Saturday, 29 October 2016

Slow Fashion October 3: Handmade

I started making clothing over 10 years ago now and it's become such an ingrained part of my life that I don't even think about it, really. I've trained and worked professionally as a costume maker, and have drifted back and forth between making for myself only, for family only, or for clients only over the decade. At the moment I'm focussing on myself. 

I've had a lot of deadlines recently, first to finish off my Masters dissertation, and now a series of rolling targets as I prepare my PhD application. When I'm busy I often find myself, rather infuriatingly, picking up my phone like a reflex and mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. A total time suck that doesn't achieve anything and just serves to make me feel more guilty. 

Then, I decided to participate in Slow Fashion October. Just a quick sweep across my and my partner's wardrobes amassed a towering pile of garments that we wished to be mended, rather than thrown away. Mending takes time, and isn't always pretty. That began to feel like another pressure, as the mending pile grew ever larger and threatened to take over my space.

So I decided to try something different. Each time I reached for my phone, I stopped myself mid-swipe and picked up my knitting instead. It's proved immensely fruitful and productive. I spent one insomniac night going through all my back copies of knitting magazines (more on which anon), and unearthed a half-knitted sweater and bag of leftover yarns at the bottom of my yarn storage. Over the last 5 weeks I have managed to knit 5 pieces of a cheerful lace cardigan.

I am pretty pleased with this progress. I'm also very happy to only have 1 ball of yarn leftover. Whilst I always keep aside a couple of metres for darning, I hate having remnants. The red is quite the perfect shade for me and matches lots of things that I have in my room, including the 1970s suitcase that I bought in a charity shop.

Making your own clothes falls obviously under the 'slow fashion' umbrella, as pieces fall into your wardrobe only at the rate of which you are sewing/knitting. And unless you are working 40 hours a week sewing your clothes, it's going to be rather slowly. But I've often been surprised by the impositions that we humans can put on ourselves. Recently, Morgan of Crab & Bee wrote about letting go of the compulsion to only sew all of her clothing herself. In the comments sections, many others agreed that they'd felt under huge pressure to do this, and applauded her decision to stop. I was really surprised, because as much as I enjoy making things (and I even specifically chose my Bachelors degree that taught pattern-cutting, draping and professional sewing techniques because I wanted to refine my skillset), I have never felt the need to say 'I must only have items in my wardrobe that I myself have made.' Instead, I chose to buy second-hand as much as possible, aside from difficult items such as outerwear, activewear, shoes, and lingerie. 

Over the last year, I began making my own lingerie; and whilst I have the technical ability to make outerwear (I specialised in tailoring in my Bachelors degree), I haven't really dedicated the time to making a coat for myself. I always remember that my tailoring teacher, who taught super old-fashioned bespoke hand-tailoring, told me that it takes 8-10 jackets before you make one that's considered decent. Not good - just decent. This is quite alarming. I've made 4. 

I don't particularly want to be going round in clothing that looks sloppy and does not fit well, just purely because I made it myself. Fabric availability is also a problem, as many technical fabrics are developed specifically for industry usage. The lightweight, waterproof cycling jacket I bought (secondhand on Ebay) that has multiple zip pockets and folds up tidily is way better than anything I could have made myself. Likewise the snow-proof down-filled winter jacket I bought (in an outlet store) for my winter living in Sweden. It's not necessary to go to the extreme of making things that will not realistically produce great results: too difficult for your level, too hard to find suitable materials, too challenging to properly fit. It's no point sewing your own wardrobe just for the sake of it, particularly if it's making you stressed, even unhappy. 

Overall, I'm trying to articulate that embracing a slow fashion wardrobe is simple, but it does often mean a shift in our lifestyle choices. Currently, I sit writing wearing an outfit that is entirely second-hand, and it's just normal. Whilst to some people, knitting your own socks and sewing your own knickers does seem rather extreme, I think it's possible to make this part of a routine that incorporates less consumerist approaches to clothing. Like everything, it just takes practice.


p.s. I've decided not to dedicate a whole post to the last week of Slow Fashion October's theme 'known origins'. But you know me, and you know how sustainability infuses itself in my lifestyle and making choices, so this post won't be the last word on 'slow fashion'. 

I am not convinced how much benefit that 'known origins' have on sustainability. Sweatshops exist in Europe and the USA as much as in Asia. If non-toxic, organic fibres and dyes are used, manufacturers generally highlight this as it makes their product so much more expensive. I think it's much better to make careful choices about where you buy, such as purchasing fabric second-hand (from de-cluttering friends or thrift shops) or from fabric shops that specialise in industry remnants or out-of-season designs. These choices will stop those rolls of fabric from being destroyed (by burning) or dumped in the landfill.

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