So we’re now into the swing of Me Made May, having just come through Fashion Revolution week, and seeing all the posts on Instagram of the people who are taking part makes me realise that:
- I really do make too much stuff that’s impractical for everyday office wear (Alexander Henry dresses, I’m looking at you), and
- There are ginormous gaps in my wardrobe that need to be filled before I can successfully rock a mostly me-made closet (even just for one month of the year)
Sustainable and responsible fashion is always a hot topic around this time of year, and it’s got me reflecting on my own personal sewing journey.
Sewing for me is just a hobby – in ‘real life’, I’m an accountant and work full-time in finance in an advertising agency in London. Don’t get me wrong, I’d LOVE to have a creative job, but life hasn’t worked out that way (yet). I’m grateful at least that I get to work in a creative industry, even if it doesn’t directly apply to my role (let’s not get confused with ‘creative accounting’ here, which is a term used to describe some accounting treatment or reporting which is slightly dodge and/or illegal, lol ?). I’m fortunate that my career allows me the luxury of being able to buy materials to indulge my passion – had I have pursued a more creative career, I may not be in this same position. So you know, swings and roundabouts and all that.
I started this blog in January 2017, when I hadn’t been sewing clothes very long (yep, true – I’ve only been making for a couple of years), and had only made a handful of things. I arbitrarily decided that I’d post once a week, on a Sunday, not only because I felt that would give me the weekend to put the finishing touches to the post, but also because I didn’t really have a better plan. I was new to the blogging lark and didn’t really know what the norm was. And still don’t, so I’m just gonna carry on doing my thang.
As I already had a handful of garments that I’d made in the couple of years prior, a head start if you will, I went out and photographed them all in preparation for the launch of the blog. Three posts in the bag with no sewing required – boom. Almost a year and a half in, I’ve never missed a weekly post. BUT – is this sustainable? One garment a week, for the foreseeable future? And it’s not just the sewing, it’s the photographing (and scouting a good location), and the writing of the blog post that goes along with it. I don’t do things by halves, so you’re not going to see any living room or back garden shots from me – a photoshoot means finding a location that compliments the colour/style of the outfit, and then getting the husband-slash-photographer out with his DSLR to take some shots. I’m aiming to rival Vogue’s photoshoots with mine, dahling ?♀️
Photography is another hobby of ours, so it made sense to incorporate this into the blog too – but it does increase the maintenance levels. Which I realise is by my own choice. On the flip side though, it’s time that we get to spend together – outdoors, the husband gets to improve his photography skills and I get to enjoy matching outfits to locations, which for me is as enjoyable as matching fabrics to sewing patterns.
Early on in this blog’s life, I’d only work on one post at a time – whatever I fancied posting on that coming Sunday. Then after that was live, I’d start to work on the next one. It wasn’t until quite a way in that I decided I should really have a schedule, so that I’m not photographing short sleeve shirts in the freezing cold (yep, that happened). I realised that this approach was reactive rather than proactive, especially with the unpredictable British weather which in a matter of minutes could destroy all plans of photographing finished makes. There had to be some sort of wiggle room, in case of a sudden downpour or even snow.
I discovered that I’m much better off having as many posts on the go as I have sewing projects – and updating them each week as I make progress on the garments, that way I don’t forget the struggles and little niggles that I had with each because I can write as I go along, when it’s more fresh in my memory. And batch-photographing once a month, rather than having to go out every week, seems to work out better. Yes, it does mean a whole day out traipsing round London finding places to change (usually public toilets – I know, ewwww – but I have been known to change (v quickly) hiding behind corners in not-so-busy areas). If you see a half-naked girl in a corner of Brick Lane on a Saturday, it’s probably me.
I also learned that you absolutely, positively must have a backup stash of posts, should things take an unexpected turn.
At the start of January this year, I suffered a serious head injury. A very dark (and reflective on how lucky I was to be alive) few weeks followed this. There was no sewing, because of both physical and mental conditions – once the initial concussion subsided, I had muscular injuries and couldn’t sit at the table to sew, and I couldn’t concentrate. Even if I could, my mind wasn’t in the right place at that point in time. As well as no sewing, there was also no blogging. I couldn’t stare at a screen for very long, and my cognitive capabilities at that time were equal to that of a rubber band. Thankfully, I had blog posts already written and photographed, so that all that needed to be done was to make them live – cue the husband ? – and to you guys, the blog carried on as normal while I focussed on healing myself. If I was still following my old approach to blogging – writing one post at a time and finishing it off right up until the wire – the whole thing would have ground to a halt.
Once all this was over and things began to return to normal, I thought – should I set myself these targets? One post a week? Or should I aim to post only whenever I’ve made something? Do we really need to put more pressure on ourselves, in an already ridiculously pressured existence?
Posting once a week, that’s 52 blog posts a year. Let’s say that 45 of them are actual garments. Do I need 45 new items of clothing a year? How many garments is too many for one person? Does this go against the idea of ‘sustainability’ – consuming more than you need? I know we’re all guilty of being underwhelmed by some of the things we’ve made, and having them sit at the back of wardrobes unworn, or given to charity. How do I minimise the impact of these? Recycle them into pocket linings? It’s harder when you’re first learning, when you’re trying out different styles and trying to find your vibe and improve your skills. There will inevitably be garments that don’t work out. Even thought I feel like I’ve made so many things, I’d take a guess at saying that only 60% of them now have a permanent place in my wardrobe. Obviously I’m hoping that with time, I’m getting better at choosing colours, fabrics and styles so that I can boost that success rate, but what happens in the meantime?
I’m also thinking about sustainability in a more selfish way, and that’s sustainability for me personally. One year ago, I started an Etsy shop – WanderStitchStudio (which you can check out here, if you fancy a nosey). We invested £500 into buying materials, and sewing up an initial batch of items for sale. At the time, I was reluctant to start the shop because I thought that we’d never see that £500 again, and that’s a lot of money. Sales were slow to begin with, and we sold less than 10 items a month. But then it got to December, and the Christmas rush brought in over 80 orders that month. We were not prepared for this, and our days consisted of working our regular full-time jobs, then coming home and sewing and packaging up the orders until we couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer.
I looked forward to January, when the sales would drop off, as this was wonderful but most definitely NOT sustainable. Except the thing is, the sales haven’t dropped off as much as I was expecting – we’re still getting in over 30 orders a month, which for simplicity’s sake let’s say is one order per day. That means that most evenings, I’m getting in from work and sewing orders for the shop. This used to be my blog sewing and writing time, so it goes without saying that my wonderful plan of writing and photographing in advance is starting to fall behind. Don’t get me wrong, I love that the shop is doing well and am so grateful for it – never in my wildest dreams did I expect success – but as my time is a limited resource that means that something has to give. And that something has turned out to be my personal sewing time.
But is this a bad thing? Do I really need to make that many garments a year? At the moment, I’m still lucky that there are DEFINITELY some gaps in my wardrobe, which I’m aiming to fill with me-mades. Jeans and trousers are a very large hole, and sewing for the husband is also something I wanted to expand on. But what happens when we have everything we need? I LOVE making coats, but what happens when I have more than enough? How many coats is too many? Making items for the sake of making them isn’t aligned with the idea of sustainability. Should I feel guilty that I have such a consuming hobby?
I could say that these garments are ‘learnings’, but then what happens when I reach a standard that is ‘good enough’? Should the making then slow down, and garments only made as and when they are required? Like when things wear out? Or should I mend and repair those things, rather than making new? Sewing is a very consuming hobby, not like the other things I enjoy. If I want to learn a new piece on the piano, all I need is a book and my hands. I theoretically could get to a professional level by only ever consuming sheet music. If I wanted to get better at running, I just put my shoes on and move my ass faster. Ok so with running I’d consume trainers and clothes (and a fancy GPS watch perhaps ?), but the consumption of materials is still less than with sewing. (On a separate note, I’m considering buying a coverstitch machine and making my own running clothes , thus tying my two interest together).
I sort of reached this same point with cross stitch – I’ve done several pieces over the years, some of which I’m really proud of, but have not yet been framed and hung on the wall. That’s part of the reason I sort of stopped doing them – what happens when you run out of wall space? What do you do with the finished pieces, other than stand back and admire your achievement?
Here’s a couple of my faves:
(yep, I love Japanese stuff)
I would like to get to a point where my wardrobe is 100% handmade, or as close to as possible (because I do actually love some of my RTW stuff), but when I’ve reached that point – then what? Do I just keep making things and infinitely expanding my wardrobe, just because I enjoy it? or do I move onto making shoes, or bags? What happens when I have enough of those?
Which brings me back round to this blog, and trying to alter its path a little to keep it sustainable. Various approaches have been going through my head, to try to keep it going but in a more sustainable way. ‘In progress’ blog posts are one option I’m thinking about, especially with larger and more complex items like coats. More details-focussed posts are also good, I really must take more pictures of the garment in progress – it shouldn’t just be about the finished item, as this doesn’t help with learning techniques or understanding what goes in to constructing a garment. Pretty photos are nice to look at but I want my blog to cover everything up to that point too – the choice of fabric, the construction techniques, what went right and what was an utter shambles.
The husband is also learning to sew, so I’ve promised him that he can be a ‘guest blogger’ with his makes from time to time, giving a male – and also a total beginners – perspective on making. It turns out he has extremely expensive tastes in fabric and has bought a remnant of Prada silk to make a top for me (a Grainline Scout tee, *if* we have enough fabric), and some Versace jersey to make himself a T-shirt with this Mimi G pattern:
I’m also going to do more posts around what things are currently on my sewing table and how they’re going, what I’m thinking about sewing, which of my makes have been a success and earned a regular place in my wardrobe (and which have not, and why), and maybe a monthly roundup of what’s happening in Wanderstitch-land. Because let’s not forget, successful finished garments are great but they are only the tip of the sewing iceberg. And I’m saying that to remind myself, more than anything.
How do you guys feel about the future of your sewing? Is it ok to keep making purely for the enjoyment, rather than the necessity?
Do you have a blog? If so, do you have a schedule? Do you only post finished projects or talk about other things as well?
If you don’t have a blog but you’re a reader, what do you like to read about?
Do you buy fabric as and when it’s needed, or do you have a ginormous stash of fabric?
What do you do with all your makes – do they mostly all get worn? Do you gift the ones you don’t wear? Donate them to charity?
I’m really interested to hear from you all, give me your two cents in the comments ??
Coming up next week on the Wanderstitch blog… an uber-posh black satin skirt in Prada crepe ? Subscribe below to make sure you don’t miss out!