I have finished sewing my first full maternity outfit, which I hope to share here as soon as I can get some photos of it, but a lot of my sewing recently has been either very simple (elastic waist skirts) or centered on the baby. One of the nice things about sewing for the baby is that I get to use up a lot of scraps! So far I've sewn a baby quilt and pillow out of pieces of my husband's old shirts mixed with bits leftover from my dressmaking projects, and several burp cloths out of pieces of second-hand flannel and old cotton sheets. The next projects in progress on my sewing desk include flannel diaper wipes to be hemmed, baby bibs made out of thrift store fabrics, and toy fabric blocks that I'm sewing out of small square scraps and stuffing with more scraps and trimmings from my basket. Once we find out the baby's gender at the end of this month, I think that a few baby outfits might join my pile of projects in progress.
Have any of you sewn for a baby before? Did you like it? I enjoy that it uses up odd little bits of beautiful fabrics, and I like the idea that my baby will get cared for with items that I made myself out of materials that won't hurt this planet.
(Also, I realize that the baby won't be sleeping with a quilt or pillow for quite some time for safety reasons, but for now I think they look nice in our second-hand crib).
I am sorry to be absent for so long! 2020 has been full of surprises and changes. Some are unexpected and happy, like finding out that I am pregnant and that we will have a baby in November. And some have been very difficult: getting used to Gia not being here, losing my part-time job as an art teacher, trying to be cautious about going out on any errands during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, struggling to see the doctor for prenatal visits during a pandemic, worrying about the stability of my husband's job (so far it is holding steady and we are immensely grateful), and finding out that we unexpectedly had to move apartments at the end of May.
The national and international news have been overwhelmingly sad and tragic, and Instagram has become very politicized at the moment as many people justly share their anger over so many wrongful deaths and so much neglect of the vulnerable and the poor. I've always hoped that sharing sewing projects here or on Instagram could create a moment of hopefulness: sharing how I make the best of what I have, encouraging myself and others to make do and mend, and attempting to dress with dignity no matter the circumstances. I feel like those things have continuing value and importance, especially in these current times when we are all justly afraid for the future because almost every life has been destabilized and touched by (or even overwhelmed by) trial and hardship.
Still, because Instagram is currently embroiled in important political conversations about race and resistance to injustice, I'm saving my tiny message of ordinariness for this blog. I am going to post some of my early maternity outfits that I've worn through my third month of pregnancy and into my fourth. Even though I've been lucky to avoid much nausea, pregnancy has still been a hard experience for me so far: my body is changing quickly which brings back some body-anxiety that I had as a teenager who struggled with anorexia, and my first trimester was exhausting and I spent a lot of it asleep. I'm relieved that some energy is slowly returning now that I've passed 15 weeks, and I am trying daily to find ways to cultivate comfort and hope, no matter how small or brief those moments are.
I've been starting to sew some things for the baby and my changing, and I plan to post them here as energy and circumstances allow. Changes are happening, and I am trying to adapt every day.
My blue check dress, worn here under a thrifted denim skirt. Both have elastic waists--perfect for early maternity, when fitted waists stop fitting.
My brown check maxi dress, worn here with a homemade black velvet bow attached to a pin.
A new and un-blogged smock dress made from Simplicity 9343 and a thrifted floral sheet with pale pink poppies on it. I am wearing it here with a thrifted pink cotton cardigan and a locket that my husband gave me.
My first outfit photo from our new apartment: my yellow Folkwear prairie dress (I don't think I've given it a proper blog post yet either) with the sleeves rolled up---truly the most comfortable, light, and flowing thing to wear while pregnant in hot weather.
My sister gave me this ready-made cotton-linen blouse and the thin cotton jumper, which she sewed. It is wonderfully comfortable and adjusts with ties at the side.
I am sorry for the long absence. This has been a year of unexpected and difficult adjustments, and sometimes those take up so much time and energy that there isn't much left over. Those of you who have been following along for some time will already know that our twelve and a half year old Labrador, Gia, who we loved and adored, passed away at the end of December. We had a difficult January. We tried to adopt a border-collie lab mix but there were some very large problems with the adoption----ones we couldn't handle in our current living situation----so we had to give him back up to the shelter, which was a terrible experience for my husband and me. Our second adoption ended up being a good match for us and for our new dog. His name is Cougar. He is a five year old labrador mountain cur mix, and he is as sweet as can be. But he has needed a lot of training, as all of his manners are indoor manners and no one had ever taught him to walk on a leash. Between Cougar's training, bad weather, family visits, having friends and co-workers over for dinner, working, learning to make tortillas, replacing a broken bed, etc. our weekends for February were packed full, and then we were in March and suddenly the news became an overwhelming presence in our lives, and we were carefully taking stock of our pantry, and then our worries were confirmed as the coronavirus epidemic became a pandemic and like most of the world we became isolated in our living space.
I imagine that you are all dealing with some form of social distancing and self-quarantining, so you will probably understand why after over a week of working together in our smallish dark apartment and only leaving to exercise with Cougar very early in the morning, my husband and I were feeling hungry for a change of scenery. We decided last Sunday that we should take Cougar and get out and go on a drive out to the Bonneville salt flats, on the edge of the Utah border.
The salt flats are a striking place----miles on miles of flat white thick crusted salt. I wore a recently completed dress that I made from a thrifted sheet with a large print of faded roses and thought that the contrast of roses and salt ended up being rather poetic. The dress is actually made from a 1990s pullover blouse pattern, Simplicity 9132. I simply shortened it to 5/8ths of an inch below the waistline marking and then added a gathered skirt made of simple rectangles. It was a fast and simple sewing project, and it is very loose and comfortable. I made a size 10, but it is such an over-sized design that I could have easily made an 8, or even a 6 and I think it would have fit fine. The buttons on the cuffs were leftovers from my button jar. There weren't any other fastenings. I did discover a small hole in the sleeve after I finished sewing---one of the risks of sewing with second-hand fabrics, especially vintage sheets----so I simply cut out a little scrap of leftover fabric and patched it up. I don't think it is noticeable unless you know it is there and look for it. I don't mind patching things these days, as I feel like it is a statement that I care about this earth, and that lovely things should be cared for.
Getting out in the sunshine and fresh air felt very good after so much confinement. Hopefully Mr Rat and I can catch up somewhat on our backlog of sewing projects to photograph since we suddenly have our weekends all to ourselves for the foreseeable future. I have been cutting out and sewing new projects in an effort to keep myself busy and cheerful in the hours that I am not painting in the studio or doing housework. I miss doing little ordinary things---getting to plan trips to gardens and museums, going to the grocery store, going out on errands to buy buttons or go to the thrift store. They used to break up the monotony of working at home. Now I've had to try to find other things like doing extra baking, playing records, and taking breaks to play games with Cougar. Getting dressed up every day helps me feel dignified even when I feel overwhelmed by sadness or worries for the future. I'm trying to wear more of my homemade jewelry again, as the splash of color brings me a little burst of contentment when I put in on in the morning. I spent some time today doing more beading because I realized I had several strands of stones that were given to me for Christmas that I hadn't used, and beading is so relaxing when I am stressed. The simple action helps me focus on my hands.
How are you dealing with social isolation and quarantine? Do your clothes or crafts bring you comfort, too?
Please pardon my messy, half-dry hair in these pictures. I've been struggling to get photos of my new sewing projects through the winter time, so these ones that I squeezed in before Mr Rat and I went to church will have to do---otherwise I might end up another with another month gone by and no posts here on the blog. Despite the photos of it being less than ideal, I am pleased with how this dress turned out. I used one of Simplicity's current releases, S8945, which I bought late last year before I decided to go on a pattern fast for 2020 as one of my new year's sewing goals. The pattern interested me primarily for its sleeve and shoulder shape, which struck me as being reminiscent of an 1830s dress silhouette. Here is a 1830s fashion plate, and you can tell me if you see a resemblance also in the dropped shoulder, puffed sleeve and full skirt:
I made some adjustments to the pattern to make it a little more historically inspired (and more to my liking): I drafted a new neckline and facing following the curve of the neck and ignoring the way the pattern dips down in the front. I also left off the waistline ties and added a full, gathered, dirndl skirt instead of the a-line or narrow skirt included in the pattern.
I sewed a size 10 this time, which is closest to my true measurements. In the past I've usually sized down to an 8, but since I've been going running and lifting weights for almost two years now with my husband, my body shape has shifted slightly and I find my true size to have a more comfortable amount of ease now. I think going up one size did result in the bust darts being slightly too wide for me, so next time I will use the darts for the smaller sizes. Otherwise, I think that the fit is good, and I think the bodice is actually more fitted than the pattern envelope suggests.
Some notes about sewing construction and details: I used a bit of bias tape to act as a stay for the waist-line of the dress by sewing it into the waist seam on the inside. I interfaced the edges of the fabric along the zipper and sewed in the zipper by hand, which I find gives me the neatest and flattest result. The fabric is from a queen sized brown cotton-poly blend sheet that I found at the thrift store for $4. It has a lot of crisp body, which makes the sleeves stand out well on their own without any extra padding beneath.
In these photos I am wearing a vintage blouse that was a Christmas gift underneath my new dress, so the collar of the blouse shows over the plain jewel neckline of the dress. I think it gives my outfit an even more historically inspired, or "history-bounding" look. I am also wearing some tiger-eye earrings that I have had for many years and a tiger-eye bracelet that I made myself. I'm not wearing any shoes because it was before church and I hadn't put on my snow boots for our walk over there yet. But I did wrap myself up in my homemade shawl to give you a sense of what I really looked like through the day, because I don't spend much time not bundled in a shawl or a sweater at this time of year.
I hope that you are all staying warm (or staying cool, for those of you reading from the southern hemisphere). Those of you who have been following along on Instagram as well as here might already know that my beloved Gia passed away right after Christmas. My husband and I were (and still are) grief-stricken. She was my companion and best friend for 12 1/2 years. It is hard to face the world without her. I miss her intensely every day.
Since we found our home so empty after our loss, we decided to adopt a dog again. Two weeks ago we found Cougar through a local animal foster care group and adopted him into our family. He is a 5 year old golden Labrador mix. He is sweet and affectionate and sometimes reminds me of Gia but is firmly and definitely his own dog---funny, fond of kissing, in need of leash training, but altogether a good boy who we are growing fonder and fonder of. Gia is still the sweetest, gentlest dog in the world to me, and I will love her always and immensely. But my heart is expanding to make room for this new friend.
Here is a photo of Cougar and me in the studio:
The poinsettias in the basket are hair-flowers that I made to share with the female side of my family at our Christmas family dinner. I tried to minimize wrapping paper this year, or to use kraft paper, reusable bags, and second-hand yarn bows, etc. to make our gift wrapping a little more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
The past few Decembers I’ve done a rather thorough review of my year of sewing: how many garments I made, reflections on pattern experimentation, etc. I didn’t manage to photograph all the things I sewed this year for the blog, and looking back over the ragged patch-work of months that made up 2019, I don’t think my typical review will work well this year, anyway. My wardrobe has been in upheaval as I’ve had to make new adjustments for my body, my feelings about myself, and the tumultuous climate. So instead of looking backward, I will focus this post on looking forward.
A helpful thing that I discovered this past year is that semi-fitted to loosely fitted garments last the longest in my wardrobe because they accommodate subtle fluctuations in body size and shape. Other things that I learned: that I prefer small prints to large ones, cotton is my favorite fabric to sew with, and it is important to plan sewing projects with layering (can I wear a sweater over it? Can I wear a petticoat under it? etc.) and color combinations within my existing wardrobe in mind. Also I think that shirt-dresses, button-up shirts, and full skirts are the hardest working members of my wardrobe, as they are so versatile for so many kinds of situations from cleaning to attending a museum to going to church to hiking or walking.
In 2020 I want to reaffirm my sewing commitments. First is my commitment to making my own clothes, jewelry, and accessories. I find that I value and enjoy the things that I’ve made more than the things that I’ve bought. When I dress well I feel more dignified even when I’m emotionally struggling. I value the power of getting dressed. I read a quote from Virginia Woolf recently that encapsulates the idea perfectly: “Vain trifles as they seem, clothes… change our view of the world and the world’s view of us.”
My second commitment is to make my projects out of second-hand materials as much as possible. Valuing clothing shouldn’t come at a great cost to the environment. Reading books like Fashionopolis has opened my eyes not just to the great waste of the fashion industry, but also the danger to workers and the environment in the production of fabric itself. There are many sources of second-hand fabric in the world and I am blessed to have lots of thrift stores and a creative reuse center readily available in this area. I want to continue to take advantage of them while we live here. As the old pioneer motto says: use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.
My third commitment is to simplicity. I want to spend more time making tried-and-true patterns and experimenting with adjusting and drafting using those patterns. I don’t need as many patterns as I have had in the past, and I’ve spent some time over the past few months evaluating my collection and slimming it down. There are still patterns in there that I haven’t tried, so there will still be some new reviews over the next year (and some catch-up reviews for things I made this fall and haven’t been able to photograph yet). I plan to go on a “pattern fast” for 2020 and not buy any new patterns, but only to use what I already have. I know that I like variety, though, so I will leave myself a gentle clause that I can buy or ask for a pattern or two for holidays or my birthday. This will hopefully slow down my pattern acquisition to the same pace that I’m actually able to make toiles and finished items from them.
I am trying to decide if I want to make a “Make Nine” list or not, so for now I’m going to put down some general goals for things that I want to try to get done at the sewing machine over the next year:
My last sewing commitment for the year is to keep this blog going. It’s been a struggle to take photos and keep things updated here since we moved to Utah, and I can’t promise that the year ahead will be much better, as I anticipate experiencing a lot of the same challenges with the weather, lack of light, scheduling, etc. But I am going to try, and Mr Rat says he will try as well, as he thinks that making a record of our sewing is important, and getting to share and be part of a larger community.
Do you spend time reflecting on your past year of sewing before the new year arrives? What have you learned? What goals (if any) are you making for the year ahead? We are starting a new decade 2020----how startling! And how wonderful that we are all still here, still learning, and still creating, despite whatever struggles we face. I wish all of you a very happy New Year!
This is another one of those patterns that I've been meaning to try out since I bought it when it came out and was on sale at JoAnn Fabric stores, but haven't gotten around to until I slimmed down my pattern collection considerably. I don't often buy new patterns, but I got this one because----well----because of the sleeves! They are pretty wonderful, and I was curious about the 1940s way of including front and back tucks around the waist to give a bloused top a neat shape when tucked into skirts. It is also a pattern that doesn't require much fabric, despite the volume of the sleeves, which is another plus.
The fabric for this wearable muslin is a bit of a surprise for me; the print is much larger than what I usually gravitate towards. But I was browsing a fabric sale at Clever Octopus, the local creative reuse center, and found this for two dollars, and thought immediately of Thanksgiving, and putting together something festive to wear. Well, it is done before Thanksgiving, and it is certainly festive, but I doubt I will actually wear it on the holiday, as we will be in Southern California visiting family and it will probably be very hot and we will be helping in the kitchen, so I will likely be wearing something more casual.
But I did enjoy wearing my new blouse to church this past Sunday, along with an old homemade skirt, a necklace made of jade (at least I think it was jade----I made it several years ago from beads that I bought at JoAnns), and hair-flowers that I made with dollar-store marigolds and alligator clips that I bought off of Ebay. If you are interested in making your own hair flowers, I have a tutorial here.
Construction notes: I cut a size 8 and the fit is good, with ease for comfort and moving around---except at the hips. There is one button at the very bottom of the blouse that causes it to ride up and ripple a little if I try to button it because my hips are a little too wide for the bottom of the blouse once the tucks were sewn. I think the easiest way to deal with this is to leave that bottom button off in future versions of the blouse, as it doesn't show when tucked in anyway, and I don't plant to wear it any other way. I did the button-holes by hand, as usual, and edge-stitched the neckline and cuffs. I did a narrow hem at the bottom. I used dollar brown shirt-buttons from JoAnn fabrics, as I didn't quite have the right amount or color of buttons in my thrifted stash. I didn't include shoulder pads, and luckily, I don't think this blouse needs them! I don't care for the way shoulder pads look or feel on me, so usually I might add a sleeve head to help the sleeves puff, but no padding otherwise. I didn't add a sleeve head in this blouse as the cotton is quite crisp. I did leave the top portion of the sleeve seam un-trimmed, which helps the gathers at the top of the sleeve puff out more. I also didn't try to pattern match, as I only had two yards of my second-hand fabric to work with and the repeat pattern is quite large.
After wearing this blouse all day on Sunday, I can affirm that this is a comfortable blouse, and I plan to keep this pattern, as I can imagine making some summery versions out of striped, floral, or solid cottons.
Have any of you tried this pattern? Do you plan on making Simplicity 8736? What do you feel grateful for during this Thanksgiving season?
I feel grateful for the fall, as brief as it was. It was beautiful. I feel grateful for my husband and my dog and my family. I am grateful for the use of my hands and the things that I can make: drawings and paintings, bread, meals to share, our indoor houseplant garden, quilts and blankets, letters and journals, music on the piano and the guitar, useful household items like re-usable grocery bags and washcloths, and of course, my own clothing.
As the year has progressed, I've been working on paring down my patterns. I used to enjoy having lots of choices and trying out new patterns almost every time I sewed a garment. It gave me a sense of plenitude, adventure, and richness of choice that I missed in some other aspects of my life. That has been a fun way to sew, but over this past year, I've found that approach working less and less well for me. Instead of bringing me excitement, my ever-expanding collection of patterns has been giving me decision fatigue. When patterns didn't turn out well I felt intensely discouraged. This has led me towards simplifying my sewing supplies and routines, so I've spent some time over the past two months sorting through my patterns and pulling many out for donation at the local creative re-use center I've only kept ones that I have had success with in the past and that have enough ease for current and future subtle changes in weight and muscle tone, or that looked promising enough to merit getting wearable muslin tests and a final decision over whether or not to keep them after all. Simplicity 9902 is one of the second small selection of patterns that I hadn't yet made up, but that I wanted to try.
I found Simplicity 9902 at the local creative reuse center, Clever Octopus, earlier in the year. It is a size 11/12 for young juniors/teens, but the measurements for this size are actually quite accurate for me, except for the shorter back neck-to-waist length. Keeping that in mind, I lengthened the pattern a bit over an inch. It has a bit of blousing now, so I could probably shorten it slightly if I wanted to, but the blousing also helps it have more ease for movement, so perhaps I won't make further changes. I also lengthened and widened the skirt to suit my own tastes. Since the shirt-waist has an elastic waist that is hidden under a belt when worn, it is forgiving to wear, despite looking rather neat and tailored in an early 1960s way because of the peter-pan collar and the subtly puffed sleeves with their small cuffs.
I made my test version in a thrifted cotton that I believe was originally one of the "homespun" line at JoAnn fabrics. I like the small navy blue plaid: it is versatile, and the cotton is soft and has a nice drape that suits the looser, gathered waist very well. This will be a good year-round dress because the cotton is light enough to wear comfortably in the summer, but is a dark enough color to look good in the fall, winter, and spring, layered with tights, a petticoat, sweaters, and coats. The buttons are also thrifted. Other construction notes: I did lots of edge-stitching to keep things looking neat, I made my button-holes by hand, the elastic is inserted in a waist channel made by sewing the bodice and skirt seam allowances together at the top, and I made small sleeve heads out of cotton from my scrap basket to help keep the tops of the sleeves puffed out.
I plan to keep Simplicity 9902. It is a sewing success, and I can see it working well in other cottons, linen, flannel or light-weight wool. It is one of those rare styles that looks good in all seasons and can be worn for most situations. I can imagine doing a summery version where I left out the waist elastic and made a loose pullover with short sleeves. I think there are many possibilities for adjustments and drafting new details. The fit is overall good, although I will add a warning to other women venturing into sewing the occasional teen size to check the waist length and that the arm holes may be a little smaller and higher than they are usually drafted for adults.
I have a few other patterns that I want to test out with wearable muslins, so keep an eye out for some new garments over the coming months, both here and on Instagram (when I can get around to taking photos for either platform---unfortunately it is very dark through the winter and occasions to take photos can be sparser than ever with the limited hours of day-light). I think that I will start repeating patterns far more often next year as I finish making wearable muslins and start experimenting with making pattern drafting adjustments to the patterns that I've kept in my collection. There will probably be some more paring down of patterns and styles as this process continues, too. I feel very drawn to greater simplicity at this moment, and though I think I will always like some variety of choice, I also feel attracted to experimenting with more of a "uniform," or at least a more unified set of variables in my closet to mix and match.
Mr Rat took these photos of me in my new autumn dress a few weeks ago on a weekend trip to Red Butte Gardens. It was cool enough to also need my newly thrifted wool coat, which required a few hours of mending and patching the lining to be in wearable condition again. I am glad that I did it, though, because I think this coat will be a firm favorite for many winters to come.
Do you prefer to sew new patterns? Or to make adjustments to what you already have? Have you ever been inspired to make a big change to your sewing pattern habits? Do you sew "uniforms" for yourself?
Recently I've discovered Evelyn Wood and her YouTube and Instagram accounts. She is a big proponent of mending and caring for clothes--she even introduced the hash-tag #mondaymending to encourage others to take an injured item of clothing and mend it once a week. She is also a big proponent of re-fashioning thrift store finds into something more vintage and wearable and attractive. She doesn't care for the term "re-fashion" or "up-cycle" or "thrift flip" or any of those other odd ways of describing turning a garment into something else to describe what she does to clothing. Instead, she suggests "garment renovation," a term with historical roots, as she talks about in this YouTube video.
I like "garment renovation," as I agree that it is an accurate way to talk about taking a used garment and turning it into a newly customized garment, very similar to taking an old, shabby house and renovating it into a newly livable space. Sometimes renovations take a few small changes, and sometimes it requires a total over-haul.
The garment renovation that I did on this cotton calico prairie skirt is somewhere in-between a small change and a large one. Unfortunately I didn't think to take a photo of it when I brought it home from the thrift store last month for $3, but I can tell you about it: it didn't fit at all. The elastic waistband was far too large, and even if I held it up at my waist, the hem dragged on the ground. But I really liked the dark green calico with its tiny sprays of flowers, that the fabric was in good condition, and that the skirt had a huge, full sweep with a nice hem. So I decided I would take this skirt home and renovate it.
The first thing that I did was to measure up from the hem about 28 inches and cut it all the way around with the aim of getting a finished skirt length of about 27 to 27 1/2 inches. This is a little shorter than a lot of my midi skirts--which can be as long as 30 inches---but it is long enough to cover my petticoat. I wanted to avoid the pockets at the top of the skirt and also make sure there was enough room in the fabric that I cut off of the top of the skirt to squeeze out a new waistband. Cutting out the waistband from the remaining fabric was my next step. I wasn't able to cut it out without crossing a seam-line in the fabric, so my finished waistband looks pieced together, but that's okay. Then I seam ripped 7 inches down one seam and inserted a green skirt zipper. Then I gathered the top of the skirt on my machine, attached the waist-band, inserted my favorite waist-band interfacing for stiffness, and finished sewing the waistband closed by hand. I sewed on a skirt hook and eye, and I was done---no need to hem, as I had kept the hem intact from the original skirt.
And now I have a nice new calico skirt with a big sweep---that fits!---where before there was a rather sad looking elastic-waist skirt sagging off a hanger in the costume section of the thrift store.
I'm pleased with this simple garment renovation and plan to do some more from time to time when I find something that I really like at the thrift store and want to fit better, or improve the look of.
Do you renovate garments? Do you prefer the term "garment renovation" over "re-fashion"? What do you think about taking apart a garment to make something different out of it? Is it a good solution to fast-fashion and the plethora of second-hand clothes available, or does it risk spoiling perfectly good garments in the effort to change them?
I started sewing again as an adult with the purpose in mind of being able to sew interesting and inexpensive clothes that fit well and covered my body enough to meet my personal and religious standards of modesty. But as I've sewn more seriously for the last seven years and blogged about it for the last four, I've found two other reasons to continue to sew my own clothes: fairness and responsibility. I didn't know very much about the environmental and human rights issues in the fashion industry when I started sewing and buying my clothes and fabric secondhand. It was a practical decision, based more on saving money and being able to find things that were more to my taste than what I could find in stores. As I've become more aware of the many problems that beset the creation, consumption and disposal of clothing, it has given those old habits a new value. Buying second-hand clothing and fabric and using my own time and energy to sew and mend them offer me a way to wear clothes without feeling a profound sense of guilt.
That profound sense of unease and guilt over personal enjoyment of fashion causing harm to other people and to the environment is at the heart of Clare Press' Wardrobe Crisis. Press works as an editor at Vogue Australia, and has worked all of her career in fashion journalism. Her inside-view of the fashion industry strongly shapes her book: much of it focuses on high end fashion and the way that it trickles down into fast fashion. She looks at the fashion cycle in great detail, and also delves into the history of fashion through the 20th century and into the 21st, showing how the fashion industry has changed and how it became a globalized behemoth worth $2.4 trillion a year at the time this book was published in 2018. One of my favorite bits of fashion history that she included in this section was the surprisingly Utopian ideal behind the development of shopping malls in America. What was meant to be a social center like the marketplaces of Europe became instead a vehicle for manipulation of customers by companies. That feeling of becoming lost in the mall and shopping mindlessly is now known as the "Gruen transfer," ironically named after the disappointed socialist who had so hopefully created the first malls.
While packed with facts and written in a conversational tone, sometimes the first half of the book could feel very irrelevant and distant from my personal experience, focused as it is on high end runway fashion, furs, labels, and money. There is much in the book to feel melancholy about---much to feel depressed by. The second half of the book felt more widely relevant because it covers quite a bit of the science behind the production of clothing and why it is so toxic to the environment and to the (often poor) people who turn the fabric into garments. The chapters about the history and creation of different fabrics like rayon and nylon is especially eye-opening. It made me realize how important it is to be very careful about our fabric choice as sewers, because sewing our own clothing is not quite enough to make those garments ethical or environmentally sustainable.
The last chapter, entitled "Can We Really Change Our Ways?" looks closely at the conundrum of clothing: it is harmful to over-consume it, but it is also empowering to have choices and enjoy what we wear. Buying second-hand or dead-stock----anything that already exists----is our best choice to clothe ourselves without harming people or the earth further. Tamara DiMattina, the founder of "Buy Nothing New Month," points out that there shouldn't be any stigma about wearing pre-worn garments: "when you book into a luxury hotel, you're not given brand new sheets, are you? You are using a towel that's been used by someone else, then laundered... No one goes to a restaurant and thinks, ewww, that cutlery has been used before, and yet people think it's gross to buy it second-hand..." She goes on to say: "I am no expert in sustainability. I'm just one person who thinks that through some very simple changes we can do better by ourselves and the planet."
In some ways, this was a tough library book to read because so much of the information in it is so disheartening. But I agree with DiMattina, and with Press that it is worthwhile to try to make those "simple changes." There is a saying in my church that "by small and simple things great things are brought to pass," and I do believe that if we each individually change our relationship to clothing (and food, and public transit, and so many other things that we make choices about daily) that we can make a difference together, and make this world a little better for everyone to live in.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew.