2016 wasn’t a very good year for me in a lot of ways but one really wonderful thing that happened was when I reconnected with a long-lost friend. We hadn’t spoken for over 8 years and over the past several months we have been getting reacquainted and catching up on lost time. We’d always had a lot in common but as one ages the things that are true to you become more evident. While it’s a long-distance friendship and our conversations consist of hand-written letters, occasional social media posts and comments and a few Facetimes when we have the chance, I feel like we’ve both found ourselves at a point in our lives where we want to be authentically ourselves and not bound by the trends and rituals of popular culture.
When I started down this mindful consumption road, she sent me some very interesting information on fast fashion and the human and environmental cost to our world because of it. She was moving towards making her own clothing. Not just for environmental reasons but because she wanted to have choice and she wanted her style to be reflected in her own pieces. So she pulled out a sketchbook and pencil and started drawing.
After she posted photos on Instagram of the pieces she created, I was inspired. I have never felt truly “at home” in the clothing I buy for a lot of reasons. The first is quite simply, I’m not the figure that fits into off-the-rack clothing. To be honest, I actually don’t think most women are. I’d like to have a better selection of clothing that actually fits me and doesn’t fill me with frustration and rage whenever I step into a fitting room.
Secondly, prices are either too high and the money lines the pockets of the CEO’s or the price is too low and you know someone is a slave to their sewing machine in a dark, far-away factory that has the doors locked and no air-conditioning. Not to mention, buying from mainstream stores fuels the disposable fashion idea. Boxes of clothing are removed from the shelves after only a few weeks, then destroyed so they cannot be resold and simply disposed of so they can be replaced by the newest and latest trend that they’d like you to believe you need. What a horrific waste! The average lifespan of a piece of clothing in my closet is five years (provided there is no significant size change).
Thirdly, I’d like to wear clothing that really represents who I am. Right now, my closet is filled with conservative, business casual in neutral colours with the odd pop of colour for work. They’re functional and nice but not truly representative of who I am. On the other hand I also have lots of hiking and outdoor clothing. Which is totally me but these aren’t the clothes I enjoy walking around town in and they’re not appropriate for work. I enjoy soft fabrics, interesting patterns, boho flair but nothing that takes too much effort. It can’t be revealing and I have to be able to move freely in it. My closet definitely doesn’t take too much effort as it is but it certainly doesn’t have ANY flair. I love clothing that has a rustic, handmade look to it, including elements of crochet or lace, sweaters that have been knit, or vintage patterns. I do own a few pieces that I’ve had for years and those pieces are the ones I go to for inspiration because they are truly me.
I’m sure I could find pieces to buy that fit all these criteria – that fit me, represents my style, are ethically made, and are from a small, locally-owned boutique but that would involve shopping on a regular basis and well, I REALLY hate shopping. I would much rather spend my time actually making the clothing.
So, I took the leap. I found an easy tutorial online that would be (I hoped) an easy and successful first project. Then I went to the fabric store and chose a beautiful, light denim fabric that had colourful embroidery on one side. After I got it home, I realized I had made a newbie mistake. I bought a fabric that was not symmetrical and because I couldn’t use the other side to match it, I did not have enough of it. I could’ve gone back to get some more but the embroidery made it quite pricey and I really wasn’t looking forward to spending more money on something I wasn’t even sure I could create. So I went back to the fabric store and got a safer bet that was on clearance. When I saw the final product on me, I realized that the denim wouldn’t have worked anyway. So it will be turned into a knee-length wrap skirt.
I won’t be writing any tutorials on how to sew since I’m just beginning. (I did do one of a slipcover I made for the cabin but sewing decor is different than sewing clothing; there are far more straight lines.) But I do want to write about the positive experience I had just creating my own piece of clothing.
I’ve always been crafty and I’ve always loved the satisfaction I get from actually enjoying and even using something I’ve created. I tend to learn by making a lot of mistakes so my previous experiences with sewing haven’t been fabulous. I’ve made some sleep pants (so it didn’t really matter that I made them WAAAAAY too big) and I made Soldier Boy a pretty awesome Elvis Hawaiian shirt, which he lovingly told me would be perfect for the cabin (see my post on the sorts of clothes that go out to the cabin). And I’ve successfully made coats for two dogs, one of which was quickly outgrown since I didn’t factor in extra width. Sigh.
But this time I was determined to approach it with a far more mindful approach. I carried the concept of slow fashion in my heart and mind as I worked. Yes, the point was to finish. Eventually. But the point is also to be mindful in every aspect of the production of a piece of clothing, to appreciate the work that goes into making it, to value its worth and to see it as something made by hand and with heart instead of something that will just be put into landfill.
“Carl Honoré, author of “In Praise of Slowness”, says that the ‘slow approach’ intervenes as a revolutionary process in the contemporary world because it encourages taking time to ensure quality production, to give value to the product, and contemplate the connection with the environment.” The Slow Fashion Movement by Celine Semaan Vernon
The tutorial was very simple. Yet sewing is not necessarily simple. There is a lot to take into consideration. There is a lot of Math involved. Some mistakes cannot be corrected so do what you can not to make them in the first place. There is creative thinking involved, problem solving, a lot of sitting and considering. One must observe intently and stay focused or else something may go awry.
In the past, when I’ve decided to sew something, I’ve been very focused on the end product. I would assume that a pattern described as “easy”, should be done within a couple of hours. Well, perhaps if you are far more experienced seamstress than I am. I had a tendency to rush the math or forego trying the piece on at every step or skip steps that I felt just took up time (like ironing the hems before sewing resulting in wonky hems). With this project, I was far more focused on the process than I was the product. It is a very simple project with very little measuring involved. It took me about four hours of sewing. In the end, I was giddy with excitement at the final product. It isn’t perfect but it is the best I’ve ever created and I’m really happy about that.
In the short couple of weeks that I’ve really started looking into making my own clothing, I’ve discovered some really interesting sites that have pdf downloadable patterns, tutorials on how to alter patterns for your measurements, some local stores I hadn’t known about that sell beautiful fabric, and classes for all sorts of projects and ages.
I have the overall feeling that sewing is making a comeback. Like knitting, it’s not a dying art after all. More and more ordinary people from all walks of life and all ages are looking at what’s offered and saying, “You know what? I think I can do better.” There’s a whole new movement of people who aren’t willing to drink the Kool-Aid of consumerism anymore.
I’m really excited about my new project. I’m excited to improve my sewing skills. I’m excited to have a closet filled with clothes that, for the first time in my life, represent ME.