Not so very long ago, sewing was a matter of necessity. For the vast majority of women being able to sew a garment was the difference between keeping your family warm and everyone freezing to death in the winter. For that reason I can completely understand those who associate home sewing with domestic servitude, something that women have rightly abandoned in favour of more liberating pursuits. Nowadays, and thank goodness, we have dishwashers, washing machines, and Marks and Spencer. Sewing has become a casual pastime rather than an essential domestic skill, and as a result the motivations for picking up needle and thread have changed too, and become all the more diverse and interesting for it. Just browsing through a handful of sewing blogs reveals a myriad range of motivations, from sustainability and fashion ethics through to a simple love of creativity. For some an entirely handmade closet is a badge of pride, while for others their handmade pieces sit comfortably side by side with purchased garments.
So what are my sewing motivations? Making my own clothes was a natural combination of my love of making and my unashamed wardrobe obsession. I am fascinated by the intricacies of the fashion industry, the design process, the history and evolution of trends, fashion as a means of self expression, as an art form, and now that has extended to the construction of the garments themselves. Ultimately I want to be able to turn the designs I see in my head into real, wearable clothes and patterns. If it wasn’t sewing and dressmaking it would be something else. I always have to be making something.
But I am equally enthralled by the design and making process for a fashion brand as I am by my own, and as a result my approach to shopping is so very different now to what it was two years ago. Whereas I used to revel in a £50 splurge on the high street every other week, these days I tend to limit myself to buying one new item every couple of months. I am extremely wary of high street fashion chains and cheap clothes, for the simple reason that I am not willing to accept the inordinately high human cost of fast fashion. This is another sewing motivation – if I make my clothes myself I know exactly who made them, how long it took, and how much swearing was involved.
(Of course, home sewing is not a solution to fashion sweatshops per se, just an alternative. And don’t even get me started on how the fabrics we use are produced, or how and where sewing machines and sewing consumables are made. I don’t think that home sewing is necessarily a solution to all that is wrong with modern clothing production, but it certainly places more ethical control in the hands of the consumer than fast fashion does.)
While buying designer or high end is no guarantee of production ethics, buying from smaller brands who manufacture closer to home can be a positive start. For this reason I am happy to save up for what I buy; I would rather save for a £150 pair of trousers from Charlie May then rush out now and buy something similar from H&M. I use Charlie May as a particular example (no, I am not sponsored, although don’t I wish) because as well as being a designer, she is also a well-respected fashion blogger. Through her blog her customers can gain a fascinating insight into the motivations and inspirations behind each collection. I love watching how the look of her brand evolves with each new season. That for me is worth saving up for and supporting.
But equally, if I see a garment that I think I could make for myself, then I go for it. It’s a little perverse rule of mine that I am not allowed to buy anything that I could easily make for myself. Neoprene sweatshirts for example. I felt that a simple sweatshirt was probably within my sewing abilities (ah, the confidence of a new overlocker), so I bought some fabric and went for it. The result is one of my favourite wardrobe pieces to date, and one I will make again and again. These days I am not allowed to buy breton tops and a-line skirts, and I’d feel pretty weird buying pyjama trousers. This year I want to add a good tee pattern to the ‘no go’ list, and maybe a trouser pattern or two.
So there you have it, I think my habits can be summed up as a simple love of the creative process mixed with fashion obsession and a need to do my version of the right thing.
What motivates you to create?