Back in December, a friend of mine from college reached out to me about making traditional African attire for him and his girlfriend. He said he really liked my work and wanted me to make them outfits for his father’s 60th birthday party. I was so humbled by that because you really never know who is watching but also a bit nervous. How on earth was I supposed to do this? He wanted me to make him a long sleeve top and his girlfriend a pencil skirt using the same Ankara material. I never drafted neither of these garments before and to make things even more interesting, they both lived in two different states outside of Texas. That’s right – your girl would not be able to do a fitting in person.
We finalized everything at the beginning of this year in January so that I could get started. I didn’t have any experience making custom pieces for anyone outside my family so it was funny how my first time would have me working with clients remotely. As nervous as I was, I still said yes to it anyway. Of course I feared messing up but I needed this challenge. I read and watched all things pattern drafting and sewing for menswear and womenswear. I tried to piece together the knowledge I had with new information to see what I would come up with. I decided to make a muslin to send to both of them (one in Boston and the other in Los Angelos) and do a fitting via Facetime. I had to trust my eye and their assessment on the fit and the amount that needed to be taken in or added. It was tricky but it honestly all worked out. Thank you God!
I spent a lot of sleepless nights and even sometimes stayed up until an hour before I needed to get ready for work the next day but it was all worth it. They loved their garments and it fit them so well. It is almost surreal to know that someone was rocking an original of mine with my label. Oh and yes – I purchased “Baby Mu” labels just in time to add to these pieces and I am so in love (more on these label in a post to come). I feel so official now! HA! This project to me was my self-care moment. Saying yes to ideas and opportunities I would typically talk myself out of felt liberating. It actually peaked my interest to pattern draft more of my upcoming makes and designs.
Here are a few takeaways that I would like to share that I think would be helpful to anyone gearing up to sew their first custom garment:
Request the measurements you want to have.
One of the things I wished I did was request all the measurements I needed. With both of my clients being remote I had to rely on someone else taking their measurements and I had the assumption that they would take the measurements that I would take but that isn’t always true. There were certain measurements I wish I had going into this project but now I know better and thankfully it all worked out even without them.
Menswear measurements are slightly different than womenswear.
When my client sent over his measurements, I learned quickly that menswear measurements are taken different in some areas such as the arm length and waist. Therefore it’s extra important to request the measurements you want and how you want them to be taken, especially when working with clients remotely. Luckily my husband was close to his size and wore the same dress shirts so I compensated by using my husband’s dress shirts and even some of his measurements as a reference.
Make time for a muslin.
One of the things I am most thankful for in this entire process was actually making a muslin first to be sent out for a fitting. It helped me understand the sort of construction that I wanted for the garments and also ensured that I get the best possible fit. It was great to see the muslin on because it helped me identify drafting errors before making the final. I understand you may not always have the time to make one, but if you can, I highly suggest you do so.
I walked into this nervous and left more confident than ever when it comes to sewing and pattern drafting. For the first time I drafted a long sleeve men’s African traditional shirt that allowed me to create tower plackets for the front and sleeve of the shirt, and draft a skirt with a back vent (which was super simple and I have no idea why I haven’t done so for myself). It pushed me past my creative comfort zone and encouraged me to invest in resources to strengthen my skill.
Now, I am not saying I am trying to be a new Nigerian tailor on the market but what I will say is that I am glad I tried it and experienced it as opposed to leaving it to my imagination out of fear. I hope you too say “yes” to yourself and push past your own creative comforts even if it’s only for just that one time. Until next time loves!