One of the things I’ve seen a lot of recently, is a push for higher quality, longer lasting, more sustainable fashion. Culturally, we’re pushing back against fast fashion, turning to sewing, thrift stores, upcycling, and clothing libraries. Whether out of a sense of environmental necessity, or simply because we’re all sick of buying clothing that gets worn out after a year, there is a real desire for a change.
The idea of making my own clothing first occurred to me several years ago. I was doing a lot of costume sewing at the time, and wondered if I could just start making my own every day clothes. At the time, I immediately quenched the thought. It seemed so far away and fanciful, some unachievable idea that I couldn’t truly be serious about. I thought of all the stereotypes against home-sewn clothing. It would look unfinished, unprofessional, amateurish. Everyone would be able to tell I was wearing something homemade, and that had negative connotations attached to it. Long gone were the days when everyone had a sewing machine, and it was common to see your own skirts and dresses. Homemade now had ideas of being cheap attached to it. So I shoved that idea down, laughing about how I’m not a fashion designer.
Over the years, the idea slowly crept back into my mind. My first daily-wear project was a lavender maxi skirt with a good elastic waistband. It was beautiful, and I loved it. I was nervous about wearing it out of the house though. Did it look bad? Could people see where it had been made at home instead of by a professional? Not surprisingly, no one cared. I even got several compliments on it, other women asking where I had gotten it, and beaming with genuine joy when I declared that I made it myself. Other women didn’t just like my skirt, they liked that I had made it. They liked that I had a useful skill and expressed a secret desire to do the same.
Last year, I kept seriously considering transitioning to a homemade wardrobe as I went through my clothing, tossing anything in bad condition, and donating anything that wouldn’t fit me or just wasn’t my style anymore. My own love of sewing, combined with a growing frustration at not being able to find the clothes I liked in stores, had me honestly thinking about just sewing all my own stuff. I put it off because we were moving, and honestly, I was a little scared by the idea.
But, it’s a new year. My husband got me a dressmaker’s form for Christmas. And I still need new clothes, because my wardrobe is down to only a few outfits, almost none of which are suitable for the current weather. So, I sat down and started to seriously consider the pros and cons of making my own clothing. We’re always so quick to point out why making your own clothing doesn’t work and is a bad idea, but what about the reasons for doing it?
I mean, there has to have been a good reason our grandmother’s still made their own dresses when they could have all gone to department stores for everything. Sure,it’s part nostalgia for a past I never knew that is driving me to hobbies and interests which have fallen out of popular favor. But it’s also a desire to be more responsible with my consumption, and to try to be self-sufficient.
- Time spent making clothing I could just buy.
- Money spent on materials. I can’t buy fabric as cheaply as a big label.
- Quality. I may not be making luxury items, but I can make better stuff than what I can buy at H&M.
- Everything will be made and tailored exactly to me.
- No more wishing a skirt was a little longer, or a blouse came in a different color.
To be honest though, I already knew how I felt about my pros. I needed to look at my list of cons, and decide if I could still justify taking in this project. We’ve all heard the reasons why store bought clothing is less expensive. I can but a stack of t-shirts from Gap for what the material alone would cost me at Joann’s. But I’m also not wanting to make t-shirts. I’m wanting outfits that can look at home in church and at cocktails with my husband’s coworkers. I wanted fabric and construction that would last long enough for my future daughters to repurpose the outfits. So I needed to compare prices for wool and silk, not for knit jersey.
Looking online, I found that a good quality silk blouse, in a style I liked, would run me about $85 and up. I found some silk for the hefty price of $20 a yard. At a generous for yards, that would come out to $80, plus buttons and interfacing. Not as drastic of a difference as I was expecting. Of course, I also saw options for silk ranging upwards of $35 a yard, and synthetic silks for as low as $5 a yard. To me, the weight and weave of the $20/yard silk seems on par with what I’m wanting. Add in interfacing, buttons,and some embroidery floss in the color I want, and I’m going to call it $100 for the materials to make my own silk blouse with bishop sleeves and a bow on the front collar. Not an unreasonable amount for a similar shirt at a store.
Time was honestly the big one for me, that needed addressed first. It takes me an average of six hours to make a skirt, ten to make a blouse, and longer for jackets and dresses. If I put in eight hours of work a day, it would take me two days to make just a single outfit, without any accessories or a coat. Realistically, I’m going to put in more like four hours, on a good day. So knowing what my time constraints are, and how much time I can realistically put into sewing each day, I’m looking at five or six days just for a single outfit. And that’s not counting any embroidery or extra fancy stuff I want to include!
I needed to decide if this was about something more than just a pride project. I needed to decide why I wanted to do this. And this is about something more than saving money or showing off a skill I’m proud of. It’s about fostering sense of accomplishment. It’s about having clothing that not only is a higher quality, but that I will want to treat better and take better care of. It’s about knowing where my clothing comes from. It’s about setting an example for my future children, and putting my money where my mouth is when I talk about being self-sufficient. At least, for me it is. I want to set an example and live by my values.
That’s why I decided that it was worth it for me to make my own clothing. It won’t be for everyone, and that’s fine. But it is something I’ve decided to go with. When I told my husband, he got so excited for me. He wants to see me take on this project and thrive just as much as I want to, and it’s so encouraging to have that kind of support and understanding as I start this.