In the past five years my wardrobe has become 90% handmade, mostly by my own hands. I do not recite this for accolades, but more to establish a baseline. I sew my clothing for a number of reasons. The instigation was most certainly a changing body, accompanied by advancing age, that made shopping in the outlets available to me quite frustrating. There were days in my youth when I enjoyed shopping, both for clothes and other items. It was a challenge, a hunt, an adventure to find something that fit both my body and my style requirements. That challenge became increasingly futile, and therefore unpleasant, when I left New York City for Maine and my options were severely limited. And when age and personal issues caused my size to grow. Too many uncomfortable sessions in poorly lit dressing rooms, trying to fit into garments that did not reflect what I thought of myself, led to a real aversion to shopping. The only regular shopping I do these days is for groceries. When I developed Tennis Elbow from knitting under stress (not from the knitting, but from life) and had to turn my compulsion to make to another practice, I pulled out my sewing machine. With no grand plans, I began to create garments that fit, and felt right to who I think I am. With each successful garment I was emboldened, and steadily built up the closet so no further trips to the store were necessary. It was fun to make myself specific garments, and avoid those florescent dressing rooms simultaneously. Currently I am working to refine my makes to truly fill needs, and make garments that are missing in my closet, rather than following the handmade pack. (not that there is anything wrong with that....) My color palette has become more subdued, and there are fewer prints in my closet. This is how I got to 90% handmade. The 10% is shoes, undergarments, and tights. I am still wearing a RTW coat I bought four years ago because it was well-made, I love it, it serves it's purpose, and I have no need to replace it. But otherwise what goes on my body has already made a trip through my hands. I have zealous moments when I think I should go 100%, but then I relax and enjoy where I am. This isn't a race, there is nothing to prove, life is short and I don't want to miss out on it's sweetness because of a goal beyond my purview.
As I mentioned above I am compelled to make. I do not sit still well, however give me a knitting (or hand sewing) project and I can endure, nay enjoy, any downtime. There is also a part of my brain that likes to solve puzzles. I loved crossword puzzles in my teens and 20's, these days it is jigsaw puzzles. I have always been a bit of a fashion horse, spending a fair portion of my youth pouring over Vogue magazine. I like clothes. There, I said it. I feel they are an extension of our personality, and while they are just one small part, they speak for us before we even open our mouths. Sewing my own clothes satisfies many elements of my personality in very effective ways. I sew (and knit) to stay sane, if we are being honest. It keeps me in balance, solving puzzles, following instructions, customizing as I see fit. This is not to say that all my sewing is sunshine and roses and rainbows and unicorns.... I have my fair share of teeth gnashing, head scratching, exasperation, and yes, even tears. But each mistake leads to more understanding, more knowledge, more experience to work from. Overall, my sewing (and knitting) time is precious and feeds my soul. My friend Lauren Taylor -LLadybird- says that sewing is a form of entertainment for her. I have to agree. The same way that some parents resort to plopping their kids down in front of a screen, I am self-contained and happily occupied by a sewing project.
Recently it has also come to my attention that sewing my wardrobe is a political act. This again was not my initial intention, but a lovely byproduct. There is the general idea that controlling my image, how I look to the greater world through the clothing I wear, is political, in that I control my image rather than being reliant on the profit motive of corporate, or even 7th Ave, trend. But then there is the recent understanding of the abuse Fast Fashion perpetrates on the environment, the human beings who work in the industry, and our economy. Suddenly my choice to make my own clothing is a rebuke to an industry's bad practices. It is a tiny element of control is a rapidly changing landscape. I was already aware of the Slow Food movement through the culinary world. My husband and I were involved in the local Slow Food chapter in Portland for a number of years, and through our business Rabelais, have made many connections to farmers and other small food producers. The movement behind Slow is well established and recognized in food, it only made sense that the construct would be applied to other industries, and with what's been happening in the world of fashion in the past couple of decades, it was a natural fit. In general I am in favor of smaller businesses with closer contact to their suppliers and workers. This applies to both food and fashion to my mind. This gives my desire to be 'well dressed' and sane a political framework. One that I am happy to share with any who inquires. I love to urge others to watch The True Cost, read Elizabeth Cline, and give some thought to where their wardrobe comes from. I was already doing it with food.
This topic swirls around the internet like an early Spring snowstorm. Some days it is hot and heavy, at other moments we are all distracted by pretty new fabric or a cool new sewing pattern. I follow such thoughtful makers as Karen Templer of Fringe Association, Katrina Rodabaugh, Jennifer Beeman of Grainline Studio, Heather Lewenza of Closet Case Patterns, Christine Haynes, and Felicia Semple of The Craft Sessions. They talk about these issues in my language. They are considered, creative, thoughtful makers and I check in with them regularly so as to know that the universe is generally headed in the right direction. (Cheetos-in-chief aside)
There you have the salient points on my handmade wardrobe. Why do I share this with you right now? Well, I am trying to live my life in a manner that allows all it's pieces to flow in some sort of coherent direction. The current political situation has most certainly thrown me for a loop. I am trying to make sense of a path I thought I understood. I closed down my Maker Space at the end of last year in order to focus my attention on issues that resonate with me, without worrying so much about a physical plant. The retreats on my schedule for 2017 have the theme of Slow to allow me to share these ideas with others. This is the stuff that I find stimulating, engaging, important, perhaps even a bit subversive, and that I want to share. Is Slow Fashion an issue that intrigues you? Do you make yourself clothing? Do you think you might like to do more of it? Are you having difficulty fitting it in to your life? Can I help? Do you want to take a first step? Baby steps are a great way to start. I didn't begin by throwing out my entire closet and only wearing the three items I could make myself. Being aware, being open to the idea is a great place to start. As Arthur Ashe said, "Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can."
Our Slow Fashion retreat this July with Katrina Rodabaugh, Cal Patch, and Jessica Lewis Stevens will be a great place to dip your toe in the water. Even if you are new to garment sewing, Cal will show you how to draft a very simple top that you can customize in any number of ways. There is no reason why you can't make your very own pattern, to fit your very own body, early in your sewing career. Cal is the person to help you learn that skill. Katrina is a generous font of information about all things mending, sustainable, thoughtful, regenerative. Just to sit and talk with this delightful human being for an afternoon is to have your mind expanded about how to live more lightly on this planet. Color is so important to our lives, and while it is all around us, how much do we miss by blasting past it. Jessica slows you down and directs your attention to the beautiful color we can all work with, derived from nature, without poisoning our surroundings. This week on the beach is going to be so full of life, creativity, and inspiration, I just hum with the possibility. Will you join us? Can I answer any questions about this experience that you may have? I would love to share this week with you......