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The transformative power of learning how to sew
Each Saturday this past month I’ve been dragging myself out of bed early to head into my 9-5pm intensive pattern-making and sewing course. It’s been mentally exhausting (who knew there’d be so much maths involved!) and quite physically exhausting. Friday nights are limited to dinner and a movie at most, while Saturdays nights mean crashing at 9pm. Bye bye social life!
But as exhausting as this new Saturday routine has been, it’s also been incredibly invigorating. My work has always involved a desk, while my leisure time is usually spent my consuming something – whether it’s food, the latest TV show, or a new travel destination.
Creativity and craft have been excluded from my life for the longest time, and it’s a revelation to re-embrace the joy of learning something new and making something with my own hands.
Sewing as an act of resistance
Beyond the delight of finding a new creative outlet, I’ve also started to viewing sewing as a powerful antidote to fast fashion.
We’re buying and getting rid of clothing at ridiculous rates. It’s never been easier to pop into a shop like H&M and buy an outfit for £20 that we’ll maybe wear three times before deciding we want something new.
High street shops are feeding our frenzy for the latest trends, changing up their collections every few weeks, instead of twice a year as it was in the past. Despite knowing the environmental and social costs of fast fashion, I’m not immune to walking past a shop and spontaneously buying a new top I don’t need just because it seems too irresistible a bargain.
But by learning to make my make my own clothes, I now have a massive appreciation for the huge amount of work that goes into making one garment. I’ve started paying attention to details – the cut, the seams, the fabric – that I had no interest in before.
I’m definitely not going to make every stitch of clothing I wear for the rest of my life. But I am going to think more carefully about what I buy and how to take care of it. This has so many other benefits I’ll reap over time:
Saving money on clothes
Making less of an impact on the environment
Contributing less to the exploitation of other women
Liberating myself from the tyranny of fashion trends
As you can tell, I’m finding learning how to sew quite empowering. But I also understand that the ready-made garment industry has also done us huge favours. Thankfully most women don’t need to be hunched over a sewing machine making clothes for their family like back in the day. We can buy the clothes we need even when we’re on a tight budget (although this does come with a cost we don’t immediately see on the price tag).
While sewing, crafts and other DIY may not change the world, I do think these small efforts can help us become more intentional about how we consume, and give us a greater appreciation of material things.
Overall I’m glad that I’ve re-discovered the joy of creativity, and that this new hobby perfectly aligns with my other passions and goals – environmentalism, minimalism, and saving money.
How about you? Have you discovered a new hobby you’re excited about? Do you love or hate DIY and crafts? Comment below!
I enjoyed reading this even though I’m not into sewing. Fast-food clothing is a large part of the global race to the bottom, and I support anything we can do as individuals to stop the exploitation of workers and save the environment. And it’s something you enjoy. I bet you never thought you would become a sewing activist before you came to Thailand!
Thanks! It is great to have a fun hobby that has wider benefits for people and planet.
Yes, I started my clothes after the Rana Plaza collapse – many of the reasons similar to yours. It was hard — but I did master a nice pattern, which meant I got lots of comments and got to look unique. It is ironically more expensive making your own clothes — but it definitely makes you appreciate your clothes more. I’m going to have to dig out my sewing machine some time this year.
Yes! Dig out that sewing machine!
I’m very impressed that you’re on such an intensive hobby course while working – I’m hoping to leave this kind of stuff for when I’m not working. I fancy taking up painting, eg water colours etc.
Although I did love doing a bit of sewing when I was younger (I still sew on my own buttons, do a bit of darning), I’ve never wanted to make my own clothes – seemed too complicated! I’ve considered getting my own sewing machine so I don’t have to pay to have clothes altered (£10-£12 to have a pair of jeans taken up) but since I’ve cut down on my clothes shopping, I can’t justify the cost of the sewing machine, unless I go to town on my existing wardrobe to make ‘new clothes’!
Interesting that you mention contributing less to the exploitation of other women. Many of the factories which produce high street clothes are notorious for low pay and terrible working conditions. However, what I hadn’t considered before but which was mentioned by Tim Harford in his ‘Undercover Economist’ book, was that people choose to work in the factories because despite the poor conditions and poor pay, the alternative to the factories is often worse, ie no job or jobs far far worse. So, it wouldn’t really help the workers if everyone stopped buying those clothes and the factories closed. How to campaign for better pay and working conditions though? Social media pressure on the owners perhaps?
Hi Weenie! Thanks for the comment. Yeah I totally didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I signed up for the course. It’s much more demanding than expected! I don’t have a sewing machine either, but there are two already in the family, so when I get back to the UK I’ll be ‘borrowing’ one 🙂
On the exploitation issue – I really go back and forth about this matter as well. My colleagues in Cambodia work directly with female garment workers so I often ask whether they think we should all stop buying into fast fashion. Their answers also vary somewhat but some are quite clear about the issue. They believe that unless the garment industry releases its stranglehold on the Cambodian economy, then women in the industry will continue to live under exploitation, and that economic alternatives will fail to flourish. The issue in Cambodia as well is that rural women are often forced to migrate to the city to find work because of wide-scale land-grabbing. Corporations and foreign investment rule supreme there. Anyhow I will stop there before I turn this into a essay…
At the end of the day, I will continue to buy from the high street (I know myself too well!), but like you I’m reducing how much I buy, and actually showing more appreciation for the clothes I have instead of always looking for more, more, more.
I was also amazed at how much work it is to create a garment once I started seeing clothes. I also value the new skills I’m learning, so different than the ones I use on my day job. Keep it up!
Hi Sharon, yes it took three days just to make a pair of trousers! But fascinating to learn what the process is. What skills are you learning?
I’ve been taking a class where we make clothes from patterns. So far I’ve made a button down shirt, a dress, a knit shirt and am now working on a knit dress. Figuring out how to handle different fabrics, curves, button holes and correcting errors are all new things to me.
I had some experience making “straight lines” items – e.g. placemats, aprons, but clothing is a whole other level.
Oh wow, you’ve learned how to make so much already. 8 weeks in and we’ve only learned how to do a basic skirt and trousers – the course is already ending in two weeks! When I get my hands on a sewing machine, I’ll also start experimenting with different fabrics and putting in buttons. But YouTube will be my teacher – I’m glad I decided to take a course with a professional to get my head around the basics, but it’s also a bit pricey.
I am also finding a place to learn sewing in Bangkok. Any advice from you would be appreciated and thanks for a great post.
I did my course at the Alliance Francaise, and I highly recommend it. It was Pattern Making & Sewing I. The quality of teaching is really good, and they have small class sizes so you can always ask for help. I think their classes have already started this semester, but they will probably have more courses starting in the new year: https://afthailande.org/en/fashion-design/. Good luck!
Thank you xo much Mindy! Cheers!
I LOVE this post! I am a full time engineer but I teach sewing classes on the weekends to keep my sanity. I started my sewing business in 2016 and haven’t bought any clothes since then. I have made it my mission to show other how easy it is to learn to sew. I will actually be in Bangkok in September and have been researching sewing classes. I hope you can point me in the direction of a class that I can take while there. Thanks for sharing!!!!
Thanks Crystal! I highly recommend the courses at the Alliance Francaise