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100 Acts of SewingAugust 29, 2012

I've been thinking a lot about clothing lately, as you know. I took the Seam Allowance pledge to make 25% of my clothing (which I'm already hitting, surprisingly). It's been really satisfying, paring my wardrobe down to just the items I love and wear, and then supplementing them with items I make myself. Here's the truth: We take clothes for granted and buy them at prices at which they are not sustainable. If you pay ten bucks for a dress, chances are good that the workers (all along the line of production and transport) weren't paid a fair wage. Hell, I can't say I haven't bought lots of ten dollar dresses. And I can't say I'm not tempted now. But I'm thinking about it more. A lot more. 

It's like eating. Yep, organic is more expensive. I can pay less for produce that's grown with the help of chemicals and pesticides, but then I'm buying those chemicals. I'm keeping that pesticide company in business by my own choice. It's less about eating healthily than it is eating right. 

Same with clothes. The ten-buck dress at Target is tempting, but how do I know what I'm purchasing? Whose hands did the fabric pass through to get to me? I'm getting a lot more satisfaction out of buying fabric (especially at thrift stores, where I know I'm a direct part of the recycling circle) and making my own pretty awesome clothes and knowing that my own two hands made the objects with attention and care. (I haven't missed the fact that most fabric, at its base, isn't sustainably made. One step at a time. I'm not up to weaving my own cloth, friends. I'm not completely aboard the crazy train. Yet.) 

(Photo: Sonya Philip)

Sonya Philip is someone you should be watching. She a complete inspiration to me. At the beginning of the year, she didn't sew much, if at all. She took a class and learned how to make a dress to fit. She made her first dress. It was awesome. So she made another one. And another one. They were tumbling out of her, and as an artist, it struck her: she was sewing an art installation that was not only useful and wearable, but meant something more than just handmade clothing. 

So she set a goal: 100 dresses in a year. Some she keeps, some she trades, some she gives away (I'm the EXTREMELY lucky recipient of one, and I can honestly say it's my favorite dress I own, hands down). The goal is to make us more conscious of how we live and how we choose to clothe ourselves. 

I love that she says, "When we know how to sew with our own hands, we can make and remake and make well." Today I wore for most of the day a little black dress I made out of an inexpensive knit. I made it for a cocktail party, and I wore it there a few weeks ago with pride. Today, I cleaned the house in it. You know why? It's my pattern. It took an hour to make. When it wears out, I can make another one if I want to. I can make it better next time, or just different. I come from a long line of people who changed into play clothes when they got home, saving the best for special occasions. I don't have to do that anymore, and I love that. 

I'm only posting one photo of hers here because I think you should click over to her site and spend some time wandering around. Check out her artist's statement and the clothing. I hope you'll be as inspired as I've become by her. (If you follow her on Twitter, she always posts the new dresses.) 


I started making my own clothes around the age of eight. I didn't wear store bought clothes until I was well into my 40's. I made my children's clothes. I still find wonderful things at thrift stores and cut them down for myself.

It's like cooking a meal instead of hitting McD's or knitting or gardening or fresh herbs....LOOK what I did with my own two hands...it's not the cost so much as the quality.

So, seam on, Doll, seam on!

What an amazing artist..

After years of making costumes for renaissance fairs, I delved into "real clothes" and loved it. I've fallen off the wagon but I'm looking forward to making stuff for my baby. She's three months old, so I've got a lot of years to make what I feel like.

Sewing is one of my favorite hobbies. But I haven't sewn much since Mom died. Not sure why; maybe because going to the fabric store together was one of our "things"? Both she and the store are gone now, though my stash of projects (fabric plus pattern plus notions all ready to go) rivals my yarn stash.

I have gone as far as weaving the cloth, and let me tell you, about three yards into the nine yards of 24 epi (ends per inch) I was making for a long blazer, it became so monotonous I almost lost my mind. I made it to the finish line, but ran out of steam before sewing it. So in my stash, I have a 30 pound rolled up unwashed, unfinished, straight-off-the-loom piece of gorgeous yardage along with a pattern and the words "someday"...

I'm not the best sewer. So I knit things I love and buy secondhand.

I have sewn since a child, and always made items for myself or others. But now that I sew for a living... I have a hard time making myself sew for fun. The main reason I sew for myself now (when I do) is because I don't fit well in store bought, and I can't afford most of what's out there that would fit.
I do thrift store when I buy pre-made, and I've found some great items! But I do wonder sometimes about where that choice fits in the world of garment manufacturing and impact. Yes, it's part of re-using and recycling. None of the things I see in these stores deserve to be thrown on a garbage pile. Yet. But a lot of it IS the cheap clothing... expensive usually lasts and is treasured longer so doesn't make it to the thrift stores very often (that's here... may be different elsewhere). So... I guess buying the $10 Target dress second hand is a better choice than buying it first hand? The money supports local good causes (my fav thrift is in support of a women's shelter), so that's a benefit.
I just wish I enjoyed sewing for myself more... I have an ENORMOUS fabric stash to use up!

Oh, and I forgot to mention that I like Sonya Philip's eye for detail... The way she uses contrast in the neck facings and pocket hems. And ric-rac! I LOVE ric-rac!!!

I refuse to sew simply because I'm like that. However, I buy 95% of my clothes from thrift stores, underwear and socks aside. (Actually, I work at a charity which gives used clothes away for free, so I get most of my stuff there.) I never thought about the ten dollar dresses meaning that you're supporting the Chinese sweat shops, in that way, but I guess it's true. (Of course I rarely think of dresses at ANY price but . . .)

What a great post and such thoughtful comments. Thank you Rachael and thank you lovely Yarnagogo readers. Though careful Garret, I too was once a sewing refuser!

I am a long time reader, and you continue to amaze and remind me why this blog is a "fixture" in my life. I love it when much younger women,(I am in my 60's!), re-teach me the things I have put aside or just forgotten. I learn a lot from my "blog daughters". Todays post gave me exactly what I needed. I have recently taken an online course from Jude Hill (Spirit Cloth) and its awakened in me a love of fiber and the "want" to produce simple, wearable clothing. I have loved the dresses you have made and posted. So, now that you have gotten my finances in order, and now encouraged me to make 25% of my clothing, what next? :-)
P.S. Sonya Phillips is brilliant!

I grew up with a mom who made all my clothes, and oh, how I longed for "store bought" (same with cookies and bread)I was never able to make anything to actually fit me, because I am mostly self taught. But about a month ago, I needed new pajama pants, and I have a pair I like, so I laid them flat, traced that onto a piece of brown paper to make a pattern and made a pair. In about 10 minutes. SO now I will make my pajama pants. I do sew other things. I am planning to take some classes to improve my skills and that could change everything.
And, Rachael, is there anything you have decided you want to do, and NOT been able to do it well??

Here's a site I recently discovered - http://chicenvelopements.wordpress.com/
She calls it Refasioning - and gives step by step instructions.

Along the lines of the 100 dresses/year project is the Sew Weekly, which started with Mena Trott's objective to sew a dress a week for a year to replace much of her wardrobe with her own handmade work. Since she did that a few years ago, the blog has expanded to include other makers in specific challenges. Thought you might like to subscribe if you aren't already.

While I agree that it is more fair, right, or ethical to make your own clothes than to buy clothes potentially made in a sweatshop, it is not always possible.

This article in Slate reminded me of that:

I would like to learn how to make my own clothes, but I have no one to teach me, I can't afford a class, and I don't even own a sewing machine. It simply isn't possible for me right now.

As the article points out, you don't start out knowing how to cook. Choosing ingredients, having the necessary utensils, choosing a good recipe, knowing how to saute or broil, and then there is the risk of losing all that food, time, money, and energy if one of those many steps goes wrong. I am fortunate enough to have a supply of my mother's delicious recipes, however my cooking is still a work in progress!

I love your book, by the way, "A Life in Stitches", and I am re-reading it right now!


Here is the link to the article on Slate.com again, hopefully it will show up this time, but if not, the article is entitled "Cooking isn't fun, but you should do it anyway". I believe it is under the "Life" section at the bar at the top.

I don't know much about the details, but there is organic fabric being made. I've only seen it as quilting fabric, but I'd guess other types are being made, too.

Today I'm making my daughter 2 pr of flannel PJ pants for 6th grade outdoor ed (they're in cabins in the Colorado Rockies for 3 nights and the night temps have been dropping!). One pair is tiger print (for her ice hockey team mascot) and the other is turquoise with little brown owls all over. She is a bit owl obsessed which I tell her is genetic since my mom (who died long before this child was born) was also owl obsessed. A tiny owl painting my mom did sits on my daughter's bookshelf. All 4 of my girls also inherited my mom's fearless love of sewing (we don't need no stinkin' patterns!). I remember telling my mom over the phone about a formal dance I had to attend my freshman year in college and finding a perfectly tailored Jessica McClintock (it was the 70's) dress with a matching quilted jacket in my dorm mailbox a week later.. beautiful Easter dresses with matching lined capes for my sister and me (with matching bow-ties for my brothers), a christening gown for my kids, fun jumpers for my older daughters that would come in the mail for no special occasion... I really need to sew more!

You know, weaving really isn't all that hard....

Amen and pass the snips please!

It's become increasingly hard for me to go into a store -- whether Target, the Gap, or a place that used to have higher quality clothes (e.g. Ann Taylor) because as soon as I take hold of the fabric, I am outraged. It seems that part of the pursuit of ever higher profit margins, along with making everything in Asia or in other developing wold countries, has been a steady, palpable decrease in, literally, the amount of fiber in a given garment. Everything feels so thin and cheap -- because it IS thin and cheap. And I just can't make myself buy that crap! Luckily my crazed Home Economics teacher aunt taught me to sew when I was 11 (yikes, the scary things I proudly made for my middle-school self in 1970!). Not easy to find the time, and not necessarily a money-saving activity (because nice fabric ain't cheap) but always satisfying. Well, except when you completely screw it up, which is always a possibility!

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