Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Stuff and Things

See that? That's all my clothes in one pile. All of them except for a few bits that were hiding in the laundry and the garments I was standing in. That's what I dealt with yesterday.

Finally it got to the clothing stage in my packing to move back to UK. Until yesterday, I had the naive idea that I could whittle my clothing down to fill just one medium sized suitcase and maybe one smallish box to be sent via post to UK. Ummmm, No! Totally No, seriously No and a million times, No! I have come to realise that my initial aim only would have been possible if I were living (or about to live) in a temperate climate that was generally very warm with very little weather fluctuation of any kind. I don't know where such a place would be, but it certainly isn't my current reality. The truth is, whilst I'm wearing my smallest shorts, skirts and summer tops right now, jumpers and coats are to be fixtures of my near future.

The pile of garments that remain post-sorting is now about half the size of the pile in the image above, but even after the mass-culling, I'm going to have to buy a bigger suitcase. Sorting through clothes is so difficult! So many memories and attachments exist between both self-stitched and long-harboured shop-bought items. The ties between a sewer and their handmade wares are clearly complex and multi-faceted. But having not bought any new clothes for about four years, many of my shop-bought things have achieved an elevated level of preciousness as well, which was pretty much the point of signing up to the Wardrobe Refashion pledge in the first place: to live an alternative to the standard lifestyle where clothing is disposable.

But it couldn't all come with me and I had to be ruthless. A lack of charity shops here in Spain makes chucking out unwanted things more of a guilt-inducing activity than it might otherwise be if I was currently living somewhere where the culture of second hand were different. Thankfully, I have a friend living here whose hoarding instinct I have been able to exploit so I know the majority of the items I have had to discard are going on to a new life! But with so many 'old friends'and handmade 'babies', the criteria I needed to employ to figure out the what would stay and what would go had to be pretty tough.

'Slow-fashion' forces you to evaluate more fully what you need and want from a garment than shopping for garments does, because (if you're anything like me) you know that rushing in to an ill-considered project often results in an unwearable garment, and with the extra time and effort invested in it's aquisition, that can be pretty crushing! My sewing outup has escalated somewhat over the last year and it's really helped me focus on what kind of styles I'm interested in and suit me. There's been quite a few creations this year that occurred largely because I wanted to get something finished rather than because I was creating something well-suited to my tastes, body shape and lifestyle. This clothing clear-out gave me the opportunity to acknowledge that and let them go.

So now that my wardrobe consists only of items that are currently (or shortly will be) seeing a lot of action and the garments that I feel accurately reflect the direction my personal style seems to be heading, I feel I'll be in a better situation to get back into sewing when I find myself ensconced in our next abode. In a vein similar to Mena from Sew Weekly's approach, I hope to only make additions to my wardrobe that are well made, well fitting and well considered in terms of reflecting my personal style and lifestyle needs. In short, I've got to stop spewing quick-fix garments from my sewing machine that end up languishing in my cupboard. I'm most likely one of the last home-sewers out there to have come to this conclusion, but if anyone out there has any tips on how to implement this more considered (and, dare I say, mature) approach to sewing and how to keep yourself on the straight and narrow, I would very grateful to read them!


Clare said...

It's hard being on the one hand interested in fashion and new clothing (and more generally just to love having and creating beautiful things) and on the other being concerned about waste (and about simply 'having too much stuff'). I'm a total hoarder and find it difficult to throw anything away :) My friend told me yesterday that in his family, the hoarder family members get over this by giving stuff to the other family members..who then throw it away for them! Depends on how well you get on with your family I suppose!

It's a shame about the lack of charity shops where you are, if you can bear the thought of your handmades going towards the rag trade then that's another option. Also, have you condsidered donating clothing to a women's shelter? Many shelters are desperately in need of clothing for women who escape domestic violence with nothing but the clothes on their back, and in many ways it can be a better destination for good quality clothing than a shop where it may languish unsold for months.

As far as 'slow sewing' is concerned, I rely totally on having a design notebook in which I plan and sketch and make lists of all the dream items I want to make, and in general I only make something once it's been in the book for at least a few weeks and I've had time to reflect (usually it has to make it onto two or three 'must sew now!' lists before I actually consider it; I've avoided many misguided fabric purchases with this method). But then I'm an obsessive listmaker, so if you don't love lists that may not work for you :D

I only feel stressed to make quick-fix items when I need something NOW (eg for my Handmade Holiday) or when I'm feeling the weight of my stash, so I'm wondering if things like sewing challenges, sewalongs and stashbusting don't actually contribute to the feeling that you are making items that aren't totally right for you, because you're doing it under time pressures. I hope that doesn't come off as criticism of challenges in general, because I think that they're a good thing, but they can definitely contribute to my own panic-sewing sometimes!

Tilly said...

FOUR YEARS without shopping?! Wowzers, I didn't realise you'd gone that long. Makes my four months seem negligible.

I don't have any advice for strategic sewing, I'm afraid - I'm about to make a dress I know I'll never wear, just because I think it'll be pretty and it's something to tick off the list. I like Clare's idea of the dream project notebook - I might give it a whirl...

Zoe said...

Thanks ladies for your super-speedy comments! You've raised some interesting points Clare. One that I really need to adopt I think, is being careful before you buy the fabric/item for refashioning in the first place. I love your idea of a note book. I have something similar in that I have a folder in my PC where I've saved lots of garment inspiration images. Sometimes I go through and edit this folder to stop it being enormous, so I guess the images that have stuck around for months and months now are there for a reason. Plus, as the amount of images have grown, I can see patterns emmerging (like a love of ruffles, or the colour red, etc). I have tried to make 'things to sew' lists in the past, but the are almost redundant almost as soon as I've made them, but I should then adopt your approach of using them as a general indicator rather than the final product.

I know what you mean about how the challenges may create pressure to make something for the hell of participating, but if these challenges encourage people who otherwise wouldn't be sewing (and heading to Primark after work instead), or help generate participation in the sewing community, then I think the benefits have outweighed the risk of ending up with something you are reluctant to wear. I'm pretty sure we're on the same wave length on this.

Any more pointers/ideas/discussion points, please bring 'em!


Crystal said...

I've recently begun to pay a lot of attention to items I make (knitting and sewing) and what suits me best. What has really helped me was making a "style sentence" and then culling (or refusing to make) anything that does not fit in the defintion of my sentence. An example would be, "casual chic with vintage details" (not my actual sentence, but you get the idea!). Going by this if I really loved a dressy gown with a corseted bodice I would not make oe buy it. It just doesn't fit into my style.

The idea behind this is that it creates your "look" and helps you focus making/buying each season to reflect that. Ideally, if all your pieces were of the same style then you could mix and match more outfits with less separates. It also defines and helps you weed out all the crap.

I've found I've had to be really ruthless, especially with getting rid of clothes! It has helped me buy way less, and when in go to dress in the morning I find that it's easier and easier and I never look into my closet thinking, "I have nothing to wear!". I nearly like everything in there at this point :)

As for getting rid of things you have an emotional attachment to, try taking a picture of each item before you let it go, and then making a photo album of it. Look through it occasionally and I bet you will find that you forgot about half the clothing anyways! When I look at the items I first started knitting there isn't a single one of them I would want now! But, I remember feeling a sadness when I eventually gifted them away. But I still have that photo album as a reminder, and me and my knitting friends have had plenty of laughs about what I used to actually knit!

Good luck with your move, I hope you manage to get everything back to your homeland in as few boxes as possible :)

Crystal said...

Hit enter a bit too soon there, I meant to leave my url for reference!

liza jane said...

Right now, being a beginner to sewing, I'm just trying to sew anything I can. I learn so much when I do something different that I haven't tried before. I'm accumulating lots of handmade things at the moment that may or may not actually get worn, but I'm getting more experience and building up my confidence.
I've always been pretty good about getting rid of things, though. That comes from my mom. She definitely believed in "simplifying" every now and then. We'd clean out closets constantly. My wardrobe is always rotating. I'll take a box of things to Goodwill before I let myself buy more.
I know how it feels to pack your life in to one suitcase! I spent a year of college abroad and after a year had to fit everything in to one suitcase. I ended up filling up two suitcases and leaving one behind with a friend thinking that I would eventually be able to send money for the friend to ship it to me. Needless to say that never happened, and you know what? I never missed a thing out of that second suitcase.
Good luck with your move home!

Darci said...

Great post!

I use Crystal's "style sentence" to make my clothing list, too. (Right now it's "Classics with a twist!") Each season, I make a little list on my ipod Touch of what I intend to sew, what supplies I need (and have) and what patterns to buy. It helps keep me from overspending when I'm "just looking" at the fabric store, helps me to use what I already have in my stash, and stay focused on what I said I wanted to do. It's so easy to get off-track and excited about a new project when seeing other folks' sewing. (I'm too easily inspired. My downfall for SURE.)

When I'm done with the project, it goes on a "Completed!" list, too. It's amazing how quickly that list grows, and I love the feeling of accomplishment. I also know that I'm going to wear and love what I make, and that's really, really satisfying.

Clare said...

yep yep absolutely, I love the way sewing challenges and online crafting in general brings people together!
I really like the idea of a 'style sentence' and considering whether things really match your style; one of my biggest problems is hanging onto stuff I never wear because I used to love it, or because it was expensive, or even because I made it. Acknowledging that my style has changed over the years and throwing things out to reflect this is a great idea :D

Mary said...

Crystal, your comment really struck me. I also have a "style sentence" but I had not realized it. My wardrobe reflects my style pretty well now. I am retired, and do not have a glitzy social life, so much of my wardrobe can be worn in a variety of settings. I have limited space, and a strong commitment to less consumerism. One of my "rules" is that I will give away one item for every item made.

It's getting much harder to do that and so I know I am culling my experiments in sewing and style. I've been forced to sew for others! ack, the horror!

I love to sew, and learn new techniques. Instead of incorporating the new technique in a whole garment, I could make a sample book. Thanks Zoe for a thought provoking post.

Sheryll said...

I've always had a design notebook, or scraps of paper all over the place that eventually make it into the design notebook! I was browsing through my very first one the other day from 1991(!), and was amazed at how much of it I still liked.
But to be honest I still struggle with planning what to make for myself, and most of it is decided upon impulsively. One idea I thought was quite good was Ali's (the wardrobe, reimagined) rule of 3 - each thing you make has to match three others - I'm trying to adopt something like that lately. Let's see how it lasts!

Carolyn said...

I agree with Clare that stashbusting, while having good intentions can lead to making something not necessarily wonderful just to use up fabric... at the same time some of my quick-fix sewing projects have become some of my all-time favourites! It's impossible to predict. I think Crystal's style sentence is a totally fab idea. If only I could come up with one that accurately describes my style, something I'm still struggling to define for myself!
Good luck with your move!

Minnado said...

Great post Zoe. I agree it is difficult to love clothes and making them while trying to reduce possessions and consuming. I am trying to cut down on my ideas for sewing by recording them all in a notebook, in written or sketch form, then trying to pick out those items that present a challenge to me, and which will complement/fit my existing clothes. I am trying not to just buy fabric on impulse - those ones tend to be fabrics that end up being harder to match with other things. All this restraint? Maybe I am growing up.

Ali said...

What a fabulous discussion! Like you, I envision having just what I need, but when you add up handmade with climates with roles (jobs, etc) that's quite a few clothes that pile up!

I love that we're thinking in terms of personal style and quality. Ideally my closet will be a mix of the two, with a heavy dose of handmade. New to sewing clothes, I think it's harder to get my handle on both of these, but I feel I'm getting closer to skill and style with each garment. And I never would have sewed so much (and inched closer to where I want to be) without these challenges!

I've done this culling several times in the past year (four moves) but I find I keep holding onto things "for work" or "that go with everything," none of which matters if I hardly wear it. I'm going through another culling session, and I told myself I should be asking myself, "Do I feel fabulous when I wear this?" because the honest truth is that most of my clothes (including some handmade) fill me with ambivalence. If it's not "yes," I should sell it to consignment or donate it. Of course, it's easier said than done.

I need to work on snatching up cheap thrifted fabric, no matter the quality, if I'm not excited by it. Yikes, long comment, but thanks for bringing this up!

Corinna said...

Hmmmm... very thought provoking. I mainly sew for my three children - it's so much fun for them while they are still small. So 'Stash Busting' is wonderful for me - they need those run up pants etc. for playing in the dirt and just everyday, home wear. But the greatest joy of sewing, for me, comes from creating a project with more thought, effort and something which is needed. I have a scrapbook where I stick pictures and sketches of ideas (some for myself as well but they don't seem to get made). But nearly all of my sewing projects evolve as I go - I add embroidery here, embellish this here, piping here etc.

Just on a side note - I think I live in just the warm climate with little temperature fluctuation you are looking for. Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Winter here at the moment is absolutely glorious, with warm, sunny days - light cardigan weather.

Fourth Daughter said...

This makes me feel guilty about having so many clothes and still thinking I have nothing to wear. Most are from op shops or are things I've made and remade, although some were bought new and are now 15 years old and therefore not even fit to donate to op shops... I like the style sentence idea but I think it's too limiting for me. Some days I feel like I need to be in Melbourne black, other days I want to rebel and be as colourful as possible. Some days it's dressing down, other days I want to pile on as much jewellery as I can. Very tricky!
I find shoes rather than clothes limit me, though, I always end up thinking up outfits and then if I have to walk a distance I have to wear flats and the whole thing is ruined.
Re your stuff - have you not looked into shipping things home? When I left Japan after 9 years I had to get two packing crates as I had furniture as well as other items. I actually went on a spending spree before I left because I know that if you buy Japanese furniture (antiquey stuff, I mean) and kimono over here in Australia it's a lot more expensive, and I had to ship stuff back anyway, so I may as well buy more! I visited a lot of flea markets just before I left! (sorry, that probably doesn't help you, but it meant that I got to find some great pieces which will look fabulous once I actually have my own house...)

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Sigrid said...

I have a similar problem and also live in a varied climate that requires a lot of clothes. Many years ago, I would spend a whole afternoon trying on my clothes in different combinations. I would set aside the clothes that weren't very versatile and either get rid of them or try to figure out what wardrobe item I needed to liberate them.
I love Clare's idea of a style notebook. On the cover you could write a style statement--sort of like a wardrobe mission statement. ( I think I might try this)

Another thought, maybe the act of experimentation is not so bad even if you end up with stuff you don't want. After all, it's hard for creativity to always be a slave to necessity.

jessica said...

"It's hard for creativity to always be a slave to necessity." Too true, Sigrid, too true!!! Been thinking about that a lot recently, especially how too much 'necessity' can dampen the joy of creativity.

Looking back on my wadders and the handmades that I don't often use/wear, I'd say most of them come from when I was trying to stash bush and therefore tackled projects whose fabrics/materials I was 'meh' about but felt obligated to try to use up in the name of stash busting. My favorites are the ones that use materials that I absolutely adore, so I think this is the wrong approach to managing the stash ... maybe stash busting should be about using up your favorite fabrics first, and if something doesn't make the cut or leaves you feeling 'eh' that's a sign that it should be donated or given away! Life's too short to waste time on projects that won't really ring joy.

emily said...

You're much more self-disciplined than I am, I just can't throw things away, often for sentimental reasons rather than the fact I'll ever wear them again.

As for slow sewing, I've only recently come to the conclusio nthat this is the only way forwards and love the idea of a dream sewing book, I may have to get myself a moleskeine...

Emily x

Uta said...

I used to be quite envious of your productivity, but I guess the downside is you can't take everything with you. As for slow fashion, well I'm sewing more in that vein, but that doesn't necessarily mean every garment gets loved either (not for me, anyway). I hope you have an uneventful, stress-free move!

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