Monday, January 21, 2013

what to wear

I consider myself to be environmentally aware. We grow our own vegetables, I ride my bike or walk whenever possible, I turn off the tap while brushing my teeth and we keep the temperature low in the house. We recycle, nourish a thriving compost heap, and use eco friendly soaps and detergents...

Still, when it comes to my own wardrobe a majority of it originated in a foreign country, produced under circumstances that I am sure were less than ideal for our environment or for the people working in the production facility. Todays fashion industry and clothing manufacturing is responsible for almost 20% of all industrial water pollution, just from commercial textile dyeing and treatment, according to the World Bank. Add to that number all the waste (leftover remnants, discarded mass produced garments, and so on) that ends up in our landfills.

A discussions on the topic is starting to gain momentum. A recent post by Take Part highlights the problem as well as the growing number of organizations, corporations, and individuals working on a solution. At the same time there is an increased interest in the domestically made products, as people realize that promoting and buying things made in our own country, or even better in our own region, will further our own economy while creating jobs and opportunities in our back yard. Made is one organization devoted to promoting American made goods and work. 

Another solution is to return to the tradition of making our own clothes. What we wear does not have to be highly tailored or complicated to be beautiful and functional. A simple skirt or a tunic is well within the ability for most people, and imagine the satisfaction of wearing something truly unique.

Alapaca scarf by State©State, all rights reserved.

Noting the benefits of choosing hand crafted, domestic, or home made, I am also acutely aware that this is not a viable financial option for many of us. These products are expensive and I can understand that someone working two jobs and caring for a family may not find it realistic to invest in a sewing machine or spending time making clothes. It is difficult to bring up the distain for cheap mass-produced garments without seeming elitist, much like the organic food movement mostly has become a reality for the privileged.

Colorful frocks, by India Flint, ©India Flint, all rights reserved.

So what can we do on an affordable scale to make a difference? Personally I am starting by following my friend India Flint's advice from her wonderful book Second skin: "recycle, reuse, rethink, repurpose, and repair."

Long grey wool tweed jacket, by 13 threads, ©13 threads, all rights reserved.

I have sorted my closet - things I don't wear or don't like have been given away for better use by someone else, a few items are awaiting minor adjustments or repairs, some things will gain a totally new life after a short hiatus in the scrap fabric pile. I vow to take care of the things I already own, by not washing them too often, air dry them once they are clean, and to mend them if needed. As for new acquisitions, I will try to only buy pieces that are US made or hand crafted by someone I know this upcoming year. Truthfully, I can probably live quite happily for a long time without buying any new clothes. Like most people in our culture I already own more garments than I can manage, even after the sort-through.

Dress 98, by Sonya Philip, cotton print and African wax print, ©Sonya Philip, all rights reserved.

I will start to make clothes. When I was in my early 20's I wore nothing but hand made or vintage clothing. Back then it was more out of rebellion agains the mainstream, a protest against mass-production for other reasons than conscious regards for environment and community. Once life caught up with me, introducing kids, career, and responsibilities, my clothes sewing projects became few and far in between. After recently learning about artist Sonya Philip's project 100 acts of sewing, I am inspired to pick up the thread again - literally.

DIY Anna's garden swing skirt, by Alabama Chanin, ©Alabama Chanin, all rights reserved.

Naturally, sewing clothes and knitting, will become an artistic challenge for me as well. I am already imagining eco printed appliqués along a skirt hem, and eco dyeing my own yarn for a new sweater. I will not make predictions about my production, but I plan to document my efforts here. I have also started a pinterest board featuring sustainable clothing, my own and others'. I would love your input, ideas, and suggestions as well.

Jacobs wool sweater, by Fibershed, ©Fibershed, all rights reserved.

This post is illustrated with photos of some of my own clothes, but mostly I have borrowed images from makers from all over the country (and the world). All of them share a love for sustainable, sensible, and beautiful living. They are credited with links to their web sites if you want to take a peak. I will also feature them and their work here on this blog in the near future. Thanks for sticking with me to the end of an unusually long post! Happy making!


  1. I too used to make all my clothes. I learned to sew as a young girl and it became my creative outlet. I have wonderful memories of going to the neighborhood fabric store and picking out patterns and fabric (we called it "material" back then)with my mom. I continued to sew well into my twenties when I was a single working girl. As I started making more money, I gave up making my own clothes because it was more "cool" to buy them. After having children I resumed some sewing for them but gave it up as they grew older and life became more hectic with all of their activities. I used to love to shop and had no trouble finding clothing I liked, but over the last 10 years or so I have found it more and more difficult to find clothing that makes me happy. So I buy a lot less than I used to and stick with very classic styles that don't go out of fashion. This was very difficult for me at first, but it seems to have made life a lot simpler by having and caring for less. Sometimes I think about going back to sewing my own clothes and maybe reading this post will give me the push to finally do it. Love this conversation.

  2. I would love to...but unfortunately I have no time to make my own. I try to make some, or make my mum knit me some, buy with some consience and handmade...I am trying...

  3. thread a needle and begin...

    thank you Lotta, i linked back to you here

  4. Well done, I make some of my own clothes, and I buy simple and dye/bleach to make it 'mine'. I also buy things from second hand shops, it's a great way to feel good about buying clothing.

  5. We must be on a similar wavelength. I decided to give myself the challenge of using only the clothes in my closet or cloth I already own to update my wardrobe. I am trying to post a piece to update every Friday on my blog.

    I have made many of the clothes in my wardrobe, but many of them are a bit out of date, or don't fit quite right anymore. I figure I can update them.


  6. I have been thinking of this same thing for some time.....and I will join your cause. After studies with both India and Natalie...well, it just makes sense to incorporate what I've learned into my life. I have a plan(ish) too and will blog about my personal clothing projects as well. Thank you for starting this wave. This is a beautiful and important post.

  7. I love yoru blog especially the leaf top. Many years ago I made all my own clothes but now can't find nice fabrcs. I have read both India''s books and might make a top or two but I can't fnid basic patterns in my size *UK 18) the Japanese books you mention which I love have patterns in such tiny sizes. its a shame they dont havae a 'large' version :-)

  8. Like Peggy, in my 20's I made a lot of my own clothes and then again when my boys were born.
    Last year I began looking at patterns again....have bought quite a few of the japanese and Alabama Chanin books in readiness for 2013...a year of stitching and recycling (that is the plan anyway). I am keen to follow along and see what you do.

    Jacky xox

  9. I loved this entry! Have you ever heard of Rebecca Burgess' Fibershed project in Northern California?
    There is a similar project starting up here in Spain, in the Catalan Pyrenees called Obrador Xisqueta
    It's wonderful to see so many people rethinking their wardrobes! Enjoy the journey!

  10. How wonderful to hear more and more people on this path. Thanks for your inspiration and your thoughts. I love to mend and create clothes and just feel the limitations of time and my preference for clothes I can't imagine being able to make, like T Shirts. I recently went back to my 1990s t shirts and reshaped them to fit me a little better than was the fashion in 1993. Next plan: using India Flint's techniques to leaf print hemp-silk for a shirt. I have the pattern and I'm building up my nerve.

  11. i think i told a certain dyer a while ago i was thinking of making some clothing for myself once again, but that hasn't happened yet. the truth is, i like blue jeans, which are unbearably expensive now (i like no synthetic fibers) and plain shirts. alot. something's gotta change, i think.

  12. I love reading what you've written and all the comments it inspires. Thank you so much for featuring my project. I can't wait to see what is in store for the coming year and what you add to your wardrobe.

  13. So wild that I returned to your blog at just this time?! Having just finished reading through Natalie Chanin's Alabama Studio sewing and design (from the library) and just yesterday having checked out Alabama Stitch Book for the 3rd time! It sure is time to start making! Thanks for being there to inspire even more!

  14. I agree with so much that you write! I have to say though, the only attempts I've ever made at making clothes have turned out unwearable disasters! And when you live on a very tight budget, it's just not tenable to buy fabric to make clothes that aren't going to work. BUT; I have made the decision to mend as much of my clothing as I can. And inspired by India Flint and Jude Hill, I'm handstitching patches onto an 2nd hand shirt I bought at a charity shop, and creating a layered...and WARM! shirt for myself. The original fabric will be completely obliterated. That's my way around my cack-handedness of clothes making!

  15. Great post Lotta! Making and designing your own clothes ensures your very own unique wardrobe. And one that can constantly be reinvented with a few minor changes and alterations. Thank you so much for the kind mention x

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  17. Home sewn clothing is the best, even when it's a little wonky. Sew more, buy less

  18. Really love the fabric and the design! ^^
    Amazing blog, I'm following you ;)


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