Crafting a re:Invent Wardrobe
The best swag is swag you make yourself!
Published Dec 5, 2023
Five years ago I made a custom AWS dress and wore it to the Sydney office Christmas party, and if you've met me at any big AWS events since then, chances are good I was wearing it! For re:Invent 2023, I decided that I needed to craft an entire AWS capsule wardrobe - a new dress, shirt, and high-top sneakers.
(Not much of a sew-ist? You'd be surprised how easy it is! There are lots of YouTube videos that walk you through every step. In terms of hardware, all three of these projects can be done with a very basic sewing machine that sews straight and zig-zag stitches.)
The foundation of the entire project was a design I created in Canva using 28 AWS service icons, arranged in a brick formation along with the AWS logo. I picked icons for my favourite services as well as ones that I thought just looked cool, and with a goal of getting a nice range of colours. Then I uploaded it to Spoonflower to get printed onto 5 meters of their Organic Cotton Sateen fabric. It’s got a nice heavy feel with almost a shine to it, thanks to the thick weave.
Once I had the fabric, it was time to choose a dress design. I realised pretty quickly that any style that involved lots of seaming or shaping would either distort the printed icons, or result in me spending hours trying to line things up perfectly. I needed a simple design that would show off the print to maximum effect. After a lot of research, I landed on the Seamwork Benning. It’s a loose and comfortable fit, with a simple shape (mostly rectangles) and not too many seams. No need for a zipper, and YAY RUFFLES!
(If you don’t sew or haven’t bought a pattern in decades, you might not realise that you can now buy patterns as PDFs! I’m a big fan, though it does mean you have to spend the first hour gluing all the pages together.)
It's always a good idea to prototype a new pattern with scrap fabric before you cut into the expensive stuff. This ensures that the fit is correct, and that you understand the method of construction. (A wearable "Hello World," if you will.) My test version showed that I needed to go down a size for the best fit. You can read about my test on my personal blog.
Finally it was time to start the real version. I spent a lot of time laying out the pattern pieces. I needed to make sure the icons weren’t upside-down, and I carefully adjusted the placement so that the two horizontal seams (at the waist and the second ruffle) would fall between rows of icons and thus not cut any in half. I also ensured that the repeat would be properly maintained the whole way down the dress.
Once I had the fabric cut out, it was time to assemble the bodice. There is a side bust dart to provide a little shaping. This dress is not fully lined, but instead has a simple facing around the neckline. This is like a partial lining, a bit of fabric that is sewn around the neck opening and then flipped to the inside. This gives a nice finish around the neck and helps the garment to lie flat. I used some white cotton from my stash, along with some iron-on interfacing to give it a little extra weight. As you can see in the photo, I used my overlocker machine to finish the bottom edge of the facing. (If you don't have one, you can just zig-zag stitch around the edge.)
One of the advantages of this design is that the sleeves are “cut-on,” meaning they’re part of the bodice so I didn’t have to sew them on separately. So once I sewed the shoulders together and attached the facing, I just needed to hem the sleeves and finish the side seams. I decided to be fancy and use French seams, just to challenge myself and to give a nicer finish. This way all the raw edges are fully encased on the inside of the garment. (If you don't do this, you can just overlock or zig-zag the raw edges of the seam allowance.)
And with that, the bodice is done! You can see that the facing wants to flip out a bit, despite my understitching. I think this is something I just need to practice more. (Ignore the creepy doll heads. That's a story for another day...)
The next step was to assemble the skirt. The middle section has the pockets (of course it has pockets!), so I again French seamed those and inserted into the side seams. For each ruffle, I ran a few rows of basting stitches along the edge and then pulled those tails to create the gathers. I was really paranoid about my gathers being even, so I used a LOT of pins.
Yeah, these seams took a long time to sew. I made a little video.
Once the first ruffle seam was finished, I used the overlocker to finish the raw edges. Then I had to do another even longer one for the bottom ruffle! After hemming it, I tried it on and realised I needed to do a few more fitting tweaks. You can read more about those over on my personal blog. But with a few more adjustments, soon the dress was finished and it was time to move onto the shoes.
I was delighted to learn about SneakerKit, who will sell you everything you need to make your own pair of shoes! While most folks use them to make leather shoes, I could see on Instagram that many people were also creating fabric shoes. I ordered my kit from Maker’s Leather Supply in Australia, along with a packet of the metal eyelets.
The first step is to prepare your pattern. I downloaded the Classic 3 in 1 and chose the high-top. Then I had to cut out my pieces.
The SneakerKit site has really good instructions, but they’re intended for working with leather. To use fabric, I had to do some research and figure things out myself. Most of the blogs I’d read about making fabric shoes suggested using some very thick interfacing to help stiffen the sides. So my next step was to trace my pieces onto thick iron-on interfacing. I used a bit of masking tape to join the two side pieces together at the heel. You have to remember to flip each pattern piece over to create the mirror-image piece for the other foot. (I marked mine with L and R to keep track.)
I decided that the insides of my shoes would just be white fabric. So I cut out the interfacing pieces, ironed them to white cotton, and then cut out around the interfacing. I left 1/4″ excess along every edge that would be sewn to use as seam allowance. Then I used the interfaced lining pieces to cut out the exterior fabric. For the tongues, I decided to use some of the leftovers from my old v1 dress, and I tried to line up the pieces so the AWS logo would be nicely visible on the toebox. Once I had them placed, I cut them out.
For the side pieces, I made sure to line the heels up exactly between two icons so I could ensure both shoes looked the same.
Now it’s time to sew! I sewed each piece (right sides together) going just around the edge of the interfacing. I left all of the bits along the bottom of the shoe open so I could turn them inside out afterwards. Then I trimmed down the lining piece seam allowance by half just to make it lie flatter when turned out.
Then I turned each piece out and gave it a good press to make sure it was flat and all the corners were properly turned out.
I decided to sew some topstitching around each piece. This means I sewed a decorative line 1/4″ from the edge around the tongue and each side piece. (Again, I left the bottom edges unfinished.)
For the side panels, I discovered I had some red ribbon that would work perfectly for the loop at the heel (to help you pull them on). I cut out appropriate length, doubled it over, and sewed it down as I was doing the topstitching. (You can see it in the photo below.) Then I used the overlocker to close off the bottom of each piece. Later I went back and sewed down the edges of the ribbon to make sure it was extra secure.
The pattern has a LOT of little holes marked on the sides that need to be transferred to the fabric pieces. I started by using an awl (a very pointy tool) to poke holes in the paper pieces, using some cardboard to protect my worktop. Then I placed the paper piece on the fabric panel and used a pen to make the placement of the holes.
For the laces, I didn’t have the recommended tool for cutting the holes and setting the eyelets. Instead I used a regular paper holepunch to make the holes, which thankfully were the right size. It actually worked pretty well! Occasionally it had trouble completely cutting out the hole, but I was able to use the awl and some scissors to fix it up.
To set the eyelets, if you don’t have the special tool you can use a hammer. I’ve done this in the past and had a couple of the little hammer tools in my craft box. I tried it in the house on a piece of plywood, but I needed something a bit firmer. I ended up doing it outside on the pavement, with a bit of cardboard to keep the fabric from getting dirty. I only mangled one of the eyelets, which necessitated using needle-nosed pliers to peel back the little bits and remove it to try again.
With that, all of the pieces were complete and ready to be sewn onto the soles! (I later went back and added a short piece of the red ribbon to each of the tongues to act as a guide for the shoelaces.)
The rubber soles have holes marked around the edges, but I needed to use a thick, sharp needle to pierce through and open them up. The SneakerKit comes with heavy waxed thread and a long sharp needle for construction. Basically, I had to sew through the marked holes in the fabric and through the rubber sole. I had to watch the video many times to make sure I was doing it correctly. (There’s a very specific order you’re meant to sew into the holes.) As I worked my way around, I sewed on the tongue as well and joined it to the side panels. Note: sewing through rubber is really, really tiring on your hands. I had to take frequent breaks.
Once the stitching was finished, I knotted the threads on the inside and used a lighter to melt them. Then I reinserted the insoles, laced them up, and they were done! I managed to find some AWS Training & Certification laces in my swag bag, which went perfectly. I also gave them a good spray of fabric waterproofing to help repel stains. They’re pretty comfortable, but I’m not sure yet how long they’ll last. If I were doing it again, I’d try to get even stiffer interfacing, as mine is still pretty soft. I figure if/when they fall apart, I’ll pull the tops off and try something else.
But guess what? I still had some fabric left over, and with less than week left until AWS re:Invent, I decided to make a shirt.
I had to piece a few bits together, but I just managed to eke out a Tessuti “Arkie” shirt. Again, I used white cotton for the facing and for the underside of the collar. No French seams on this one as I was flying to finish it in time! Unfortunately I was sewing too quickly to document the whole process, but you get the idea.
Sewing is a really fun, tactile way to challenge your brain, indulge your creativity, and make something useful. It's the original 3-D printing! My AWS capsule wardrobe was a big hit at re:Invent 2023, and I ended up in a lot of selfies with people. Please let me know if I’ve inspired you!
Any opinions in this post are those of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of AWS.