Sew-stainable fashion

I’ve had an unplanned blogging break for a variety of reasons. It’s lovely to be back writing though. In fact I’d better get back into the way of it, and fast, because Zero Waste Week begins on the 1st of September – this Monday!!

Click here for National Zero Waste week 2013

If you are interested in signing up – take a look here for more information. The theme is ‘One More Thing’ and the week can be as hard or as ridiculously easy as you want! For inspiration and links to lots of great reading material, check out the hashtag #zerowasteweek

Although I’ve not been writing for the best part of a month, I have been thinking. Specifically I’ve been thinking about what I wish to achieve in terms of being more sustainable. In December 2013 I wrote this post outlining some of my goals for the year. An area that I need – and want – to focus on more is point 2 about ethical fashion.

I pledged to buy no new clothes for myself in 2014. I had a small slip-up when I had to replace a broken underwired bra (ouch!). I hadn’t really thought through the issue of underwear at the start of the challenge and, cheating or not, I made the decision that a second hand bra wasn’t really a good option for me. Otherwise, I’m doing well and no further new clothes have been purchased.

So far I’ve even got away without having to do much mending and, although there are a few items of clothing I could do with replacing, the issue is not urgent. What I still need to give some thought to is what happens at the end of this challenge when my clothes are getting worn out.

I have had one idea…

I could learn to sew!

Surely my sustainable journey hasn’t come to this?! I have to admit that I dismissed sewing (proper machine sewing) as ridiculous the first time it presented itself. As I am forever declaring on this blog, I am not crafty, arty or creative in any way at all. Plus, I’ve never aspired to be. Let’s just say that until I started this green-living malarkey I was happy to accept my artistic limitations.

However, I started making my own greetings cards last year, as a way of both avoiding the supermarket and reducing my waste, and it opened my mind a little. I’m not terrible at this type of craft plus the cards are well received, and it saves me money. As a result, I now look at card-making as, not so much of a hobby, but a skill that allows me to work towards my sustainable goals. Why should sewing be any different?

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Bet you can’t guess who this card is for or how old he is?  🙂

So, some months ago, I started to research beginners sewing classes. It felt a bit weird. Would I actually go along to a sewing class? Sit at a machine? Talk to strangers about…I dunno…. stitches?!

I found a site that I liked though and I kept sneaking back to take a look at it. Sewing would be a great way to extend the life of the clothes that I already have and it might work especially well for the children’s clothes – perhaps by adding panels to allow the clothes to grow with my little people. If I managed to acquire any skills that were beyond the basics then I might be able to make myself some bespoke pieces too – and don’t even get me started on the idea of sourcing some of the gorgeous fabrics online and turning them into cute little things for the kids! I could find organic or fair trade material, and buy only from UK manufacturers to cut down on air miles and… Ok! I was getting carried away, but there was definitely a growing sense of enthusiasm there!

The cost was £45 for a three hour Beginners’ class in using a sewing machine, which I thought was good value. Even if sewing didn’t turn out to be for me, I was paying for an adventure where I got to learn about something different and meet a few interesting people.

So I did it. I booked myself in.

The experience was a joy. The venue was in the centre of Edinburgh, beneath Edinburgh castle in the middle of the festival so my journey there was exciting, a weaving my way through buzzing crowds and performers. When I reached my destination I got a warm welcome and a cup of tea.

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The class taught me how to thread a machine and learn the basic skills that I would need to start sewing. I haven’t sewed since primary school, and as the class was early evening, my concentration was – frankly – poor, so I needed lots of reminding about what went where, but this was absolutely fine with the (very patient and lovely) teacher.

I wasn’t necessarily expecting to enjoy the actual sewing, but in fact it was pretty thrilling to put my foot on the pedal and zip out a line of stitches on the fabric we were given. Being a driver, it felt somehow familiar and quite natural to guide my material in the right direction.

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My driving is better than my sewing in case you wondered!

There was also the opportunity to look at things that some of the more advanced classes had made – a gorgeous dress, a divine top, funky lampshades – as well as to discuss what we wanted to do with our new skill. It began to feel like a realistic goal that I might do some sewing, and being with like-minded beginners and a talented teacher, was most inspirational! I left the class desperate to get started.

I’m currently planning my next steps. I have researched sewing machines. I’ve decided to buy a new one (as opposed to second-hand) for a couple of reasons. The shop from which I hope to purchase offers a tutorial on how to use the machine, and has good support in terms of repair. Both issues are important to me as no one I know well is a competent machine-user, so I’m on my own with this one!

I will probably do another beginners class before I make my purchase. I am keen to take my time and buy the right machine for me. It’s an investment and I want to buy a machine that will suit my purpose. I am aware that the way I am choosing to take up sewing is making it a reasonably pricey venture, but happily I am able to pay for it out of the money I have saved by not buying new clothes this year. Acquiring a second-hand machine and teaching yourself the basics from the manual/internet/someone you know is a much more affordable option.

I am hoping that my investment will reap financial rewards by allowing me to keep my expenditure on new clothes low at the end of this challenge. I’m hoping too that I will start to make savings on children’s clothes by being able to more effectively mend and adapt their clothing.

I’d love it too if I can become good enough at sewing to teach my children some of the basics. It would be a useful skill to take into the world and, even if they simply know that mending clothes is an option, then they are likely to save themselves some money (and save clothes from going to landfill) in the future.

If you are reading this post and thinking that sewing isn’t for you, then you might be interested in the valuable suggestion made to me by one of my best friends. On hearing the surprising news that I had aspirations to be a seamstress, she made the point that it might just be easier for me to source the material I want to use and take it to a local seamstress. This would put money into the local economy and (she didn’t say this) I’d end up with a professional product that wouldn’t fall apart after a few months. Ignoring her bemused lack of faith in me, I have to admit that she made an excellent point and I’ll save it, should I ever need a Plan B…


20 thoughts on “Sew-stainable fashion

  1. Just remember, when you are buying a sewing machine, don’t be seduced by complexity… it’s really not worth forking out for a machine that can be programmed to embroider fancy designs when all you really need is straight seems, zigzags and button holes!
    Anyway, welcome back! And good luck with this next project.

    • Thanks for the advice. Definitely don’t want to go too complex – will stress me out and no doubt be a waste of money! Been checking out the sewing posts on your blog, lovely and nice to know your machine has lasted over the years 🙂

  2. I’ve had an unused sewing machine lurking in my cupboard for…. ten years! I keep saying I need the space to use it but the sad truth is that I am just plain lazy!

    Anyway, it would be interesting to know the name of any websites you have found for UK companies selling organic material. There is so much you can make – it’s really exciting!

    • I haven’t got very far with researching materials except for looking at the very lovely Dashwood UK range. I think digging out a sewing machine after many years would be quite a thought. I’m determined that when I start sewing I’m going to try and do it regularly or I’ll lose confidence!

      • I think I will be a bit shaky (as in like riding a bike after many years) but the main thing is that I have never even opened the box (it was a Christmas present from a man who tried to win my heart with material goods), so I don’t know how different it is from the ones I used at home and school as a kid…. Makes me want to open the box now and have a go!

  3. Welcome back hon and what a wonderful post. I’m super excited for you (you’ll know why when you read Wednesday’s newsletter!) LOVE this idea and I think you’ll have lots of fun. I have a feeling you’re going to find a hidden talent too 😉

    • Thank you! I look forward to Wednesday’s newsletter 🙂 Sorry I’ve been low profile for a bit, totally on board for next week though!

      Don’t hold your breath for a hidden sewing talent 😉

  4. How exciting. I love sewing and was taught by my nan so it’s something I always associate with her now. Sewing brings back lovely memories and it’s something I would love to think that little lady will have similar memories of sewing with me when she is older.

    With regards to buying a machine. Don’t be seduced by all the fancy gizmos but also don’t be put off by them either. Buy something that gives you basic stitches and a few more advanced ones that you can “grow into”. Good luck x

    • Your blog is one that has really inspired me over several months to consider sewing! It’s such an amazing skill to have and even better if you can pass it through the generations.

      Going simple is good advise – all those embroidery settings scare me although I’m sure they make gorgeous stuff in the right hands!! x

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