Monday, 21 April 2014

Clothes made by humans


It's been a long time since I blogged and I point my finger-of-blame squarely at time. I blame not lack of time, but time itself. There just isn't enough of it. I moved to a new flat in January, which seemed to fill every corner of time in the run up and the aftermath. In amongst it all though, I have been creating occassions to sew clothes, which - as everyone who sews knows - is a time consuming hobby. In a round about way, the time it takes to make clothes is what has brought me to blog-world today.

This Thursday, April 24th, will mark exactly one year since a building collapsed on 3,122 people in Savar, Bangladesh. The people inside were garment workers, making clothing that would be sold on high streets around the world. On April 23rd, inspectors found cracks in the building and recommended evacuation and immediate closure. However, the garment manufacturers were ordered back to work the next day, with the threat of one months wages being withheld if they didn't attend. 1,129 people died in the collapse.

For Carry Somers, director of a fair trade accessories brand, this disaster was horrifying, unsurprising and most importantly a call to arms. She decided to create Fashion Revolution day, with the intention of "turning fashion into a force for good."

"Fashion Revolution Day says enough is enough."

This year, they are focussing on the question "Who made your clothes?" and asking people to wear one item of clothing inside out. The purpose of this is to raise awareness of the day with friends and colleagues, and to Tweet at companies asking them if they know the full story of their production chains.

In this post, I expose the inside of my clothing in honour of Fashion Revolution Day.



For someone that sews her own clothes, "Who made your clothes?" is an easy question to answer. She knows she was the one who cut the fabric and painstakingly joined the pieces together one by one until they built a whole. The seamstress is in charge of almost the whole chain of production.

The Fashion Revolution website states "At the moment of purchase, most of us are unaware of the processes and impacts involved in the creation of a garment." This is of course not true for the seamstress. She know intimately the processes that made a garment. Sometimes they are frustrating processes, as she wades her way through elusively illustrated instructions. Sometimes they are wholly satisfying processes, through which she learns something new. She knows the impacts of the creation of her garments. Most probably, a neglected social life!

My outfit here (worn inside out) is almost fully homemade. The leopard print sweater is self-drafted, the candy stripe top is made from a sewing pattern (Sinbad & Sailor's brilliant Dove Fitted T pattern) and the trousers are a sort of Frankenstein's monster that evolved through a fraught and laborious construction process.


So here is the story of my outfit, which I believe I know inside out. I made this sweater up as I wanted to experiment with raglan sleeves. I based it on a very old Uni Qlo jumper I already have, which I love the shape of even though it's three sizes too big for me.


I actually made it without the help of my silent friend here, but she likes to have her photo taken.


I bought the fabric for the trousers in one of those Liberty-print packets you find in a lot of fabric shops in Shepherd's Bush. I liked the snakeskin design so much I didn't actually feel the fabric, assuming it would be a sort of medium to light weight cotton. When I unpacked it at home, it was so flimsy and thin you could see through it - totally unsuitable for slim fitting trousers.

Unwilling to give up on my snakeskin-trouser-vision, I spent a few hours with a hot, steaming iron applying fusable interfacing. This is why the inside of my trousers is black! The interfacing is 100% cotton so has a lovely soft feel and has really transformed the properties of the original fabric. 


The candy stripe top is made from a fabric that cost me just £1.50 a metre from Ridley Road market in Dalston. This leads me to the first reason why I am not the self-satisfied seamstress as described above, who can answer the question "Who made your clothes?" with a wonderful inner glow. One of the three recommendations made by Fashion Revolution Day is:

"BE CURIOUS"

Who made the fabric with which I make my clothes? This must have been woven by someone, somewhere in the world (though actually it is so synthetic feeling I imagine it being created by someone with a big spatula spreading out thin layers of molten plastic like a  pancake then peeling them up and winding them onto the roll). Of course, cheap doesn't necessarily mean that someone was exploited to make this - it could be a manufacturers cast off - but without any sort of label, how am I supposed to know?


It is easy to fall in love with fabric. Despite its plasticky texture, I love this fabric so much I laid a piece of it out in my boyfriend's orange velvet lined keyboard case, and just admired it sitting there, like a fabric shrine.

Of all the fabric I own though, I only know the origins of two pieces, as they came to me through Offset Warehouse, the only fabric shop I know of that believes in supplying ethical fabric.


It's amazing that most of us do forget that the clothes we wear are made by humans, not machinery. 

One of the lovely things about homemade clothes is the process of error and recovery that is evident in the finished piece. I make mistakes when I'm sewing all the time, often because what I'm making is a one off and I'm learning how to make it as I go.

If you look closely at my top, you can see a raised rectangular patch at the bottom corner of one of the openings. The iron I was using at the time, which I do consider evil, melted all the way through the fabric so I had to mend my garment before it was even finished.



The level of frustration I felt at this mistake was but a gentle raindrop compared with the storm of vexation that I was about to face. The trouser pattern I began with was fairly detailed, with built in front pockets, double welt pockets at the back and a fly. This is the beautiful fly I constructed.




When I got to the fitting stage, the trousers were so big at the waist no amount of pleats or darts, or extra deep side seams could reduce them enough in size to stay on my body. The only way forward was to unpick everything. This basically felt like getting a big axe and chopping down a house I had just finished building, but without the satisfaction of swinging a big axe.

I was very much not up for repeating all the toil, so I decided to salvage what I could of the pieces and plough ahead with simple pocketless, flyless trousers. This caused some weird issues with my crotch area, which I shared with the good people of the internet, who offered me advice on what to do!

I am pretty proud of that exposed zip. I followed this excellent Pattern Runway tutorial as I'd never done one before.


 But finally... the result of all that fiddling. Not a perfect crotch area..... but good enough to satisfy me!



Time.... time... time. All this sewing took a lot of time! I reckon it probably took me around 30 hours to make these three pieces of clothing. This is the second reason I can't answer smugly the question "Who made your clothes?" I can't fully opt out of the fashion industry.  Not only do I not have the time but I don't have the skills. I love a good jumper, but if you gave me a pair of knitting needles I would probably try and use them to play the drums.

The time it takes to make clothes is truly why I believe sewing is an important part of the ethical fashion movement. Through sewing garments for ourselves, we come to appreciate - really appreciate - that building something from scratch takes time. When I first started DIYcouture, I articulated this in my head as 'method acting for solidarity.' Maybe that is cheesy, maybe it sounds like bulls*!&t, but I do feel that by going through the process of making clothing step by step, I can never forget that when I buy a piece of clothing, someone else - or maybe many people - have been through this too.




It is my choice to make clothes. I love my sewing machine, I love creating a wearable garment from an untouched swathe of fabric, I love problem solving to make a project work. This is my choice.

I'll proudly be wearing my clothes inside out on Fashion Revolution day. Maybe I'll wear something homemade, or maybe I'll wear something from a high street brand and use the opportunity to ask them if they know the story of their own production line. In a way, sewing clothing is an act of removing oneself from the international chains that create and market clothing,  an act of non-participation. I can't remove myself completely, but perhaps as a consumer I can contribute to positive change.

"We need to reconnect through a positive narrative, to understand that we aren't just purchasing a garment or accessory, but a whole chain of value and relationships."

Here is my homemade outfit the right way round. Just as the sun went in, I got a visitor!


This is my neighbour's cat Polly, short for Polydactyly as she has an extra toe on all four of her paws!


If you would like to know the story behind a piece of clothing you own, wear it inside out on Thursday April 24th and Tweet a picture of yourself to the company who manufactured it, with the hashtag #insideout

 To find out about more ways to get involved with Fashion Revolution Day, check out their website.

3 comments:

  1. What a lovely post. It's great to hear how much you love your hand crafted wardrobe even if it does cause you some headaches here and there along the way :-)

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