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Sewing is my superpower!

Sally CookeComment
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I’ve been thinking recently about why sewing is so important to me. I am no domestic goddess, so why sew? The short answer is because making things with my own two hands makes me feel powerful. It also frees me up from having to buy clothes that other people have decided I should want to wear. This matters more and more because much of what I see on the high street is uninspiring and/or badly made. I’ve always looked for clothes that will last – in quality and style - and these things often come at a price higher than I can afford. Even if they don’t there are always hidden social and ecological costs which are a huge issue for the clothing industry, where poor pay and conditions, waste and pollution are all too common. Not having to buy into all this is another reason I love being able to make things for myself….and why I am passionate about other people being able to do so too.

I’ve started looking into research on motivations for sewing. According to Sherry Schofield-Tomschin’s chapter in Barbara Burman’s 1999 book ‘The Culture of Sewing’, while motivations change over time (and to some extent with age) there are five that recur: economics, quality, fit, creativity and psychological or physiological benefits (or well-being). I can relate to all of these, although the research was based on US studies from the last century. I wonder how things might have changed in the 20 years since the book was published. High street clothing has reportedly got cheaper in that time and our consumption of it has increased. From the 1980s onwards, the economic motivation for sewing has been seen to decline but as we become more aware of the hidden costs and pay more attention to the availability of pre-existing materials (second hand clothing and roll end fabrics for example), I wonder might this change back again? 

If you sew I would love to know what your motivations are and if you don’t (yet!) I’d love to know what would motivate you to start. In the meantime, I am going to share my most recent make with you in pictures that illustrate some of what motivates me.

£2 piece of fabric (150cm x 100cm) from a local charity shop – so £2 to charity and a metre of fabric being re-purposed rather than newly produced.

£2 piece of fabric (150cm x 100cm) from a local charity shop – so £2 to charity and a metre of fabric being re-purposed rather than newly produced.

Simple tee dress pattern designed for minimum waste - using a helpful calculation from Rosie Martin’s fabulous book ‘No Pattern Needed’

Simple tee dress pattern designed for minimum waste - using a helpful calculation from Rosie Martin’s fabulous book ‘No Pattern Needed’

My favourite French seams - robust and tidy on the inside – so satisfying!

My favourite French seams - robust and tidy on the inside – so satisfying!

Only 15g material waste – that’s about equivalent to the weight of a single strawberry!

Only 15g material waste – that’s about equivalent to the weight of a single strawberry!

A little bit of detail – nothing too fussy

A little bit of detail – nothing too fussy

The finished article - a guilt free £2 dress

The finished article - a guilt free £2 dress

One happy customer enjoying a birthday party in the garden

One happy customer enjoying a birthday party in the garden

…and, the bulk of the fabric is still intact for a future re-imagining

…and, the bulk of the fabric is still intact for a future re-imagining

If anyone is interested in a more detailed description of this make in the form of a pdf or online tutorial let me know and I’ll see what I can do!

A love letter to...

Sally CookeComment
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…my twisted seam Levi denim dress

I don’t know much about your backstory before you came to me in 2003. You tell me you were made in Tunisia for the daddy of all jeans brands. I’m guessing it was the late 90s when they were making a big noise about engineered jeans.

You are made from natural fibres, which makes you biodegradable but doesn’t necessarily make you good. We met long before Lucy Siegle taught me how fashion wears out the world and the part cotton plays in that. But it was love at first sight. 

You are bold, wearing your utility on the sleeves you don’t have. You are a little larger than me but that never put me off. Your genius is in your cut, which I suspect made you low waste. Your twisted seams make you me shaped without the need for elastane. You are made from proper denim, famed since the 1870s precisely for its durability.  Your armholes are just the right size so I can wear you as a summer dress or over other clothes as a pinafore. Because of your generous size I can even squeeze a jumper under to keep me warm on cold winter days in the studio. And because of these armholes and the fact you don’t stretch you hardly ever need washing, so less detergent, water and fibre waste results from your use. 

 When I bought you second hand from a shop on Goodge Street for what seemed like the premium sum of £18 I had no idea how much you would come to mean to me. You are everything an item of clothing should be. You even have a neatly slanted breast pocket that pre-empted smart phone’s ubiquity.  I love you and I am enjoying the room you have given me to grow and the things you are helping me to say. So I am forgiving you your questionable beginnings and planning to carry on wearing you until one of us falls apart. The smart money, I think, is on that being me.

Sal

PS. I wrote this letter on Black Friday 2018 and am sharing it today at the start of Fashion Revolution Week 2019. Check out www.fashionrevolution.org to find out more and get involved.

#lovedclotheslast