Since I sew all.the.time, and teach sewing, and blog about sewing, people often ask me how much of my wardrobe is me-made, or how much of the clothes I wear are me-made. And where do I get the stuff that isn’t me-made?
It’s a really interesting question, because it makes people think about how much of their own wardrobe they could aim to sew, and how much of your own wardrobe you can realistically sew. It also has a bearing on my overall philosophy of sewing and clothing.
It’s also interesting, because being me, I over-think this question. How exactly do I calculate it?
Percentage of items in my overall wardrobe? Meters of fabric sewn by me vs. not? Days of the week I wear me-made stuff? Percentage of garments that I wear on a daily basis that are made by me? Percentage of the fabric that I am wearing on a daily basis that has been sewn by me?
And how do I count vintage or commercially made items that I have mended and altered? Do those count as me-made? What about my costumes? Do I count them as part of my wardrobe? Or vintage pieces I own that I intend to wear once or twice for a photoshoot, but not as daily wear. Do they count?
Certainly a huge amount of my daily wardrobe is me-made.
Items in my wardrobe: approximately 70% sewn by me, 30% not
Five years ago when I worked for Te Papa (the national museum) and had a lot less time to sew, I focused my sewing on costumes and special occasion items.
When I went shopping, I generally bought well-made, timeless items, usually by local designers. Some of these pieces I’ve since sold, or passed on to friends or op-shops, because they no longer fit my lifestyle, but I still have a dozen or so pieces of beautiful, classic business-wear in my wardrobe that I no longer have as much of an excuse to wear, but love too much to get rid of.
World wool pencil skirts and Blak silk blouses are gorgeous, but stupid for sewing and pattern drafting in, especially with Felicity around, and when I teach classes, shorts and T-shirts are actually more work appropriate – as long as they are ones I have made! So the 30% not-made-by-me items are less likely to be worn on a daily basis.
Meters of fabric in my wardrobe: approximately 80% sewn by me, 25% not
I tend to make wide-legged pants, and buy skinny jeans. I make tap-pants and slips, but buy bras. So more of the actually fabric meterage in my wardrobe is sewn by me.
Days of the week I wear me-made items: 6.9 out of 7
It’s a very unusual day when I am not wearing at least one item made by me. The last time I can think of was a day when I spent the entire day painting the house and put on an old pair of stained, paint spattered shorts and T-shirt that have been my painting clothes for over 5 years, and managed to find one of the last few pairs of not me-made knickers at the back of my drawer, probably because I hadn’t done laundry in over a week because we were painting, so didn’t have any clean me-made ones.
I’ve yet to have anything I made wear out enough that it would be painting gear!
Even when I’m wearing a vintage dress, and my outfit looks not-me-made, I almost certainly made my slip and knickers (UPDATE: and now, you can buy the pattern to make your own – and singlet camisoles and slips – with the Scroop Wonder Unders pattern! Get it here!)
Percentage of the number of garments I wear on a daily basis that are made by me: 65% me, 35% not.
The stuff I’m wearing that isn’t by me is bras, jeans, my winter coat (it’s vintage and fabulous), and socks.
I still buy all my bras because for 300 days of the year moulded foam bras are a Wellington girl’s best friend: you want as many layers between you and the outside world as possible (not because nipples are bad, but because if they show it means I am cold enough to wish I was wearing more clothes for my own comfort). And moulded foam bras are a major hassle to make.
I buy jeans because jeans just aren’t exciting to make: I’ve done it, but every time I’ve tried recently I think of all the delicious non-jean things I could sew in 15 hours of sewing, and I loose the will to go on. I have tailored a lot of my jeans to fit me just as I want.
I buy socks because even my awesome stocking pattern can’t keep up with my three-layers-of-socks-a-day-and-they-must-all-be-wool-and-even-that-doesn’t-completely-keep-me-from-getting-chillblains habit in winter.
I also buy the occasional vintage piece, garment by a local designer or op-shop piece because it is so beautiful. Just because I can make almost anything doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate and utilise what other people have made! And hey, I might not be able to find a fabric quite as fabulous.
When I sew, I like to make things that are well made and will last for wear after wear, year after year, both in terms of durability and style. When I buy, I try to do the same thing. I don’t care what is fashionable, when I sew and buy I go for what I love – when what I like is ‘in’ in fabric and clothing, I stock up, and then when it isn’t I don’t buy. I hope bird fabric is fashionable forever!
My shopping habits aren’t perfect: I haven’t found an ethical bra that fits me properly, so I just buy the ones that do – even finding those is a hassle (Australian bra designers seem convinced that all women want their boobs squished together into the center of their chest, no matter what their band measurement is. FYI bra designers, if someone is a 34B, a 9″ outside-cup to outside-cup measure is NOT going to be comfortable or attractive).
I also found a pair of brand-new-with-tags jeans in an op-shop that fit me perfectly, and are the only skinny jeans that ever have, and they are by Jay Jays (of all brands! Jay Jays is a cheap shop focused on 17 year olds), and it turns out you can still buy them, and I have. I’m justifying it by telling myself that wearing Jay Jays jeans to death is still better than buying and then never being happy with and thus never wearing, more ethically made jeans.
For me, while buying organic and ethically made clothes and fabric is nice, by far the biggest thing I, or anyone else, can do to reduce the carbon and human footprint of our clothes is to get as much life and wear out of them as possible. I measure the impact of my clothes in cost-per-wear, and the more I can wear something, and the gentler I can be about laundering it, the smaller its impact on the world.
The best thing I ever did in terms of making myself sew all the time was the Sew Weekly: if you have to do it every week, you really learn how to buckle down, stop dithering, and make a thing. And you learn to appreciate the basics in your wardrobe, rather than just the over-the-top fun stuff. Today I’m lucky in that my job literally requires me to sew, though sometimes I feel like my wardrobe is shaped more by what I need to make as the latest class sample than by what I really want to be sewing and wearing at that moment! I’m well beyond the Sew Weekly: I finish an average of two things a week, though they can be stuff for me, class samples, items for the home, and clothes and gifts for other people.
So what about you? If you sew, how much of your wardrobe is me-made? Do you want it to be more? And what’s your philosophy about clothes and shopping?