If you sew, the idea that someone might wonder why you sew is – how to put this – somewhat bewildering. I sew, therefore I am. In fact, I feel like I sew because I am.
I’ve been sewing for so long I don’t even remember that first moment of alchemy when you realise the clothes on your back, the clothes on everyone else’s back, the clothes in the shops and on the television – they are within your ken: you can figure them out, deconstruct them, reconstruct them, build them from scratch.
When you start sewing, you realise that clothes hold nothing over you (if ever they really did) because you hold the strings. You are the master of your own sartorial story and it is so much fun making that story up. That’s why blogging and sewing are such perfect bedfellows: make and tell the tale…
So, to cut to the chase, I sew for many different reasons, but here are six of the best:
Heard of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi? He came up with the idea of the flow state. And this idea is an IDEA idea (here’s the man himself Ted Talking it up).
Sewing is one of those excellent creative activities where you become so completely absorbed you lose track of time. Hours could pass and the only thing to shake you out of the flow is the fact your mouth has become as dry as a bat cave and your stomach is growling.
I love how you can fully concentrate and yet at the same time be completely away with the fairies. Some people find this relaxing, others completely draining (usually in a good way), and others describe it as ‘therapeutic’. Whatever you call it, it’s a kind of magic.
I was fairly hopeless at maths in school. If only they’d dragged a few sewing machines into the maths block, it could have been a different story. These days I would say I love maths, and all because I enjoy the mathematical problem-solving aspect of sewing: calculating fit, optimising fabric, squeezing a lay plan onto an impossible remnant.
Even the stressful moments when something seems to have gone wrong are part of it. Working your way round a problem and coming out the other side in one piece – it really is a great way to get your kicks.
In another life, I would train as a tailor: that combination of meticulous measurement and magic that turns a flat piece of cloth into a three dimensional perfectly-fitted garment really appeals. It’s engineering with fabric. It’s alchemy!
My eyes are bigger than my belly when it comes to fashion: I always like the clothes I can’t afford. While there is much teeth sucking (sometimes verging on the humble brag – ‘Just LOOK at this Atelier Brunette I succumbed to! Gasp!’) about the terrifying expense involved in sewing, in truth it doesn’t need to be a wallet-crusher.
In fact, you can do it on a shoe string if you approach it from a different perspective (I will be writing a lot more on this topic, so watch this space). Buy a machine second hand, or better still ask around to see if you can borrow one. You will be amazed how many lie dormant. And if it’s a really old one, even better – they are workhorses. Get it repaired and it will repay you in dividends.
In a weird way the big ticket items end up costing less than all the other stuff; fabric, patterns, notions, tools, gadgets – it all adds up. So once you’ve bagged a machine, keep your thrifty hat on.
I find, if I’m careful with fabric, I can make the sort of clothes I would like to buy for a fraction of the cost (a £250 Boden dress recently came in at under £10 using a vintage pattern from eBay and some thrifted georgette). Happy days!
I love things that are unique and clothing is no exception. I like knowing I’m not going to bump into anyone in the same dress or jacket. If you’ve ever attended a wedding in the same frock as the woman two pews in front, you’ll know what I’m on about.
The great thing about sewing is that whereas couture could probably guarantee the same (though let’s face it, even couturiers duplicate!), sewing gets the same bang for one millionth of the buck.
And, of course, if you sew you can fiddle around with fabrics, designs and finishes to your heart’s content. There are so many ways to be creative and express your individuality in sewing – from initial choice of garment, fabric and construction technique, to how you wear the finished article. Job, as they say, is a good’un.
Since the catastrophic collapse of Dhaka’s Rana Plaza garment factory in 2013, campaigning for greater awareness about the condition under which our clothes are made has gained momentum (visit Fashion Revolution for more on this subject). Recent revelations about exploitative garment factories in the UK demonstrate there is something inherently wrong with the scale and rapidity with which fast fashion is produced (not to mention the environmental impact, more on that another time).
Sewing won’t solve this issue; sometimes sewing can be just as fast, if not faster, than fast fashion, and the fabric has to come from somewhere. Provenance is difficult to establish – something many fabric suppliers and retailers need to improve so consumers can make informed decisions. As sewists, we can salve our consciences of the unethical labour in garment sweatshops (though there are ethical concerns about ceasing to support trade with developing countries too) but, for the most part, we don’t know what kind of labour takes place in fabric factories and we don’t know how our fabric was produced.
So, there is work to be done. But I believe that sewing is, on the whole, a good thing. At the very least it brings into sharp focus the amount of labour it takes to produce a five dollar t-shirt. The fact we can minimise our impact by thrifting fabric, mending, and re-wearing, gives me hope and keeps me sewing.
My body is just fine
Finally, and often most importantly for many sewists, the thorny issue of fit. Most of us, whether we sew or not, have struggled with shop-bought clothes – whether it’s confusing sizing or fit issues which leave us thinking this bit of us is too big or that bit is too small, the horrors of the changing room can scar for life.
The joy of sewing is that, whatever your size or shape, you can create clothes that fit your physique just as it is. Yes, that can involve a whole load of blood (literally if, like me, you’re lazy on pin placement), sweat and tears in and of itself but, once you’ve mastered the fitting, you realise it was not your body that didn’t fit the clothes, but the clothes that didn’t fit your body.
It is a liberating and wonderful phenomenon when people who have felt excluded from enjoying clothes and fashion suddenly realise they can wear whatever they damn like.
So, tell me, if you’re not still reeling from the question, why do you sew? Do any of the above resonate, or do you have other reasons that drive you to the machine? I’d love to hear in the comment section below. See you down there!