Sisyphean sewing tasks

A couple of months ago I bought a pair of trousers, and something about them made me question several things, who had made them, and what was the true cost beyond what I had paid at the till?

As with so many things with our economic model, there really was no way of finding out, so to avoid any more attacks of a queasy conscience, I decided that henceforth I would make my own trousers. How hard could it be after all?

Turns out that it was more difficult than I imagined. Pre-washing the fabric to allow for shrinkage was a lesson I learned after I shrunk the first pair and the now-too-short hemmed bottoms ended up flapping round my shins. Fabric choice was another lesson to learn, as the first lot of fabric I bought was white with pastel butterflies on it. I thought it was pretty and boho, my four-year-old asked me why I was wearing a pair of pajamas, during the day.

But having made one pair of trousers, simply by tracing the ones that I’d bought and had sent me down this path, I went on to make several more, honing my ability as I went along. I then challenged myself to make a few tops, using the same technique: tracing existing clothing and learning on the job.

There are loads of plusses with this I’ve found. 1. I can finally get trousers long enough. 2. I can circumnavigate what I’m told to wear by the fashion police, as I now only sew clothes that suit me and fit me properly ignoring being told that red is the only colour to wear during the three summer months of 2017 or that floral blankets a la post-twins Beyonce are the only things to be seen dead in. 3. I know who made my clothes. Me.

I’ll also be less willing to surrender them to a charity bag and will be more careful about not getting them stained. I’m awful for just doing a bit of painting or DIY and not putting scruffs on to do it!

So far so virtuous right? Nope, there was me thinking that from now on I could quell my queasy conscience regarding clothing, as one of the four major ways we impact on the environment (the others being transport, housing and food).

A few weeks into my new-found epiphany for making my own clothes I was confronted with a photograph on the Guardian website of a tide of toxic slurry apparently from a foreign fabric dyeing plant. So, my making my own clothes could be seen as a good thing, but what do you do to close the loop about fabric sourcing?

During my research I came across Mark Boyle’s Moneyless Man blog where I discovered that to be truly revolutionary and green in terms of clothing I need to be growing my own hemp and nettles and weaving cloth from them instead of sourcing fabric from a nice lady in a nice fabric shop. I guess that rules out using a sewing machine too, as to be truly authentic and post-apocalyptic I really need to be using a needle hewn from a piece of bone.

There are times when trying to do the ‘right’ thing seems like a Sisyphean task – like gender-neutral parenting or trying to keep your kids away from Disney. You’re pushing uphill against a cultural and societal tide that threatens to swamp you coming from the other direction. But, it won’t stop me from trying. I still love my homemade trousers, even if they look like nightwear!

ANTIDOTE: Making my own clothes has stopped me drifting into clothes shops thinking I can buy my way to looking a certain way. It’s a trap. The dream in the shop rarely translates into reality at home.

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A little red sun hat

Last night while my son lay sleeping on the bed next to me I was silently stitching a small patch over a hole in a sun hat. This hat had made an reappearance in my life some 30+ years after it first came into it, during a wet family holiday to Wales.

For some reason, known only to my former self it came to reside in a very small red suitcase with an assortment of other items that I had deemed collectible reminders of my childhood. There it stayed in the loft until discovered by my four-year-old, and so my little red sun hat came out once more into the daylight.

He needs a sunhat for nursery, so why not my old one? The edge was a bit frayed, which is why I was carefully sewing, with tiny neat little stitches a small piece of red fabric over it. When I’d finished I was rather pleased with the results. Until a little nagging voice started, ‘why not just buy him a new one like his friends will have? No-one else will have a patched-up old hat on that used to belong to their mum.’

But these are society’s issues to do with status and as such when analysed have no logic to them. I have a perfectly good sunhat that’s been neatly sewn with a patch. It will shield my son’s eyes from the sun and protect his head and ears from sunburn. All the rest is just nonsense. Making do and mending isn’t the done thing in our status-anxiety filled days, but it should be. I took a great deal of satisfaction from sewing the hat, he looks cute in it, it does its job, and every time I look at it I’m reminded of my first ever family holiday and of my now departed dad. On every level it beats going out and buying a new one. That’s not to mention the fact that this country throws away, that’s throws away, not recycles or donates, millions of items of clothing a year, all in the name of our high-turnover fashion industry where things are so cheap to buy that they have become disposable. Well, not in this house, not while I’ve got a needle and thread they won’t!

ANTIDOTE: Make do and mend. It’s old fashioned, but worth doing.