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During my first physical therapy appointment, my therapist mentioned compression garments and how some people like them because they can help reduce swelling. A distant memory flickered in the back of my head. Several years ago I had created an Alabama Chanin (AC) corset. I wondered if this would be a reasonable alternative to a compression garment. Some experimenting was in order.
The corset pattern is available as part of the Alabama Stitch Book or you can order a kit from the AC site to make one. (Disclosure – these are not affiliate links, but I am a huge AC fan!) I dusted off the pattern I had used in the past and shaved off the full bust adjustments I had made. These garments work best using “old school” jersey – no lycra. I used two layers and decided to put the seams on the outside so that I could easily take in a seam as needed. Additionally, I thought there was a small chance the seams could irritate my sensitive skin or scars. This turned out to be a helpful decision since I did take in several seams.
I didn’t finish the neckline or armholes so that I could continue to take in seams as my swelling went down. Therefore, my corset looks unfinished, but it fits great! I wore it until the weather turned warm; then it was just too hot for comfort.
After surgery and before I could lift my hands above my head, I knew that I needed some tops to wear. (To recap, I had made two front-opening tanks to wear after surgery while I had two drains in. A drain is about the size of a small lemon, so I had to add ease to my tanks so they wouldn’t bulge open.) I like to wear dresses or a knit top and a skirt, and my sewing teacher and I had modified the 38DD top and dress patterns the best we could. The next question was what to do with the patterns? I felt I needed a clear strategy so that I could wear what I was going to sew – no wardrobe orphans.
Courtney Carver’s Project 333 and the Vivienne Files wardrobe planning concepts were very helpful to me. At the same time, I was thinking, “33 pieces in my wardrobe? I wish!” I started with three skirts, the two front-opening tanks, and one knit jacket that were hanging in my closet. I planned colors that would coordinate with these pieces and made four t-shirts. Then I made three dresses. As I mentioned in a previous post, they all fit well enough to wear outside of the house, but they needed tweaking. I also was desperate for more jacket/topper options.
I’ll devote at least one other post to this topic, but I decided to work with Anne Whalley to have professional help rebuilding my wardrobe. She encouraged me to move toward jackets with large (relatively speaking) collars and to be bolder and more creative in my color choices. I tend to err on the mix-and-match, neutral color side of the spectrum. With Anne’s push, I made up Vogue 9190 as my first jacket project. I still love it!
Before April 2017, I had been full hourglass shape (or an 8), and I had a very reliable set of patterns that I used for dresses, jackets, t-shirts, etc. A huge percentage of my wardrobe was handmade, and I primarily wore fit-and-flare dresses in a knit or woven for work and at home. Most of them were based on a shoulder princess seam design (so easy to sew the bust curve) with different necklines. I had a few skirts, too, which were a faux-wrap style based on a Sandra Betzina concept in Power Sewing. Those were very important during my medical appointments and chemo treatment phase. It’s much easier to take off a top verses a whole dress when you need an exam.
During chemo, I wore button down tops (made from knit) so that the nurses could easily access my port. They said that they could access my port in pretty much any top except a turtle neck! I didn’t want them stretching out any necklines on my handmade clothes, but so many people probably don’t even think about that.
I knew that it would be challenging to modify my dresses to wear after surgery, so I cut off my summer knit dresses and made them into tops to wear throughout the autumn and winter. The skirt section provided fabric to make button plackets (for port access).
The next thing I needed was something to wear post-surgery. After meeting with my sewing teacher, Marla Kazell, I realized we’d be able to use some of my existing patterns, and we started out by altering a t-shirt pattern that fit the 38DD me by taking out the dart. I made a couple of front-opening, sleeveless t-shirts to wear right after my surgery. I put in drain pockets, inspired by the Pink Pockets concept. These were serviceable, and when I started to feel better after surgery, I decided to make a few more things to wear.
I focused on making knit garments that I felt would be more forgiving in the fit department, and I again used a shoulder princess design. I also added a center front seam. It seemed that this style would allow me several seams to adjust if I needed to take things in or let them out. In general, this worked pretty well. It took several weeks before I could put my hands far enough over my head to put on a regular t-shirt or dress. Then it took a while to get the drains out so I could really see if these would work or not. Stay tuned!
Sewing is a really important part of my life – it provides stress relief and joy in handling the fabric. The bonus is that I have something to wear! I was so glad to have a few projects to do when I felt up to it during chemo treatments.
In October, 2016, I found a lump in my left breast. Wait. Is this too much too soon? I’ll back up a little.
I started making garments when I was about 6 years old and could steal scraps from my mom’s sewing table. She got pretty irritated because the rule was that I could have the scraps after the project was finished. But I was always enamored with whatever she was sewing, hence the thievery. I made “garments” that were glued and stapled together doll clothes. Fast forward a couple of years, and I remember laying out patterns for my step-mom to make me school clothes. It’s a good thing I waited for her approval to cut these since I had laid out against the nap on corduroy! After several more years, Mom was not sewing my summer clothes fast enough for me, so I decided to learn how to do it myself. Those were some short, mink-colored velour shorts in 1970something!
I sewed off and on throughout college and into adulthood. Then I could afford to buy clothes, and they fit. So, I stopped sewing for a while. Next I realized I was ready to move on from living in Lands End knit skirts and tops, so I went back to sewing. At the time, I was a 38DD and needed help getting patterns to fit. I found a sewing teacher and blissfully sewed my way through about a decade.
That’s when I found a lump, and it turned out it was invasive ductal carcinoma. Then there was another spot of ductal carcinoma in situ. In sum, HER2+, ER+, stage 2. I went to my sewing teacher and told her everything would be fine because we know how to take out bust darts. (Except that it turns out the sewing solution may not be that easy…)
I finished chemo in March 2017 and had a double mastectomy surgery in April. I’m still swollen from the surgery, but it’s time to figure out how to clothe this new body! I’ve done some serious web searching, and there’s a vacuum where there should be information about how to sew for women who what to live flat.