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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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 nicole October 8, 2010 at 7:08 am

awesome post suse.


2 Catherine October 8, 2010 at 11:57 am

Wow, I am inspired! I have similar issues with finding clothes that are flattering that fit me. I don’t know why it never occurred to me to just make them myself! I also love very individual clothes. I will let you know how I go.


3 Kristin October 8, 2010 at 12:29 pm

I think your coats are fabulous that you made for your children. They are really unique and also very fashionable.
I was surprised that you don’t still look at other clothing. I am making most of my clothes myself from old clothes and scrap fabric I have due to financial problems (a few too many months of being unemployed now), but I love looking at clothes, not enviously wanting them, but for inspiration. If I get any pictures in the mail or see ideas on the internet I like, I clip them and think how I can make something similar, incorporate an element that is in the design, etc… For me it is fun, keeps me innovative, and gets me to try things I would never have considered before.
It looks like you are having lots of success with your mission and clearly your clothes are beautiful and fashionable items. I send you the best with your continuing pledge.


4 Maribel October 8, 2010 at 1:12 pm

The link to her blog is broken.

Very inspiring entry.


5 alison October 8, 2010 at 2:30 pm

I love this! Thank you so much for such a wonderful post. You really have me thinking. I’ve been feeling a similar itch lately, but keep pushing it back, thinking that it just isn’t feasible. Your words and work are truly inspiring. With much appreciation and admiration…alison


6 Lina October 8, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Thanks for this post, it is fabulous. I’ve really been struggling with the craziness of commercial clothing for my family of 5 (even if a cheap t-shirt costs $5 and falls apart, that’s still $5 gone for nothing). I’ve been intimidated by the sheer number of things that it would require me to make, but its not like we’d throw everything out we already have. Maybe it can work! Anyway, long way to say, thanks for the post and its nudged me in a good direction again.


7 Rachel at Stitched in Color October 8, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Thanks for this. I needed to hear this as I tend to draw the line at clothes and I certainly like the idea of living more self-sufficiently and without the lure of fashion (all that and I sell maternity clothes.. haha). Truly good food for thought.

BTW, the link to Sooz’ blog is broke. I wanted to check it out =)


8 kath_red October 8, 2010 at 5:55 pm

Sorry – sooz blog link is now fixed


9 beverlyanne October 8, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Sooz, I rarely comment, but I had to tell you how fabulous, fun, and inspiring your outfits are. I am able to construct garments, but am unable to fit them properly. Ready to wear fits me fine. That is why I don’t sew clothing for myself.


10 Ruby Taylor October 9, 2010 at 8:16 am

Great post, TFS!!! I fell in love with the last item posted – the long-sleeved red “layered” shirt. Did you sew it from mental imagery or did you use a pattern? I would love to make one. Thanks much!!


11 colleen October 10, 2010 at 3:43 am

YES!! and I really like that layered red shirt!!


12 Seanna Lea October 25, 2010 at 11:59 am

This is a wonderful essay. I find that I love knitting, but knitting isn’t practical for a large number of clothing (mostly thinking about the speed factor rather than the individual items of clothing). I have to admit that I am a bit more afraid of cutting fabric and using the sewing machine than I ought to be. I feel like cutting fabric is a final act, and so always need encouragement to actually do the cutting. It is something I’m working on getting over.


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