Sunday, 20 June 2010

Thoughts on Forgiveness

I don't know how I missed it until last week, but back in the day (like, the 8th of May) Susannah of Cargo Cult Craft wrote a relevant and though-provoking post (as usual!) about the differences between and perceptions of Homemade and Handmade garments. She discussed how, in her eyes, her self-stitched creations didn't match up to the finish of mass-manufactured garments. She raised many interesting points, as does the post's comments section, and if you are interested in sewing clothes, I'd recommend you check them out and get involved in the debate. I waded in with my own comment on the topic, but have since found myself revisiting this issue in my thoughts and felt a post brewing to help consolidate my thoughts more clearly. (At times, I'll admit I view my blog as a kind of cheap sounding board/therapy.)

Susannah's post made me realise that when I really got into sewing my own clothes, about four years ago, I felt exactly the same as she did on this matter. Obviously I took pride in my creations and loved the buzz of being able to reply 'I made it' when something received a compliment, but there was always this fear that the garment would somehow fail or display tell-tale signs of homemade-ness. In my clothing company jobs I'd seen sample machinists whip up amazing things in less time than it took me to make a round of coffees due to their decades of daily experience. I knew that the wealth of tips and tricks would never be at my disposal, and my efforts seemed so lame in comparison. Even when the clothing a couple of those companies made was produced from cloth so cheap it felt like paper, the factories' products always came back so crisp and sleekly made, it was as if they were mocking my out-of-office-hours endeavours.

But last week I realised I no longer feel like that. It's not that my skills have greatly improved. On the contrary, I'm appalled at how little I seem to have learnt (dealing with stretch fabric aside) since I stitched the last seam on my final collection at university and took my wares down to London Graduate Fashion Week almost a decade ago. I think my expectations for my garments have changed due to a widening of my knowledge of and involvement in the issues that surround handmade culture and consumption. I have accepted that I don't have access to the fancy binding machines, fusing presses and other industrial equipment that make mass-manufactured clothing appear so slick (at least before they get worn and washed). But that's ok. I know that I can make a damn good approximation that would (I assume because I never ask them) fool the casual observer. I pretty sure everyone is far too busy to stop and try and figure out the origin of my garments! But even if they did figure out that I made everything I'm standing in, except for my bra and flipflops, that's something that these days I'm more than happy to broadcast.

I am far more forgiving of the homemade-y looking elements of my clothes because they exhibit the truth that it is possible to avoid mass-manufactured clothing. That badly applied bias binding or concealed zip reminds me that I'm contributing, in some small way, to the debate about our culture's sustainability. Not only do I forgive the signs that put my clothes into the homemade/handmade catagory, but I guess I've learnt to almost embrace them.
Of course, my awareness of fitting and finishing flaws of a newly finished garment is as heightened as the next seamstress's. I still cringe when my skirt twists about when I walk because I made it a little too big. Sometimes even, I look at all my handmade clothes (which now form the majority of my wardrobe) hanging up and feel that it's all just shoddy shit and I have no 'real' clothes. But that doesn't last long and I acknowledge that is my social conditioning speaking, not really me.

Take this newly finished red and black top pictured here as an example. Where I tried to deal with the sleeveheads' ease and put them into the armhole, I have some pretty major crinkling that refuses to disappear with pressing. Also, the seam allowance of the sleeve/armhole refuses lie correctly all the time so I have to consciously remember to tuck it up at intervals. And although these things annoy me, on balance I'm far more forgiving of them because I have a new top to wear that by and large looks pretty good and complies with the boundaries I have chosen to try to stick to.

I saw a girl the other day on the street who was wearing a blatantly homemade/handmade skirt and it made me so happy. Like finding a vintage garment has actually been hand-stitched, seeing that someone has taken the time to create or adapt a garment really pleases me for reasons that I can't fully express right now. This red and black top actually started life as this rather hideous 80's/90's over-sized blouse, complete with shoulder pads and crazy contrast collar band which I found on the street by the bins on the way to a class. Even though it's the type of synthetic fabric that I wouldn't give a second glance if it was in a fabric store plus I clearly didn't know where it had been, I was drawn to its print seeing some Rockabilly potential there. When I started to unpick it, I found it had been altered by a previous owner at some point in its life which kind of made me appreciate it more and spurred me on with my plan to lengthen its life and customise it still further.

In my experience, making a garment out of an existing garment if infinately harder than with fabric and a pattern, yet I have a mate with a pattern phobia who confines her sewing activities solely to repurposing existing clothes. Hats off to her, this was not easy. I used my adapted New Look 6808 pattern and had quite a tussle to squeeze the pieces out without throwing the giant checks out of wack. And of course there were the sleeves and seam allowance issues mentioned above. I chose these really cute anchor buttons to replace the hideous original ones, but I might change them to flatter ones without a shank in the future that don't dig into my back when I lean against a chair back. I didn't have enough fabric/patience to attempt neck facings so gave the neck edge the ol' bias binding treatment.

Although I generally dislike this type of fabric, I must say it feels really nice when worn. Cool and slinky in the sticky weather Barcelona is so good at. This is the second completed garment from my Summer Essentials challenge list and I was pleased to finish on Friday in time to wear to the last class ever with the kids I was off to teach the day I found the original blouse on the street. Of course I didn't tell them about my bagging street clothes antics, I've found 12-year-old boys tend to have different opinions than many of the thrifty sewing community towards such things! After the lesson, I met up with my boy for an impromptu end-of term celebration date. What girl doesn't enjoy wearing an (old) new garment for such an event?!

23 comments:

Tilly said...

You're quite right, so what if a garment isn't perfect? At least you know where it came from and can be proud that you conceived and realised it yourself. And if the skirt is slightly loose, you know you've got the skills to adjust that... at some point... if you can be bothered...

sewducky said...

This is something that takes a lot of getting used to by home sewists, and even if you do them perfectly, they still look off.

Well made clothing is so unusual today, that they tend to scream homemade. All you can do is enjoy the fact you have pretty clothing, which you seem to. Very nice post about the topic!

Leah said...

I know everyone likes to get compliments when they've taken the time to create something, but sometimes I think the mark of a really well-made handmade garment is not getting compliments. Because to the casual observer, it passes as a 'professional' looking garment, even if it is filled with wonky stitching or something.
I do agree that it is nice when you see something homemade as opposed to shop-bought. And I love finding something homemade in a charity/vintage shop too.

Toby Wollin said...

My two cents:
1) Does it fit? If it fits, then it's 100% better than 90% of what is hanging on the rack in the stores.
2) Does it come out of whatever form of cleaning you put it through without falling apart, buttons coming off, hems falling out, etc.? If so, it's 100% better than 90% of what is hanging on the rack in the stores.
3) Do you LIKE it? Does it please you to make it and wear it? If so, then you are 100% better off - I've never bought anything where I did not feel I was making a compromise of the "well, I need xxx and this is the best I can do, I guess."

Ali said...

Another thought-provoking and eloquent post, Zoe! I love this.

I've been having a bad sewing week (I haven't had time, I've been sick, I screwed up the v-band on the Japanese top etc etc) and I've been muttering to myself: This is why people buy their clothes. OR, who am I fooling? I can't sew like other people can.

So this post came at a perfect time. I do get a great deal of satisfaction out of sewing, even with the imperfections. Thanks for the reminder! I'm back to the Japanese top. :)

And besides, one of the most wonderful things about sewing is 1) the knowledge of how things are put together (even if you were forced into never sewing again, you'd be such a smarter consumer) and 2) all the choices that are available to you in the process, a creative opportunity every step of the way. It reminds me of a quote I saw on Cal Patch's website, "The goal is not perfection. Perfection exists in the process of creating." :)

Gail said...

This post has raised issues that I've been thinking about for a while - largely based on arguments with my youngest daughter who doesn't want to wear "homemade" clothes. When I returned to sewing my skills were low - I had never been taught properly. One of the blessings of the web is that we now have a sisterhood of women who can help up improve. It's like a virtual sewing group of the type my mother attended. As a 70s feminist I sewed but I never wanted to properly engage with the 'domestic arts'. It simply wasn't cool. I want more young women like you to bring it back for my two daughters sakes. It pisses me off to see so many young women getting ripped off by the industry, thinking it is ok to pay $200+ for a dress made in an Indonesian sweat shop.

Brooke said...

Oh, Zo. I just adore you. Thank you for putting my wonky seams in perspective.

Holly's Patch said...

Your post has made me think about the reasons why I sew. Why do I sew? Interesting question to ponder. . . .
I sew primarily for my children - I get much more joy out of creating one of a kind, unique garments for them than myself at this stage in life. I find that compliments are extremely rare when they wear 'run-of-the-mill' factory made clothes. But compliments are constant from everyone including complete strangers when they wear one of my creations. For me, sewing is a way of demonstating my personality and individuality in this increasingly 'plastic' world we live in. Sure underneath the finish might not look as 'professional' as store bought but the fit is nearly always much better and the styles are appropriate and unique.

Connie said...

Your red and black top does not look homemade. It looks awesome on you. You are doing an awesome job! Connie

Michelle said...

So maybe it's my pregnancy hormones, or maybe it's the way you stated exactly how I feel about my sewing when I can not word it right, but I was about to cry reading this. I know that sounds lame, but it was refreshing to see someone with so much blatent talent also doubt the "showability" of her work. It makes me feel proud to wear things that I have made for myself and my kids, even if there are flaws. Generally speaking, only I, or another seamstress, can ever tell anyway.
You're totally right, it's social conditioning that makes us think this way. Do you think anyone in an underdeveloped country considers the flaws and homemadeness of their clothing? Absoloutely not! Why should I? I worked hard to make something that I envisioned, and dammit, I'm going to wear it with handmade pride!
Thanks for posting such a frank and personal "article" or whatever, I loved it :)

jen said...

Interesting post! I feel like I definitely used to thing about this more, but now I've entered into a new stage in my sewing. I have a horrible thing where I hold my garments to a much higher standard that anything I would purchase at the store, sort of messed up. If the people at Anthropologie or wherever don't mind that their stripes are 1/16" mismatched in the invisible zipper of a dress, why do I feel like I need to line them up perfectly or it's a failure? Strange. Also, no matter what I'm wearing, store-bought or self-made my friends ask me if I made it so I guess I had better make more clothes so I can say yes more!

Fourth Daughter said...

I think I must be like your friend, I have been remaking stuff more than doing it from scratch and I agree, sometimes that's actually a lot more time consuming. I sometimes do wonder why I spend days working on a garment when my friends just walk in and buy something off the rack and use their precious time for something else, but I'm too vain not to enjoy the compliments I get when I wear stuff I've made or customised and I LOVE being able to say "this? oh, it was $2". Most of the time my stuff-ups are on the inside of a garment so no one sees them but I agree with you about the appeal of me-made vs mass-made fashion. I will say though, I always have trouble trying to put a casual outfit together as most of my wardrobe is me-made and therefore a lot more expressive than what you can buy off the rack!

Minnado said...

A greta and thought provoking post, Zoe.
The red and black top looks fab. I think that there is often a sense of self doubt when you are making stuff but your stuff always looks so great - and unwonky!

Uta said...

The blouse is so cool! And perfect with your coloring. On the handmade subject: I completely agree. I remember when my mom and grandma used to knit for us as kids and apologized because things didn't look storebought, I just didn't understand. Handmade is better than mass-produced, right? (I knew this even then.) So why would I even want something handmade to look storebought? I don't mean it should look bad, but like seam allowances on the inside: I firmly maintain that zigzag is at least equal if not better than serged, because it's a sure sign something is handmade! (So I will maintain until I get a serger. Ha!)

Susannah said...

Right now I am wearing a cardigan I refashioned and it is taking a LOT of willpower not to pick at the flaws which are so glaringly obvious to me. But then I look at that red and black check top you restyled and realize I would never be able to detect the flaws in it if you hadn't pointed them out. Such is project dysmorphia -- the irrational I-am-so-fat angst of the sewing world. I am taking a lot of deep breaths and trying to retrain my eyes to appreciate (e.g.) the superior fit of the stuff I make, even if the construction isn't industry-perfect. Inspecting RTW clothes for flaws also helps give me a sense of proportion.

Strangely, now that I've started finishing my seams with an overlocker, my dysmorphia has decreased slightly -- looking inside a me-made garment and seeing that "factory" finish is bizarrely reassuring.

AnaJan said...

Nice post, Zoe, I enjoyed every word I read.
I started sewing 16 years ago, I was still a teenager, and totally unaware of my body image, style and crafting skills. However, I was so brave - there was no garment or pattern that I was intimidated by. Add to that that I was self taught, and you can imagine how messy all of my garments were at the time.
I can honestly say that I really became critical about my crafting skills about 2 years ago, when I discovered the internet sewing community. Before that, I didn't have any sewing buddy, nor a teacher, hence I didn't have anyone to compare my work with. Once that I saw other people's garments, inner details, and perfectly finished hems, I became conscious of how homemade my garments looked. That's when I started really paying attention to little details that others might not even notice, but I knew of them: welted pockets, lining, topstitches, etc.
I know my garments do not look as the RTW ones, but I am not ashame of that. My clothes get a lot of compliments, and to be honest I am very proud of every single piece I made. It took me years to learn basics, and I still have a lot to learn. But it doesn't make me compare my handmade clothes to the RTW. I wear it proudly!

The Cupcake Goddess said...

This is such a superb post and such a great topic! I too, have been there with some of my very first handmade frocks. In fact, before I learned to really fit myself, I felt that RTW clothing fit me better than my handmade creations.

I'm to the point now where RTW does not fit me like my handmade garments. My handmade garments are superior to RTW and I really enjoy that. There are many touches that I add to garments that I don't see in RTW items. I personally believe that my handmade garments are better constructed and hold together much better than anything I've bought RTW.

Handmade garments are so much more creative too. It's exciting to put something together that makes someone ask breathlessly, "Where did you get that?"

jessica said...

I love the "irrational I-am-so-fat angst of the sewing world" comment by Susannah -- so, so appropriate!

It's funny what we let mass retailers get away with [like crap quality fabric], yet when we look at our own handmade garments, we see all the faults and not the ways that our clothing outstrips the mass retailer's [like when we use nicer fabric than they do]. I wonder if we spent 5+ hours inspecting a RTW item [analogous to the amount of time we spent on making an item of clothing], if we would not also focus as closely on their shortcomings? I guess I'm thinking that one of the 'luxuries' of RTW is precisely that you DON'T have to spend so long 'living' with a garment that you become attuned the ways it is not spot-on perfect ... never mind that you probably got the stripes to match up perfectly, the hem is the perfect depth and absolutely straight, that pattern tweak was spot on and you absolutely made the right choice to go with silk organza instead of sew-in interfacing! Or whatever other million things that you did right.

It also seems, from your statements and other's comments, that we evolve through phases of acceptance in our sewing. Maybe you've hit a new one! :-).

Angela said...

Love it!

Tasia said...

What a great post! Before I started blogging and meeting such a wonderful group of sewing enthusiasts, I'd answer 'Yes' to questions of whether I made something, and then proceed to point out all of its flaws. I've learned to stop focusing on all the reasons it's not perfect, and enjoy the things I like best - mostly, that it fits well and that it was made with love!!
This was my favourite part of your post:
"Sometimes even, I look at all my handmade clothes (which now form the majority of my wardrobe) hanging up and feel that it's all just shoddy shit and I have no 'real' clothes." I know! Sometimes I feel something I made isn't good enough as a new outfit for a christmas party, or someone's wedding...and that I should be out there buying a dress like the rest of the world. Which is ridiculous, and I just need to push those negative thoughts out!
Thanks for sharing, it's nice to know that no matter how much we learn and our skills improve, we all have these self-doubting feelings now and then.

corinnea said...

I am not very good at setting my thoughts down into the written word for everyone to see but so it is nice to read your when they closely mirror mine in some areas of sewing. I've become much more forgiving of myself too over the years.

kate said...

Fantastic article! I've sewn lots for my kids, but not much for myself and it's mostly due to all the reasons you wrote about. I'm insecure about my skills and I don't want to end up looking like I'm wearing a craft made by my kids. But you raise some good thoughts....I might be convinced that I need to try it again.
I love the comment you made about fooling the average person about your garment. Wouldn't that be an interesting feature on your blog, to take your garments to the street and ask onlookers if they can name the brand, or have them look at an entire outfit and see if they can tell which part is handmade.
Anyway, keep it up Zoe, I love seeing what you've made and I adore reading your thoughts.

kate said...

PS-I would love to see a tutorial on how you made your blouse! I love the look you created.

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