Posted in sewing, Style, Stylish Books

Sewing Your Own: Creating A More Thoughtful Wardrobe

Ever since I can remember, I’ve thought about clothes. There’s an old photo of me at about age two or three, wearing a little sundress (with a bit of a wardrobe malfunction!) while sporting one of my mother’s large handbags and a pair of her high heels (with ankle socks―seems to me I’ve seen this style recently!). As far as my father was concerned, that epitomized his middle daughter.

Fast forward to high school when I made most of my clothes and loved fashion while at the same time acing my biology and analytical trigonometry courses. Naturally, I followed my academic prowess into university (sciences and social science all the way), but I never lost my love for dressing well.

Ready for a university ball at age seventeen. Look at all that hair!

Back in the 1970s, university campuses buzzed with social events that demanded formal dresses. There were several of these events every year, and I had a new dress for every one of them. By the time I was in grad school in the late ‘70s, things were beginning to change. And I suppose, in fairness, grad students were more focused on getting their degrees and getting out than they were on formal social events.

I spent the last twenty-six years of my forty-year career (before early retirement) as an academic. For most university professors, wardrobe is less an afterthought than a no-thought. That doesn’t describe all of them, but it does capture a majority in my experience. Yes, I also had to do research, publish and do administrative work, but I considered the teaching part of my job the starring role, and I was a performer. Make no mistake, university students these days expect to be entertained. For me, part of that entertainment was wardrobe. And I never did apologize for that.

In her very thought-provoking book The Thoughtful Dresser: The Art of Adornment, the Pleasure of Shopping and Why Clothes Matter, novelist and journalist Linda Grant said the following:

“I consider it to be absolutely normal to care deeply about what we wear, and [I] detest the puritan moralists who affect to despise fashion and those who love it. Who shrilly proclaim that only vain and foolish Barbie dolls, their brains addled by consumerism, would wear anything but sensible clothes made to last. As if appearances don’t’ matter, when, most of the time, they are all we have to go on. Or sometimes all that is left in the ruins of a life.”

Amen to that. It has been my rallying cry for most of my adult life.

Of course, throughout my very serious career, *cough* I had much less time than I might have wanted to create my own clothes. For years, the only sewing I did was to make Halloween costumes for my son. But he did have the best costumes in the neighbourhood!

Now, I have the time to be even more thoughtful about what I wear. I have eschewed fast fashion and cheaply made garments. When I shop, I examine the seams and finishing as much as I look at the garment on me. I love quality fabrics and thoughtful details. I have to admit that much of my move toward quality over quantity has been a result of COVID non-spending. When I finally emerged into the retail world, I wasn’t’ interested in filling my closet. I was interested more in wearing the parts of my closet that I love regardless of the occasion.

I once read that we wear 20% of our wardrobes 80% of the time. I believe it, and I wanted it to stop. But for that to happen, I had to slow down, consider my real lifestyle these days (few formal events on the horizon) and make thoughtful decisions about how to spend my current budget. And part of that is sewing―which, as far as I can see, is the greatest way to slow your wardrobe down.

That’s why I can’t get my head around people who sew as fast as they can. I love every part of the process, from prepping the pattern and fabric through the cutting and marking and then the sewing and finishing. I’m especially in love with making muslins! So, sue me. I’m a sewing nerd, and I can channel my inner fashion designer when I do mock-ups.

For me, the bottom line is that a planned wardrobe is a wardrobe I love. No more willy-nilly shopping at sales or buying something that’s “good enough.” And my husband has, on more than one occasion, provided the best advice: “If you wouldn’t pay full price for it, forget it.”

When I think about those of us who sew some of our own clothes, it occurs to me that this, in itself, requires more thought than just buying off the rack. It’s you who has the power to make a decision about which style will be made in which fabrics. You decide on the details you want or don’t want.  You choose the buttons, zippers, topstitching (or not). You choose the seam finishes. You make it fit right. It seems to me that one of the best ways we can be more thoughtful about what we wear is to think about these details ―and make it ourselves.  

Posted in Couture Sewing, sewing

My personal sewing epiphany: From fast sewing to slow

slow-downThere has always been fast food – or so it seems. More recently we have slow food. But fast versus slow sewing? Evidently it’s a thing, too. I used to be firmly in the fast sewing lane. Always a deadline. Always feeling hemmed in by the hemming – by hand. Wow, have I ever changed my tune.

Modern definitions of slow sewing seem to focus on hand sewing, but for me that’s only a part of what it takes to slow me down.

For me it’s about taking the time to plan a project; taking the time to think it through before plunging in, shears at the ready. It’s about considering the best rather than the fastest way to finish a garment. It’s about taking to heart Coco Chanel’s admonition that the inside of a garment should be as beautiful as the outside – and taking time to get it that way. It’s about the process as much or even more, than the outcome.

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Taking the time to make the inside of my most recent Little French Jacket project beautiful was a labour of love. When I wear it now, it’s my little secret!

 

Something called the slow stitching movement suggests that learning new techniques[1] is part of what we know as slow sewing. I agree wholeheartedly. I returned to sewing not to simply reuse the old techniques I had learned as an adolescent, but to learn new ones, and learning takes time. This slow stitching movement also suggests it’s about immersing yourself in the creative process – I’m totally loving the immersion. Developing excellent techniques? Completely agree. My slow sewing focus is on getting it right.

V9184 pattern package
I was even able to make this so-called “very easy” project “very slow” when I made it last summer: fitting muslin, darts transformed into princess lines, finished seams, hand-stitching…

Fast and easy used to be my watch words when looking for patterns. These were often garment patterns that required very little in the way of close fitting. And there are still many of these available. They are a bit like one-size-fits-almost-all, and this is not what I’m about these days. These days I’m more interested in the fit of clothing, the quality of the fabrics and the design details that place them a cut above the rest. When I shop now, I find myself in Saks feeling fabrics and examining the finishes – the seam finishes, the buttonholes, the top-stitching etc. I’m not the only one who believes that slow sewing is focused on quality over quantity.

 

According to blogger Paula Degrand on the blog Getting Things Sewn:

“Slow sewing recognizes a superior result and pursues ways to attain it. It has standards and aspires to mastery. Slow sewing requires investing time, money, space and abilities, but the reward is exceptional quality. Slow sewing takes nothing for granted. It understands materials and processes, but always asks questions, tests, analyzes, and problem-solves for particular figures, patterns, and fabrics. [Blog: Getting Things Sewn][2]

So, in the interests of pursuing my slow sewing mojo, I’ve started another homage to Chanel: I’m creating another Little French Jacket. However, I find myself a bit at odds with my slow sewing mantra just a bit. I’ve started logging the time it’s taking me to do go from beginning to end since the first one took me upwards of 100 hours – although I didn’t actually keep a time log. I’ve rationalized to myself that keeping a log is so that when people ask me how long it takes I can provide an accurate accounting. But I think on some level I’m interested in getting this one done faster. Good lord! I hope it’s going faster only because I have not had to do as much unpicking of seams and quilting lines, nor listen to an online instructor telling me how to do something – having the instructor in yrou ear as you go along does slow down the process, and not in a really mindful way.

Anyway, I’m moving forward. Ironing the pattern pieces (seriously)? Check. Cutting out? Check. Marking? Check. Stabilizing the underneath parts? Check. Quilting of the lining to the jacket pieces – about to begin.

[1] https://theslowstitchingmovement.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/welcome-to-the-slow-stitching-blog/

[2] http://gettingthingssewn.com/slow-sewing/