“Why do you sew?” This is the question that I get asked on a near daily basis – evenly distributed between curious blog comments, emails, face-to-face introductions, and random strangers who compliment something handmade that I happen to be wearing. Obviously, I am happy to talk about sewing until I start seeing eyes glaze over (oh, who am I kidding, I’m not gonna let that stop me one bit), but it’s not really something I’ve ever discussed at large on this blog. Since I’m currently in this weird blogging purgatory where I have finished projects but can’t take photos due to the current torrential downpours going on right now, let’s talk about it! And have some new sewing room sneaky-peeks while we’re at it :D
As some of you may know, I learned how to sew through self-teaching. I’ve been around sewing my entire life – my mom made a lot of curtains, stuffed bunnies, and Easter dresses throughout my childhood, and I even had my own little sewing kit that I’d use to fashion Barbie-sized clothing and quilts. I started using her sewing machine when I was around 13 or 14, as someone on my favorite AOL message board (haha YEP) mentioned that they would sew up the sides of their band shirts to make them fit better. MIND. BLOWN. I used sewing strictly for alterations for a few years, and it wasn’t until I was 20 that I started trying to use sewing patterns. I learned everything – from threading the machine, to deciphering the pattern jargon, to learning new techniques – from books and the occasional internet research (I didn’t have internet in my house 10 years ago, so most of my early knowledge came from reading the Vogue Sewing Book cover to cover, like a freaking novel). That was back before blogging really took off, before sew-alongs were a thing, before I even knew that there was a site like Pattern Review and definitely during a time when we gave indie pattern companies a wary side-eye because we weren’t sure if they were to be trusted.
When I started sewing, I never had any intentions of eventually having a 100% me-made wardrobe. I never imagined that sewing would ever earn me any sort of income, not outside the random $10-$15 for an occasional pants-hem. I never really thought about it while it was happening – it was just, oh, great, a new hobby to immerse myself in! I did eventually start selling the clothing that I was making, as a way to offset some of my costs and give myself the go-ahead to sew up looks and fabrics that I’d never personally wear. That lasted for a few years, and it was pretty fun! I ultimately closed down the line because it was taking up too much of my selfish sewing time (NO RAGRETS).
I’ve been perfecting my craft for nearly 10 years at this point (I don’t count those early days pre-20 because, honestly, the only action my sewing machine got was nipping in the side seams of whatever random band shirt I’d bought the night before. Seriously. Soooo many band shirts), which is kind of crazy to me! I’ve had a lot of hobbies in the past, but this one has definitely stuck around the longest, and turned into an actual passion as opposed to something I do every few weeks so I have something to chat about at parties.
REASON #1: Mood-Altering Abilities
I love sewing because it’s a good mood-changer for almost any situation I encounter. If I’m bored, it’s entertaining. If I’m feeling stressed, it’s relaxing. If I’m angry, it calms me down. Everything about the entire process – from planning, to cutting, to prepping, to stitching, to finishing – makes me feel drastically better than I did before the project started. Truth, if I go too long without getting some creative release taken care of (such as those couple weeks during our recent move), I start getting angsty and upset. Sewing just makes me feel really good, which is more than I can say about other hobbies. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t peel myself off the couch after an afternoon of TV binge-watching and think, “Man. That was a productive day.” And hey, since sewing is considered entertainment – it’s REALLY easy to justify spending money on it :) Ha!
REASON #2: Problem Solving
I am a problem-solver at heart. Give me a dilemma, and I’ll roll it around in my head for a few hours (or days) and try to come up with the most effective solution. I was one of those math nerds in high school who loved both Algebra AND Geometry. Figuring my way out of puzzle keeps my brain active and happy, and sewing is a really good way to incorporate that into my every day life. I love being presented with a challenge – whether it involves fitting, fabric, or finishing – and kicking that challenge right in its big, stupid ass. I’m not really a brain expert here or anything, but I like to think that exercising that part of my brain that solves problems and figures out puzzles makes me a better problem-solver overall, in all aspects of my day to day life. Whether or not that’s actually true, of course, is up for debate, but again – it makes me feel good. I like feeling good.
REASON #3: Level 10 Bartering // Income
When my sewing skills were still in their infancy, I learned a lot of what I know just from hacking away at alterations (first, my own, later, everyone else’s). I hemmed pants, I shortened bridesmaid dresses, I repaired couch pillows and cushions, I made custom curtains (fun fact: one time I made curtains for Emerson Hart. Those celebrities in Nashville, they’re everywhere!), I made dog clothes and Halloween costumes, and I also made about 100 flat-sheet sleeping sacks for a local hostel (you wanna know why I can sew in such a straight line? I had a LOT of practice making those sacks! ha!). I advertised on Craigslist and charged low rates, and made some decent money over the years. Not enough to quit my day job, obviously – but enough for a night out of drinking, or to pay for gas for the week, or to add to my savings for an upcoming trip. I was pretty poor during most of those 10 years – I was an irresponsible 20something with loads of credit card debt who spent way too much money on cigarettes and alcohol – and these random little alteration jobs kept me afloat when I needed it most. This is something I can always fall back on – and I still do, from time to time. When I was jobless during the last month of 2013, you best believe I was hawking the alterations like a crazy person. Not only was I able to cover my rent and bills – I also was able to tuck some money into savings. Yay!
I do pretty all right now with my current work, so I’m not dying for additional income right now – but I still using sewing as the bestest bartering tool. Like that one time when I had to take to small claims court that asshole who hit my car (AND THEN LIED ABOUT IT) – I bartered with my lawyer friend, who agreed to represent me in court in exchange for making him a Princess Peach dress for Halloween.
I cannot make this shit up. Again – sewing is the best bartering tool evarrr. I wouldn’t have been able to afford a lawyer otherwise, but I *can* afford my time! Also, I won the case. Mostly because it was total bullshit, but, I digress.
REASON #4: Makes Me A Better Consumer
Y’all. For as much as I’m a bleeding hippie about a whole myriad of aspects in my personal life, I used to be a really really terrible consumer. I spent way too much money (see above RE: credit card debt) and I treated most of what I bought as disposable. I didn’t have a lot of control in a lot of really important parts of my life (early 20s were a very dark time for me, to put it mildly), so I shopped. A lot. Sewing helped me get out of the funk in two ways – for one, it gave me something to be happy about and have control over (see reason #1) and it did a number on curbing the consumerism. Once you see how much effort goes into making a single piece of clothing – even a simple fucking tshirt – it becomes a bit mind-blowing to realize that there are stores selling that shit for as little as $2. How? I also started noticing just how crappy the quality is on a lot of the stuff we buy – awful fabrics, pieces cut off-grain, horrible seam finishes, bad fit – especially when you compare it to vintage pieces, or hell, even shit from 15 years ago. All that being said, I really drastically cut down on the amount of stuff I was buying – mostly because it seemed ridiculous to pay $$$ for something horribly made that I could do a better job of myself at home. Once I started getting picky about fit and realized that I was going to have to alter everything I bought, it made clothing shopping even less appealing. I gradually pulled back from buying new clothing over the years, and as of now, I’m rocking the almost-entirely handmade wardrobe.
Also, I read Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion when it was published, and it totally blew my mind. If you’re one of 3 people who hasn’t yet heard of this book, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. It will change your (shopping)life.
Sewing also played a part in getting that credit card debt finally paid off once and for all. I spent nearly an entire year living as shitty as possible and funneling the majority of my income into that stupid debt. When I say majority, I really mean it – I gave myself $20 per pay period (so, $40 a month) to spend on fun money after my bills were paid. Everything else went back into that looming debt. It obviously sucked and I’m definitely planning on not ever going through that again. Also – what can you do with $40 a month? That’s like 2 movies, or a month of REALLY shitty cable (or, for me – one night out at the bar). Lame! I sewed my way through my stash, and re-upped with monthly trips to our flea market (where $40 actually does go pretty far!). Instead of going out to the bar, I stayed home in my sewing room. Not only was I keeping myself entertained, I was also contributing to my wardrobe (because, again: $40 a month.). I made additional income from alterations, which I also dumped right into that debt. I was able to pay that shit off about a month earlier than I had anticipated, and I’ve been debt-free ever since! Yay!
REASON #5: Complete Wardrobe Control
I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that this is why the majority of us sew – it gives us complete control of our wardrobe! It’s pretty awesome to be able to choose what you wear based on what you want, and not what’s just available in stores. It’s mind-blowing to be able to finish a garment and know that it is going to fit you just the way you like, without needing a bunch of alterations. And don’t even get me started on the merits of having control over the fabric – how many of us have used novelty bedsheets or ridiculous quilting cotton to make a crazy dress?
I started sewing specifically for the wardrobe control – beginning with those band tshirts, and making my flares into skinny jeans (because I couldn’t find them in stores, because it was 1999 and everyone worshiped The Flare). I started using patterns because I wanted cotton sundresses made out of ~quirky~ fabrics (mostly those novelty bedsheets, of course). I used vintage patterns because I wanted a vintage wardrobe without paying a hefty price for my pieces. I continued sewing and honing my craft because I want clothes that fit my body and are made of natural fibers, in colors and patterns that I like (versus whatever is available at Express this season). I want clothing with special details and one-of-a-kind designs. I am inspired by the clothing I see- from designers on the runway, to costume design in movies and television, to rando people walking in front of me on the sidewalk – and I recreate it in ways that work for my wardrobe and lifestyle. While I do occasionally complain about how there are RTW fabrics that I never see available for the home sewer, that’s a pretty small drop in the bucket compared to the choices we DO have over the typical clothing consumer. Sewing isn’t exactly known for saving you money these days (I mean, unless you’re ripping off really expensive designer shit), but it certainly puts you in charge of wearing what you want, which to me is worth far more than saving a little bit of cash. I always think back on those skinny jeans that I wore when I was 14, surrounded by a sea of flares, and it feels pretty good to know that I don’t have to put myself at the mercy of whatever is currently in style. I wear what I want, and I give no fucks.
So that’s the story of why I sew – in a nutshell, it makes me happy! I like being happy :) Now tell me – why do you sew? What gets your little (sewing)motor going? Do you aspire to the eventual 100% handmade wardrobe, or are you content just pushing out the occasional fiber art because it makes you feel good? Time to get our chat on!