Have you ever read a book that, upon completion, made you think, 'I really enjoyed that, what the author had to say really chimed with me and it's given me lots to think about. But, AGH!!!, now I want to know a bit more about them and their views!'? Well, after reading 'Sew Your Own' by John-Paul Flintoff, I told my mates about it and wrote a post about it on this blog because I felt it focussed on issues that deserve peops spending some brain-time on. The inclusive and accessible nature of his writing and his obvious willingness to engage with people, whether they had anything directly to offer him or not, made me feel he might enjoy a bit of reader participation. So I found his email address (which really didn't require as much internet-stalking as I was prepared to undertake!) and let him know about the post, which had garnered some lovely positive comments from my readers by that point, plus inspired a few sales I might add. He sent a charming response which put pay to the adage, 'Never (e-)meet your heroes'!
But as the book addressed many of the topics that I usually have running through my head, and in fact added more facets to those topics, I really wanted to pick his brains on a few things plus get a bit of an update on his crafting-activities since the the book was published. So I chanced my arm, having already made contact with him, and he graciously agreed to a mini-interview which I would, of course, love to share with you...
Me: Your book was first published in 2009, are you still making and modifying your own clothes?
J-P: Yes, very much so, though I've found it hard to do as much as I would like to do. This week I invisibly mended a second-hand Harris Tweed jacket I bought in Edinburgh last Xmas. I also bought recently a rather girly piece of fabric (floral, washed out) that I thought looks very slightly like camouflage and am planning to macho it up a bit, if you see what I mean, but making a fitted military style shirt with epaulettes and two front pockets.
Me: Have you been allowed to apply your skills to your wife’s wardrobe yet?
J-P: Harriet, eventually convinced that I knew what I was doing, asked me to make her a pair of jeans, which was a huge breakthrough in itself. I bought the denim, with a bit of stretch in it, but subsequently decided never actually to get around to making the jeans because if I did, and she didn't like them, she would feel bad and I would feel bad too. The great thing was to be asked. Having said that, I did make her a loose blouse for her birthday, which she seems to like.
Me: Do you teach your daughter your make-do and mend skills?
J-P: It's very slow progress. She doesn't want to be taught, as such. She has enough lessons as it is. So I have to do it "inadvertently". One thing I do is repair her beloved teddy, as holes appear at regular intervals. It's like painting the Forth Bridge. I told her that one day when I'm very old she will have to do the darning herself. She consented to let me buy her a little sewing kit, in preparation for that terrible eventuality. Also, she recently had a sewing party for her birthday (not my choice, as it happens) and was also given presents (by others) that have to do with sewing. So I think it will happen.
Me: How have your investigations into climate change, Peak Oil and sweatshop labour effected your buying habits?
J-P: I have become a terrible consumer - or a good one, depending on how you look at things. I buy very little indeed, which is not doing much for economic growth. When I do buy, it is often second-hand. I don't think about this very much, it's become almost instinctive. I recently went into a clothes shop and thought, oh, yes, there are shops. But it got to a point where my obsession with home-made was becoming a bit obsessive. I needed a break. So Harriet just went to Gap and bought me some corduroy jeans and I have to say I like them very much. I don't have a clue what kind of conditions they were made in, or who grew the cotton, with what kind of inputs, but it's really important, I think, to learn to relax and recognise that we can't fix everything.
Me: Considering the damaging effect of fabric production, but consumer’s desire to support local independent fabric shops, is it ethical to buy new fabric or should we seek out existing unused fabric to sew our clothes with?
J-P: I do think it's a good idea to seek out unused fabric, obviously. But it would be a fairly miserable world if nobody were able to make new things, ever.
Me: What can someone who lives in London do to prevent sweatshop labour
J-P: Well, buying clothes from a place that makes a point of sourcing clothes ethically is one idea, but it's likely to be a bit more expensive, and not everybody can afford that. A cheaper solution might be to buy second-hand clothes, which may of course have been produced ethically, but by reusing you are reducing the impact of that a bit, I think. (Halving the bad karma, if you like, of the previous owner.) The absolute best option is to make things yourself: there is no sweatshop labour in my house, and nobody is exploited in the making of my garments.
Me: How do you remain positive despite all the realities of Peak Oil, climate change, global inequality and the reluctance of political leaders to effectively address these issues?
J-P: I think there is no option but to remain positive. It's difficult at times not to feel a bit glum, but actually I think that moving away from expecting anything whatever from political or other leaders is rather rewarding: you recognise that you can make a real difference yourself, and if you work with enough other people the political change you want to see will happen automatically. The alternative is very disempowering: to think that things will only be "fixed" by somebody else, eg, government.
Me: Have you considered starting your own craft/sustainability blog? Your approach and engaging writing style would make it a massive hit with the on-line creative community!
J-P: Thank you very much! I would love to do that, but it's hard to find the time to do all the things I want to do and also document them. I do blog occasionally about things that interest me, but not only about craft and sustainability. http://jpflintoff.tumblr.com/
I would like to thank John-Paul enormously for taking the time to answer my questions so thoughtfully. And if you have any mates that have taken an interest in DIY activities, you could so easily flow them a copy of 'Sew Your Own' this Christmas which may provide them with the motivation to start their own creative journey!