Tuesday 13 December 2011

The Story So Far...

This post is a little personal reflection about the 'journey' my sewing has taken over the last few years. I didn't want to illustrate this post with images of projects I've already shown you, nor did I want to smother it with pictures of 'me in stuff I've made' or something like that! So, instead I've chosen to illustrate it with images of vintage sewing pattern I wish I owned!

About three years ago, I basically went mental about sewing. Like, properly mental. Before then, I'd been making bags and skirts for friends, myself and to sell off and on throughout the five since university. I'd enjoyed it and made a little cash from it, but all-consuming passion hadn't yet taken hold. But around 2007 my involvement in a London-based sewing group, the discovery of the online sewing community (Burdastyle inparticular) and growing concern about sustainability and sweatshop labour opened my eyes to the idea of creating a wardrobe of handmade clothing. For the year or so after, I began dabbling further into sewing different types of garments, using different techniques and working with different fabrics. But it wasn't until 2009 that I found myself in a situation that was really conducive to totally indulging this interest that had grew into an obsession.

So, why did my sewing explorations explode in 2009? At that point I was finally pretty stable in terms of living arrangements (I hadn't been made to move out of a flat for at least four months), relationship and emotions. I was working part-time so I had a solid couple of daylight hours each day in which to sew undisturbed. Also, I was living in a place (Barcelona) with two official languages, neither of which I could speak much of, beyond explaining how I took my caipirinhas. I really believe that this last point really freed up a lot of my brainspace for creating, as I wasn't watching TV, listening to radio or paying much attention to anything that I didn't choose to. Basically, I was living in a bubble of sewing, blogging, friends, food and cocktails. This self-indulgent lifestyle drew to a close in the Summer of 2010 when we moved back to the UK.

Nowadays, my life is wider and fuller, but I can say that my sewing explorations haven't suffered. In fact, I get to sew more these days than I ever imagined could be possible, and have my sewing ability tested, pushed and challenged on a daily basis thanks to my job at TRAIDremade. Actually, if I hadn't had that year and a half in that sunny, drafty, beautiful and bizarre flat in L'Eixample, Barcelona, churning out garment after garment (some more successful than others), I doubt I would have achieved the level and variety of skills required to land me the TRAIDremade job after my repatriation.

But back to that time in that Barcelona flat. I had started to get really into the idea of having an entirely self-stitched wardrobe. I had been signed up to the Wardrobe Refashion pledge as a 'lifer' since 2007, promising to not buy any new clothing again ever, aside from undies. In the UK, I had been able to make frequent additions to my wardrobe through charity shopping, but that wasn't really an option in Spain. It was becoming clear that adding to my wardrobe would only be possible if I made everything from here on out from scratch with my own hands. This wasn't a frightening prospect: I absolutely relished this challenge (still do). I got really into the idea that I was now self-reliant, and had to step-up so my sewing skill would match my clothing requirements.

At some point around this time, I concocted the idea for the very first me-made/self-stitched challenge (Me-Made-March 2010), which was initially a solo project where I decided to see if I could wear only me-made from scratch clothing (exclusing bras, tights and socks). Creating that further challenge for myself put a massive rocket up my bum to learn how to make the variety of garments I wanted to know how to make because now I had a deadline after which I would either be clothed successfully, or freezing cold/inappropriately dressed for an entire month!

Well, I can't say I was totally cosy for the whole of March 2010, but I completed that challenge successfully and have been challenging myself and encouraging other to challenge themselves in a similar vein ever since. However, my personal one-woman mission to clothe myself from head-to-toe with handmade garments has altered. I've had a few revelations/made a few revisions since 2009. For example, I always assumed that I'd learn to knit and crochet so I could provide myself with knitwear. But my desire to create my clothing sustainably (which, by my own definition means not buying any new fabric or yarn) has become more important to me than that initial quest. I love to make knitwear from cut-and-sew knit fabric when I can get my hands on it, and by refashioning/upcycling existing knitwear/sweat garments. I'm also back in a land with charity shops, so I buy second hand cardigans these days too when I find something that fits well and suits my taste.

I also envisioned that I'd eventually add self-stitched socks and bras to my repertoire, and possibly even shoes!!! But none of those things look likely in the near future. But I am by no means static when it comes to new sewing challenges outside my working day. For example, all these babies my friends have started to produce are providing mini baby-shaped challenges to clothe and make gifts for. Plus the ongoing aims to make clothing that really reflects my personal style and fits my body well are things that will never be able to be 'ticked off' some list!


Hanna said...

Thanks for sharing your story. It was so interesting to read. Got me thinking about my own personal sewing journey and how we make changes and adaptations along the way as we get older and wiser and maybe get a new perspective on things. I just wish that more people would worry about the way we consume and how that affects our surroundings. It's so frustrating to see how even the people close to me can't appreciate handmade items and still look longingly towards the cheap and low quality retail items.

Michelle said...

I'm relatively new to your blog and find this brief synopsis fascinating! I didn't know you were fueled by sweatshops and child labor; that's pretty awesome. As an avid knitter, I do hope you won't let your determination to not purchase new fabrics or fiber deter you from learning to knit. Wool sweaters from thrift stores can be deconstructed and reknit into anything you desire! Good luck as you continue onward!!

Michelle said...

I'm relatively new to your blog and find this brief synopsis fascinating! I didn't know you were fueled by sweatshops and child labor; that's pretty awesome. As an avid knitter, I do hope you won't let your determination to not purchase new fabrics or fiber deter you from learning to knit. Wool sweaters from thrift stores can be deconstructed and reknit into anything you desire! Good luck as you continue onward!!

maggie said...

People's sewing stories are so interesting. I admire your stance on not buying new material. In the past year I've started to get this feeling that I'd like to make all my own clothing, but I don't know if I could ever get to the point of never buying new fabric. But as far as knitting and crocheting goes, like Michelle said, you can reclaim yarn from old sweaters. There are lots of blog posts out there with step by step instructions.

molly said...

Your sewing journey is much more epic than mine! I've pretty much always been waist deep in sewing, but because of that I don't think I've had too many revelations about sustainability or massive challenges to clothe myself entirely from scratch. Anyways, keep it up, we're all cheering for you!

Tilly said...

Zoe, you are such an inspiration! I already knew you're a Wardrobe Refashion lifer but still find it pretty jaw dropping to think about. And brilliant! There is only limited choice of nautical chic on the high street, after all.

Lurrrrve these vintage patterns - every single one had me swooning.

Sølvi said...

What a great post! It really was fascinating reading this and I recognize myself in a lot of your experiences. Especially the part about developing skills living in a "bubble", as I doubt I would have been able to sew as much as I do had I had a daytime job like most of my friends (I work mostly evenings which results in me having spare time when everyone else is off to work).

Keep up the good work - and those patterns are drool-worthy! :-)

Unknown said...

nice clothing style. Now you can use this company directory india to promote mens clothing import & export business.

MySummerTouch said...

Hi Zoe! Thank you for this story, it is y interestring to compare myself to other sewists. I don't know much about sewing in UK - is it popular? What about fabric prices? Do you have a lot (real, not online) friends who sews?
I imagine that it is similar to US in terms of fabric versus ready-to-wear clothing - cheaper to buy then to sew?
I came to sewing because I didn't like what I could afford in stores, what I liked was expensive. I don't sew that much for myself, mostly for my daughter, she wears everything that I made with pride.

Anonymous said...

It was interesting to read your reflection on your sewing evolution. It seems to have been shaped by a mixture of pragmatism and ideals, and it's these dual forces which I think makes your blog distinctive. One thought on knitting though; what about the yarn you can buy in charity shops? Or is it all acrylic stuff? I'm afraid of knitting so I don't investigate these caches.

charlotte said...

it's really lovely to hear the personal sewing stories, thanks for sharing.The no new fabric is something I understand but I think I would find very hard, I think I sew clothes for my lifestyle which doesn't always go with clothes I would like to be sewing. x x x

Jess said...

Thank you so much for this, I have been dreaming of becoming like you this whole year, I promised myself that I would really learn how to sew, not just 'dabble'. But life always seems to get in the way. . .. and its almost at the end and all I have is a pretty little summer dress, great but nor exactly the wardrobe full of great handmade items. This post has inspired me again and I feel reinvigorated to try again in the new year.So thank you :)

Jess x

Anonymous said...

SPHOATE...that was quite a ring.
And without the QUEEN and ZETAS 99, it couldn't have made billions with SCHAR- 169.
ARBOA....that was quite a ring , too.
It took real " HATEFACE" .
And that was the secret recipe for ASKWOR.

The Old Fashioned Way said...

It's funny because my story is actually quite similar to yours...when i lived in London i sewed but since I've moved abroad, I too have become much more absorbed by sewing-even making it my living! No charity shops here either, so making is only option, and you're right, it really does continue to challenge you and develop skills.
A-may-zing patterns, want them all!

Len said...

This is such a lovely story! Thank you for sharing :)

lathelize said...

A very clever story; Thank you to share it!

Claire (aka Seemane) said...

Thanks for sharing hun - your story is v. inspiring Zoe :)

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