Trendy Calgarians continue opting to sew their own clothing

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In an era where instant gratification is more common than a bad winter cold, the notion of making your own clothing seems like a distant dream. Who wants to tirelessly devote themselves to the endurance of constant pricks from pins?

Elle Nguyen does.

Colourful fabrics and well-used patterns line the walls of the 28-year-old’s sewing room. Each one is carefully selected and altered to create the specific look that she hopes to achieve.

She’s made summer dresses, blazers, shirts and costumes, among other things.


It’s a time consuming process, and as a day-trader, blogger and model, Ngyuen says she often finds herself watching the clock. But a packed schedule doesn’t stop the style-savvy Calgarian from getting more in touch with her creative side.The bobbin area is particularly troublesome for sewers. It can be a source of tangling and tears in fabric. On occasion, material does make its way into the machine. Photo: Kalyn Gilbert

“You can make a lot of styles that you wouldn’t normally find in stores, and there’s this satisfaction of ‘I made this.’ There’s all that work you’ve put into it and you can actually see it,” Nguyen says.

She says her passion stemmed from a desire to make garments that were more elaborate than what might be easily found at a mall. Nguyen also has trouble finding clothes for her petite frame, and says it’s another reason for her interest in sewing.

And so, armed with her reasonably inexpensive sewing machine, Nguyen sits boldly with pair of scissors and thread in hand. A deep red fabric is elegantly fed through the machine, a low whirring echoes as the self-taught seamstress makes the final touches on a friend’s flower girl dress.

Numerous requests are made every month by friends and family to design and produce outfits. The praise continues when Nguyen opts to go out in the clothing she’s made.

“I get a lot of people who stop [and] it’s like, ‘Oh, where did you get that?’ and it’s like, ‘I made this, thank you,’” Nguyen says.

But sewing your own clothes does have its pitfalls — even with a few years of experience under her belt, Nguyen says that fabrics can catch and tear. Often that means starting from scratch.

“It’s really disappointing if you get a run in it. You can pull and stretch and try to get the threads back together, but that usually doesn’t work,” says Nguyen as her hands glide effortlessly across the tray and wheel of her sewing machine.

It can be a pricey mistake — purchasing fabric is the costliest part of her sewing regime, spending upwards of $100 on a garment.

However, for those concerned with breaking the bank, the price of sewing can be kept to a minimum, says John Ashuri, owner Calgary’s Fabric Depot. He makes his living from selling people fabric.

Ashuri says you can make a simple blouse for around $10. For most people that’s a bargain.

Still, Nguyen cautions that some things are still better left to experts. She says that an at-home style isn’t for everyone because it requires skill and time that not everyone is cut out for.

“It’s not for everyone, but if you’re willing to stick with it, it can actually be a lot of fun.”

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