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.