@fatthightsandmermaidpants | Sewing Influencer
Meet Jo (aka @fatthighsandmermaidpants), a self-taught sewist and fabric enthusiast from Nottingham, UK. Discover her sewing journey, favorite projects, and how she handles setbacks.
How did you learn your craft?
I did GCSE (General Certificate of Education) textiles way back in the ’90s but hated it. There was no fun or creativity – we made cushion covers mostly. I grew up in Birmingham and remember multiple childhood trips to the Fancy Silk Store with my mum. She didn’t sew, but would buy fabric and then pay someone to make curtains, etc. I think my fabric obsession probably started early. And then in February 2021 I bought a sewing machine. Total impulse purchase! It was as simple as not being able to handle another pandemic day of staring at my laptop all day and then at the TV all evening and needing something to break up the screen time. In March I made my first garment—a very bad jumper— and the rest is history. Other than the time at school which taught me the basics of a sewing machine and a straight stitch, I am entirely self-taught, mostly through trial and error.
I made a conscious decision when I bought that machine to not take it too seriously. To not get bogged down in what I “should” be doing, or what anyone else thought, or said. I decided there were no rules. And it’s served me really well. I’ve taken risks that have paid off and had total disasters. Everything I have done has been a learning opportunity and made me a better and more confident sewist.
It’s also partly why I’ve embraced the dodgy mirror selfie. I don’t want to give the impression of perfection because nothing I do is perfect by anyone else’s standards. It’s perfect for me, and that’s all that matters. And the mirror selfies are part of that because from a mental health perspective I know I can’t get into the “must take perfect photos” mindset so I take one pic and post it, regardless of how it looks. The only time I have ever taken two photos is when I went to post the original on Instagram and found it was a blurred photo of a wall without me in it!
What is your favorite project you’ve made?
Can I only choose one?? I made my niece (now almost 2 years old) a hat before she was born that was the very first thing she ever wore. That’s got to be a favorite, on a sentimental level. And her bridesmaid dress for my sister’s wedding, which I ice-dyed fabric for, and hand-embroidered and beaded flowers that my mum drew for me. It’s gorgeous, and was worn for about an hour during which time she covered it in tomato juice.
I also made my husband a Star Wars backpack that I didn’t think he would actually use but he used it everyday for work until he broke it—a good 12 months of use! It was a traumatic sew that led to me upgrading my machine to make bag-making easier.
My sequin ball gown, Christmas dinosaur coat, ice cream dress, pink unicorn pompom dress, the original ice-dye dress, metallic quilted coat…they’re all up there. Oh, and my tassel jumper! I can’t choose. My most complex make is my raincoat, which I adore. I wore it all last winter and I still have the “I made this!” moment every time I put it on.
How do you handle mistakes or setbacks when working on a project?
I don’t really believe in setbacks in sewing. And believe me I’ve had my fair share of issues! There is a bomber jacket that I started making Easter weekend 2021 that I admitted defeat on, and haven’t revisited. But that wasn’t a setback. I learned so much in the small amount I did achieve, and I learned that I wasn’t ready to tackle a bomber jacket pattern just yet. I made a dress last night that is a disaster! Completely unwearable. It’s gorgeous fabric, and a TNT (tried-and-true) pattern, but a terrible combination and that’s four hours of sewing time gone. But I’ve learned more about fabric choice in the process, and also a reminder to listen to my gut because I had my doubts as I was making it.
I’ve said a lot recently that the worst thing about sewing your own clothes is the time it takes to establish you don’t like something. With ready-to-wear you walk into a shop, try something on, and put it back—could take less than 10 minutes. With sewing you buy the fabric, and the pattern, and you invest all that time in prewashing (sometimes…), cutting, marking, sewing, ironing…and then you put it on and meh. It can be heartbreaking. But when it works it is magical, so rather than focus on the heartbreak I try to focus on the lessons— why don’t I like it? Is it the shape, the color, the way it fits? Do I actually love it but just won’t ever wear it because it doesn’t fit my life? How can I take all of that and use it to prevent future heartbreak? This has led to a lot of fabric destashing lately as I realized that I had bought fabric I loved but would simply never wear.
What are you currently making?
I tend to work on one thing at a time, and start and finish in one or two sessions. That says more about my sewing time than anything else. I sew when my husband’s out so I get a couple of full evenings a week usually. But I am going to the Dressmaker’s ball next month and have got to make a start on my dress. There’s no expectation to make something new, and I have lots of things I could wear…but it’s such a great excuse to make something special! I ice-dyed some fabric earlier in the year that was going to be for my sister’s wedding but for various reasons didn’t get used, and I have an idea in my head for a dress. It’s 8 meters of fabric, so I shall admit I’ve been putting it off because it feels like hard work. I probably need to get over it and get sewing.
If you could have anything in the world to support your craft, what would it be?
Time! Oh I would love more sewing time. With more time I could do so much, and would have so much fun. I have far too many ideas for the limited time available. I’ve really felt that lately as we’re nearing the end of a 12-month house renovation so my sewing time is being eaten up by DIY and making decisions about fun things like light fittings and paint colors. For the record, I have no intention of doing any household sewing. I made enough cushion covers at school for a lifetime!