Out of the 75 or so garments that I own, only 11 are not homemade. Those 11 items include 6 thrifted items (2 excercise t-shirts, 1 winter coat--which I hope to replace with a homemade one this year, and 3 sweaters), 3 free gifts (my exercise hoody and jacket, which were gifts to my husband, and a turtleneck sweater that I got years ago at a non-profit where I taught drawing classes), and 2 store-bought items (my exercise leggings and an old black t-shirt that I wear under sweaters in the winter time).
That means that 85 percent of my wardrobe is homemade. If you don't include exercise wear, then 92 percent of my daily wardrobe is homemade. I'm slowly learning to crochet, so I hope that as my current sweaters wear out that I will be able to replace them with homemade, too.
The numbers in my closet are pretty similar to last year's. Every year that I've done a wardrobe evaluation, I look at those numbers and think to myself: "I could have a totally homemade wardrobe---I am so close! Maybe by next year it would all be homemade if I replace this or that thrifted item..." But when I'm totally honest with myself, I don't particularly want to sew my own exercise clothes (not to mention that my 1940s Singer doesn't have a zig-zag stitch, so sewing knits is not something I can do easily even if I did want to) or my underthings. I like some of the things that I've found at the thrift store, like the Nordic folk coat decorated with bands of colorful ribbons that I wore all through this past winter. It's okay to not have a wholly handmade wardrobe. Maybe someday I will, but then again, maybe my closet numbers will stay the same from year to year, and that's okay too (so long as my clothes all fit comfortably in my closet).
A closet is a changing thing----shifting to meet new needs, growing for new events, and hopefully, gradually becoming more personal, useful, practical and beautiful over time. Most things that I make get made and worn all the time, but there are still a few that hang wistfully in the corner, not getting used. Those are the ones that I hope to re-purpose or donate. I do this once or twice a year, which is another reason why even though I sew a lot, my closet numbers stay relatively constant.
I'm still working towards that goal of a well-loved closet, full of clothes that last. It's surprising to me sometimes how challenging that goal is---how shifting needs and desires and changes to our bodies and age and lives change the clothes that are needed and wanted. But some things do stay steady: a fondness for certain silhouettes and colors, certain items of jewelry. And that steadiness is reassuring, because even though things do flow and change, our closets remind us that all those clothes are just facets of one's own personality. Sometimes one facet shines in the light, and sometimes another one, but they are all sides of the same thing that we know intimately even as we discover more about it: that is to say, oneself.
Do you do a yearly closet review? What does your review tell you? Do you make goals based on what you know about the numbers in your closet?
Today is the fourth anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka Bangladesh. 1138 people died and over 2500 others were injured. This is an astonishing number to me, since every school I have ever attended, including college, had fewer students than that. While the collapse caused widespread shock at the time, it doesn’t seem to have changed very many manufacturing or shopping habits in the long term, something that the group Fashion Revolution is trying to change. Such an epic and tragic loss of life does not deserve to be forgotten, especially when there are millions around the world who still work in underpaid and unsafe conditions in the garment industry today.
Nicole, of the Artyologist, has a good introduction to Fashion Revolution week on her blog, or you can look at Fashion Revolution’s website for more information about the events they are hosting across the internet this week to raise awareness about the high cost of clothing manufacturing and clothing waste.
One of the questions Fashion Revolution asks is: “Who made my clothes?” I am pleased to answer that for the most part, I have made my own clothes. Out of the 70-ish garments that I own, over 60 percent is handmade by me, and those items that are not are by and large second-hand which in many cases I have repaired to make wearable again. Many of the items that are not made by me are things which I don’t have the resources or knowledge to make: a few knit items like turtlenecks, two special embroidered jackets that I found at the thrift store, a few heavy winter coats, two t-shirts, one pair of jeans, and some sweaters. I hope that as the years progress a larger and larger percentage of my clothing will be handmade, until when I am asked, “Who made my clothes?” I can simply answer, “me.”
The ethics of clothing are something we all have to consider every time we put something over our skin. The need for clothing is universal, and as sewers, we more than anyone know how much time and skill is needed to make the simplest item of clothing. I have been pondering some of the things we can do to improve our relationship with our clothes and to show more respect and gratitude for those who make them:
Mr Rat and I have decided to participate in Me-Made-May this year. My goal is to wear only homemade clothing and jewelry every day, and Mr Rat has committed to wearing homemade at least four times a week. We’re going to document our goals and hopefully update this website weekly with our progress throughout the next month. I hope it will teach me more about what else I need to make or things I need to change in order to have a home-made, loved wardrobe, full of clothes that feel right.
Do any of you have any other ideas to share about ways you’ve improved your relationship with clothing, your own methods for wardrobe planning, or how to make your loved clothes last?
Our sewing space is not very large or fancy, but it is heavily used and well cared for. We live in a very small apartment, so the majority of sewing work takes place at the little wooden desk seen above, which takes up a portion of wall in our bedroom. The sewing machine is covered by one of my grandmother’s old tapestries when not in use to protect it from dust, but in case anyone is curious, it is a Singer heavy duty model, almost six years old now. When I am sewing, I pin the pattern instructions on the bulletin board above the sewing machine, so they are easy to refer to and not in the way. The mushroom box on the desk has thread, fasteners, scissors, thimbles, needles, and any other small sewing notions stored away in it. The box was my mother-in-law’s. She gave it to my husband a while ago when we helped her clean out some of her cupboards. The drawers of the desk hold more thread, zippers, boxes of buttons, lace, ribbons, and other small items. There is a small wicker wastebasket next to the desk for threads and scraps. We keep our ironing board in our closet and set it up on the other side of the desk when we need it. There is a full length mirror on the wall behind the door for fittings. Our fabric, which we acquire mostly on thrifting expeditions and occasional visits to the fabric district in Los Angeles, and interfacing are folded on shelves in our single hall closet, where we also keep our iron and ironing supplies.
We keep the pattern envelopes in binders on our bookshelf so they can easily be looked over to plan new projects and the pattern tissues and instructions sorted by number in plastic ziploc bags in a large box in the closet. When it is time to cut out a pattern, we do it on the floor of our main room, which doubles as our living room and my art studio, using small cans from the kitchen pantry as pattern weights. After work is done for the day, everything is put back in its place, and we go on living in our little space with little mess. I hope our methods might be useful or encouraging for anyone else who doesn’t have much space, much less a whole room, to devote to their sewing—you can get a great deal done in a small space if you are organized.
This is my summer wardrobe. Most of it is handmade, the rest is from various thrift stores. I am trying to work my way through photographing and writing about the garments I've made. I've been sewing much longer than I've been documenting my sewing, so it will take a while. And sadly, there is the occasional loss in the meantime----one of my blue dresses got a stain on it while I was visiting my family earlier in the month, and despite trying to wash it several times, the stain wouldn't come out. I hadn't photographed it yet, so that dress will never be posted about, except the tiny bit of its shoulder that you can see here.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew.