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Episode 110

Mailbag: Why We Make Our Own Clothes

Why do you sew? We each have our own reasons, but there are some common threads. In this episode, Sarai and Haley ask the Seamwork community why they sew. They'll share 5 of the most common (and inspiring) reasons to sew your own clothes.

Podcast Transcript

Sarai
Welcome back to Seamwork Radio, where we share practical ideas for building a creative process so you can sew with intention and joy. And today we’re talking about why we make our own clothes, and we’re going to cover the top five reasons that people turn to sewing. We’re going to share some quotes from our community of makers, and we’re going to share our own whys when it comes to sewing. So we’ll start with our icebreaker today, which is “What is bringing you creative joy right now?”

Haley
Well, right now, as we’re recording this, it is the 1 September, and we are in the thick of Design Your Wardrobe, and this time I’m participating in it, and I am just having so much fun, kind of like, doing a deep dive into my wardrobe, planning and creating my mood boards and pulling fabric from my stash. I’m also doing it with my friend Jeanine, and we’re, like, texting back and forth about all of the choices and our ideas, and it’s just been, like, a really fun, inspiring round of Design Your Wardrobe for me, I always have fun with it, but I feel like I’m doing it very wholeheartedly this time, and I’m loving it.

Sarai
That’s awesome. I’m also going through it with everyone right now. If you’re not familiar with Design Your Wardrobe, it’s a program we have available to our members all the time, but then we run through it as a group twice a year. So we’re in the midst of one of those group sessions right now, and I’m doing it as well. And I’m also really enjoying the whole process, and I’m a little bit behind because I had a little bit of a vacation during the first week. So I’m trying to catch up and do all my mood boards and stuff right now. And it’s just been really interesting not just fun, but also just really interesting to kind of dive into what is speaking to me right now at this point in my life and how it’s changed and evolved and how it’s changing with the seasons as they change. So it’s been a really interesting experience. So that’s one thing that’s bringing me joy right now. The other thing that’s bringing me a lot of creative joy right now is I’m starting to do some more garden planning right now. It’s not quite like the time of year where I really dive into it, but I’ve been trying to set up, like, a system.

I’ve been using Notion, which is, if you’re not familiar, it’s, an app that helps you organize notes and create databases and things. So I created this whole kind of complicated system for my garden where I can put in all these different properties of every plant and be able to filter on those and see different areas of my garden. And I have pictures in there, and it’s been really really fun to put that together. I was telling you, Haley, before we started recording that I had a kind of a bad day yesterday. I was trying to film some videos and technology was just not participating. So I wasn’t able to do anything all day long. And it was just one of those days where I was spinning my wheels and nothing was getting done. And so after work, I opened up Notion and I started just playing around with this, like, garden database. It was so fun because it was creative, but it was also I also felt like I was being productive at the same time, which was a feeling that was missing from my day. And I think that’s true for a lot of hobbies, a lot of creative hobbies for sewing as well.

It’s like a way where you can combine this need to be productive and to create something with I want to say, like, just something that is not motivated by external circumstances, like your job or something like that. It’s something that you’re doing for the pure enjoyment of it. And so when those two things combine, I think it’s just such an antidote to a bad day like that.

Haley
Yeah, it’s like you get to make up for all of the lost times. I’m using air quotes that you spent, like, just spinning your wheels during the day. You’re like, finally, I get to redeem my day.

Sarai
Yeah, I get to create something that I want to create and actually get the sense of progress and building skills and learning and all the wonderful things that can go along with work, but sometimes don’t. So that’s our icebreaker for today. And if you have an icebreaker that you want us to use for a future episode, if you’re a Seamwork member, you can leave it at seamwork.com/go/icebreakers that will take you to a thread in our community where you can share your own ideas. We’ve gotten some really, really great ideas from the community. So go ahead and head over there at Seamwork.com/go/icebreakers and share yours. All right, so turning to our subject for today, our subject for today is why we sew. So I’m going to start just by asking you, Haley, why do you sew?

Haley
This is such an enormous question. It would almost be easier to answer what are not my reasons to sew. But I think that right now, my why is creative fulfillment and completing that cycle of creativity. Very blessed to have a very creative job. But a lot of what I do is like the beginning phases of something being actualized. It’s the ideating and kind of like finalization of a design. And sewing helps me to kind of complete that cycle. I think this is kind of a notion that we’ve talked about a little bit before on the podcast. And having this sense of control of the project from start to finish is very nourishing to my creativity and to my spirit. I just find so much joy in it. So it’s kind of like this combination of creative joy, tactile enjoyment, and problem solving that it does it for me every time. Love it. What about you, Sarai? Why do you sew?

Sarai
Well, like you said, I think there are a lot of reasons that I sew and I think we’re going to talk about them as we get into some of the reasons that people in the community volunteered, because a lot of those resonated with me as well. I think one of the primary reasons for me, though, is I’ve always loved clothing. Like, ever since I was a kid. I’ve loved pretty dresses when I was a little girl, and I still just love clothing. I love the fact that it can be this creative thing that you get to put on your body every single day and kind of transform your mindset, transform how you see yourself, your identity. It’s like playing a character in a lot of ways, but playing a character that is yourself, that is true to some aspect of yourself that you want to bring forth. And that’s just something that I’ve always really loved about clothing and just also the colors, the textures, the fun of it. It’s just something that resonates with me. And I think what I love about sewing is that it takes what could be a very materialistic interest in just like acquiring clothing, like looking at pretty pictures of clothing on Pinterest and thinking about all the things that you could own and you could buy.

And it takes that and it transforms it into something that’s purely creative, that is about taking that sense of crafting an identity and actually taking it from start to finish. So you’re not just like buying something to make yourself feel better. You’re actually thinking through, is this something that is meaningful to me? Is this something that I want to invest enough time and to actually make? And then to go about the process of actually planning it out, choosing your own fabric, making it fit your body. It’s just the whole start to end process. So that’s what I love, I think the most about sewing from an early age. I think that’s what really speaks to me the most.

Haley
Yeah, I think that it really helps you to cultivate this really strong relationship with yourself, your identity, and also to the things that we consume. And having that connection is I don’t know, I think it adds like, a lot of richness to our lives.

Sarai
Yeah, definitely. I think a lot of people find a certain amount of creativity in getting dressed, people who are interested in clothing. But when you sew, it’s like taking it to another level. It’s like taking that creativity you might get from crafting a certain look and expressing yourself through what you wear and being able to really control that in a much deeper way. It just feels very deeply creative to me. So do you feel like your why has changed over the years?

Haley
Yes, I mean, it’s definitely evolved. I think a lot of the reasons that I previously stated or were present in the beginning. I think that at first, though, because I sewed for many years before I started sewing for myself. And what drove me to sew for myself was just not very easily being able to find the clothing that I wanted that fit my body. I’ve always been short and curvy, and growing up in the early two thousands, that was just kind of a tall order in terms of finding clothing that fit me. And so that’s really what the practical reason that drove me to so for myself. But I think really, it didn’t take very long for me to realize all of the other kind of deeper wise behind what I was doing.

Sarai
Yeah, I think for me, the reason that I just elaborated, I think that has always been a big driver for me. Like I said, that love of clothing goes back a long way, and I think once I discovered the ability to actually create it, that’s what spoke to me the most about sewing, and I think it still is what speaks to me the most about sewing. I think some of the other reasons that we’re going to talk about have kind of, like, come into it a lot more over the years as well. Those are things that I’ve kind of discovered more and more as I’ve gone through my sewing journey. And also as I’ve met other people who sew and talked about it more and more, I’ve found additional reasons, or maybe those have become a little bit stronger for me than they used to be. Maybe they were more minor reasons before, but I think in that way it has evolved. But I think my core reason of why I started sewing and why So now is not that different, really.

Haley
Well. We’re going to dive into some of the reasons that you also, like we mentioned earlier in the episode, we went in and we polled our Seamwork community and asked you all to share what your why behind sewing was. Why you sew. And we took all of your really excellent responses. And we found that they fit kind of into five core reasons. And we’re going to share those ones with you today.

So reason number one, and this was very prevalent in, I would say 80% of your responses is disappointment in ready to wear clothing. I have a quote from Holly to share. They write, “I feel like I can dress how I want to instead of someone else, for example, ready to wear, the fashion industry, or even mainstream culture thinks I should. I feel more comfortable in my pieces, more like me. I can remove myself as much or as little as I want because I have the power to craft my own story.”

And I pulled this quote from the community because I feel like it really summarized a point that a lot of people are getting at is that I think that a lot of people turn sewing because they have some interest in fashion in one way or another. In choosing exactly how they want to engage with that industry, with the trend cycle is something that’s really empowering to them. Also, by sewing for yourself, it removes a lot of the shame and icky stuff that comes with the fashion industry. The sizeism, the ableism, all of that other stuff. And really just getting to honor your body with beautiful things that you make for yourself.

Sarai
That kind of feeds into what I was saying earlier too. I think what I’m hearing in Holly’s quote here is this kind of unwillingness to be directed by someone else. And I think a lot of that is about kind of being told how much you need what you should be wearing to be trendy, to be hip, young, whatever, have a certain look or be perceived a certain way. And being able to reject that and go your own way, I think is really a powerful feeling. And I think that sort of antipathy towards ready to wear is I think that’s how it manifests for a lot of people. Just kind of like this you can’t control what I do. It’s very empowering.

Haley
Yeah, it is. Sewers are very punk rock. I appreciate that about our community. The second reason that came up very often was sustainability and people’s commitment to living a more sustainable life. I have a quote here from Sheena. Sheena writes, “I sew because I love the whole process from choosing the pattern fabric and the challenge of sewing and into a garment that I can wear. I also feel now that I’m doing my small bit for the planet by not buying cheap, ready-to-wear items that end up quickly in a landfill. My me-made clothing lasts a long time and since joining Seamwork and doing Design Your Wardrobe, I plan and sew exactly what I need and I’m getting even more satisfaction from my sewing.” I’m curious how sustainability do you feel like that plays into your why?

Sarai
Very much. I think that sustainability is one of the issues that I think came to the forefront more as I got into sewing. When I first started sewing, I was a teenager and I didn’t really think that much about the effects of the fashion industry on the planet. It just wasn’t something that was it wasn’t talked about as much at that time, I don’t think. At least I wasn’t exposed to it as much. It wasn’t definitely was not a core driver for me to learn to sew. But I think as I grew up and as I learned more about how the fashion industry operates and not just the sustainability aspects, but also the workers rights aspects, how clothing is made where it’s made some of the abuses that go on in the fashion industry, which have definitely come to light more and more over the last ten or 20 years. That has definitely become something that is important to me that maybe wasn’t something I really thought about in the beginning. What about you?

Haley
Yeah, I think that I feel pretty similarly to you. When I first started sewing in general, I don’t think that sustainability was really at the forefront of my brain. But when I worked in ready to wear and getting to see that waste firsthand, and in particular, seeing how garment workers are treated, was really shocking and definitely inspired me to make the career switch that I did make. It’s probably more of a driver behind what I do professionally, really, than for myself. I do know that everything that we do, all of the little acts, they add up. I don’t mean to, like, minimize anyone small impact in any way, but, you know, the brunt of this issue is the responsibilities of these big companies and the waste and the negative impact that they have on our environment. All of the small changes that we make are really just small. But I feel better not relying on fast fashion as much as I can.

Sarai
Yeah, I think that’s a good point, that it’s partly the impact that your personal choice makes, but it’s also how it makes you feel. And if that’s not something that you want to participate in, you don’t have to participate in it, or you can participate in a little bit less, and that might be more a matter of personal satisfaction than it is changing the world all on your own, which there’s a limited amount any one person can do, obviously. So it could be both of those things.

Haley
Yes, definitely. It’s like this choice to engage or not engage in it, and I definitely choose to minimize my engagement with it as much as I can, knowing that that has a very small impact. But it’s a choice I feel good about.

Sarai
Yeah. And the fact is, I mentioned that sustainability wasn’t something on my mind as much back in the think. The other issue is that fast fashion has really become a huge juggernaut in the world in the last 20 years. There was definitely fast fashion back in the 90s as well, but it’s become much, much bigger in the last couple of decades. So I’m going to share the next one, which is a theme that we saw in the community, which is just creative joy. And Natalie shared this comment. She said, “So many reasons. I find joy in the whole creative process, starting with being able to choose for myself the fabric and the style right through to the technical aspects, most of which are satisfying and enjoyable. Mastering a technical challenge, such as improving the fit, brings a thrill of pride. Best of all is having garments like nobody else’s.”

I think this is such an awesome quote. I think it encompasses a lot of the reasons that people sew in one kind of package. I think this ability to choose to make those choices, those individual creative choices, really speaks to my own why that I shared earlier.

But she also mentions mastering a technical challenge. And I think that’s something that also brings a lot of satisfaction is this feeling of improvement, of getting better, of learning new things. I love learning new things. And sewing offers endless possibilities for learning new things because there’s just so much you can do with it. It’s such a versatile pursuit. So this one really resonates with me. What do you think, Haley?

Haley
Yeah, this is probably the reason that resonates with me the most. It’s kind of that marrying of the creative joy and then the joy in the act of creating and all of the technical skills that go along with that. And I think that’s why I turn to sewing time and time again, is because it really just checks all of those boxes for me.

Sarai
Yeah, I think it’s really interesting because I think there’s this perception of creativity as being this something that goes on in your head to some extent. It’s, you know, making all these fun, creative choices about things like color and fabric. But when you look at any form of art creation, I’m using the term art very broadly, so anything where you’re actually creating something, there’s this aspect of, yes, those design choices, but there’s also the craft part of it. There’s also the mastering of the actual skills that you need to create. And whether you’re a painter or sculptor or a musician or you make clothing or you’re a knitter, no matter what, there’s a need for learning, for skill development, for practice that goes along with the creative choice part of it. And those two things married together are what create the art. So I think it’s a really interesting point that Natalie made here, that it’s both of those things combined.

Haley
Yes, definitely.

Sarai
So I really appreciated that one. The fourth theme that we found in why people sew, I think this one’s really interesting. It’s community connection. So we have a quote here from Vladivos who says, “I love how the process of sewing placket me very much in the moment and takes me out of my head. I have a job that’s intense, and sewing just quiets the noise. I also love that sewing connects me to other people, the sewing community itself, but also older women in my family and in my sewing classes when I’m at a family gathering. Sewing and crafting is one of those things that bonds me to the matriarchs who love to inspect and discuss the construction of what I’m wearing.” So what an interesting point that Vladivos is making that it’s not just this solo pursuit that I think a lot of people think of things like sewing as being something that you do in your own home. On your own. Which often it does feel that way. But also that it connects you to other people who so and it connects you oftentimes to other generations in your own family. Which is a theme that I’ve heard from a lot of people.

And that’s true for me as well. What do you think, Haley? Is this something that you’ve experienced? Do you feel like this is like a reason that you sew now?

Haley
I don’t have that family connection with sewing quite as much, but I definitely do feel that the sewing community has helped me to form so many friendships, like intergenerational friendships, that I wouldn’t have necessarily had the chance of creating if it wasn’t for having this common ground of sewing. And I think it’s really shown a light on how much we have in common with one another, whether that’s we have differences in culture or age or whatever our differences may be. Selling has really been a catalyst for me to get to know so many different types of people. And I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s like a reason that I’ve thought about as being like a core reason that I do so, but it is something that I really value from my experience of sewing, honestly. I would say all of my close friends are my close friends because I’ve met them through sewing somehow, which is kind of wild. It’s had a really big impact on my life in that way.

Sarai
That’s really interesting. I do feel the family bond somewhat. My grandmother taught me how to sew initially, so that’s a part of it. I also think a lot of the people in that generation and older and my family were very creative and very crafty and like to make things. And so I do feel like it connects me to them and on the other side of my family as well. So I think that’s a really interesting thing. The way it can connect generations together, often even skipping a generation and connecting the oldest generations in the family with the youngest, I think is something that I’ve seen a lot. I think that’s a really good point. And then in terms of the broader sewing community, that’s something that definitely I did not have when I first started sewing and now is a big part of my life and my work. And I think that is a much needed way that people can connect these days, whether it’s sewing or knitting or another form of art, but just over something creative that you’re really passionate about, no matter what that is. I think that’s one of the best ways to connect with other people and really draw people together, which I think is really important right now when our social lives have become so fragmented.

So the next one we have number five. This is the last one is a love of design. And this quote came from Marta. And Marta said, “I’m totally enchanted with beautiful textiles and love working with nice fabric. I’ve been doing this off and on since junior and senior high school.” So this speaks more towards just the love of the actual tactile experience of sewing. And this one really speaks to me as well. I think this is a big part of my love for clothing generally, is this love for color and texture and using textiles to craft something really interesting and beautiful. And like, I was talking about this whole thing about identity. I think taking something that’s very aesthetically pleasing to you in some way and using that to craft something that has a very specific look that expresses something about who you are, that’s really, really appealing to me, and that’s a big part of why I so what about you, Haley?

Haley
Yeah, I think that this was kind of a thread that I saw woven throughout. Pretty much everyone’s responses is that they just have a love for beautiful things. And for some people, that was fabric. Lots of people joking about how much fabric they’ve collected, they sometimes don’t know if their hobbies collecting fabric or sewing, which is very relatable. And for some people, it’s beautiful clothing or color or print. But I just think this appreciation for beautiful things was a really prevalent threat that was just woven throughout everybody’s response. And obviously, it’s something that I relate to. I love clothing. Ever since I was a little girl, my mom was a single mom, and my aunt would come over her friends, and they would get ready to go out with each other. And I was always in the room giving wardrobe advice as, like, a six year old to these grown 20 something year old women, and they would actually take my advice, which is, like, shocking to me now. So funny. They’re like, yeah, you have a good point. I should wear that top with those pants. And I’ve just always enjoyed the creative puzzle and putting all of the pieces together, the textures and colors and prints and silhouette.

It’s enchanting. It’s fun. I never bore of it.

Sarai
Yeah. Actually just reminded me of when I was little, my grandmother had this box of scarves, and when we’d go over to her house, she’d get it down, so play with the box of scarves and, you know, just big pieces of fabric that we would play dress up with, basically. And I think that love of taking this colorful fabric and making it into something, quote making it into something you’re just wrapping it around your body or whatever, has always been something that’s just, from the time I was little, something that really appealed to me. And it’s really interesting to think about how and why that might be true for some of us and why it starts so early. Maybe it’s something that we’re just born with this kind of being drawn towards color and textiles.

Haley
Definitely. I’ve really loved reading through everybody’s responses. And thank you all for commenting on the community post and helping us to create this episode. It’s especially special when we get to have your guys’ voices on the episode with us, so we always love and appreciate that. I am going to run through the top five reasons one more time.

So reason number one is a general disappointment and ready to wear. Reason number two is sustainability and just a desire to be more sustainable. Reason number three is creative joy, and that is the joy in the act of creativity, but also the act of creating and kind of those hard skills that go along with that. Number four is community connection, like we discussed, and that can be between the generations in your own family, or also just creating that family of your own through community. And reason number five is just a love of design and beautiful things. I think that my big takeaway running through all of these reasons is that I never really considered community connection as being a core reason behind why I saw. But I do think that it is maybe I should reconsider that because I do think that it is one of the areas in my life where sewing has had the greatest impact.

Sarai
Yeah, that’s interesting. I think for me, the biggest thing I take away from this is that there might be reasons that evolve over time and that things can change over time as you learn about sewing or you develop a different relationship with it. But I think often there’s something at the core, something core to who you are and what you’re drawn towards that does remain stable and that it’s something that is meaningful to you personally and it could be different for every person that is there from the beginning. And maybe this isn’t true for everyone, but it’s definitely true for me. And I think for a lot of us that there’s just something that initially draws you to sewing and whatever that thing is, is something that stays with you even as other reasons might enter the picture or even leave overtime. But there’s just something that’s very personal about it, definitely.

Haley
I think that’s such a great observation and I think probably true for most people.

If you want to learn or dive into this topic a little bit more, we had another podcast episode, actually two podcast episodes that we’ve done previously, and it’s all about finding your sewing why. There’s a part one and there is a part two, and I definitely recommend checking those out. We also have a really fantastic and fun sewing quiz. It is a totally free sewing quiz that you can take on our website to learn what kind of sewers you are based on your unique goals and personality. So this isn’t so much your why, but kind of more oriented around what you’re looking to accomplish through. Your sewing, and it helps you to identify what’s most important to you about sewing right now. And it gives you a lot of suggestions on what to make or what to learn. It only takes about two minutes and it’s totally free, and you can check it out at Seamwork.com/Quiz. We will also link that in the show notes for you. And if you liked this episode, we would just love if you left us a review.

It helps other people who love sewing to find us. It also lets us know that we’re making the kind of stuff that you like to listen to. Here is a review from Eleven KBR. They write “I am always looking forward to the next episode from Seamwork Radio. This incredible podcast continues to enrich my life by teaching, inspiring, and grounding me with a wealth of invaluable information, insights, resources, real talk, and thought provoking discussion. Each quality driven episode is so intentional, pertinent, put together and well curated. It’s also a great, free way to gain a sense of what Seamwork is all about, especially if you’ve been thinking about joining the community. So what are you waiting for? Follow along and fall in love with this podcast.” Wow. I feel like you just wrote a commercial for our podcast. Thanks. That’s so kind. And we’re just so delighted that you enjoy hanging out with us and listening to us every week.

Sarai
Yeah. Wow. That’s amazing. We should put that on the podcast page on our website. It’s so nice.

Haley
I know you wrote the copy for us. Thanks.

You can also follow along with us on other places on the Internet, you can follow us on YouTube, and you can find us at Seamwork video, follow us on Instagram at Seamwork. And if you like to join Seamwork and become part of our private community so you can participate in conversations like the one that we shared on the podcast today. Plus, get access to hundreds of sewing patterns, dozens of sew along classes. Podcast listeners get 50% off. That is a lifetime discount when you join at Seamwork.com/go/podcast-50. Again. That is Seamwork.com/go/podcast-50. And we would just love to have you be part of our little community, our corner of the Internet. I think it’s a pretty cool place.

Sarai
It is a pretty cool place. And a very friendly place, too, which is nice. All right, well, that wraps us up for this week. I’m Sarai.

Haley
And I’m Haley.

Sarai
And this is Seamwork radio.

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