SMYLY Striped Nettie Dress

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SMYLY Striped Nettie Dress

SMYLY Striped Nettie Dress

Sewing Makes You Love Yourself. When I read the name of this challenge, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. Organized by Athina Kakou, Lisa Kish, and Hattie van der Krohn, the SMYLY challenge (#smyly2018) is all about sharing your sewing story. Whether sewing has helped you get through a tough time in your life, encouraged you to break free creatively, or transformed the way you think about your body, we all have a deep connection with this practice that is worth sharing.

Participate in #SMYLY2018 from January 1 until February 28th to be eligible for prizes. Sew something that makes you feel amazing and share your SMYLY story. I am one of the sponsors for this challenge, so you can enter to win my PDF pattern collection! Winners are chosen in a random draw. You can learn more about the Sewing Makes You Love Yourself (SMYLY) challenge here


My SMYLY Story:

For me, fashion has always been a means of personal expression. I loved playing dress-up as a young kid and I would often take items from the costume box and wear them to school. It never occurred to me that I looked silly! I would simply wear what felt good to me each day. Thankfully, my parents let me do just that and never tried to make me look ‘cute’ or ‘normal’.

In high school, crushing self-awareness hit me like a freight train as I grew taller than most of my peers and struggled hard with acne. I also noticed that I didn’t dress like other kids. What used to be a fun way to express myself became embarrassing and so uncool. I desperately wanted boys to like me and so I started wearing a new style.

Dresses got shorter and tighter. Mini skirts, black hair, and studded chokers. I was hiding my skin behind too much makeup and my body issues behind overly-sexy clothing. Not revolutionary, I know, but I thought that feeling attractive equaled looking sexy.

It is interesting how things change. One moment I’m an awkward teenager who shows a lot of skin and thinks she’s some kind of goth. The next I’m an awkward adult dealing with real-world expectations of what a woman should look like. I’m suddenly aware of looking too sexy. I’m afraid of my body. I try to dress ‘professional’ and look ‘presentable’, all the while feeling like an ugly duckling posing as a swan. Don’t we all wish we could go back in time and tell our 20-year-old selves how amazing we looked? I get those ‘10 years ago today’ posts on Facebook and all I can think is ‘I looked so good, but I remember feeling so ugly’.

Stomachs should be flat, buts should be bootylicious, arms should be toned…but not too toned. Backs are sexy, thighs should have a gap, knees are gross, and chins should be hidden. Skin must be radiant, hair free, and fresh. You must be fresh. Your clothes need to tell a story – the story that you have enough money to look like everyone else.

I spent my early 20s trying to make all those things happen. It didn’t help that I gained the usual 15 pounds of ‘not a teenager anymore’ weight and was convinced that I was fat. So there I was, fat-obsessed and working a job that did not inspire me. Scared of my body. Afraid that everyone could see my tummy, my acne, my chin, my leg stubble. Trying to dress to fit in but not knowing how. I never did understand how to get ‘the look’ that other women had. I never felt like myself in my clothing.

Enter……*drum roll please*…..SEWING! I had learned to sew as a kid and sewn lots in high school, so the act of sewing was not new to me. Back then, I had used sewing as a connection back to my former childhood self. The one who wore costumes to school. I loved creating what was in my head and not worrying about making what everybody else had. It was freeing and fun and creative.  I am kicking myself for not recognizing it at the time, but I am grateful that sewing came back to me and I was able to find that connection again.

In my longing to look like every cool girl I saw, I was following a lot of fashion blogs. Is there anything more simultaneously inspiring and crushing than comparing yourself to others on the internet? Needless to say, I was not getting anywhere with my personal growth by reading those, but I did happen upon a sewing blog one day. What a rabbit hole! I was thrown into a world I didn’t know existed and I was so taken. These women are making whatever they want! They look normal! They were talking about how clothes made them feel, not how they looked…I was hooked.

I immediately started sewing with my Sewaholic Minoru Jacket. I then started my blog to journal my makes and, well, the rest is all here for you to read!

Sewing brought me to a place where I didn’t feel inadequate anymore. I can make anything I want and wear any style I please. Nothing is out of reach or in the ‘I could never pull that off’ category. I know now that confidence is what makes people look good in clothes, not the perfect body. I accept that my skin is scarred from acne. I know that a flat stomach is not my life’s purpose. I look at people of all shapes, ages, and ethnicities and think that they are beautiful. I look at myself and think that I am beautiful.


SMYLY Striped Nettie Dress

For my SMYLY make, I chose the Closet Case Patterns Nettie Dress. I owe so much of my sewing and business confidence to Heather. She is an inspiring woman and a has been a great role model for me for the past few years. I chose the Nettie because it was a sewing dare from Gillian in 2016. I was initially hesitant to make the Nettie because of its form-fitting shape, but I was surprised to find that I loved it! Now, I have a second Nettie in a horizontal stripe, no less. You all know that women are not supposed to wear horizontal stripes, right? Because we don’t want to look wide. People will be completely bamboozled and not know where one side of you begins and the other ends! *insert eye roll here*

SMYLY Striped Nettie Dress SMYLY Striped Nettie Dress SMYLY Striped Nettie Dress

I love this dress because the stripes accentuate my curves! I went with the longer sleeves, the high neck and back, and I added length so it would hug my whole body. In a soft bamboo, this dress is totally ace.

SMYLY Striped Nettie Dress SMYLY Striped Nettie Dress SMYLY Striped Nettie Dress SMYLY Striped Nettie DressSMYLY Striped Nettie Dress

I hope you share your SMYLY story and sew something that makes you love yourself! Find out more about the challenge and how you can participate here

SMYLY 2018

About the author


Helen Wilkinson is the designer and founder of Helen's Closet Patterns. She also co-hosts the Love to Sew Podcast! Helen is obsessed with all things sewing and strives to share her passion and knowledge with the sewing community.

52 Comments on “SMYLY Striped Nettie Dress”

  1. Hey Helen! I’m usually very lazy and bad and don’t comment on blog posts but I *loved* this post. You really are inspiring and look blooming fantastic in your Nettie. The horizontal stripes in particular are just perfect. Keep up the good work :)

    1. Hi! Don’t think of it as lazy or bad, most people dont comment on blogs anymore, and that’s ok! I appreciate that you did today, though and thanks so much for following along with me <3

  2. I love this post – what a lovely story with a great ending. Sewing is amazing and I share many of your thoughts – you’ve inspired me to make my own SMYLY garment. Thanks so much for sharing :)

  3. You look fantastic in this dress !! And stripes matching
    I’m like you about being taller, different, looking to be “like them”, and you became awesome !!!!

  4. You look absolutely fabulous, Helen! I loved your thoughts (really great writing) and your feelings so candidly expressed. I too wish I could go back to my 20yo self and give her a shakedown about what really matters in life. Or at least make her take up sewing sooner .

    1. Hi Alex! Thanks so much for that! At least we can know that we can say positive things to our present-time selves because the same will be true 10 years from now! :)

  5. You’re inspiring me to try the Nettie. You look amazing and definitely confident! I love what sewing has done to my body image and it’s so awesome to hear from others that it has changed theirs too!

  6. Oh hot damn girl, you are foxy! Love that dress, and you’ve sealed my plans to make a striped pencil skirt soon. I haven’t worn a skirt in YEARS, and if I’m honest, it’s because I’m awkward about my round belly and how to match a skirt and top nicely! Ugh. Enough of that shit, right?
    Thanks for being awesome, and reminding us all we are awesome too!

    1. OOOO, I love the idea of a striped pencil skirt! I know what you mean about skirts – I always reach for the circle skirt for this reason, because it hides! I love pencil skirts when I see them on other women, regardless of a belly. I look forward to seeing your take on it! <3

  7. I’ve joined this challenge too and I’m so happy you did too! I thoroughly loved reading and seeing your post :) You are always so much fun – and gorgeous in your lovely striped dress too!

  8. Oh man, I practically teared up reading this. While my body and I have always been on pretty friendly terms, I so clearly remember that feeling of trying to shave off parts of yourself to fit into a mold of the kind of girl you’re “supposed” to be. You know, the one who is incredibly beautiful, but casual and effortless, sexy but not slutty, the kind of girl who has such perfect makeup that it looks like she’s not wearing any at all. And I’m so glad we came out the other side of that feeling. Is it weird to be proud of people you don’t really know (aside from your sew-lebrity status, haha)? I seriously want to give you a virtual hug and a standing ovation for following that little voice back to the core of yourself and making a home there. Thank you for being a bright light in this little sewing family. ❤️

    1. Thanks so much, Kendra!! You are hitting the nail on the head with your description of the perfect women. All of those contrasting ideals are impossible to match! It is not weird at all to be proud of a stranger, that is something I love about this community! Virtual hugging you right back! <3

  9. Wow. You are an amazing woman, Helen. Beautiful and brave. I’m so proud of you, and so happy we have you in our lives.❤️

  10. Helen, I loved your SMYLY story! So happy that you “found” sewing again and are now an inspiration to so many! You look absolutely awesome in the Nettie dress!!! Love it.

    I wish I had found sewing when I was much younger and still figuring out my own SMYLY.

  11. Ditto what everyone else has said. I moved every year growing up, so just as I got a handle on what the cool kids wore, I’d move and show up at t school getting it totally wrong. Day One was a series bizarre first impressions. And kids are pretty mean as it is. I started sewing (or altering used clothing) because I was extremely skinny and we didn’t have the money for annual back-to-school wardrobes, even if I could find cool clothes that fit my figureless figure. I’m so lucky that my mom was an excellent sewist and passed it along to me! Now in my 50s, I’m rediscovering apparel sewing thanks to the fabulous indie pattern makers. Once afraid of knits, I’m getting better with each garment. I’m well past being skinny, now dealing with wearing baggy clothes to cover lumps. I see how fabulous you look in this dress, how your self-love comes through in your writing and podcasts, and really want to find my own SMYLY as well. Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Thank you so much Melissa! I love hearing that you have gotten back into sewing and are gaining confidence with fabrics and style. Your SMYLY story has already begun from the sounds of it!

  12. Hi at 60 your beautifully expressed story still resonates with me. I remember so well trying to fit in at my all girls boarding school. Age 13 4′ 7″ with a 14″ waist, a size 38 B busom and hair I could sit on. I had a woman’s body, a child’s mind and thanks to horrific abuse no body hair other than eyebrows and head. So while other girls shaved I hid in the bathroom with an eyebrow pencil drawing on stubble and sounding like I was shaving. A put on a ton of weight to disguise the bust, maybe someone would realise I had pretty greeny/blue eyes with gold flecks if they could see high enough.
    Now I’m losing weight thanks to ill health, but being wheelchair bound means creating my own style/clothes works better for me.
    You are indeed beautiful, I’m sure from experience that your “acne scars” are far more visible to you than others. Your figure is gorgeous and so is the dress. Keep that wonderful smile and you could look great in sackcloth and ashes.
    I rarely respond to blogs, but you got me :-)
    I’d love to enter but no idea how to instagram? #tag, and I don’t Facebook on principle.

    1. Hi Lucy,

      Your story really touched my heart! Thank you for sharing. I really appreciate you taking the time to comment and to encourage me in my sewing and in my self confidence. You are so right that my scars are more noticeable to me than to anyone else – that is the way it always is with ‘flaws’, right?

      I don’t think there is a way to participate in SMYLY without some kind of social media, but if you reach out to the event co-ordinators, they may be able to suggest something for you!

      Thanks again for your comment :)

      1. Thank you Helen, like my laughter lines your scars are not flaws, but evidence that you have lived a real life :-)
        Keep going Helen, Live to the full, ‘cos just surviving is a cop out. You young lady are far too brave for that.

  13. Hi there,

    I like this on you.

    Ummm … Where did you get the fabric? Is this the thin stretchy fabric found at Fabricana?

    I made a number of long tshirts with the Nettie and found that I wear them frequently.

    Thanks for blogging!

    1. Hi Anna! I got this fabric locally at Dressew here in Vancouver. It is a bamboo knit, so it may be the same as the Fabricana one. It is quite thin, slinky, and very stretchy with great recovery. Making tees with Nettie is a great idea!

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  17. I know I’m super late to the party, but I just read this post, having followed a link from the Love to Sew episode. I had to comment because “People will be completely bamboozled and not know where one side of you begins and the other ends!” is the best thing on the internet. I literally laughed out loud! Thank you for some much needed perspective on the weird pressure women feel to be tiny, Helen.
    PS: stripe matching of dreams!

    1. Thank you Sarah! I’m glad you appreciated my thoughts on stripes, haha. Thanks for checking out the post and listening to the show!

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