to be able to easily find other tall sewists? Whenever I start a new pattern, I look to see what other people have made from it. I especially like to find other tall sewists who have made a particular pattern because their fitting advice is especially helpful to me. So I left a comment and suggested we have a hashtag. And @pdxsquared suggested #sewingtall. I totally love it and we’ve already started to use it.
So because this hashtag is about sharing, I asked for a few tall IG’ers to share their stories.
"I absolutely love this idea! It can be difficult and I absolutely love that sewing has opened up so many options for me personally clothing-wise. The choice in shops used to be very limited (especially with dresses which were always too short for my tastes!) so I'm glad that I can make clothes to fit and that I love to wear. It's one of the main reasons I decided to start sewing! I suppose this comes into the story with lots of sewers making clothing for various body shape and size reasons. It's part of the brilliance of being able to sew and one of the reasons I learn so much from this sewing community. Everyone is so keen to help and supportive when it comes to sewing fitting help and advice. Personally I love to see how patterns fit on taller ladies and the adjustments they make. As a tall slimmer lady I do have a particular love for Named patterns, they seem made for my build which I love! Another reason I love the sewing community is that we can (and do) talk freely about our body shape and size, and supporting us whatever our size! I've gone #sewingtall crazy and tagged any of my posts I thought might be helpful to other taller sewers where I've included fit adjustments for me as a taller lady."
"Great idea. One of the biggest problems I've always had is that I have a really long body but my legs aren't really super long. When they started to have "tall" sections in clothes shops I was so pleased until I realised their trousers would actually drown me! One extreme to the other. Although I think they have improved a bit since those days (it's been a while since I shopped on the high street!) When I make my own clothes it feels so luxurious to have the arms reach my hands and the trousers reach my ankles! One of my big sewing goals is to find enough to time to sew up a whole heap of pyjamas because they are the most difficult things to find well fitted in shops. Both my daughters are in their teens and are reaching that point where they're realising going up a size isn't going to get them a top with long enough arms. Time to teach them to sew for themselves methinks!"
"For me it is so liberating to have a dress fit. RTW dresses end up with an empire waist no matter where it was supposed to be! I'm just under 6' tall and being able to add inches where I need them is wonderful. I'm not a plus size so making length alterations while keeping the shoulders narrow and darts in the right places involves a little fussing about but is worth it. I sew a lot from Japanese magazine patterns and people laugh when I tell them that since there are few Japanese women sporting my height. I add 4-6" in length to bodice and sleeves and usually get a fabulous result. I can't imagine how I would be dressing if I didn't sew. Probably lots of separates? I love, love dresses and love to sew so I am set.
Another thought: Knip Mode drafts for taller women (5'8") and also have an additional tall line for 6'. I subscribe and sew patterns that fit without adjustment and that is a good feeling! I rarely sew from Big Four. More current fashions are in Burda (who also have tall patterns) and other European magazines. People comment on how lucky I am to be tall all the time and I bite back my critique of lack of clothing options in RTW and instead proudly tell them I custom make all my clothes."
"At 14 years old, I was already 5'10", with half-mast school uniform and an overall gawky look that wasn't helped by any of the tall sections in high street chains. It seemed like they just added length onto the hems of garments (although I still always struggle with RTW sleeve length) and didn't lengthen the curves. I started sewing at 19 and have never looked back. I do, however, struggle with feeling "stylish" because I've never had so many options open to me as I do now.
Being able to sew my own wardrobe has allowed me to define my style (still working on that bit), and make clothing that fits me really well and makes me feel good. I used to feel awful whenever I went clothes shopping on the high street. People told me that my figure was enviable, but it felt awkward. Now I feel liberated"
"I love this! My story is very similar to everyone else's. I was a very lanky and tall teenager. It was impossible to find clothes that fit me. My jeans never were long enough and my tops were always too short with sleeves that barely came down to my wrists. It was really hard to feel stylish as I was becoming a young woman as everything just looked off! Cuts and styles that looked cute on my friends looked strange on me. It took me years to realize that it is due to proportions and The hemlines hitting at wrong spots. I sewed all my life but I never thought that I could actually fit things to myself. Somehow I expected the pattern to be perfect. How silly! But then a few years back I realized how freeing fitting is. I jumped deeper into sewing. My dream was to have a coat that fits me in the length and arm. Sewing a coat is scary but that never stopped me. I haven't bought a coat in over 10 years!"
I’d love to hear your story of #sewingtall (or just being tall or “not average”). Please share in the comments. And if you’re tall or just extra long in some spots. please use the #sewingtall hashtag on instagram and share your experiences.