A bit of fabric and a lot of thought
On sewing and habits of consumption
I grew up going to a weekly sewing and cooking class, hosted by a friend’s mother. Each week I and several other homeschooled girls spent several hours working on sewing projects—skirts, pillowcases—and learning how to operate the kitchen. I remember things in snatches—the lectures and tutorials on putting elastic in a waistband, cutting out fabric around a pattern, sewing on a button. I also remember the occasional longing of looking over into the playroom of toys that we were very much not playing with, or being reprimanding for sitting immodestly. Somehow, even as a seven, eight, nine-something year old, I managed to learn to operate a sewing machine with some fluency.
Sewing was never “my” thing. In a house full of only girls, my siblings and I operated on the “pick your hobby and defend it to the last” principle of things. Mine were outdoors, or otherwise crafty. The next sibling down was the one who sewed, embroidered, knitted, crocheted, and made lace (yes, I know!). I knew the basics of some of those things, but never really had the patience for them, despite ironically being the one enrolled in the cooking and sewing class. Perhaps my parents thought I needed extra help in homemaking?
These are all very useful life skills that I have used to much success in my adulthood, despite the class having failed in indoctrinating me into being a good wife and mother for my imaginary future husband. It was during my gap year between college and seminary that I picked up crocheting for a while. After seminary, I picked up embroidery and bought a sewing machine of my own, thanks to the influence of hoards of excellent historical costumers and cosplayers on TikTok. As time goes on, and my need to replace clothing basics becomes less frequent, I begin to click away from my favorite dress websites with the thought “I could make that, actually!”.
Don’t get me wrong. I love a bit of web shopping, and am easily seduced by certain sites (the Jane Austen gift shop based in Bath? Get behind me Satan!). But as I attempt to take on life with more intentionality, the adrenaline rush of acquisition lasts for less time, and I am less satisfied with what I purchase. Perhaps it is the strain of moving that lives in the back of my mind, as I do that slightly too often to acquire much more than I can afford to take with me. Perhaps it is also the grim reality of climate change that continues to set in, or the recognition that material objects really only matter to the extent that I or others place value in them.
This weekend, instead of doing my usual half-distracted browse through the fantastic, independent dressmakers who populate my Instagram feed, I put down my phone and finally got around to cutting out fabric for a dress. It’s not fast fashion by any means—I’m currently waiting for matching thread to come in, after all. Who knows if it will be finished in one or four or six, or ten weeks? But I have realized that, when given the choice and time, I would rather create than consume. Because what is necessary (my continuing Lenten question) is that the process of acquisition and creation of something that is non-urgent takes up the time that it needs to. If the resulting object is to be valued as more than just another internet purchase, I hope it will take time to create—if not by me, than by some other craftsperson. And hopefully, the result will last longer too, breaking the link in my participation in the fast fashion industry that harms both people and the environment.
I refuse to end this essay with a call for everybody to take up a craft, or refrain from purchasing fast fashion—these are both good things, of course, and if we have the inclination/time/privilege/opportunity, I do think we should pursue them. But my point is less that we can transform the world in this way (perhaps we could), and more that slowing down and even briefly stepping away from the consumerism that we’re surrounded with in online spaces can be a good thing for the soul. Perhaps like me, you’ll find yourself remembering old skills, and repurposing them for a new age.
Happening this Week
i. In case you couldn’t tell from the above, I’ve been sewing! But I’ve also been baking and gardening. This week, I started all of my summer plants in these fantastic coconut coir plugs that can be planted directly in the soil. One of these weeks, I’ll probably write you an essay about peat and environmental gardening, as that’s one of my favorite topics to launch in on around unsuspecting acquaintances at already-awkward social gatherings.
ii. I was listening to Diarmaid MacCulloch’s Reformation, but sadly, my bluetooth earbuds have disappeared, and I am deprived of audiobooks at work for the next while. In the meantime, I’m picking up James Lovegrove’s Sherlock Holmes and The Beast of the Stapletons, which promises to be an excellent steampunk pastiche on our beloved Hound of the Baskervilles. (Adding to the favorite topics at awkward gatherings list: Sherlock Holmes pastiches—the worse, the better.)
iii. My beloved feline, who is also named Sherlock, celebrated his first birthday this week! He hated his birthday crown, but loved the very stinky fancy fish treats, his new feather wand, and is utterly indifferent to his new plush birthday cake catnip toy. At one year old, his favorite hobbies mostly revolve around waking me up at the crack of dawn so I’ll let him out on the back porch where he can birdwatch all morning.
Happy Monday, friends.