I Tried Six Clothes DIYS To See How Easy They Really Are
Spoiler alert: Sewing machines are the devil's handiwork.
I am short. Crick-in-the-neck, permanently-trotting-to-keep-up short. And it turns out that finding clothes that fit short people is hard.
To be honest, finding clothes that fit properly is hard for most women. But, I'm nothing if not self-obsessed, and let me tell you, finding clothes when you barely make the height requirement to go on a rollercoaster is hard. Or at the very least, mildly irritating.
The legs of trousers are always too long, as are T-shirts and dresses. Or if they ARE the right length, they'll be cut for someone who has no boobs or bum. This all adds up to making clothes shopping a pretty crappy experience in which I feel like a weird alien with stubby legs who's unfit for real human clothes.
The solution? Get all my stuff tailored.
But fuck that, because that's expensive. So the solution to the solution is: DIY my clothes with a bunch of hacks I found on the internet. I'm intelligent (...ish), have opposable thumbs, and I took one sewing lesson about three years ago, so I'm more than qualified to handle a sewing machine.
I wanted DIYs to shorten the legs of trousers so I could finally try to pull off mom jeans and DIYS to fix trendy "oversized" T-shirts that make me look like I'm wearing potato sacking. And something, anything, to make wearing heels less painful.
Then I commandeered my boyfriend Karl's flat because I needed someone around in case I accidentally sewed my hand to something.
Cost: £0. I have a hairdryer, and I have heels that cause me pain. I don't own thick socks, because even though I have horrific circulation, when I'm in M&S holding thick socks and regular socks I always manage to convince myself I don't need to pay the extra for thick ones. AND I WAS RIGHT. I put on two pairs of regular socks, and it was totally fine. So there you go, Mum, not so silly now, am I?
Level of difficulty: 0/10. This was a piece of cake. You put your socks on, squeeze your feet into your shoes, then blow-dry them for a bit. I have a harder time drying my hair with a hairdryer – the thing it is actually intended for – than I did with this. Also, having your feet gently warmed through two layers of socks is the nicest feeling.
Was it worth it? It was worth it just to have properly warm feet for a few minutes. But also, it definitely worked – I only did one shoe, and then tried the pair on to see if there was a difference, and there was a huge one. The non-blow-dried one felt tight and pinch-y, but the blow-dried one I could barely feel. I get blisters very easily, but unless I want to look like a Lord of the Rings extra, I need to wear heels at least occasionally. Now I can wear them without Karl having to piggyback me home at the end of the night (haha, jk, you still have to piggyback me home, Karl).
How I felt: Delighted, with gloriously toasty feet. I think the last time my feet were warm was circa 2005, when my mum accidentally left the heating on high and for a few beautiful hours, my body was the perfect temperature.
Side note: If you ever see the stretching-shoes-in-a-freezer trick, DO NOT DO IT. My ex once accidentally bought shoes too small for him, and high on the kind of confidence that comes from watching too many YouTube tutorials, I told him I could fix it. I did not fix it. I put water bags in his shoes, left them in the freezer, and when I took them out the next day it looked like that scene in Alien vs. Predator when the alien babies burst out of people's chests, but with shoes and bags full of frozen water.
Cost: £5.70. John Lewis does a sewing basics range with all the essentials for £1 each, so I got a seam ripper, a measuring tape, and hem tape from there. Then the dressmaker's chalk was £2.70, which was the priciest part. Altogether, though, this was way cheaper than getting my jeans altered professionally.
Level of difficulty: 4/10. The first thing you have to do is take out the seams at the bottom of your jean legs, which isn't *hard* but is time-consuming and annoying. Then you just have to measure what you want to take off (take your time doing this), get the fold straight, put hem tape in, and iron.
On my first go, for some reason I thought you were meant to iron the hem tape on top of the fabric, which was very very wrong. Turns out you're meant to put the hem tape between the two bits of fabric you want to stick together and iron the fabric on top so it heats up inside and melts, fusing everything together. Once you've got the hang of it, though, it's SO EASY. Whoever invented hem tape is a bloody genius, because this stuff is life-changing.
Was it worth it? Definitely. £1 for some hem tape = about £49 less than a sewing machine. And it's a billion times easier and quicker (once you've figured out how to use it). Also, if you don't have a seam ripper, you need to get one. Ripping seams is a ball ache, but the tool itself is so useful. Just in that day, I used it to unpick seams, pull thread out of a sewing machine, untangle a necklace, and get the ties in my top straps undone.
How I felt: Like a goddamn domestic goddess. I had unripped every seam, conquered hem tape, and the glory of perfectly resized jeans was mine.
Cost: £1-2. You're basically just cutting a T-shirt up, and I already had scissors so technically this cost me nothing. I also used a bit of hem tape too, in a desperate bid to make this look better than it was (more on that later).
Level of difficulty: 6/10. OK, technically this isn't hard. You cut your big T-shirt in half, put a little hole in the top half, cut into the bottom half so you've got two bits to tie in the hole, and boom, you have a dress. Except that it's the shittiest dress you will ever see in your life. The bottom bit was so wide that my arse was hanging out the back, so I used some hem tape to try to fix that because butt cleavage is not and will never be a thing. Basically, all the proportions on this just didn't work. So yeah, I made a dress. But it LOOKS like a dress that I made, and not in an impressive, aren't-you-clever way. In a really, really shit way.
Was it worth it? Nope, nope, nope. This one was really frustrating, because I had such high hopes. I was already picturing myself in my pretty, grey marl dress, going "oh, this old thing? I made it myself" to shocked gasps and admiring glances. Instead I ruined a big comfy T-shirt that would have been great to sleep in. Not impressed.
How I felt: Irritated, because I tried on the top half of the top before I put the little hole in it to make the "dress" and it looked lovely as a crop top. Moral of the story: Don't overcomplicate. Just cut yourself a new crop top.
Cost: £1-2. All you need is scissors, hem tape, and a level of self-esteem that can survive a few hard knocks.
Level of difficulty: 6/10. You're not meant to use hem tape in this DIY, but I did as I tried to 1) tighten the back, 2) take up the hem, and 3) add a strip of fabric to stop the neckline from falling down my shoulders. This was easy enough to follow, and I did manage to create a bow, but getting the placement was hard. I ended up with a bow that was so high up my bra strap showed. Then the fabric underneath the bow drooped loads so my butt cleavage once again showed up, like an uninvited party guest who just won't take a hint.
The altered top also had an unfortunate side effect: When I put it on, it became clear that my back and upper arms were not ever meant to be seen in the light of day.
Was it worth it? Guess what, guys. When you cut up a T-shirt, it looks like crap. Remember at uni when there were those organised nights out where everyone got special T-shirts and all the girls cut them up to *customise* them? It looks like that. This may have cost nothing, but can you put a price on the loss of your dignity?
How I felt: Horrific. I had failed at fixing both my T-shirts, and I looked like a fresher who'd tried too hard with her pub crawl T-shirt.
Cost: £55.20. It was £49 for the sewing machine, £1 for pins, about £1.50 for the thread, £2.70 for the chalk and £1 for a measuring tape. I've not included the price of my emotional wellbeing.
Level of difficulty: FML/10. That first picture of me reading the sewing machine manual, full of hope and good cheer, was taken around 4.30pm. The second picture of me clutching my fucked-up jean hems was taken a few hours later. Setting up the sewing machine, with the combined effort of Karl and I (but mainly Karl), took about 45 minutes. I was stressed out by the end of it, but otherwise keeping it together. Then I tried to sew.
The sewing machine wouldn't sew the jean hems. The thread kept getting all tangled up underneath, then the machine would make weird noises and not do anything. Karl and I untangled the thread, reset everything, and tried again about five times, going over every possible thing that could be going wrong, steadily getting more and more passive-aggressive with each other.
Then I saw you could adjust the tension of the thread for thicker fabrics, so set it to the highest one. For a brief, shining second, we thought this was the answer, as the machine did then start to properly sew. But it turned out to be false hope, as it quickly tangled up again. Which, in many ways, was crueller. Then, finally, when reading the instruction manual for the 50th time, I spotted some small print saying this machine was not built to sew thick materials like jeans.
It was at this point that I broke, and started gently sobbing. Karl went into the kitchen and opened a bottle of wine.
Reader: We drank the lot.
As it turned out, I ended up rolling up the cuffs of the jeans to hide the stitching, and it looked FINE. See the before and after above for reference. Note to self: always check if you can just roll up the cuffs before you embark on the sewing machine journey from hell.
Was it worth it? No. My jeans are still too long, and what's worse is that I know this DIY would have worked, if the sewing machine had worked. The bits I managed to sew did actually look like the pictures in the tutorial. I was so close, but so, so far.
How did I feel? Equal parts rage, misery and red wine. Then, after I had stopped crying, I just felt empty inside.
Cost: £1. I ended up using my hot glue gun, which I had from my adventures in office DIYs, rather than tape. Other than that, I just needed scissors, which I already had, and my measuring tape.
Level of difficulty: 3/10. Piss easy. You measure how long the straps need to be, then cut them off and reattach them with tape, or in my case, hot glue. I know it says to use tape, but I really needed cheering up, and nothing cheers me up quite like wielding a hot glue gun after a few glasses of wine.
Was it worth it? After the sewing machine disaster, I needed a win badly. For both this post and for my own sense of self-worth. And salvation came in the form of an old vintage crop top with straps that were too long. I'd been holding on to it for years, in the hopes that it would magically shrink in my wardrobe or that I would magically grow (I can confirm neither of these things have happened). It's been in there waiting. Waiting for its moment. And today was that day. As I pressed each strap into its new, perfectly sized place, the warmth of the hot glue under my fingertips, I could feel myself being reborn.
Screw the sewing machine. Screw hemming my jeans the "traditional" way. I was a modern woman with a hot glue gun, and that was all I needed.
So, yes. It was worth it.
How did I feel? Triumphant. Redeemed in the eyes of God, Karl, and my editor. And a little drunk.
This was an emotional rollercoaster, but I've come away with a few solid lessons. One: Do not ever cut your T-shirts. No matter how beautiful it looks in the blog pictures, do not do it. No good will come of it.
Two: You really do not need a sewing machine to take stuff up, if you have hem tape. I mean, yeah, if you have a sewing machine that will sew jeans, and want to keep the original hemlines, then try that DIY, because I'm 99% sure it would have been OK if I'd been able to make the sewing machine work. But, honestly, hem tape is where it's at. That stuff is MAGIC, and at least £40 cheaper than a sewing machine. I really cannot tell you how much I love hem tape. Please go buy some.
Three: Everyone should own a seam ripper. Even if you have no seams to unpick, it's just so useful and it's only £1. Go get one of those too.
Four: Hot glue guns are surprisingly useful. Not a thing I ever thought I'd need, but very glad I had one on hand.
And finally, five: Wine really does make everything better.