Monday, 31 October 2016

12 months of textiles

Since I've been talking so much about mending and making recently, I thought I'd do another re-assessment of the textiles that I've bought over the last 12 months. I've just seen that I wrote this post in August last year so it's well overdue. But in fact, I didn't buy any clothes during September and October, so I think that the timing of the new academic year is still valid.

To re-cap...
  • This list is of the textiles I've bought from (approximately) September 2015 till September 2016. 
  • It's probably not a definitive list. 
  • Both new and second-hand pieces are included
  • All forms of acquisitions are included: buying outright, thrifting, inheriting and rescuing.
  • An estimated price is included, except for gifts
  • Gifted items which were not specifically requested are not included.  
  • Items that I've made myself are not included.
  • Fabric and yarn is currently not included. I know that these are definitely textiles, but I'm focussing on acquiring ready-to-wear items. 

Over the last 12 months, I have obtained...

1 down-filled snow-proof winter jacket (new, from outlet store) £100
1 pair of slippers for Stockholm apartment (new, from a chain store) £8
1 handbag (thrifted) £3
2 pairs mittens (new, from independent shops) £25
1 wool scarf (gift) £0
1 pair flip flops (new, from a chain store) £3
1 summer hat (thrifted) £5

6 pairs of cotton socks (new, a gift) £0
2 pairs of thick socks (new, from airline) £0
3 pairs of underwear (new, from a chain store) £8
1 thermal leggings (new, from a chain store) £8
2 thermal vests (new, from a chain store) £16
1 bikini (from a chain store) £6

1 T-shirt (new, from a chain store) £9
2 cotton tops (inherited) £0
2 summer vests (thrifted + inherited) £2
1 wool cardigan (inherited) £0
1 black trousers (vintage) £15
1 velvet leggings (new, from a chain store) £8
1 dress (vintage) £10

Total approximate cost of non-me-made wardrobe: £226

Straight away I can see that half of this list resulted from moving to Stockholm for half a year, where my English-climate wardrobe just didn't cut it. I feel that everything else is pretty minimal: there aren't really many acquisitions that weren't actually needed. Well, aside from multiple pairs of mittens, which I bought as souvenirs. I'm surprised that I only bought one vintage dress, and no new shoes apart from slippers/flip flops - both of which have worn out, which goes to show that I shouldn't have bought them from a budget mass retailer!

Mostly I've been trying to be happier with what I have: assessing what's already in my wardrobe, laundering it more carefully, and mending it when damaged. I needed a new pair of flats, but instead have spent a small fortune getting 5 pairs of shoes re-heeled. Ditto with mending a few of my coats. They should hold out for the next 12 months. 

Future plans...
This considered approach to my wardrobe is successfully extending into my sewing and knitting practice.  I've been upping my ability to sew knits, and whilst I don't need any more tops to get through the winter, when I do replace them I will choose either thrifted items, or organic cotton jersey and sew them myself. 

What do I need to take into my wardrobe next year?  The underwear I bought from a shop fit worse than my me-made scanties, which is due to a poor choice arising from being broke. And there's an ongoing bra debacle, which I know many women endure. I need a warmer winter dressing gown. I have a pair of self-made corduroy jeans that have worn out; two sweaters are being knitted; and several more pairs of woollen socks. Also, a new purse to replace one which was stolen (very sad about that); and a smaller rucksack for cycling.

Fairly minimal, and definitely achievable. We'll see how I get on with those plans in a year's time...

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Slow Fashion October 3: Handmade

I started making clothing over 10 years ago now and it's become such an ingrained part of my life that I don't even think about it, really. I've trained and worked professionally as a costume maker, and have drifted back and forth between making for myself only, for family only, or for clients only over the decade. At the moment I'm focussing on myself. 

I've had a lot of deadlines recently, first to finish off my Masters dissertation, and now a series of rolling targets as I prepare my PhD application. When I'm busy I often find myself, rather infuriatingly, picking up my phone like a reflex and mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. A total time suck that doesn't achieve anything and just serves to make me feel more guilty. 

Then, I decided to participate in Slow Fashion October. Just a quick sweep across my and my partner's wardrobes amassed a towering pile of garments that we wished to be mended, rather than thrown away. Mending takes time, and isn't always pretty. That began to feel like another pressure, as the mending pile grew ever larger and threatened to take over my space.

So I decided to try something different. Each time I reached for my phone, I stopped myself mid-swipe and picked up my knitting instead. It's proved immensely fruitful and productive. I spent one insomniac night going through all my back copies of knitting magazines (more on which anon), and unearthed a half-knitted sweater and bag of leftover yarns at the bottom of my yarn storage. Over the last 5 weeks I have managed to knit 5 pieces of a cheerful lace cardigan.

I am pretty pleased with this progress. I'm also very happy to only have 1 ball of yarn leftover. Whilst I always keep aside a couple of metres for darning, I hate having remnants. The red is quite the perfect shade for me and matches lots of things that I have in my room, including the 1970s suitcase that I bought in a charity shop.

Making your own clothes falls obviously under the 'slow fashion' umbrella, as pieces fall into your wardrobe only at the rate of which you are sewing/knitting. And unless you are working 40 hours a week sewing your clothes, it's going to be rather slowly. But I've often been surprised by the impositions that we humans can put on ourselves. Recently, Morgan of Crab & Bee wrote about letting go of the compulsion to only sew all of her clothing herself. In the comments sections, many others agreed that they'd felt under huge pressure to do this, and applauded her decision to stop. I was really surprised, because as much as I enjoy making things (and I even specifically chose my Bachelors degree that taught pattern-cutting, draping and professional sewing techniques because I wanted to refine my skillset), I have never felt the need to say 'I must only have items in my wardrobe that I myself have made.' Instead, I chose to buy second-hand as much as possible, aside from difficult items such as outerwear, activewear, shoes, and lingerie. 

Over the last year, I began making my own lingerie; and whilst I have the technical ability to make outerwear (I specialised in tailoring in my Bachelors degree), I haven't really dedicated the time to making a coat for myself. I always remember that my tailoring teacher, who taught super old-fashioned bespoke hand-tailoring, told me that it takes 8-10 jackets before you make one that's considered decent. Not good - just decent. This is quite alarming. I've made 4. 

I don't particularly want to be going round in clothing that looks sloppy and does not fit well, just purely because I made it myself. Fabric availability is also a problem, as many technical fabrics are developed specifically for industry usage. The lightweight, waterproof cycling jacket I bought (secondhand on Ebay) that has multiple zip pockets and folds up tidily is way better than anything I could have made myself. Likewise the snow-proof down-filled winter jacket I bought (in an outlet store) for my winter living in Sweden. It's not necessary to go to the extreme of making things that will not realistically produce great results: too difficult for your level, too hard to find suitable materials, too challenging to properly fit. It's no point sewing your own wardrobe just for the sake of it, particularly if it's making you stressed, even unhappy. 

Overall, I'm trying to articulate that embracing a slow fashion wardrobe is simple, but it does often mean a shift in our lifestyle choices. Currently, I sit writing wearing an outfit that is entirely second-hand, and it's just normal. Whilst to some people, knitting your own socks and sewing your own knickers does seem rather extreme, I think it's possible to make this part of a routine that incorporates less consumerist approaches to clothing. Like everything, it just takes practice.


p.s. I've decided not to dedicate a whole post to the last week of Slow Fashion October's theme 'known origins'. But you know me, and you know how sustainability infuses itself in my lifestyle and making choices, so this post won't be the last word on 'slow fashion'. 

I am not convinced how much benefit that 'known origins' have on sustainability. Sweatshops exist in Europe and the USA as much as in Asia. If non-toxic, organic fibres and dyes are used, manufacturers generally highlight this as it makes their product so much more expensive. I think it's much better to make careful choices about where you buy, such as purchasing fabric second-hand (from de-cluttering friends or thrift shops) or from fabric shops that specialise in industry remnants or out-of-season designs. These choices will stop those rolls of fabric from being destroyed (by burning) or dumped in the landfill.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Slow Fashion October 2: Long-Worn

Frayed pleats on a self-made linen dress
A well-worn t-shirt in my repair pile

The prompt of this week's Slow Fashion October is long-worn, which got me thinking about how all the clothes stuffed into my wardrobe are actually pretty old. Up until only a few years ago, I frequently dressed in head-to-toe vintage, including bullet bras and suspender belts. But I didn't fit the typical mould of a 'vintage girl', with the heavily styled hair and feminine look. My style is far too eclectic for that - I'd be a bohemian in any era. At the time, I was studying my costume degree, then working in costume. For the best part of a decade, my summer job has been to alter, repair and refresh old costumes for a new cast of actors on a West End show. The constant mending and care that vintage clothing demands got too much for me in my personal life, and so I've turned away from it in the last couple of years in favour of clothing I can really move in. I've also moved away from physically working with costumes, to studying the historical development of clothing during my Masters degree in fashion history. It's clear that 'old clothes' have formed a large part of my life over the past 10 years.

19th century stockings from the archive of Nordiska Museet, Stockholm
When you're rooting through archives, trying to make sense of objects and find their place in social and cultural history, you look for clues about garments' uses. Whilst collectors often look for perfect, untarnished items, many historians delight in discovering the mended patch, the altered seam, the worn pocket. It reveals how the garment was worn. It suggests whether it was well-loved or kept for best, if it was significant or uncared for.  It's the element of care that slow fashion embraces, the notion of loving and looking after your garments even after they begin to unravel and fray. When we only acquire things slowly, and with much thought, we consider in great detail how they are going to fit into our everyday lives. If we are able to support small businesses and independent craftspeople with our purchasing power, then we need to match that significant financial investment with a longevity in our closets. Overall, I think that it's important to praise long-worn items, and prize the stories that they have brought us, the events in our lives to which they have been the background. 

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Slow Fashion October 1: Introductions

This year I'm participating in Slow Fashion October, a month-long investigation into making, clothing and sustainability for the online craft community hosted by Karen Templer of Fringe Association

What is Slow Fashion October? In the words of the host:
A celebration of the small-batch, handmade, second-hand, well-loved, long-worn, known-origins wardrobe.
This month-long conversation has been divided up into themed weeks, with discussions held on the Fringe Association blog as well as on Instagram with #slowfashionoctober - and elsewhere, such as here on Tailoring Tales!

Week 1's theme is Introductions. Karen asks:
Who are you, and what does slow fashion mean to you. What got you started thinking about it — people, books, films, etc. Are your concerns environmental, humanitarian, financial? Most important: How does your thinking factor into your life and closet. Also, any special plans or projects for Slotober, and what are you hoping to get out of it?
I'm Anushka, a 20-something writer and musician from London. I have long been a compulsive maker, but I first learnt to sew and knit around 12 years ago because I didn't want to support fashion brands who used unethical sweatshop labour. I was also worried by the notion pushed by the fashion industry that we should be discarding our old clothes every season in order to buy new fashionable ones. 'Slow fashion' is just the latest term for a non-consumerist approach to dress. In my opinion, it's not only possible but important to combine environmental humanitarian awareness alongside and financial concerns.  Saying this, making sustainable choices are rarely the easy option - nor are they necessarily thrifty! 

I'm planning on joining in with Slow Fashion October with blog posts responding to Karen's prompts throughout the month. I'll certainly be contributing some of my own thoughts along the way, too, including more reflections on mending like I wrote last month. 

Alongside the writing, I'll be mending a pile of my and my partner's clothes, as well as working on a cardigan using yarn that's been sitting in my stash getting attacked by moths (!). I started knitting it into a garment that didn't fit 8 years ago, and am now unravelling it.