Saturday, 13 March 2010

Sew Cool

I have always loved the idea of making my own clothes. When I was in high school there was a girl I was friends with who simply oozed coolness from every pore. She also had a little sister who was equally cool - so much so, I invited her to join my band, in hope it would increase our cool credentials. (It did not, but this just says everything about our band).

The thing about the Cool Sisters is that they had a mother who could sew, and who would make, at her daughters' regular bidding, all sorts of eclectic digs. I was intrigued - the coolest thing I owned was a pair of charity shop denim, high-waisted flares. (I know. Not actually cool. But I loved them).

Of course, the reason this seemed so radical was because making your own clothes was no longer common practice. Times had changed, and sewing was no longer the most practical way to clothe a family. The rise of readily-available acrylic clothing provided a more practical option and sewing had begun to die out.

My own mother didn't sew. She was an excellent knitter, but who could bear to see a child destroy weeks of hard work with one tree-climb? So I knew I couldn't ask my mother to make me something to trump my flares, even though I am sure she thought they were hideous. (They were).

On the other hand her mother - my grandmother - was an incredible seamstress, making most of my dolls clothes, and many of my own. I had always assumed this talent was a product of her generation; a life-long skill she had practiced since she was a girl. However I recently learned that my grandmother didn't learn how to sew until she had children - when she realised the practical and economic benefits of making her own baby clothes.

I still admire the thriftiness of my grandmother's generation. When times were tight, everything was used.  Clothes were made to last, mended, and handed down, and there was little waste. Obviously times have changed, and we dispose of far too much. Clothes are bought uber-cheap and then thrown away when they fall apart after a few wears. We could learn how to repair them ourselves... or better yet, make our own clothes. There would be less waste, less cost, and less environmental impact.  Outfits would be more unique, and made to fit. There are so many benefits, yet the majority of girls today have no idea how to use a sewing machine. I was one of them.

So I decided I would learn to sew, and bring the skill back into the family line.  I took a one-day beginners course at The Make Lounge where I learned how to use a sewing machine, and create a simple stitch. I came out with a fully-formed cushion I made myself  - one which I would have happily bought in a shop. Few things feel so satisfying as having made something yourself, and now I am hooked. A friend of mine kindly loaned me her sewing machine, and now I am going to practice. I want to get to a point where I can make a variety of different things; clothes which fit well, and with fabrics I choose myself.

Making your own clothes doesn't mean you also have to have a nose piercing and a worm farm... for a while this was in the realm of hippies, but before them vintage ladies were making beautiful dresses. Coco Chanel was a seamstress before she was a designer.

I have found an excellent book to get me started - "One Piece of Fabric" by ethical designer Lena Santana. So far I've not put it into practice, but the designs are gorgeous, the instructions simple, and I am pretty optimistic that I can make myself  a sundress in time for summer. (Or at least a cushion cover).

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