Why do you sew?

My cycle commutes to and from work each day are my free time to think (whilst still paying attention to the roads and all the potential death traps, of course). The name of this blog came to me one morning whilst cycling past Bermondsey station, and I often think about fabrics, patterns and life in general whilst zooming through London on two wheels – heading in the direction of the office (downhill, yay) or home (uphill, boo).

One thing that I have noticed about the sewing community is the sheer diversity, in every sense of the word. People from all walks of life, making totally different things in different styles. For just as many different reasons. And it’s these reasons that intrigued me – it got me thinking about WHY each of us chooses to sew.

I love the fact that so many people out there enjoy sewing and dressmaking, a skill which (when I was younger, anyway) is not taught in schools, and is still seen to be an ‘old fashioned’ hobby. But is ‘hobby’ even the right word anymore? Not everyone does it as a hobby, and for some the reasons behind it are much more significant.

Do you sew to save money? 

There are many people out there that have learned to sew their own clothes with the aim of saving money – after all, if you can sew the garment yourself, you are not paying the wages of someone else to do it. For them, sewing is not a hobby as such, but a means to an end – new clothes, at a low price. I’ve seen people score some absolute bargains – fabric picked up on sale for literally pennies, or from a charity/thrift shop, or even upcycling some old curtains or bedsheets into something amazing. Patterns can be had online for free, and if you’ve been gifted a sewing machine, you’re really on to something. Of course, a lot of sewists out there will say that making clothing does not make their bank account happy (silk fabrics at £40 per metre, I’m looking at you), but if saving money is your aim, it can definitely be achieved.

And if you’re refashioning, that leads me on to…

Do you sew to save the environment?

If you recycle old materials into new clothes, you are saving something from potentially being sent to landfill and reducing the need for production of yet more materials. There are more and more fabrics nowadays that are being made from recycled and natural materials – plastic bottles, banana stems, pineapple leaves, and coconut husks.

With the onset of the throwaway mentality, the world is drowning under all of our waste. Thread International are turning litter from the streets into what they call the ‘most responsible fabric on the planet’. In Haiti and Honduras, they use plastic bottles (collected up by locals who earn a wage for doing so) and process these to make fabric and yarn which is subsequently made into clothing.

With so many people in the world today, we are over-consuming pretty much all our resources. Finding ways to reuse, repurpose or recycle and researching alternative materials can go a long way to reducing the strain we put on this planet – and by sewing with eco materials, people are helping to do this.

Do you sew for your conscience?

We’ve all seen the news articles about the terrible working conditions of garment makers in countries like Bangladesh and China, and of course the devastation caused by the  2013 Rana Plaza collapse.

And then there’s the secret notes that have been sewn into Primark garments by the seamstresses pleading for help:

Fashion Revolution, a global not-for-profit movement, designated the anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster as Fashion Revolution Day, which birthed the hashtag #WhoMadeMyClothes?. This prompted millions of people to demand more transparency of the fashion supply chain and reveal exactly what’s involved in the making of their clothing – including the environmental and social costs.

When you make your own clothes, although you don’t exactly know what was involved in the process of creating that fabric and getting it to your sewing table, you know that the garment was constructed by yourself in hopefully enjoyable (or at least not adverse) conditions. You know that child labour was not involved in the sewing of your seams, and exhaustion was not suffered by a husband and father working a twenty-four hour shift sewing in zips just to earn enough to feed his family. For some people, this is why they sew – to take a stand against ‘fast fashion’ and exploitation.

Do you sew to get a perfect fit and design?

Us humans are a mixed bag, we come in every single shape and size you could possibly imagine. So, when it comes to ready-to-wear clothes, one size definitely DOES NOT fit all. One style does not fit all. Heck, even one colour does not suit all (well, maybe black).

There is an enormous variety of ready-to-wear clothing out there to choose from, so it may seem absurd to say that you can’t find anything – however, once you’ve whittled down the options to colours you like, in the styles you are looking for that suit your body shape, you’ve got considerably less to pick from. Even then you’ve got to try each item on for fit – jeans for example might be too long, too short, too baggy around the calf, too tight around the thigh, too small at the waist, not big enough around the bum, too low-rise, too high-rise, the pockets might be an unflattering style, the colour might not be quite right… it’s exhausting to trawl round every shop in town just to come home empty-handed because you can’t find those jeans you can picture in your head in real life.

So why not make your own? You can choose the colour, the fabric, the pocket style, the length, the topstitching colour, the button, everything. OK so it might be more work in the long run than trawling the shops for a day, but you’re pretty likely to end up with something that fits YOU rather than whatever shape the fashion industry thinks people should be, and that template can be used again and again – so long as you’re not shoveling in the Krispy Kreme’s like there’s no tomorrow (in which case, your template might need a little alteration).

Do you sew simply for enjoyment?

And then of course, there’s making stuff just BECAUSE. Making something for yourself or a loved one simply because you enjoy it – taking pride in pairing fabrics and designs and feeding your creativity. I know that for most of us, our day jobs don’t reflect what we truly enjoy in life and for those who love to create but spend our days at our desks looking at spreadsheets (or something equally as thrilling), bringing beautiful things to life in our spare time makes getting up at 6am Monday-Friday to go to work just that little bit easier.

Why do I sew? Because I love choosing combinations from the millions of colours and designs out there and seeing the finished result. You can bring your own vision to life and be proud to say it’s yours.

And also because I sit at a desk and look at spreadsheets all day 🙂

So tell me, why do YOU sew?

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13 Comments

  1. April 2, 2017 / 8:42 am

    I sew for my own mentality. It’s me time where everything is about me. Oh and i love it when you wear something me made and get lots of compliments!

    • Sarah
      April 2, 2017 / 9:12 am

      Me too Rudy! It’s wonderful isn’t it, casually saying ‘oh I made it’ when asked where you got your clothing from or get told how nice it is ???

  2. April 2, 2017 / 8:55 am

    When I started [about 1976, good grief] it was because I couldn’t afford to buy stuff. Then, very soon, I stopped making things for me, and made them for other people, for tiny payments. Then I made stuff for my kids [although never as much as I intended to make]. Then I sewed costumes for an amateur opera company, and then costumes for school plays.
    Then came a short hiatus, before I started sewing in earnest, starting with my daughter’s wedding dress in 2012, and my own [and my wife’s] in the following year. Those three represented both several thousand pound’s worth of work, and a real jump in my sewing skills.
    Now I make pretty much everything I wear, and most of my wife’s clothes too…and our steampunk gear. I sew for pleasure, relaxation, creative satisfaction, and to relieve stress.
    How’s that for a potted sewing history?!

    • Sarah
      April 2, 2017 / 9:17 am

      Oh wow Elaine, that’s quite a story! Really interesting to read how your sewing journey has evolved over time. Wedding dresses (three no less!) is absolutely amazing – well done you, I bet they took ages but were worth it! Evening wear is something I would like to try, but I curse slippery fabrics ? I love steampunk stuff, and am now going to head over to you and drool over your makes!

  3. April 2, 2017 / 3:37 pm

    I’m a graduate student, so I work long, exhausting hours. However, when the work you’re doing is mostly thinking really hard about metaphysics, it can be easy to feel at the end of the day like you haven’t accomplished anything. That’s where sewing comes in for me. It’s so satisfying to take an afternoon off, sew a dress, and then look back and say “This is what I did today – I made something new!” And then I can look back at my closet full of fun, interesting things that I’ve made, and see myself gradually improving over time. That too is very satisfying.
    And, of course, the compliments on my more-than-slightly-unusual wardrobe are always fun as well.

    • Sarah
      April 3, 2017 / 5:41 am

      Hi Jen, wow I thought looking at spreadsheets all day was hard… you win this one! 🙂 it does make you feel like you accomplished something, and as with you I see myself get better over time – I really think it is one of those things where practice makes perfect. And yes it’s always fabulous when someone compliments something you’ve made! It’s good to be different!

  4. April 2, 2017 / 5:24 pm

    At first I just thought it was because I was after perfect for & design, but actually is pure enjoyment. I really do think that sewing keeps me sane!!

  5. April 3, 2017 / 6:10 am

    I see because like you I love the millions of combinations of patterns and fabrics. To create something and wear it, gives me some sort of achievement where my work doesn’t! Sewing has made new friendships for me too, there is a phenomenal group of you out there that I can share my sewing adventures with!

    • Sarah
      April 3, 2017 / 9:27 pm

      Hi Emma, agreed there is an enormous community out there! And it’s wonderful because it’s so encouraging, everyone is cheering on everyone else 🙂 I love it when you can stand back and admire your finished item, and give yourself a little well-done fist-bump!

  6. April 3, 2017 / 11:43 pm

    I answered this question recently in another space in the blogosphere, and my story echoes my namesake Elaine above minus all the wedding dresses. As a teenager I sewed my own versions of what I couldn’t afford in Topshop, as young woman I sewed to challenge myself with new techniques, a demanding job and an expensive RTW habit meant I didn’t sew for a long time. Now I’m full circle plenty of time but limited finances so I’m getting my sewjo back. Mind, wallet and ‘sewl’ (sorry haven’t got tured of all the sewing puns).

    • Sarah
      April 4, 2017 / 1:55 pm

      Haha Elaine I love the sewing puns, keep them up 🙂
      I do find that sewing has totally changed my attitude towards RTW – unless something is made out of a really special fabric (like amazing lace, leather, or gorgeous silk) I feel like you really are just paying for the name and I sort of look at it and it’s price and think ‘meh’… like you and Topshop you can often make your own versions tailored to you for much less cost. Since I’ve improved at sewing I’ve bought much less from the high street. Glad to hear you’ve got your sewjo back!

  7. April 6, 2017 / 1:24 am

    It’s a great question to ponder. I sew because I learned the skill when I was younger and I’d stopped using it for too long – getting back into crochet and knitting had reminded me just how much I enjoy creating useful things, so it was only a matter of time before I got out a sewing machine again. Now, I sew because I love making unique items of clothing. It gives me such a thrill when someone compliments me on my outfit and I can confess that I made it myself. And I love making clothes that fit me. I hadn’t truly realised I was wearing such badly-fitting clothing until I started making dresses that had actual room for my bust and waistlines that sat on my waist. I couldn’t got back to ready-to-wear after that revelation!

    Environmental and social considerations are high up on my list of Reasons to Sew. When you know from first-hand experience how much time and effort goes into making a garment, you just can’t go out and buy something brand new for $5, especially when you know it’s designed not to last and will end up in landfill. It’s far better to make your own and make it well and wear it until you have to turn it into rags.

    Finally, I sew because the online sewing community is amazing. I recently started a sewing vlog and I’ve been amazed at how supportive and fun everyone has been. And it’s nice to hang around with people who understand why you’re so excited about your hand-sewn blind hem, for example.

    • Sarah
      April 6, 2017 / 10:37 am

      Hi Katie, thanks for your comment! I totally agree with everything you’ve said here – putting up with ill-fitting RTW items for example, because they are made for a generic body shape rather than your actual shape.
      I know a lot of people that come back from a shopping trip with bags full of items costing a total of £30 – but how long are these going to last? Like you say they won’t be very well made, and will end up in landfill before long. That ‘bargain’ comes at little cost to their purse but big cost to the planet.
      Like you I absolutely LOVE the sewing community! There is so much support out there, and everyone is genuinely wanting everyone else to succeed and will offer help wherever they can. I hope the vlog is going well – I’m now heading over to check it out 🙂

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