Are you ready for a radical anti-consumerist statement? Here goes: I have enough clothes. Now, this isn’t a terribly original radical idea, even among other makers & sewists (for one, Felicia wrote eloquently about it last summer). But it’s an idea that I’ve been rolling around my head for a year or so now, mulling over where I’m going with it, and I think I’ve made some progress.
Roughly six years ago, without really telling anyone about it, I decided that I would get the clothes I needed in my wardrobe by making them instead of buying them. At the time, I needed quite a bit. For winter wear I remember having a total of two long sleeved knit shirts, both plain cotton not-great-fitting ones from the thrift store. Situations like that were part of the reason I went handmade; I was frustrated looking for ready-made clothes I liked that I could afford, and tired of feeling like most of what I wore didn’t suit my personality or my life. Me-Made-May was also essential in getting me going in this direction. Before we move on, I want to acknowledge that it is a great privilege to be able to choose warmer and better-looking clothes. While I’m not always sure what to do with that knowledge, it seems important to say it, and I do think that just acknowledging it helps me be more grateful and mindful of what I have, and encourages me to take care of things and not take them for granted.
This was an old silk cami with a shelf bra inside, made from a thrifted top. As you can see, it had a lot of wear and had already been patched once. But there was still enough sound fabric between the body and the shelf to reconstruct a different cami (below). It’s certainly arguable that this was too much work, too much hand stitching, for a garment which realistically is made from worn fabric and has a limited life expectancy. And yet, it gave me a lot of freedom to experiment, and a functional garment …
So back then, I just started sewing garments, beginning with what I needed most, and then moving to the next-most-needed thing. It worked—I slowly but surely built a wardrobe of clothes I love, which covers just about any situation in my life. The new things have been mostly me-made, with a few lucky thrifted/gifted pieces mixed in. It certainly helped my progress that I already knew how to to sew (and knit), that I was already thinking about how my style reflects the way I want to be seen, and that I had a fair amount of fabric stashed away (although I certainly acquired more for specific projects).
Because I came into my personal wardrobe sewing revival from a place of making what I really needed, it was unavoidably obvious when I got to the point of not needing much. It’s been a gradual but ultimately fairly profound shift for me; from having a new garment in progress most of the time, to focusing more on slower projects, mending, and keeping my wardrobe in good shape.
These handknit socks I got from a friend quite a while back are my longest-running mending project. I just can’t give them up. All but one pair are still going.
At first, I was a little conflicted about all this. I thought I might miss sewing things from fresh fabric, or maybe more truthfully that I would miss dreaming things up to sew out of fresh fabric. But, as Jess pointed out, there’s no reason not to keep dreaming. After all, just a small percentage of the garments I imagine ever get sewn, no matter how much I’m actually making. Also, it turns out that for me anyway, it’s just as satisfying to dream up ways to re-make things that have been languishing in the back of my closet or in the “try again” basket. And it’s not that I am making nothing new. Right now I am knitting socks (the world’s slowest pair since I’m only working on them when traveling, plus I keep changing my mind and ripping out the heel …), spinning yarn which will become a sweater in its own sweet time, and plotting a new shirt from my natural-dye-printed fabric. And, I’ve just realized that neither my newer purple corduroys nor my blue cotton pants are really presentable for outside wear anymore—there will always be things to make!
But for the most part, my sewing lately has been directed towards keeping my existing wardrobe going, making it better, and adding in the next level of that message I want to send when people see what I’m wearing. At some point it occurred to me that while I know I’m wearing handmade, anyone who sees my clothes (especially if they don’t sew) will just assume that I bought them somewhere, like “everyone” does. In fact, many a sewist’s goal has been to make clothes that look “just as good” as store-bought ones. Well, I’ve decided that I’d actually like people who see me on the street to think to themselves, “Hey, I wonder if she MADE that … or someone did …”—in a good way, of course! I’m interested in adding more hand stitching, more hand-dyed fabrics (and eventually handmade fabrics?!), and definitely interested in wearing visible mending proudly on the outside of my clothes.
Rather than making a new pair of PJ pants when I needed some recently, I decided it made more sense to revamp a pair that Bryan wasn’t wearing. That meant getting rid of crumbling elastic, and adding enough hand stitching that they felt like “my new comfy beautiful PJs” rather than “this hand-me-down thing I’m stuck with.”
This downshift in sewing fits in really well with other shifts in my life over the past couple of years. A lot of my creative energy has been and is now going into thinking about natural dyes, fibers, and fabric printing. As I’ve taught those skills more widely, I’ve been working hard to learn all I can and improve my process. (It’s the biggest, deepest, best rabbit hole of research and experiments I’ve ever been in.) I’m teaching mending more too, so it’s been perfect timing for me to take on mending my own wardrobe as more of a deliberate project, seeing how far I can push things and what I will learn by continuing to choose “fix it” over “rag bag.” As much as I am devoted to other textile arts, it pops into my head over and over again that mending is probably the most valuable, most potentially world-changing thing I could do, show, or teach. (Come join me! New classes recently added.)
I think it’s also worth noting that I’m more comfortable in this stage of my evolution as a maker because of the type of maker I am. While I certainly try to master the skills I take on, every textile technique I learn about fascinates me, and I’m always ready to expand my horizons. So spending less time sewing ultimately means I’ll have more time for dyeing, spinning, maybe some weaving, or to try something else entirely new—a bonus in my book.
This blog has evolved with me, and I want it continue to do so. I have plans to start sharing some of what I’ve learned about natural dyeing here, as well as whatever else comes up. So for now, a happy season to you, whatever yours may be. (The monsoon rains just started here, and I am so very grateful!)