Tuesday, 19 January 2010

what i wore today january 19

Target maternity T-shirt c2001: Blue cotton/elastine T-shirt from my first pregnancy. I think it cost around $30. Another day working from home=another glamorous outfit. But I love this T-shirt! I love that it is lightweight without being thin and stretchy, I love the slightly deeper than duck egg blue, I love the neck and the way the V is bound, I love the sleeve length and fit and the maternity fit is actually perfect for my shape. If they still made these I would buy a whole stack (I regularly look in their maternity section in the hope of seeing them again!). I used to have the same T in black and white (both of which I embellished with embroidery) but the black colour bleached out in patches and the white one developed holes and they were finally tossed. I have worn and worn and worn this one and while it shows it's age it has done me great service. It will be a sad day indeed when it goes.
Denim shorts from Thailand c2005: same as yesterday and the day before.

In this climate and working from home there is absolutely no incentive to wear anything other than shorts and a T-shirt - just like back in Melbourne I spend a good deal of my time in jeans and a T-shirt. I've tried to deal with this by making myself nice jeans and shorts and new and interesting takes on T-shirts. It's all very well to make pretty dresses and fancy clothes (and I do wear these when I am back in the office at the spanner works or teaching or going out to dinner and so on) but for me the challenge in sewing has increasingly become how to go with my casual comfortable lifestyle and clothing choices but still not look so much like a chain store old bag.

The appearance on the fabric market of organic denims with elastine and an ever expanding range of knits in natural and organic fibres is making this job easier and more fun, as is the growing presence of more interesting pattern making techniques. The ideas contained in the Pattern Magic books are just one example of how garments can be constructed in non-traditional ways to give new meaning to a simple knit top.

I guess this is where home sewing can leave shop bought clothes in the dust. Bespoke clothing solutions - garments tailored not just for physical fit but for lifestyle and ethical choices are always going to be more expensive in the market. Target's organic cotton undies are significantly more expensive than their regular kind (and they aren't anywhere close to fair trade or sweatshop free), but if I was making an organic cotton T shirt, the price difference between the organic fabric and the non-organic is much smaller, with the proviso that I am really comparing apples with apples here and not a crap quality knit with a good quality one.

A knit top in a really unusual print or fabric or cut in a high quality or organic fabric is the realm of the designers, they are hard to find (I mean how many shops are out there?), and when they are lucked upon at a good price they are not cheap (even the plain T-shirt I am wearing above from a mass production chain store was $30 nearly 10 years ago!). On the other hand if I am looking to buy a knit to sew there are only a handful of places I would regularly look and as a speculative or sale purchase I can usually buy these relatively cheaply. I can test the quality before I sew by washing and drying the fabric, and I can make a garment that ticks all my criteria boxes without compromise.

I suppose that what I am saying here is that the broader issue of cost is about making comparisons that are real: the cost of the clothes I 'could' dress in vs the cost of the clothes I 'do' dress in vs the cost of the clothes I 'want' to dress in. I can buy a T-shirt for $10 (not on sale for $10 but priced at $10), but my experience tells me that if I do I am wasting my money and time - it can't be a good quality T for that price and if it doesn't look like crap to start with it very soon will. To get it to market at that price there has to have been some fairly major corners cut in production (probably evidenced both in output and in processes like wages and waste and environmental impacts). I don't want to wear that substandard clothing and I don't want to support that substandard production. I am much more likely to buy the $30-40 T-shirt (hopefully on sale but probably not) and tell myself that although there are flaws in the production process at least if I am getting 5 years wear out of it, I am headed in the right direction.

When I buy my textiles for home production I can afford to take less compromises. That $30-40 investment in fabric alone means I can choose the best quality, possibly organic, possibly fair trade, possibly supporting a particular business I feel shares my ethical and quality concerns. If the production process is flawed (and it most certainly is), at least I am pulling it out of the market after the production of the cloth, thus not adding the flaws in the production of the garment to my sins. And I can turn that fabric into something that matches much more closely to what I really want and need without compromising sleeve length or fit lines or colour or neck binding or any other design aspect. I can also, should I so choose to accept a higher degree of compromise and lower quality or if I am lucky enough to find a fabulous bargain, spend a lot less money. I have used pure wool knits that cost $2 a meter (that's $3 for a long sleeve plus sized T), and regularly made kids Ts and leggings with cotton knits that costs $5 a meter (that's about $1-2 a garment).

[I know I am leaving aside this question of time - the time to make, the time to shop, the time to learn - as well as the space to make but I'll speak more directly to that in another post.]

So I do think in general (and I say in general because there are always going to be the odd exceptions) I can dress myself as cheaply in homemade as I can in shop bought even at the lowest end of the market, and I also think I can dress myself in good quality long lasting bespoke garments I make myself for much less than an equivalent market made garment. My life, like most people's, has space for both low end and high end garments.

In the past I have tended to devote the most time to the garments where homemade brings the greatest benefit over market bought (higher end clothes and the things that emphasis fit) but as time goes on I notice that homemade has naturally increased its market share in my wardrobe (my pledge to buy no more clothes will of course hurry this along). I think there are a few reasons for this. Habit is one, because sewing is definitely a self perpetuating hobby. Pleasure at the results in another and means I am less inclined to fork out money for clothing that is less pleasing than the things I have made (and cheaper too). Improving as I go along also means my garments are getting better and more interesting. Length of wear means a lot less of my stuff is going to the op shop or in the bin, and the shop bought stuff is definitely over represented in the turn over when compared to the handmade. But I think I am needing less too because as the number of things I really want to wear increase, my need for options diminishes.

I'm still struggling to imagine what will ultimately cause me to resort to the market for a garment. I'll never say never - I don't know what awaits me in the future - but from where I sit this daily reflection is doing nothing to dissuade me from the handmade path. And while I would never be preachy about this, or make judgements about others who don't make or chose handmade (I don't for a second assume we are all the same or have the same interests or constraints or whatever), I would happily throw down the challenge to anyone who thinks they can't make, or who doesn't think they can make cost effectively, to think that through more carefully.

1 comment:

Leonie said...

I just wanted to say keep on writing the way you do about the stuff you do in every way. I keep coming back because no matter what, you are real and your posts are real, reflective, deep and honest. And you are a clever woman in so many ways, it's nice to have such a wonderful combination all in one place. Keep it up.