Try projects that people think of as "difficult," don't underestimate the power of suggestion. A pair of jeans can have a zillion flaws that never get noticed by anybody besides yourself, because it doesn't occur to most people that jeans could possibly be homemade. My first several pairs of jeans were totally amateurish. But whenever I mentioned having made my jeans, people (non-sewers especially) would get totally impressed and assume I must be an amazing seamstress, just because people have a mental image of jeans being something made in factories. People may have memories of their mothers or grandmothers making dresses at home, but nobody who hasn't made their own jeans ever thinks about people making jeans at home. And try things that are at least a bit on-trend. "Crafty" looking clothes are fun to make, but if they don't have anything in common with what people see in stores, it can look homemade. If your sewing is flawless, looking homemade may not be a bad thing. But if you're self-conscious and wanting people not to notice that you made your clothes, it helps to use styles people see in stores. Don't use quilting fabric for clothing unless you have a specific reason to want to. (something besides "ooo, what a cute print! It's tempting, but becomes another thing that makes you feel self-conscious about wearing clothes that look too homemade.)
The more "unique" something is, the more attention it draws. If you're feeling self conscious, start with small "unique" parts. One of my favorites is fun colors of topstitching on jeans. It's different enough that you couldn't have just bought the same thing at a store, but inconspicuous enough that it doesn't jump out at people as homemade. Doing "really unique" right requires impeccable detail. If you want to cut corners, you should try to keep your designs more in line with what people are used to seeing. Fun prints for jeans pockets and waistbands are a fun way of making something unique without making it something you feel too conspicuous wearing.
I'm all the way down in Southern Maryland.. but up in northeast Maryland, you're not actually all that far from FabricMart's brick-and-mortar store. Not close close, but feasibly close.. close enough to make me jealous!
sewingpatterns.com has pattern sales sometimes, but not as cheap as Joann, and they tend to take awhile during the sales and I've heard a lot of people complain about their customer service. For big4 patterns, really, Joann or Hancock is best. You can decent deals on ebay sometimes, especially with mixed lots.. that is, if you're looking for mixed lots rather than something very specific. BMV (butterick-mccall's-vogue, they're all one company now) has sales sometimes too.. but again, not as cheap as the sales at Joann and Hancock. Burdastyle is a pretty good source. Pattern drafting books would be helpful if you want to learn to draft. I've started drafting my own corsets (there's a really great free tutorial on that on foundationsrevealed) and I find that Inkscape (free vector graphics program) is quite good for drafting, even though it's not actually meant for it.
I use a folding table. I actually keep the legs folded, though, because leaning over the table puts a lot of stress on my back, so it's a lot more comfortable to just open out the table but keep it resting on the floor. (or if I'm really lazy and what I'm cutting out isn't big, keep it folded!)
I'm particularly into corsets, so a lot of what I cut out is small enough that I don't need the whole table.
They can say anything they want. It just doesn't make it true. I guess that's just how the world works. You have to know what your rights are, and where the limitations are, or you'll get trampled. With most patterns, unless you say what pattern you used, it won't be obvious that it was a particular one. It's not like there's just one tee shirt pattern, one raglan sleeve shirt pattern, one jeans pattern, etc. Generally if you look at something and say "oh that's a copy of ____" you're referring to the whole thing-- pattern, fabric and embellishments, not just that it has the same structure. I've certainly never heard anybody say that a plain solid tee shirt anything simple like that was a copy. Unless perhaps they were referring to cloning a particular favorite garment that they'd worn out. The companies may not want to be associated with the garments made from their patterns, since they don't have any control over the final product. It's one thing to make a garment, and another to describe it as "Vogue XXXX" or "Simplicity XXXX." (Of course, if it weren't clearly stated that the maker had no affiliation with that company besides the use of their pattern, it could be a trademark issue.) Every so often on Etsy you'll see somebody selling a garment using the photo from the pattern envelope.
Even more than patterns that people say they don't want to be used to make something that sell, I've seen tutorials that claim you can't make anything to sell. That just blows my mind that people can think they own a pattern someone else created just because they put up a tutorial. And then how would you differentiate that? As soon as someone has read the tutorial, they can never sell any similar garment? It's not like they can erase the knowledge from there head. What do people think when they say that, that they can require someone to buy somebody else's book on a similar topic before they can think about selling something?
Really, though, a pattern is a series of calculations. Some people do some creative things with patterning, but for the most part, when I think of creativity in relation to garments, the patterns are a rather minor part.
I find it stranger coming from "real people" than corporations. Maybe this is just because I think of corporations as rather evil. It seems like such a control freak thing to claim to own something like that. You own what you make. You don't own what someone else makes, even if you've shared some of your knowledge. (Unless there was some kind of specific apprenticeship contract drawn up ahead of time and agreed to by all parties involved.) Seems simple enough. I've seen people here comment about how it's awful to sell something made from a pattern because then you're befitting from somebody else's work. Because apparently there's no work involved in making it. It's not like there's even a such thing at all as something that doesn't rely on anybody else's work. To truly not benefit from anybody else's work at all, you'd have to have yourself brain-wiped and released into a jungle to go reinvent the wheel.
What can you afford? Vintage machines are frequently pretty cheap. A lot of people find them at yardsales, although I never have. But you can sometimes find good deals on Craigslist too (although you can also find some delusionally expensive listings too.. there's a very long thread on that in PatternReview's sewing machines section.) I know one person who swears by her $89 Brother machine from Walmart too, though I've never actually used one.
That's beautiful! I love the way you used the lace and the embroidery. I've had so much trouble learning how to embellish well. I've had a machine with decorative stitches for almost a year, and the first time I ever actually used one was a couple weeks ago! My stash of lace is sadly neglected too.