Thursday, 21 December 2017

Sewing for self-care: slow down, relax and enjoy the creative process

I've spent the year making a conscious effort to make more sustainable fashion choices; carefully considering and planning purchases from ethical brands, and altering or repairing my clothes instead of getting rid of them when I'm not getting the most out of them. 

Altering or refashioning clothes isn't too tricky for me as making bespoke clothing is my day job, and I love it so much I'm happy to do it as a hobby as well! This year has been a busy one though; as well as work deadlines I've had a pretty big personal project deadline too: I made my sister's wedding dress, as well as altering a dress I'd made for myself to wear as her bridesmaid. Although none of my personal projects have felt like a chore, this hasn't been the easiest year for me, and I've been forced to slow down a bit for the sake of my health. 

I love being busy and having lots of projects on the go, but I've (finally!) come to understand the importance of actually taking the time to rest and recharge. I usually take a sewing or knitting project back to my parents' house over Christmas to have something to do with my hands while we re-watch our favourite movies, but rather than choosing something quick and simple to make, or giving myself a tight deadline for the project, I've decided to do the complete opposite.

I like featuring refashioning  projects on the blog that have taken me less than a day, as I'm well aware that most people don't have hours and hours to spend on intricate sewing. To make clothing alterations feasible and practical, they have to be something we can fit in around our busy lives, otherwise it's all too easy to abandon a project and buy something new instead. I enjoy challenging myself to make something quickly and efficiently, but I don't need a huge volume of new clothes, so I have decided to challenge myself to make something slowly and thoughtfully instead.

When I was going through a tough time earlier this year I took a couple of days off to go glamping in a beautiful walled garden on a country estate. With no TV and minimal phone signal, I spent a lovely relaxing day practicing embroidery stitches; with no deadline looming, I was able to immerse myself in in the repetitive but purposeful action of stitching. One of my favourite parts of the sewing I do professionally is the intricate embellishment that you just don't see on a lot of high street clothes, because it takes too long and is therefore too expensive, so I have given myself permission to make something frivolous and indulgent as an extra Christmas present.

I love sitting up in bed reading, but I don't like having the heating up too high, so I usually end up bundled up in a decidedly unglamorous old cardigan. I bought this lovely vintage quilted bedjacket a few years ago, but the hand-stitched silk lining is to fragile to withstand much wear and tear, so I'm going to make a new one using fabric from my stash and the beautiful antique embroidery thread I was given as a birthday present. I'm using wadding left over from making a quilt for a friend's new baby, sandwiching it between two layers of the silk satin, then I'll stitch round the chrysanthemum flowers until I get bored!

I'm also taking home some thought-provoking reading about sewing and ethical fashion: Fashion Revolution's "Loved Clothes Last" zine, and Sarah Corbett's "How to be a Craftivist". I've been so thrilled by the positive feedback I've had on my blog; being told that I have prompted people to make thoughtful clothing choices, or that one of my blog posts was the push they needed to start sewing again, has been so lovely to hear. I'm looking forward to producing more content that inspires positive change in 2018, so I'm looking for inspiration from other writers and creators who use their skills to make the world a better place.

It's easy to feel overwhelmed at this time of year; if the pressure to dash around frantically spending money all seems too much, remember it is ok to take time for yourself and do something you find relaxing. You deserve a holiday, and if you have big plans for living your best life in 2018 you need to be approaching the New Year feeling rested and refreshed!

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Christmas Jumper Day: buying novelty clothes as a conscious consumer

It's Christmas Jumper Day today - all over the country people will be showing up to work in their best novelty knitwear and donating money to Children in Need. Other charities are also running Christmas  Jumper campaigns, so it’s likely you’ll have a reason to don your festive finery for a good cause. While I'm all for a fun and inclusive thing that encourages people to give to charity, part of me is worried that a heap of unethically-produced jumpers will be headed for landfill in the new year. So I've written a little guide for everyone who wants some extra nice-list points: how to participate in Christmas Jumper Day as a conscious consumer.

Buy from a charity shop: this way, you're making two donations to charity! You also avoid contributing to the overproduction of clothing, and the exploitation of the workers who will be working long hours for low pay to make these jumpers. If you're planning to give your jumper to a charity shop after you've worn it, please hang on to it until next Autumn/Winter if possible: charity shops won't be able to sell Christmas jumpers in January, but there will be a market for them as Christmas Jumper Day rolls around again in 2018. 

Pick a style you love: I know the idea is to wear the silliest jumper possible, but it just doesn't make sense to me to buy an item of clothing you'll only wear once in order to make a small donation to charity. If you're a vintage fashion fan, look for a sparkly batwing sweater instead; it will keep you warm as toast and work for lots of festive occasions!

Customise: if you've opted for a subtle sweater but are worried about being derided as a Scrooge, you can add a bit of festive flair fairly easily. Make a necklace from leftover tree decorations, a bow from recycled ribbon, or a brooch from crafty odds and ends. 

A jumper is for life, not just for Christmas: I bought this jumper years ago, and it's been worn for several Christmas Jumper Days, as well as countless walks in the park and trips to cosy pubs. The sparkly pattern of deer and foxes is striking, but not too much for regular day wear.

Break the Rules: yes, I know it's Christmas Jumper Day, but if you have some fabulous festive knitwear it deserves a chance to shine! An embellished cardigan or cape would be a great way to ring the changes and will save you having to buy new clothes that you might not get very much wear out of. 

You could also consider a Christmas Jumper Swap with friends from different workplaces if you want to have something different to wear but don't have the money to buy extra clothes (it's an expensive time of year!)

As I've said before, being an ethical consumer doesn't have to mean going without, or refusing to participate in novelty clothing events like Christmas Jumper Day. It just involves a bit of thought and forward-planning. I hope you are all having a lovely festive season!

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Refashioning project: dyeing a dress for Greenpeace and Fashion Revolution's MAKE SMTHNG Week

As part of a campaign to reduce overconsumption, Greenpeace and Fashion Revolution have joined forces for MAKE SMTHNG week; encouraging everyone to get their craft on rather than shopping for new things.

As well as sewing professionally, I also enjoy doing it as a hobby, but it does mean that personal projects get neglected if I feel like I need a break! There are other ways to refashion or upcycle your rarely-worn clothes if you just can't get on board with lots of time-consuming sewing, and this week's refashioning project is a great example - a home dyeing project to make a dress more wearable.

I found this vintage Escada dress on a secondhand shop sale rail a couple of years ago; it was in good condition apart from some missing buttons, but it was a pale lemon yellow and the shoulder pads were a little too much, even for me! 

I knew I was unlikely to wear a pale yellow dress (it's not a practical colour when you travel everywhere by tube and constantly worry about spilling coffee on yourself) but the dress was 100% silk so I was fairly confident I would be able to dye it at home. 

Dyeing is a great way to transform your clothes, but you need to be aware of a few basic rules before you start. 
  • Natural fabrics like cotton or silk dye best. It's really hard to dye polyester with the most readily-available home dye kits, so check the label on your clothes first.
  • Dyeing won't really cover up a pattern, and might not cover up a stain unless you dye the whole garment a much darker colour.
  • Bear in mind that although your garment may be made from a natural fibre, it might have been sewn using synthetic thread, so if the garment has any visible stitching this could retain its original colour. 

  • You also need to bear in mind that with home dyes, the original colour of your garment will affect the final result. The colours shown on dye pack illustrate the result of dyeing white fabric, throwing another colour into the mix will definitely have an effect on paler colours. If I had tried to dye my yellow dress navy blue, I probably would have got a reasonable result, but if I had tried for a pale blue, I would probably have ended up with a green! In the end, I chose green on purpose; I knew I wouldn't get the exact colour on the packet because the dress was yellow, but I wasn't going to end up with an unexpected clash. 

I used a Dylon hand dye, a deep bucket, a long-handled spoon (for stirring the dye bath) and some sturdy rubber gloves! I put some pvc oilcloth fabric down on the floor and wore old clothes; home dyeing shouldn't be too messy, but the dye can stain other clothes and furnishings, so it's better to be on the safe side.

Hand-dyeing is the best option for delicate fabrics, but it's also possible to dye fabric in the washing machine. I've had good results with machine dyes too, but I'd only use them for large garments or long pieces of fabric, as you have to run the washing machine several times so it uses a lot of water.

Follow the instructions on the packet (some dyes also need salt to "fix" to the fabric), and you should be fine, but here are my two top tips:

  • Make sure the garment is thoroughly washed (and still completely wet) when you place it in the dye bath (or washing machine)
  • If the packet tells you to stir the dye bath for what seems like an excessive amount of time, do as you're told! This will ensure an even, professional-looking finish. Make sure your dye bath is big enough to move the garment around without too much splashing!

Once the dress had been thoroughly rinsed and dried, I added some vintage buttons to replace the missing ones. You can see on the photo of the dress label that the overlocking on the seams was done with a synthetic thread, as it was still white, but fortunately no stitching was visible on the outside of the dress.

I'm looking forward to wearing this dress (finally!) now that it's a colour that suits me. If you're planning any dye projects, remember to dispose of the dye carefully afterwards. Seeing the warnings for harmful or irritant chemicals on home dye kits make me even more aware of how toxic certain elements of the fashion industry are to the planet, so it's worth choosing your dye (and method of dyeing) carefully to minimise your impact.