I don’t think I’ve mentioned it on the blog before, but one of my goals for 2015 is to not buy any clothing. I am making anything I need instead of going out and buying it. I frequently get asked why I sew, so I figured I’d put it down on paper, so to speak. There are a couple of different reasons that I sew: flow, consumerism, and choice and fit.
Flow is a concept developed by a psychologist named Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (pronounced approximately chick-sa-ma-hi). It is basically a state in which you are so engaged in an activity that time seems to just fly by. It’s not a mindless activity, like watching tv, but one that challenges you at an optimal level. I first came across the concept of flow during an undergrad positive psychology class. At that time, I didn’t think I had any flow activities, maybe running, but that seemed like a stretch. Now, I know that sewing is a flow activity to me. I’ll start sewing after dinner, and before I know it it’s past my bedtime and I just don’t want to go to bed. Sewing is a stress-reliever for me, and an activity I truly enjoy.
Moving on to my second motivator: consumerism. In high school and college, I went shopping a lot. Probably like once a week, even when I didn’t need anything. It was just something fun to do, and I never really thought about the consequences. Once I got into sewing after college, though, I started thinking more about quality than quantity. Paying for your own clothes will do that to you… I wanted clothes that would last a long time, that I felt attached to, and that fit me well. This meant shopping less, because the clothes that I really wanted were hard to find…and expensive. Now, I can create high-quality garments, like my Anise jacket, for far less than I would pay in a store.
A few years ago I read Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. This book explains the costs–environmental, economic, and human–behind the clothing industry. I found it quite eye-opening and highly recommend it. My copy is out being borrowed by one of my friends right now, but there are some great reviews out there online. Coletterie did an interview with the author that you can read here, and Sewaholic has a nice review here, as does Create/Enjoy here.
A few months ago, I saw a survivor of the Rana Plaza factory (where lots of popular brands made their clothing) collapse give a very emotional talk about her experience. If you don’t know about the collapse, google it. I won’t get too graphic here, but after explaining her experience on the day of and the days following the factory collapse, an audience member asked her how old she was. She was just 18 years old, and no longer able to work due to her injuries. Listening to her talk really reinforced my desire to not support fast fashion, and the companies that are making money off of exploiting their workers. I realize that sewing instead of buying isn’t a perfect solution, because someone still had to make the fabric. I’m just taking one step in the right direction.
And finally, choice and fit. I find shopping for clothes very frustrating now. In addition to thinking about the workers who made the clothing on the racks, I also now notice how poorly things are made in a way that I never did before learning how to sew. Mismatched stripes drive me bananas, as do loose threads, clothes that are off-grain (ever wonder why your pants legs twist on that one pair of jeans?), and any other number of shortcuts. I’m also much more attuned to details, like the bows on my black polka-dotted dress, and picky about fit now. Part of that has come from learning how clothes are supposed to fit, thanks to sewing, and part of that is from appreciating quality over quantity. If I only own 2 pairs of jeans, I want them to fit perfectly.
Well, that post turned out a lot more academic than I was intending. I guess I am a grad student even in the summer. I hope it wasn’t too boring and gave you some interesting food for thought!