The Lost Art Of Sewing

Around 18 months ago I embarked on a journey to design & make my own clothes again. After 15 years of wearing the brands that I worked for, I suddenly had no one to answer to and nothing I wanted to wear. I was in a state of flux as to how I wanted to express myself after all these years of wearing other designers’ wares. I’ve started this journey by making very simple styles but the feeling is the one I remember so well…one of delight, accomplishment & creative expression. The focus for me as a designer was always the colour, texture or print of the fabric as opposed to a complex garment design so I’ve made this my starting point for my new clothes.

Sewing is one of the oldest textile arts and has been ingrained in our domestic lives for thousands of years. It refers to the craft of fastening, attaching and stitching fabric with a needle and thread. I think one of the reasons I was attracted to sewing and crafting in the first place was that it was an ancient craft with equal parts technique, execution and artistry. The first sewing machines were invented in the 18th century and would quickly become the favoured mode of sewing at home. The ability to produce garments at a higher speed and with more complexity propelled clothes making into the modern fashion industry we know today. Industrialisation took garment making out of the home and into the commercial arena with the fashion industry still reflecting the constant technological improvements in both machinery and textiles. On a domestic level these days a lot of sewing machines are computerized and are able to perform many “fancy” jobs but my (24 year old) basic machine really does most things you need as a hobbyist, so don’t worry if you have an old machine (maybe get it serviced if you haven’t used it for a while).

I began sewing as a girl, taught by my Mum and must have taken to it easily as I don’t really remember anything negative about it – I just thought it was a wonderful process with a fantastic outcome. Before long I was making garments and became very good at alterations which is still a favourite thing to do (I know, I know!). By the time I was in my late teens my Mum was asking me to make her clothes. I love being able to tailor garments to fit in a particular way and used to “upcycle” or re fashion second hand clothes to fit me as a teenager and younger woman. Eventually I worked out that I wanted to work in fashion and went to college where I trained as a designer/patternmaker. Although I don’t make clothes commercially anymore there is a certain joy about retaining this wonderful skill and enjoying the process of creating something unique for myself.

More often than not when a close friend or family member has a special occasion I will make an outfit to wear. For me, when I make this effort, occasions are even more special…honouring your friends and family by creating something to wear for their special event such as a wedding or special birthday is something that connects you emotionally to that event forever. I realised whilst researching this article that so many of my memories are somehow connected to what I was wearing at a particular time; the texture of the fabric, the colour of the print, the feel of the dress when I walked or moved.

Sadly, sewing takes time (and there’s no way around it)…it’s not something we’re all prepared to sacrifice these days. A skill that used to be commonplace is not being handed down to the next generation. Of course, I see the resurgence in crafts and sewing on a small scale but I think my greatest fear is that we’re truly loosing this valuable skill that has many practical day to day applications. And guess what? It’s not only practical, it’s good for you to sew and I’ll tell you why…

Sewing improves your hand eye co-ordination, your creativity and because of the concentration involved it actually helps reduce stress levels. Your mind and hands are active and busy at the same time allowing your mind to focus and forget the outside world. You can make gifts, do craft with your family & friends, upcycle, recycle and customise, alter and tailor to fit, repair and mend…I love sewing for all these reasons and also because it’s creative & satisfying. If you have a young family being able to sew can really help you with creative play and turning your house into a home. The thrill of completing an outfit is wonderful for your self esteem and I have to be honest, it’s a nice feeling to get the odd compliment about an outfit you’ve made yourself.

But what about the costs of home sewing? This can definitely be a problem on a few levels. These days it can actually be more expensive to make your clothes than to buy clothes off the rack. Because of the proliferation of the fast fashion business models in the market place, the consistent offerings of cheap clothing makes it tempting to skip the whole “make it yourself” routine. Even good quality clothes can be cheaper to buy off the rack. By the time you’ve bought a pattern, fabric & trims the costs are really starting to add up. The choice of fabrics and haberdashery offerings at retail level is also shrinking due to lack of customers. Still, there are really great benefits to consider. Maybe you should be like my friend Emma who dusted off the sewing machine recently and posted on Facebook:

“I’d forgotten how satisfying nailing a double rolled hem on fine silk is #itsbeentoolong #nailingit #oldhabitsdiehard #rollitandfoldit #crafter #maker Feather printed silk for the mother ❤️ 🎄 🎁”

Have a little think about it…Should it be your New Years Resolution to learn to sew or start sewing again? I started sewing again because I don’t want to wear the same clothes as everyone else – I want customisation and originality. But it can be as simple as a table cloth or a pillow case that can create an individualised feel around the house to reflect your personality. There are good returns for small efforts, trust me.

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