4 Dapper Plus-Size Sewing Projects for Beginners and Pros

For those of us who are curvy, plus-size or busty, dressing dapper can be a challenge. Buying ready-to-wear from the ‘menswear’ section often leads to gaping, straining buttons, or overwhelming shoulders and sleeves, while the construction of some ‘womenswear’ doesn’t work well with traditionally dapper accessories like neckties. I started sewing a few years back with more traditionally feminine items like skirts and dresses, but before long I realized that my sewing machine could help me realize the dapper wardrobe I’d been dreaming of, replete with bold prints and delightful textures, which would fit me better than what I could find in stores. Sewing can be intimidating at first glance, but with some patience and practice it’s not hard to bring some dapper finesse to your wardrobe.


For Beginners: A Snazzy Pocket Square

Handmade and store-bought pocket squares / via the author

Never held a needle in your life? That’s cool; we all start somewhere! Why don’t you jazz up your existing wardrobe with some pocket squares or bandanas? Pick out some lightweight cotton in a kickass print, cut into a square (approximately 10-11″ on each side for a pocket square or 21-22″ for a bandana), fold each edge over about a quarter of an inch and press in place with your iron, then fold one more time and press again, so that the cut edges are hidden. Sew all the way around and enjoy your new flair!


For Budding Garment-Makers: A Versatile Vest

Vest made using Simplicity 4079 pattern / via the author

Got a machine and know the basics of how it works? You’re ready to start making garments. No, really. Vests are the best for beginner dapper sewists: many versions have relatively simple seam lines, and they give you a fantastic opportunity to play with different fabrics, prints, and textures. Go ahead and pick up that beautiful wool, that over-the-top brocade or that crisp summer seersucker! Pair with an unexpected color on the back for impact from all angles. Try New Look 6914 (sizes 4-16) or Bootstrap Fashion’s Button Down Vest (pattern generated to your measurements).


For The Somewhat-Experienced Sewist: A Swell Sweatshirt

Paxson sweatshirts / via the author

More interested in a casual dapper look? Raglan sweaters and sweatshirts are having a serious moment in indie pattern companies, and they’re a great introduction to sewing knits (stretchy fabrics like sweatshirt fleece, jersey or stretch wool). Use a pair of bold solids for a color-blocked look or pick out a modern geometric print or a novelty animal print. Pick up the Seamwork Paxson (sizes S-2XL, unisex), Grainline Linden (sizes 0-18), Blueprints Geodesic (chest sizes 30-50″) or Green Style Creations Centerfield (sizes XXS-3XL).


For The Pros: A Tailored Button-Down

Cashmerette Harrison shirt with French cuff alteration (Izola cufflinks) / via the author

Once you’ve got a good handle on how to use your machine and follow a pattern, it’s time to level up to the holy grail of curvy dapper sewing: the button-front shirt. Though they’re intimidating at first glance, creating a well-fitting collared shirt in your perfect fabric is absolutely possible with a little bit of patience. For a more fitted, sharp option, try Cashmerette’s Harrison shirt (sizes 12-28, cup sizes C-H) or Sewaholic’s Granville (sizes 0-20). For your perfect flannel, try Simplicity 2189 (sizes 10-28), Simplicity 1538 (sizes 6-22) or the Grainline Archer (sizes 0-18).

Creating your own wardrobe can be fun, rewarding and gender affirming. As a fat woman, I also consider sewing to be a way of caring for my body, helping me to both know and appreciate its particularities and to present myself to the world in a way that helps me feel powerful, confident, and sharp. As with everything in life, I encourage you to approach sewing with curiosity, patience and some self-forgiveness for your own mistakes.

Shannon is a 30-year-old art historian living in the Midwest with her bulldog, Imogen. A self-identified fat femme dandy, she likes to talk about clothes, sewing, and how both relate to gender presentation. She writes about sewing on her blog, With A Rare Device, posts daily outfit shots and fashion inspiration over on tumblr, and gives out equal numbers of selfies and dog pictures on Instagram.

Shannon has written 4 articles for us.

41 Comments

  1. Yay!! I’m almost finished marking for the semester and I am so looking forward to sewing all the things!

    Also, I have alllwwways thought there should be an app that generates patterns based on your measurements. Amazing!

  2. I made vests and bow ties for myself and my lady knight to wear to her sister’s wedding a few years ago and I can 10/10 recommend favorable outcomes 🙂

  3. I have to say, soooo tempting. I haven’t sewed in years, don’t own a machine, but there are all sorts of things that can be worked with that vest pattern, most of which involve phototransfer, embroidery, or patchwork. For my inspiration, I have one vest I picked up at a calligraphy exhibit/convention that is made from marbleized fabric (sink large window screen and then the receiving substrate in very large tray full of water. Then gently add different colors of oil-based liquid paint on top of the water. Run a toothed object through the paint strips to swirl the paint into patterns. Very gently raise the screen/substrate to the water’s surface to receive the paint, lift clear of the water, dry. I have seen this done for art papers.)

  4. OMG, this is AMAZING and I love it, and I’ve now bookmarked your blog. Welcome Shannon! Please write more stuff for Autostraddle. I’ve been saying forever that I’m going to sew my own clothes, and I just got a simple dress pattern that I’m going to try as soon as I find the right fabric.

  5. I’d love to see butches/masculine folks sewing for themselves! I bind and have been sewing vests for myself for years. If you bind, shift the front fitting seams 1″ to each side to minimize your chest. You do not want the seam to run over your nipples, because that will empathize your bustline/chest. That fitting seam is typically called a princess seam, but when you shift it over, it magically becomes a prince seam.

    • Prince seams, yesss! This is such a good tip. Sewing is such a good option for folks who bind, since there is so much control over the placement of seamlines and the fit of the shoulders/arms/hips as well.

  6. Oh my gosh, I’m so excited to try these! I’ve been meaning to get into clothesmaking for ages, and my partner’s mum gave me her old sewing machine a couple of years ago, but I’ve been living abroad since and couldn’t take it with me. Moving back this summer though, so these are definitely going on my ‘things to do’ list! Thank you so much. <3

      • If you need double lines of top-stitching, then the quarter-inch foot marketed for quilters helps get the inner line perfect too.

        I have been sewing off and on for decades (mostly off lately, sewing and two small children are not a calm combination. All the sharp things…). After years in Lazy School-Run Anti-Chic Femme style (an awful lot of dull floral print jersey dresses, forgiving of stains and chocolate muffins, helped me blend into the wallpaper) I’ve cut my hair and am easing myself into what I now learn is Dapper dressing, because finally, I feel like my clothes are mine. At five foot nothing, sewing is going to have to be at least part of the answer though.

  7. Yesssssss! I’ve been complaining for years about how I want to make my own cute dapper clothes but they don’t make patterns in my size and also I don’t know how to sew. You have taken away all my excuses and I love it.

  8. If anyone who is a sewing pro is like “oh no, my closet is so full of homemade button ups, but I STILL wanna make more button ups!” you know who to talk to. I will Paypal you actual human monies.

    I cannot find cute button ups in my size. It is a fashion tragedy.

  9. I’m not gonna lie, I just sent this link to my ma so she can make me that tailored button down. She expressed her acceptance of my gender presentation by knitting me a sweatervest and I feel like this is the next logical step for our mother/daughter relationship.

    • I now really want a sewing machine because these look amazing!
      Thank you for sharing these! Do you have any tips on what are good machines and materials to start with?

      (Starts saving now)

      • I actually sewed all of these on a Kenmore sewing machine from 1973, which is not fancy but runs like a little tank. I usually recommend trying to find an older (60s-80s) mechanical machine, which often pop up at flea markets, thrift stores, and estate sales, and getting it tuned up by your local sewing machine/vacuum cleaner shop, which will usually run you around $75. The mechanical machines are easier to fix if something goes wrong and harder to break while you’re still learning how they work. The other resource I always recommend is the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing (the old one, not the “New Complete Guide”), which spells out for you basically every term and technique you’ll encounter in the beginner/intermediate stages of sewing.

  10. Love the idea for the article! But including stuff that only goes up to size 16, 18, or 20 made me really disappointed. I wish that stuff titled specifically for plus size folks was more size inclusive. Fat people (including me, size 24/26) wanna be dapper too. 🙁

    • There’s ten patterns linked and, yes, four of them max out at size 20 or smaller, but I feel like your critique is misplaced here. There are multiple options for larger sizes in each section, and one of the vest patterns will even generate to your exact measurements. (There is a limiter of 67″ for each of those measurements, but that’s approximately a commercial size 42.)

      And folks who are size 16, 18, and 20 identify as fat, too, and also struggle to find clothing that fits and suits them. Dismissing those sizes as if they’re straight-sized is a little odd.

    • Hi Tessa – I approached the topic as inclusive of plus sizes (writing for those of us who are “curvy, plus sized or busty”) than only plus sizes, which is why I worked hard to make sure there were a range of sizes and multiple options for each style garment. That didn’t quite translate to the title, though, which perhaps sums this piece up as something that it doesn’t quite achieve. Regardless, I hope you do find options that work for you among those listed! There are some good plus sized sewing resources out there, as well, that encompass so much more than I’m able to in one short piece — the Curvy Sewing Collective site and facebook group have been invaluable to me as a fat sewist (who also doesn’t fit into many of the indie ranges that end at 16-18).

  11. Over a year ago I bought my first sewing machine and have since made one single pillow case, in a class. Thanks to your confidence that creating a vest requires basic knowledge of a machine, I will attempt to make my girlfriend a vest. I’m very excited.

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