I haven’t been slacking; I’ve been working away on two knitting projects, but the sad fact is that they are going to take a long time. I also made a denim skirt, but it will have to wait for its photo shoot because Mildred is too short to model it. (And did she throw a fit about that! She was wailing and stomping her wooden feet until I pointed out that she is also too slim to model it, at which point she calmed right down and let me put her back to work.)
In her wonderful Fringe Association blog, Karen Templer devotes all of her October posts to “slow fashion,” an idea that seems to be gaining steam. Over the past ten years, we’ve all been noticing the growth of what I was calling “The Great Cheapening,” but which the rest of the world had called “fast fashion”–the proliferation of inexpensive clothes, mostly synthetic, that are easy to buy on impulse and easy to discard after only a season or two. Though we may feel justified in doing this because these clothes often get donated, the sad fact is that most of these discards end up in landfills..
It’s a complicated problem, and there are no simple or single solutions, given the number of steps in the supply chain and manufacturing process; I recommend Karen’s October posts for their thoughtful consideration of the problem from many different angles. But one thing everyone agrees on is that we’d all be better off buying fewer and better items that we can wear for many seasons, and patronizing those suppliers who are transparent about their sources.
Bearing in mind that old is good, I decided to show you some items that I sewed between approximately 1985 and 2000–which I still have and wear. One of the nice things about getting old is that I have made my own assortment of vintage clothes!
The oldest piece is this hooded, 1980’s-style “big shirt,” which goes back to about 1985. (Well, in 1985, it was a Big Shirt. Nowadays it is, I regret to say, merely a slightly-roomy shirt.) It’s a cotton/linen dobby-weave fabric made up in a Vogue pattern, and for years was the first thing I threw into my suitcase when I went anywhere. It has been a shirt-jacket, a nightshirt, a bathrobe and a swimsuit cover-up in its time, and it still goes on over tees and tanks to chilly grocery stores in the summer.
For some reason, I remember that I bought this wool novelty-weave fabric in 1983 (detail in the feature photo above) from an online fabric club. Even on clearance, it was by far the most expensive fabric I had ever bought, and I was terrified to cut into it. I don’t remember when I made it, but I do know that I aged the fabric for several years. The pattern is the Sewing Workshop Peony vest.
The next several projects I can date fairly specifically, because we lived in the Twin Cities area from 1997-99, and these fabrics came from the S. R. Harris fabric outlet. When I visited last year, I was rather disappointed–as an outlet, they, too, are carrying the cheaper fabrics that have become the norm. But in the late 90’s, they had terrific deals on natural fiber fabrics, which gave me room to do some experimenting.
Threads magazine had recently run an article on machine-felting wool jersey. The process made the fabric denser, while keeping the drape, and allowing it to be machine-washed–another consideration in the sustainability issue. I bought two colors and threw them in the wash. Now I am only sorry I didn’t buy more. The results of the experiment were these two vests:
Another Peony vest. Here is a close-up of the pin-tucking detail, which works very well on felted wool jersey:
The red one is a greatly-lengthened, sleeveless version of the Plaza Jacket, also from Sewing Workshop.
This is another Plaza jacket. If you ever find a good, substantial rayon crepe, buy it. I have no idea how many times this has been in and out of the washer and dryer in the past nineteen years or so, but I still get compliments every time I wear it.
And finally, Loes Hinse’s Bolero Jacket. I used another technique from a Threads article on the bodice. Before cutting it out, I sewed the dark gray Italian cotton velvet to a backing with many rows of stitching and tossed it in the wash to scrunch it up a bit. (With enough rows of stitching, you can actually scrunch it up enough to make it look like Persian lamb. It would also weigh a ton.) It’s another experiment I probably wouldn’t have tried if I hadn’t gotten an outrageously good deal.
So there you have it–clothes from the last millennium.
At the time that I bought most of these fabrics, they were of good quality, but not dreadfully expensive. In 1985, you could still go into any independent fabric store–they still existed–and select from things like cotton or linen jacquards and pure wools of every weight. But now, thanks to the proliferation of cheap synthetics, fabrics like this are getting harder to find. Who knows? At this rate, in another decade we may be looking back to the good old days when we could still get rayon.