Why Do I Sew? Here are 10 good reasons…

Frequent readers (if I have any?) will have noticed that things have been a little quiet on the dressmaking front here lately. Sorry. It’s been a kinda crazy couple of weeks, but I promise to get back on it soon.

But while I haven’t had a lot of time to sew, I’ve been playing along with #sewphotohop. It’s a sewing challenge (organised by the lovely Rachel at House of Pinheiro) that runs throughout September, asking you to post a sewing-related photo every day inspired by a particular theme. There’s a chance to win prizes from the sponsors, so of course, I wanted in!

Here are the themes and sponsors:

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It was all quite easy until the 11th, when the theme was Why I Sew. And suddenly I thought “Oh my god, why do I sew?” and for at least 10 minutes couldn’t think of a single reason at all. Then suddenly I thought of all the reasons at once and they were competing for space in my brain, and I felt the need to write them down before I lost them all again. Maybe it’ll be useful one day.

So, in no particular order, I sew because…

  1. I got it from my Mama, and she got it from hers! This is the reason I gave on Insta, along with the image below. The lady in the photo is my maternal grandmother Elsie (known to me as Nanny Vogel) circa 1960, and the little girl is my mum. Nanny Vogel was a prolific seamstress – she made basically all the clothes she owned, and sold handmade leather gloves to order. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when I was six so never taught me directly, but she did teach my mum who is herself a very accomplished maker of small items and has a shop on Folksy. They probably aren’t the reason I sew now, but it was definitely their influence that started me off. I get the sewing gene from them.wp-image--712271993
  2. Most RTW clothes don’t fit me. I’m tall, with broad shoulders, big boobs, small waist, wide hips, short legs. I mean, we all know that clothes now are generally designed to fit and flatter a slimmer, more boyish figure. Nothing new there. In fact, I read somewhere that 75% of the clothes sold in the UK are Size 12 and under, so the fashion industry is undoubtedly biased. But to think that a clothing retailer might mass produce something that comes even close to fitting my unusual shape is kinda mad. Of course they wouldn’t, because I’m the only person they could sell it to. And I’ve no doubt there are thousands of people out there who feel exactly the same.
  3. Because it helps me break the cycle of fast fashion, whilst still indulging my love of clothes. This is a big one. Because fast fashion is rapidly eating up our planet, and destroying lives. I won’t write too much about it here, but I will recommend watching The True Cost if you haven’t seen it already. It’s a feature-length documentary by Andrew Morgan which looks at the problems created by throw-away culture. I know it sounds really depressing but it’s actually quite optimistic as it shows how we can all make a difference. Please watch it. It’s on Netflix now. Image result for the true cost
  4. Sewing gives me complete autonomy over my own image, which is the coolest thing ever. So if I ever think “Man, I really want a black sleeveless culotte jumpsuit“, I can design and make the perfect one. My choices aren’t dictated by trends, or sizing, or budget – only my imagination, and the time I’m willing to commit. It’s liberating.
  5. Sitting at a sewing machine is much more enjoyable than traipsing endlessly around Topshop, getting angry at the loud music, then crying in the fitting rooms. I’m sorry, but it just is.
  6. Sewing is cheaper than therapy. Sewists say this a lot and the phrase has become a bit worn, but there’s definitely truth in it. There’s something very meditative about making – there are elements of creativity, precision and process, which exercise parts of the brain that most of us just don’t use in our day-to-day lives. Sewing provides opportunities for quiet solitude when it’s needed, and lively interaction when you’re ready. And when you’ve made something, the sense of achievement and the thrill of having something new give you a welcome rush of endorphins. I’ve sewed my way through some of my most difficult experiences. It doesn’t solve problems, but it helps.
  7. Sewing means I’ll always be able to give a gift, offer a service and have something to wear. It’s an infinitely practical life skill which ultimately saves me some money and means I’ll never be broke. As Nanny Vogel would have said: it’s making something from nothing.
  8. It’s provided me with opportunities. Because of sewing I was able to quit my job and retrain as a Design and Technology teacher. It’s still very early days, but right now I really love it and can’t believe I never did it before. The more I study education the more certain I feel that I’ll be good at it, and the happier I am about dedicating all my working hours to something really worthwhile. And, of course, I’m writing a blog. A couple of years ago I would have been too embarrassed to publish anything, but sewing has compelled me to start writing, and find my own voice.
  9. Instead of impulse buys, my wardrobe is now made up of high-quality, enduring items that I love to wear again and again. Because there’s just no point putting so much time and effort into something I’ll never wear.
  10. Because it’s so great when somebody compliments your outfit, and you can reply “Thanks, I made it“. Seriously, it never gets old. Most people just look at you in amazement, like you’re some sort of wizard.Image result for wow harry potter gif

 

There are probably more, but I haven’t thought of them yet. I’d love to hear your reasons – lets keep adding to the list, yeah, and keep championing craft? And if you’re reading this and you don’t sew already, but are considering it, then try it. I promise you it’s great.

Pattern Hack: A Shorts Story

This is David, my boyfriend of 8 years, looking pretty fly in the shorts I’ve finally made for him. No, that’s not a couple of white threads I forgot to trim at the bottom. Those are his legs!

 

He was desperate for some new shorts as he’s lost a few pounds this year after taking up marathon-running and triathlon (don’t ask – apparently he “enjoys it…“), and the only shorts he had were really baggy. The pattern is a hack of the Cargo Shorts I made for my dad on Fathers Day, but with a few changes:

  • No cargo pockets on the side, at Dave’s request. I was very quick to agree to this as when I made them for my dad they were very time consuming. “No, you definitely don’t want those, they’re too bulky”, I said, without a moment of hesitation.
  • Shorter length. I made them to the normal length at first, then shortened them at the very end, so that he could try them on before making up his mind. I ended up taking them up by a massive 13cm! He really does wear short shorts…
  • I replaced the fake pocket flaps with jeans style patch pockets, using the original pattern markings to place the top corners. More useful, and fewer button holes! Win win!
  • The waistband is twice as deep, allowing for wider belt loops that can actually accomodate a belt. If you read about the shorts I made for my Dad you’ll know that on the original pattern they’re very small – more for decoration than to serve a practical purpose. But with the depth doubled, they’re infinitely more usable. Which is handy, because the shorts are actually still a little bit big, so he’ll be needing those belts…
  • I added another button to the waist fastening. It needed it really, with the bigger waistband, otherwise it would have gaped open. Awkward…

Here are some photos of both, so you can compare and contrast. The ones with the red background are Dave’s, and the blue leafy background are Dad’s.

 

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The patch pockets at the back look pretty cool

They’re made from the same fabric, although weirdly the colour looks quite different in the photos. I had loads left over after making my Dad’s – I’d deliberately over-bought for fear of messing it up! The pocket linings are made from remnants of green cotton left over from a quilt I made last year. In fact, everything I needed for this project came from my stash. I’m not sure if that’s good because I’m being resourceful, or bad because it shows I’ve been hoarding stuff?!

 
These were pretty successful. If you remember, I had some trouble with the zip-fly last time but this time around it worked a treat. I also realise that I top stitched it in the wrong place last time. Oops. I don’t think Dad noticed…


They look great though don’t they?! Dave’s are quite smart whereas Dad’s were way more casual. I find it amazing how a few small hacks can completely change the look of a garment.

 
I also have to point out that he’s teamed the shorts with a Choose Love tee by Katharine Hamnett, in aid of Help for Refugees. All the profits from the sale of these go directly to the charity. But they’re also made from super soft organic cotton, in factories where the workers are paid a fair wage. It’s a great choice for an ethical wardrobe.

 

 

I don’t like to praise David too much in case his ego explodes, but I think he looks pretty bloody handsome in this photos. He was reluctant to pose at first, squirming and telling me it was too awkward, but boy oh boy did he get into it! In his own words, “David Gandy better watch his back, there’s a new David on the modelling block”. Pft. Typical.

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My Recycled Plastic Skirt (yes, really!)

THIS SKIRT IS MADE FROM RECYCLED PLASTIC.

My understanding is that the manufacturers melt down loads of old plastic before stretching it out into super-fine threads, before weaving them together to make fabric. I mean, I am completely FLABBERGHASTED by this, and yet really, I wish I wasn’t. Because that’s the way it should be, right? Plastics which aren’t bio-degradable should be reincarnated as beautiful, durable items that we’ll wear time again, instead of filling up landfill and the oceans. How great would it be if recycled fabrics weren’t surprising, but the norm?

Those of you who follow me on Insta might remember that I first posted about this fabric when I bought it back in June. It came from Fabrications in Hackney, which is a great little place offering classes in sewing and knitting, repurposed fashion and home accessories (who knew there were so many things you could make from old shirt sleeves?!), craft supplies and ethical fabrics supplied by Offset Warehouse. It was also a total bargain as it only cost £5 a meter, meaning I could also treat myself to some red organic cotton denim which is still in my stash. I was even given a free cotton tote instead of a carrier bag for my purchases, so they scored bonus points for their green credentials there too.

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It’s a recycled polyester which gives it the most beautiful shine and really makes the colours pop. I’m not normally into pink, but combined with orange, red and black in this design I think it’s completely irresistible. I love the print too – it’s irregular and requires no pattern matching (win!) but doesn’t have the saccharine sweetness of pink florals. Moreover, it hangs beautifully. It’s got a really lovely drape that looks like silk, and it’s got a nice lot of movement.

I spent quite a while deciding what to use it for. I toyed with shift dresses, vintage-style pussy-bow blouses and culottes, but couldn’t get the idea of a gathered skirt out of my mind, so eventually decided just to embrace it. A gathered skirt really is one of the simplest garments you can make, but I’ve been trying to challenge myself with more difficult makes lately and didn’t want to succumb to the quick-fix instant gratification of a skirt you can whip up in an afternoon. But in this case, the temptation was too much.

As with other gathered skirts I’ve made previously, I used this tutorial from By Hand London as a starting point, except that instead of an invisible zipper I made a lapped zip and two button fastening to make use of what was already in my stash. Construction went very smoothly, and the only difficulty I encountered was that the fabric moved an awful lot (which is great for wearing it, but a nightmare when you’re making it!), so I had to use plenty of pins and add more basting than I normally would. I also used bias binding to create a faced hem, firstly because I love the high-quality finish it gives but also to help weigh the skirt down a bit. It’s very lightweight and catches easily on the wind, resulting in a few Marilyn moments (and the potential that some of the people of Walthamstow have now seen my knickers…!).

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I’m really pleased with this one! It’s really flattering, drawing attention to my small waist and away from my ginormous hips, and even creates the illusion of me being quite leggy (I stress that this is very much an illusion – despite being tall, I actually have an unusually long torso and relatively short legs. Weird, I know). And I really love telling people that it’s basically made from old plastic bottles! It’s a great talking point, and makes me feel much better about having to wash up old plastic packaging before it goes in the recycling bin!

Has anyone else worked with different kind of recycled textiles? If so, please do get in touch, because I think it’s a great idea and would like to incorporate them into my wardrobe a lot more. And if you’ve had successes (or disasters…hopefully no disasters…) with gathered skirts, I’d love to hear about that too!

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