If you had told me when I was 29 that in 10 years time I would have made my entire wardrobe, run a sewing pattern company and finally found peace with my body, I would have said that was impossible. But learning to sew a simple pillow started a journey that blossomed into a total life transformation.
Ever since I was a toddler in ballet class being told off for having a sticky-out tummy, I have been on the bigger side. No matter how many diets I tried, or sit-ups I did, I stayed stubbornly chubby, even if I had brief forays into being a smaller clothes size. By the time I was a teenager, I was resigned to it: not only did I feel like an unattractive failure for being a size 16 at 16 years old (how I laugh now at the idea that that is huge), but there was also no way I would be able to dress as I wanted to, despite the fact I loved clothes, because there simply weren’t clothes I liked in my size in the shops.
Of course, my size wasn’t the only thing that defined me. An enthusiastic adopter of hobbies, I was creative from a young age, always starting up a new art or craft. So, when I was looking for a new challenge when I turned 30, I thought I would learn to sew. I vividly remember the first lesson I took, making a “rustic” pillow – as I sewed the first seam, I caught the bug. Before long, I was spending every evening and weekend learning new techniques; soon I was trying to make my own clothes, as I had the exciting idea that maybe I could make things that fitted.
Imagine my disappointment, then, when I found out that, just as so many clothing shops ended at a size 16, so did most sewing patterns. Plus, they tended to be made for a B-cup bra and I was much bigger than that. So, I had to learn to alter patterns to fit me, mastering the complex “full bust adjustment” and learning how to make a single garment with different sizes at the bust, waist and hips. It took a long time to refine my alteration skills, but once I did I could create any garment, in any fabric, in any style – and it would fit me.
Learning this skill of changing my clothes to fit my body, rather than changing my body to fit my clothes, was profoundly freeing: from the constant internal narrative I had when I was in a changing room willing a size 14 to fit; from having to wear what other people had decided was suitable for someone my size; from being assigned a number that was meant to dictate my worth as a person. I realised I had been tormenting myself to fit into an “average” that had never existed. It became evident that, contrary to what I had always believed, anyone can wear anything, as long as it fits. There is no magic rule that says when women hit a size 16 they no longer want to wear silk dresses, biker jackets, swimsuits or crop tops. All you need is enough fabric and sewing and fitting skills – then anything is possible. I learned that there was nothing inherently wrong with my body, and trying on only clothes that were custom-made for me was total bliss.
Still, I was frustrated that I had to make so many alterations to every sewing pattern – and I knew I wasn’t alone, because the average UK woman is a size 16 and a DD cup size. So, one night, about four years after I learned to sew, I had an idea that would change my life again: I was going to help other curvy women experience the body positivity transformation I had, by creating sewing patterns that were designed for our size and body shape – no adjustments required.
A year later, I launched Cashmerette Patterns with the Appleton dress, a wrap dress that doesn’t gape at the bust, that comes in sizes 16 to 32 and in cup sizes C to H. It turned out I was right: so many other women felt alienated by sewing patterns, and being able to whip up a dress “straight out of the packet” was not only convenient but also liberating. Since then, I have quit my job to run Cashmerette full-time. We have more than 20 patterns, from simple T-shirts and a swimsuit with a full underwired bra inside, to a shirt that doesn’t gape at the buttons. They are sold all over the world.
My 29-year-old self would be astonished to see what my life looks like now, but I know she would be proud and perhaps a little overwhelmed to know how much I have changed and how I have been able to help other women like me. Learning to sew changed almost every facet of my life, and I will always be grateful to the small cushion that opened my mind to what was possible.