Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Guest Post with Tips on How to Sew Amazing Tween Boy Clothes

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Today we have an amazing seamstress/blogger with us, who I think has the best dressed boys out there in blogland...yes, I said boys. She sews for all 3 of her little guys and does it so well that you can't even tell one of her outfits is homemade, they look so professional and stylish. I wish I had known Sabra when my boys were younger, because I think I would have sewn for them more. 
Here to offer some great words of wisdom, Sabra from Sew a Straight Line.
Maybe it’s because I had three boys first before having a girl, but it honestly never occurred to me that boys were harder to sew for.  All I had were boys, I wasn't looking for “girl stuff”. I really wasn't aware of a discrepancy in project ideas between girls and boys.  I just knew I wanted to make cool things for my kids.  I had boys, so I sewed for boys.  It wasn't until I started reading more and more on blogs where people were lamenting the lack of Boy Stuff, that I started to notice just how much girly things were out there, and how few boy-y.  Thankfully, by that point, I was already in a boy-sew groove.  As my boys have gotten older, I've tried to mature my sewing to match their age group.  Almost two years ago, my oldest became a tween.  The Boy Tween: quite possibly the most under-represented demographic in the home-sewn world.  But not at my house.   
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oliver and olivia coat sew a straight line-2pleated knees Sew a Straight Line-1-3pattern anthology winter wonderland sew a straight line-31  
In the past year, I've sewn more for my 10 year old son than I have for any one else.  Pants, shirts, jackets, even accessories.  I've only purchased one new clothing item for him since December 2012.  My goal was an all mom-made wardrobe for him.  My challenge was that it wouldn't look like an all mom-made wardrobe so he’d actually wear it all.  So today, I want to talk about the challenge of sewing for a tween boy, and give you just a couple tricks and tips for what I do to try to meet that challenge.

First, patterns.  Now, I’m of the belief that you can take quite a few “girl” patterns, and remix them without too much trouble to work great for boys.  I do that a lot on my blog.  But frankly, it’s so much easier to just start with a great pattern already designed with boys in mind.  My two absolute favorite sources for great boy patterns are Ottobre Designs and independent PDF pattern designers.

Ottobre is a Finnish magazine, available in multiple languages, that publishes four issues a year full of kid patterns.

The sizes range from infant through about a US 14.  They have a lot of girl stuff, but I love them because they always have a ton of boy clothing patterns.  And they are good boy patterns.  Like, the stuff you’d buy off the rack, only you get to make it.  Cool stuff.  The draw back?  The magazines have to be ordered online and come from Finland, so take a while to arrive.  Subscriptions are pricey (about $11/issue plus shipping), but well worth it when you consider you get at least 30 patterns each time.  And you have to trace out the patterns included off of a pretty intimidating and confusing pattern sheet with all the patterns overlapping each other.  But totally worth the time and efforts to push through the tracing process to get fabulous patterns.  Also, you probably should be fairly familiar with garment sewing before leaping into an Ottobre.  Especially if you’re used to independently published patterns, Ottobre is going to seem horribly lacking in instructions.  There are no step-by-step pictures, and many steps are written assuming you just know how to ____ (insert sewing technique here).

Independent PDF pattern designers are my other source for great boy patterns.
The PDF format allows for instant download, then printing off the pattern at home.  However, that also means you have to supply the paper and ink for the pattern, and then piece all those papers together before you actually get to working with the pattern itself.  Also, if you’re buying from a wide variety of designers, you may not always be getting the same fit or quality from designer to designer.  So read reviews and shop carefully.  Two designers I've been really happy with, and that have sizes that go into the tween category, are GoTo Patterns and Peek-A-Boo Patterns
.  There are other awesome PDF designers out there, but most don’t have sizes that go beyond an 8.  If you’re comfortable grading up, or have a tween on the smaller side, Blank Slate Patterns has amazing boy patterns, as does Shwin Designs.   The greatest thing about independent designers, is that they go to great lengths to give you fabulous, hold-your-hand instructions.  You usually get step-by-step photographs to accompany the instructions, too, so if you’re a visual learner, independent is the way to go!

Now that you have your boy patterns, how can you take it to the next level and really give your tween something unique and cool?  Details. 
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When sewing for boys, and really, this all includes men, too, design is all in the details.  With girls, you can pick out cute fabric and add superfluous frills to make an item fun and unique.  That’s not going to work so well for older boys.   You have to be more subtle.  And useful.  I swear to you that’s the secret to successful masculine design: slap whatever you want on clothing, just so long as it also does a job, and you’re golden.  Cargo pockets are the best example of this.  I counted something like 9 pockets on a pair of my husband’s pants.  But they don’t look silly, they look cool, and I really think it’s because they have a purpose.  If it’s utilitarian, it works.  So with that in mind, let’s look at a few of my favorite manly frills ;)

Top stitching. 
 Not only looks cool, top stitching reinforces seams.  It has a job, so it’s legal.  Follow seam lines, sew it in parallel rows,  use it where ever.  I swear you can’t go wrong with top stitching.  Contrast top stitching can add awesome interest and really polish up a garment so it looks professional.

scandinavian style boys sew a straight line-3-2
Along that same vein, seam lines are my newest trick with my boys’ clothing.  I’ve been having a lot of fun lately taking a solid pattern piece, cutting it up, adding seam allowances, and putting it back together to get a more tailored look. 
oliver and olivia coat sew a straight line-5
This Olivia and Oliver Pea Coat by Peek-A-Boo Patterns also shows a few other boy-friendly additions. I tacked on epulates.  These are an exception to the “job” rule, though they can be used to hold things in place.  But they are a classic military styling.  And anything military works well in keeping things masculine. 
oliver and olivia coat sew a straight line-7
And then I also added a hood.  Hoods serve an obvious purpose, and are a pretty easy way to add fun and function to your boy tween’s tops. 
oliver and olivia coat sew a straight line-4
Finally, pockets. 

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Pockets pockets pockets.  Fake, real, flapped, welted.  Whatever, where ever, pockets and boyswear just go together.  What ruffles are to girls, pockets are to boys. 

pattern anthology winter wonderland sew a straight line-1-3
Those are just a few ideas.  What I often do, is look through men’s fashion sites and lookbooks, drawing ideas for my sons from there.   But no matter how cool the garment looks, if it’s not also comfortable, chances are your tween isn’t going to wear it.  Boys seem to be less about the fashion and more about the comfort.  So if you can mesh those two things, you both should be happy with the results.
ottobre relaxed 5
To make the clothes I put so much work into also comfortable and therefore wearable, I try to use natural fibers as much as possible.  Cottons as much as possible, blends if I have to. I like clothing to not be too baggy on my boys, and they prefer to have lots of room to move and play.   Knits are my boys’ favorites and I use knits probably more than any other fabric for them.   Knits help us get a good fit, but keep things comfortable.

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Sewing for your tween boy doesn’t have to be intimidating.  Start with a solid pattern, add a few extra details to make it unique and more “your kid”, and use good kid-friendly fabrics.  Draw inspiration from menswear, but with a focus on comfort and play, and you’re sure to end up with a great item your boy.

Thanks for having me, Sew Cool for the Tween Scene!  I’d love to share more of my boy looks (and other sewing projects) over at Sew a Straight Line.  Have fun sewing!
And thank YOU Sabra for some really great advice! I learned a lot and wish I had sewn more for my boys.


  1. Fabulous, informative post. Pockets = ruffles, details must have purpose, I think I've had an epiphany!! Pinned to my Tween Fashion Sewing board, this post is an excellent resource!!

  2. Thanks so much for letting me guest! I am passionate about sewing for my boys, and love to share that with others. This is such a great site. Yay for tween sewing!

  3. I am a huge fan of Ottobre for boys, as well. They have some really cool patterns. The tracing is a PITA, but once you have it traced off you will likely use it several times. Great job on all the boy clothes you have shown here…very cool!

  4. Amazing stuff! Great information.
    My favorite is the blue coat!


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