2010 guest blogging series: taking the handmade pledge

by kath_red on 08/10/2010

in Guest Series 2010

September/October brings change of season, and fresh starts and frivolity and seriousness too. So for a break from whipup realtime I am introducing a few weeks of guest bloggers to liven up your crafty experience. To bring you something fresh, and hopefully invigorate you to make and do and be and think! Its going to be a fun few weeks so come along for the ride.

Today I want to welcome Sooz to Whipup. Sooz blogs about crafting and the rest of life. She’s been sewing and knitting for more years than she’s inclined to count and devotes whatever time is left after the demands of family life and the day job to teaching, designing and infecting as many people as possible with the making virus. She lives in Melbourne with her smalls, her bloke and the stash.

I’ve never been big on taking pledges – I figure if something’s a good idea I’ll do it and if it isn’t I won’t and any promises I make to myself or others can’t compete with good sense. But I also like a challenge and sometimes a little framework helps me wring a bit more out of the experience. So when I was contemplating new year’s resolutions last year I decided to formalise the drift that had already started on its own and opt out of consuming from the commercial garment business.

When I started thinking about how feasible it would be to stop buying clothes altogether for myself I realised I couldn’t remember the last thing I had bought. I started making my own clothes as a teenager and by the time I hit my mid twenties I was making most of them, but the advent of kids had put a spanner in the works and it had taken quite a few years to get back into the swing of it. It wasn’t until I was seriously contemplating a total ban that I realised how close I already was. And like the proverbial domino effect it was too obvious that if I was banning buying for me I should ban buying for the kids too, and a fair portion of what the man needed too.

My reasons for going homemade are many and too complex to really detail here – they cover a determination to make my creativity practical and useful, concerns about waste, consumption and exploitation, a dislike of shopping and corporate markets, a rejection of a conformity culture, a dissatisfaction with how well the market caters to my needs and body, a financial reckoning, a love of making, a sense of satisfaction and pride in wearing things I have made myself – basically they boil down to doing the ‘right’ thing and doing what ‘feels’ good.

Lots of the individual issues are open to debate and that’s partly why I decided I wanted to test myself with a total ban. I wanted to track my costs and time and pay attention to whether I was feeling like I was sacrificing or missing out or labouring under a burden. But I was surprised to find I felt a tremendous flood of relief. It was like the decision not to buy flicked a switch in my head and the whole fashion industry got tuned out. I stopped looking at clothing shops, I stopped looking at catalogues and web sites and stopped asking people where they bought stuff. I stopped fantasising about flash clothes I couldn’t afford, stopped wishing I could find the perfect top/skirt/jacket/etc, gave up buyer’s remorse, shopping anxiety and the hideous indecision of compromise.

It’s true I did think more about sewing and fabric and patterns and knitting and yarn, and for a period of time I did more stash enhancing than normal, but the output well compensated. I also started thinking more economically too, buying remnants opportunistically rather than buying off the roll, making kids clothes from offcuts from adult clothes and thinking about ‘wardrobes’ rather than one off garments. The money I once spent on a seemingly endless stream of cheap, short lived and often unsatisfactory clothes and a few better quality mid priced items was now spent on good quality fabrics and turned into long lasting, well fitting and deliberately chosen clothes. The time I once spent schlepping around department stores and shopping malls looking for PJs, jeans and Tshirts, trying on endless not quite right garments was now spent planning out a winter’s worth of clothes, choosing a stack of fabrics and patterns from the stash and sewing and altering.

In all honesty I can say I have never received more compliments on my clothes than I do now and I’ve never felt more confident and comfortable in how I dress. And before anyone jumps to conclusions about my superior sewing and knitting skills and fancy clothes I’d say it’s often the simplest of things rather than the few more complex garments I make that get all the praise. Clothing a family in the time left after regular life and work takes the lion’s share means that now more than ever I’m a big believer in the 80/20 rule, keeping it simple and near enough is usually good enough.

I’ve always encouraged other people to sew for themselves. Start small and simple. Sew for your kids, make a skirt. Sew Pjs, stick armholes in a piece of fabric and call it a wrap. But I have new conviction these days because the more I do this, the easier it gets. I’m never ashamed to say it’s homemade, I never worry that someone thinks it’s homemade because it’s overwhelmingly my experience that people are not just impressed but genuinely engaged by the notion of opting out. Whether it’s a fellow commuter who remarks on my knitting, a colleague in my CBD highrise office who asks where I bought something or another mum at school who asks if I made something one of my kids is wearing, the conversation that follows never gets old.

If you are over here on Whipup the chances are good that you are crafty and you get the whole making stuff deal, but I know lots of you still draw the line at garment making. I’m not sure why. People who will happily quilt with astonishing skill and flair, who can create toys with personality or embroider for hours will still claim clothes are beyond them, and those just starting out being crafty will opt for a whole raft of things before they think of clothing themselves. But I hope I inspire a few of you to at least think about it. There’s no better showcase for your crafting mojo.

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