This is a question I’ve been asked sometimes, by non-sewing people who don’t know me well.
For me it was a coincidence that I started sewing at all, after struggling through the mandatory craft and sewing classes in junior high/lower secondary school. The struggle was mostly a result of sewing machines in really bad shape, but also had to do with what we were supposed to make, and the ever-nagging teacher telling us to baste every single seam. This included straight seams which were pressed and pinned in place, leading to my aversion against basting. For many years after, I didn’t baste a single seam on anything, which didn’t give great results, but worked OK on my projects at the time.
In 1999 I came across the book Making Lovable Teddy Bears & Their Clothes by Marion Thielmann and Beate Franz on a book sale. My first teddy bear was “born” that year, and in the years since, I’ve made more than a hundred teddy bears. The sizes range from 5,5 cm (2,2″) -60 cm (23,6″) in height. Through working with teddy bears, I developed a feel for fabric quality. The first 20 bears or so were made from old cotton velvet curtains and various synthetic fur fabrics. The impact of my first meeting with mohair was tremendous, and other than for the really tiny miniatures, I’ve worked only with mohair and alpaca. I still compare the sensation of synthetic fabrics against my skin (particularly the fingers) with glass wadding (Glava).
Other than a circle skirt made almost ten years ago, I didn’t start sewing clothes until I got my own sewing machine in 2008.The simple reason for this was that I didn’t think I could. When I made a teddy bear who needed a shirt or pants or some other clothing, my mom would take care of that part, as “I only knew how to make teddy bears”. It was like entering a new world when I discovered I could actually make clothes.
This combined with an ever growing awareness of how the world is still affected by what the Europeans started during colonial times, with exploitation of cheap labour in Asia, Africa and South and Central America, made me think that when I needed new clothes I should make them myself. In the Western world we can buy an increasing amount of goods imported from other countries for next to nothing. We drink our coffee, eat chocolate and various foods and dress up in cheap outfits without sparing a thought for the work that goes into the production of said items, who made them or the environmentally impact of this lifestyle.
Since making the decision to take care of myself clothes-wise, I’ve learned more about the processes involved in fabric production, including pesticides, toxic chemicals and suffering animals and people, and I’m researching suppliers of organic fair trade fabrics in order to wean myself off the potentially harmful fabrics (people/environment) I’ve bought so far. It’s baby steps, but at least I think I’m learning to walk.
A couple of weeks ago I came across the book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elisabeth Cline. She describes how fashion has evolved into fast-fashion (similar to fast foods) during the last decades, and the impact this has had on awareness about the processes involved in clothing production, the environment, economy, prices outsourcing of production in order to cut costs and so on. I haven’t finished reading it, but so far I can only recommend it (I might try to write a real review when I’ve finished the book). The book is easy to read, and Cline gets to the point through various interviews and descriptions of the clothing industry then and now. Frankly, I wasn’t aware of the huge impact outsourcing and fast fashion has had in the USA, as clothing production never was a big part of the Norwegian industry in my lifetime.
To sum it up, what started as a stumble into sewing has evolved to include some awareness about challenges associated with the fabric and clothing industry in addition to the rewarding feeling of planning and making my own clothes. I still have room for improvement both on my skills, and on the materials I use, but compared to what I knew and could do earlier, at least I think I’ve had a positive development.
What are your reasons for sewing?