Sewing and Body Image


I’m not the first to write about this, but for me, learning to sew clothing has had both a magnifying effect and a calming effect on body image.

Sewing requires attention to the exact measurements of the body, and how those differ from the average pattern. So I’m much more aware than before of my body’s specific quirks. But somehow in my mind, the process has cast these measurements in a neutral light as variations, rather than negative problems.

Shopping: “Dresses are hard to find because my bottom half is too big compared to my top half. Pants always gape at the back waist because my hips are shaped weird. Shirts are always too short, yet too baggy under the arms.”


Sewing: “The pattern is only a starting point. I’ll alter it to bridge between the two different sizes of my top and bottom half. Take out a wedge in the middle back to make the waist lie flat. Spread the pattern a few inches to lengthen the hem. Do a small bust adjustment to geometrically remove excess volume without changing garment shape.”


See the difference? The shopping thoughts were focused on criticism. The sewing thoughts now are focused on solving the differences between pattern and body.

Human bodies come in multiple categories, with thousands of variations in each. But clothing companies design only to one or two “ideal” shapes. So it’s no wonder that I would have so many fit issues off the rack. Sewing causes me to look at body shape in an objective light. Rather than the frustration of trying to find premade clothes that happen to fit my shape, I get to call the shots with the fabric.

P.S. There’s a downside. Now I know too much about fit and won’t settle for less anymore while shopping. But I’m reeeeally slow at sewing and nowhere near good enough yet to replace a substantial chunk of my wardrobe. What to do…


Sewing Success: Buttonholes

Guys, I did it! I conquered buttonholes! Here is my first usable attempt compared to a final draft (you can tell a lot of practice happened in between).


I’ve been sewing since I was quite young, maybe 5. Mom started me on plastic canvas needlepoint and soon enough I was attempting cross-stitch patterns. I don’t remember when I started on the sewing machine, but I do remember refashioning cutoff jean legs into pants for my American Girl doll around age 8 or 10. And I made blackout curtains for my bedroom in junior high. But I never did much apparel sewing until last year.

All this is to say that after more than two decades of experience with thread and fabric, I am finally capable of making buttonholes. Hooray!

Turns out it’s not that hard, by the way. It just took a while, with help from some awesome sewing blogs, to decipher the instructions from my grandma’s 1950s Singer. Soon I plan to do a whole post on that amazing machine.

For now, I’ll leave you with a sneak peek of the garment that received the buttonholes:


It’s a chambray shirt dress! I’ll share final photos once I work out a few fit issues with the skirt. Fitting is the hardest part for me.

How can anyone afford a San Diego house?

Many people in my life are thinking about or have just begun home ownership and I would love to buy a house within the next few years. Back home in Ohio, we could’ve afforded to buy several years ago. But here in California, I knew it would be much more expensive. (The higher cost of living is supposedly compensated by higher salaries here, but neither of us experienced much difference in pay when we moved.) So I set out to calculate the costs and was stunned at the difference between the two cities.

The House

I wanted to do a direct comparison between modestly sized houses in San Diego and Cleveland, in neighborhoods where we would like to live. It was hard to find a perfect comparison, but I found something close enough.


Both are old bungalows with charming craftsman details, hardwood floors, and lots of natural light. Neither requires fixing up. Each is in a quiet neighborhood in the first historic ring of suburbs a 15-minute drive from downtown, with old character homes and an average school system. Both are a short walking distance to an elementary school, a park, and a vibrant, funky commercial district with hipster restaurants and night life.

Feature North Park, SD [listing] Cleveland Heights [listing]
Beds 3 3
Baths 1 2
Size 1,342 sq ft 1,655 sq ft
Lot 5,000 sq ft/0.11 acres 7,405 sq ft/0.17 acres
Built 1917 1941
Price $669k $125k

The Budget

The price difference is astonishing, but what does it look like in a monthly budget? I’ve invented a case study that’s similar to my situation, but with numbers derived from national averages. Let’s say you are a 28-year-old couple who graduated college debt-free, got professional jobs, and spent and saved wisely to accrue a $50k down payment. In 2011, although median family income in the U.S. was $60,974, the median income for families headed by college-educated individuals was $100,096 [source]. So let’s say this couple earns a combined $100k per year.

Cost North Park, SD [listing] Cleveland Heights [listing]
House cost $669k $125k
Down payment* $47k $50k
Percentage 7% 40%
Mortgage 30yr fixed 3.322% 30yr fixed 3.322%
Principal & Interest $2,732 $329
Taxes $351 $195
Homeowners Insurance $78 $44
Mortgage Insurance** $394 $0
Monthly Payment $3,555 $568

* Numbers differ slightly due to limitations of the Zillow online calculator
** Required for down payments under 20%

Standard advice states that your monthly housing payment should not exceed 28 percent of your gross income. For our case study, $100k times 0.28 equals $28k, which divided by 12 means they should not pay more than $2,333 per month. This puts the San Diego couple in way over their heads, while the Cleveland couple is able to save tons of money for other expenses or home improvements (oh, and the heating bill).

Results in a Nutshell

1. In San Diego, the house price is 5.4x more, and the monthly payments cost 6.3x more.

2. I don’t know how anyone can afford to buy a house here in Southern California. I love living here and would absolutely pay more to enjoy this wonderful weather and city. Our rent here, for a slightly smaller but nicer apartment in a similar neighborhood, is about 1.5x more than back home. But 6x more for buying? That seems impossible.

3. Fun fact. For the same $669k from San Diego, that couple could buy a luxury 6-bed, 6-bath, 4800-square-foot historic mansion on an acre of landscaped grounds in Shaker Heights, home of Cleveland’s best public school district [listing].


(Of course they’d need a zillion more dollars to furnish and heat that mansion, but that’s a story for another day.)

Meal plan 04.12.13

As you can see, I haven’t planned meals in a while. After we hosted several houseguests in a row I fell off the planning wagon. But as usual, it’s been more hectic and less efficient without a plan, so today I took the time to make one.

2013-04-12-meals (images from links below. you like how I balance those pancakes with green stuff? :)

  • Friday: Out and about
  • Saturday: Breakfast: sour cream pancakes. Dinner: grill burgers & dogs
  • Sunday: My mom’s slow cooker chicken tortilla soup
  • Make-ahead lunch: Green wraps (with homemade hummus if I get ambitious)
  • Monday: Leftovers (getting home late)
  • Tuesday: Green pesto plate
  • Wednesday: Leftovers (getting home late)
  • Thursday: Pork chops and roasted broccoli

This month I cooked lentils for the first time. They were good! My friend recommended a dal recipe with rhubarb and I really want to try it, but haven’t found any at the store yet. I’m also craving rhubarb buttermilk quickbread. Is it in season where you are?

North Bluff Preserve

Saturday we spent the afternoon on the beach in Del Mar. While Dan ran south to Torrey Pines training for an upcoming half marathon, I took a nice long walk.2013-04-06-b
After climbing up the bluff, I sat on a bench in the sunshine and enjoyed an amazing southward view. The beach was crowded with dog owners playing fetch. 2013-04-06-c
It’s still flower season and the top of the bluff was covered in gorgeous bright colors. 2013-04-06-d
I didn’t want to come back down.