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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!

Pattern Matters & the Aesthetics of Joy

Sally Cooke2 Comments
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Reading about Fairtrade and sustainable fashion recently I came across some tips for designing more sustainably. They included using neutral materials that don’t date so quickly. This is very valid advice. It’s also been influential. You’ll have noticed a rise in the use of block colours and neutral tones, simple stripes and checks in recent years and there’s definitely a connection here. Of course, without taking other factors into account there’s no guarantee that these more ‘neutral’ fabrics are any ‘better’ than any others in terms of their production values, social and environmental impact, or durability. But still it made me think about the purpose of print pattern and it’s place in our lives.

 Research suggests an item of clothing lasts on average around three years in a wardrobe. Sorting my own wardrobe recently, ahead of a long anticipated trip to the wonderful Leeds Community Clothes Exchange, I identified lots of thing that I’ve had three or more times that long. In most cases the reason I bought and still wear these clothes is not because they are cutting edge fashion (many of them were already second hand when I bought them) but because their patterns and colours bring me joy. My attachment to them could be described as a kind of emotional durability ie. the garments stick around longer because they add value in terms of the joy bring me. 

 People across cultures and over centuries have decorated their clothes for a whole variety of reasons - a means of expression, to signal status or social allegiances, or simply to express joy. And I realise that’s what pattern is about for me – an expression of joy and vibrancy. Joyful patterns put a smile on my face and a spring in my step and on a good day this can change the way I experience the world for the better. This all started to make sense when I read Ingrid Fetell Lee’s book Joyful. In this beautiful book Fetell Lee explores the aesthetics of joy. Through some extensive and varied research, she unearths the things people across cultures seem to find joyful. As she expands on ideas of colour, harmony and abundance etc. I started to get excited to see written down things that influence my own design practice. I am always looking for a balance between order and chaos in the patterns I design. I love multiples of similar but non-identical shapes in repeat. I also love organic, rough or wonky edges that show a sign of the human hand in the process. These are the things that spark joy for me and in Joyful Fetell Lee goes some way to explaining why. 

 The trick then, to designing for longevity, may be to focus on what is joyful and not just what’s ‘on trend’. I think you can see this in the enduring patterns of companies like Marimekko, whose Unikko and Kivet prints have been favourites over years (even decades!). I’d love to know what you think…