DIY Style

So last year in Lidl, I picked up a sewing machine.

The things you pick up in Lidl – sewing machines, cats, five euro bottles of Priorat – you name it, they have it.

When I was a child my mother had a sewing machine and she often – and quite proficiently – made her own clothes. Ever since, I think, I’ve been in love with the idea of creating my own designs and just going ahead and making them, instead of having to wait for somebody else to put them on the shelves. And my thinking,  when I finally got round to getting the machine, was that there just had to be something I could do with my love for fashion that didn’t involve shopping.

At first, it didn’t seem to go that well. I’d handed over a hundred Euros for the machine, plus just under fifty for supplies. Here I was again, shopping, just for different stuff. Doh.

Another piece of information I didn’t have before I embarked on the sewing adventure: if you’re looking for a particular type and design of fabric, something truly original and unique, you really are up against it. I searched the whole world wide web for something unusual and trendy, and yet the best I came up with was some grey tweed and some charcoal stretchy wool fabric for my first creations. Hardly what fashion dreams are made of. On top of that it turns out the fabric is expensive. I hear the reason for the high cost is that it’s expensive to grow cotton, because cotton production consumes a lot of natural resources like water. You wonder how ethical it is for the likes of Primark to sell a Tshirt for two euros then, but I suppose that’s a different subject.

I know I can be a little old-fashioned sometimes, but at this point I started to develop the sinking feeling of somebody who had misread the signs of the times and was running, like, 50 years behind. People don’t sew any more, do they? In the days before the internet, it was a different story. When you wanted a green blazer, and the shops in your town didn’t coincidentally sell one, you may have had to make your own. These days you just bring up asos.com from the comfort of your sofa and order yourself a green blazer for €30. Shipping included. If they don’t have it, somebody else will for sure – there seems to be near limitless choice of shapes, colours and sizes, and on top of this clothes have become very, very cheap. Once you have entered the realm of sewing, it hits home how cheap clothes actually are. Thirty euros wouldn’t even buy you the materials for the jacket, not even the fabric on its own without any lining, thread, buttons etcetera.

Still, I wasn’t quite disheartened yet. At the very least I was sure to end up with something that nobody else had, something unique that I could tailor and alter just as I pleased. Something fabulous. I proceeded in my attempt to make a tweed skirt. With a pattern, lining, zip and all, it was an ambitious beginner’s project. I do know how to use a sewing machine, in the sense that I know where the thread goes (even that proved rather tricky, initially), but that is where my expert knowledge ends. When it comes to crafty jobs, I have more of a “trial and error” approach than one of properly learning the basics before I get started. The overall error percentage is therefore high. The skirt had all the right elements of a skirt, but didn’t look like one. The zip was too long, sticking out at the waistline –  a cruel reminder of my amateurish skills. The skirt was too big. The fabric was impossible for the cut I had chosen. It was awful.

I abandoned it, put the sewing machine back into its box and continued shopping for skirts that actually looked like skirts, made by people who know what they’re doing.

Recently I had a day off work and remembered that I still had about three meters of the grey stretchy wool fabric bouncing around. After my initial success with the tweed skirt I decided to go rogue and completely abandon patterns or principles, so I just cut out the shape of a dress as I saw fit. Two K shaped pieces of fabric, one for the front, one for the back, were subsequently sewn together and to my amazement, turned into a dress. I couldn’t get over it – it worked. Two hours later, I was waiting for my dinner date with R in my very own creation.

It was a feeling of great accomplishment, mixed with the itchy feeling I was getting from the scratchy wool fabric. Oh well, you can’t have everything.

We went for an Italian meal throughout which I hoped none of the seams would come apart. They didn’t. I kept my dignity that night and the dress as proof of my domestic abilities. Then, earlier this week, I was having a bit of a wardrobe related wobble first thing in the morning and just grabbed said dress and threw it on for work.

It was a truly strange feeling, stepping out into the light of day in something that you  had made from scratch. How many times do you actually wear something that’s made not in China, but in your bedroom? Even better, nobody realised it was a DIY job. In fact, I got tons of compliments on how perfectly it fit me. When I told one of my colleagues that I had made it myself, she told me about a friend of hers who makes all her clothes herself, and because she is so good at it, has even started selling them.

Maybe, just maybe, I could be on to something here. I really feel like I could make anything – just as long as there aren’t any zips involved.

Obfashion

Saturday afternoon. My phone vibrates with a text alert. It’s a message from my friend M.

“Hey, are you still going to La Cañada? Because if you’re going I wouldn’t mind coming along.”

Somewhat astonished, I agree to meet her there in a couple of hours. La Cañada, for those of you who don’t know it, is not french for Canada. It’s retail heaven on the Costa del Sol. The worst nightmare of my fiancee, R, who reluctantly agrees to plod along because he is promised some tapas and wine at the end of it all.

Astonished I am because my friend M doesn’t shop. She is a non-shopper, whereas I am more of a non-stop shopper. She is, in this respect, completely alien to me.

A couple of hours later I meet her under a Christmas tree in the busy mall that is already overflowing with shoppers stocking up for the festive season. They’re blasting out the Christmas music and everything is covered in tinsel. R looks like he is having a panic attack slash stroke, so I dump him quickly in an electronics/ book/ gadget shop and give him the firm advice to go and have a beer. Now.

What, I wonder, is my non shopping friend doing in a mall?

“You looking for anything in particular?”

“Yes I really need a new coat. My husband has threatened to bin the old pink thing I have been wearing for the past five years.”

I chuckle at the thought of her partner sending her shopping because he is sick of her clothes. Unheard of in my world, where R is at a complete loss trying to keep up with my outfit changes.

First stop, Zara. M throws on a selection of four coats. Items one to three are a no go. Item four is a maybe but in my opinion a very lukewarm option. It’s the kind of coat you buy because you are out and about and you are cold. Sensible, cheap and unoffensive.

“I think I’ll get it.”

“Shall we have a look around and check out the other shops? You can always come back to it.” You’re not buying that coat on my shift, is what I really want to say.

She agrees to come back later. On the way out I stop dead at a bright red knee length coat. Oh what beauty! And the color, like blood. I try it on, twist and turn, caress it a little. I hang it back and decide to make a decision before we leave.

“I think I’ll just get that one,” she explains on the way out. “I just can’t be bothered to go shopping most of the time.”

“I see.” I don’t see. I don’t have a clue what she’s talking about. I hit the shops all the time. Literally, all the time. I don’t always buy of course but I certainly enjoy having a look at what’s new.

“I mostly buy books…. I buy so many books I bought the same book twice recently, because I had forgotten I already owned it.”

“Happened to me with a pair of flats from Topshop”, I add. At this point I am starting to feel like a retard. I buy about five books a year and the last four I bought were books on personal style. Am I an intellectual vacuum? Does my love for fashion make me shallow?

When it comes to fashion and style, I am a woman possessed. Seriously. Gwen Stefani once said “I love clothes so much, it’s embarrassing.” That’s exactly how I feel. Embarrassed. Beautiful clothes could make me weep. I can never get enough of them, can’t get enough of fashion mags, style books. With my clothes meticulously categorised and hung up on identical hangers, my wardrobe looks like a showcase for obsessive compulsive disorder.

I have no idea why my clothes mean so much to me. Let’s put something straight here, it’s not vanity. I am not a particularly vain person. I go for beachwalks in a tracksuit. I don’t put make up on to buy a bottle of milk. I don’t wallow in my own beauty. In short, I am not vain. But I do think that when you can put some nice clothes on and look your best, why on earth would you choose to put on something ugly and unflattering?

Apparently science has the answer to why most women shop – women used to be the ones who gathered the food, had to find the best spots for it, choose the ripest  fruit and vegetables by touching and feeling them, getting to know colors and textures. Sound familiar? For them, this was also a way of socializing and interacting with one another. Therefore, shopping is a positive experience in our psychology. Other theories explain that women buy clothes at the time of the month when they are most fertile (does this phase last 30 days per month? Because that’s what it seems like in my case), not directly to attract the males of the species, but to detract attention from the less attractive females of the species. I’d like to know more and I suppose I could read up on it, but then again, I really don’t like books very much.

As M and I continue shopping we find a coat that is nice on her, and I convince her to make the purchase.

Then, at the end of our journey, I spot a coat that nearly breaks the bank but is so beautiful that tears start welling up in my eyes.

“You could go for the more sensible option, the red one, that you could have for a few years and that is cheaper”, she says, while I twist and twirl dreamily in front of a mirror. “Or you could get the expensive one you love.”

My eyes glaze over. For me, it’s an easy choice.

Treats in Silver

Following on from my Trick or Treat post, here’s a selection of jewellery I bought in that shop.

Dendrite Opal with green amethyst

Quartz and garnet pendant

Green amber pendant

Jewellery can immediately update the plainest outfit. To me, the greatest accessory of all – better than any bag (just my opinion!), plus, you are buying something of real material value that you’ll be able to sell on if you change your mind about it, even years later. One piece of good advice: if you feel like splashing out on jewellery, never, ever spend a lot of money on costume jewellery, whether it claims to be designer or not. The high street does great imitations – nobody can tell the difference. Stick with precious metals and stones that don’t only have a design value.

Happy shopping everyone.

Time Warp

This weekend, the clocks went back in our household. Time, this mysterious force we all fear, moved for once the opposite way.

Hang on a minute, you might say, wasn’t that last weekend?And how boring an opening line is this?

Well I’m not talking about daylight saving time, this annoying procedure that shakes you out of your natural rhythm twice a year and as research suggests does not even save any energy at all. I’m talking about how I turned back time by fifteen years in just one Saturday.

Interested now?

Alright.

I had been mulling this over in my head for a while. My partner and I live in a three bedroom house. It’s a modest size but then again, it’s only us two. The children’s bedroom was “his” pretty much from the start and he turned it into an office where he can go about his art. I took the spare bedroom and turned it into a messy wardrobe that looked like a tip at the best of times. It became a dumping ground for all sorts of household items (hover etc) with the double bed covered in clothes for ironing or washing, which were in return frequently covered in cat hair. I have two cats and I love the little bastards, but the hair on my clothes is a nightmare. Seriously. It doesn’t make a difference that fur has come back this year.

All along I was dreaming of walk in closets, endless storage, shoe racks and what have you. I was dreaming of a haven where I could retreat to and get dressed, or write, or just get some peace. A creative space for myself.

Remember the children’s room you had back in the day when you lived with your parents? Were you allowed to do with it whatever you wanted? I was, more or less, and it was fantastic. My own space. While I couldn’t go and “improve” the living room furniture with Donald Duck stickers (I tried), in my room I could do whatever I liked. My room became an image of me, reflecting me like a mirror, and while I was growing up, the room grew with me. From posters of the care bears to dedicating every centimeter of wall space to Guns n’ Roses, and later on a discrete shrine to the Lord of the Rings movies, the room changed around me with my interests and needs. I had a room like this until I was in my mid twenties; sharing a flat in college with my best friend, we were keeping the teenage vibe going. It was only when we moved in together as a couple into a one bedroom apartment in Dublin that we both decided that neither Viggo Mortensen nor Dr Strangelove posters were going to go up on our walls. All of a sudden everything was very grown up, and before I knew it, Viggo was boxed up and I was surrounded by Ikea furniture and impersonal prints of abstract flowers.

I’ve been struggling a bit lately with the whole “who am I” thing and I realised that more than a walk in wardrobe I needed a space that I could make my own. So this weekend, it happened. I needed a desk for writing and sewing, so up to Ikea and back with a lovely wooden dining room table that folds up and down as I need it. We rearranged all the furniture, I put up some prints that I actually like and I cluttered the chest of drawers with fashion books, magazines and my camera equipment. I put up a chain of lights in the wardrobe, covered the wardrobe doors in pictures of outfits, and put up silly decorations. Actually at this point I don’t think the room is quite silly enough, but I’m sure I’ll get there. Those Lord of the Rings posters must still be somewhere!

What I am saying is, it’s good for you to have a space that is all yours. A space that’s you. Because in between assignments and spreadsheets, “don’t forget the onions darling”, getting your kids from school or the cat to the vet, and doing all the ironing, you might just forget who you are. And wouldn’t that be a terrible shame.