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.
Like most sewers, I have a lot of scraps. Especially since I often sew with second-hand fabric and sheets from the thrift store and so I can't buy just the amount of fabric that I need for a project. Usually this works out well---I can often fit in more than one project on a large piece of fabric. But sometimes it just means that I have a lot of odd shapes left over and can't quite squeeze a blouse or a scarf out of them. Then what do I do?
We don't have a lot of storage space in our apartment, and since our rats passed away at the beginning of the summer, I don't have any ready way to use up the fabric scraps that we produce on an almost weekly basis. It has become a pressing problem (especially after a few failed sewing projects this summer---I liked the fabrics but not the finished garments, and wanted to re-make them into something I would actually wear) to figure out a way to use up a large amount of scraps at once. Inspired by the aloha-shirt quilt we are making out of my husband's old clothes, I thought that I could cut up as many of my scraps and failed garments as possible into squares, sew those squares into patchwork fabric, and then use that fabric to cut out a dress.
This method of using up scraps is time-consuming, but I think that the result is eye-catching, unique, and very wearable. I used my favorite 1970s dress pattern, McCalls 6209 for my first try at this experiment, and I am pleased with the results. I didn't do anything to finish the seams this time, as I was working with sturdy cottons and cotton-blends. I didn't trim the seam allowances either, so I think it should go through the washing machine just fine for at least the next few years. I always try to launder our handmade garments as gently as possible and air-dry them anyway. I can see this as a useful way to use up fabric scraps and make any kind of garment more visually interesting. Right now I am imagining future patchwork skirts, blouses, vests, jumpers, smocks, tote bags, etc.
Mr Rat took these pictures of my new experimental dress a bit over a week ago at Wheeler Historic Farm. It is a unique state park that is still a working farm, historic site, and a hiking area. It's only a few miles away from us, and we've been trying to take advantage of the free admission to enjoy being outside there and visiting the plants and animals while the weather is still somewhat warm. I felt very autumnal and festive in my patchwork and my home-made hair flowers. If you want to make your own, you can follow my simple tutorial here.
Have any of you attempted a patchwork garment before? Is it something you would like to try? How do you use up your fabric scraps?
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew.