sewing

[Caught Me Creating] Is Making Anything By Hand a Worthwhile Pursuit?

One aspect of myself that I haven’t really delved into since I started this blog is the fact that, outside of playing video games and reviewing other media, I have been known to dabble into other creative pursuits, including knitting, cross-stitching and art. I currently have some projects on the go that I hope to reveal in due course. This other part of me is partially responsible for taking some of my precious free time away from gaming…not that I complain about that so much because, of course, I have chosen to spend my time doing them, and I enjoy doing them.

This week, as I was working on one of my projects, I thought about the act of creation, the monetary cost of creating that item and the time that is spent to complete it. Why do we create? What do we hope to get out of it? Is it a worthwhile pursuit? Some things we make are a no-brainer. Drawing or painting to me is a worthwhile pursuit. It’s something I’ve made. It’s unique to me. But, what about making your own clothes? Knitting a sweater? Sewing up a skirt? I realize this concept might be far-reaching for some…I mean, isn’t that what a mall is for? We go to a store and buy a pair of pants; there is no need to pull out the sewing machine. Yet, there is still a strong sewing hobby industry. Knitting and crocheting is one of the fastest growing hobbies out there now. If you break it down, nothing hits this point home better than creating something you plan to wear when you’re done.

About 15 years ago, I got my first sewing machine for Christmas, and yes, it was on my X-Mas wish list. Up until that point, I hadn’t ever used one except for a hand-held portable “Seen on TV” Singer sewing machine which didn’t work too well. I wasn’t really much of a sewer really – buttons, tapering pants and hemming by hand was about as far as the skills went. But, for whatever reason I really wanted to try to design and make my own clothes. I could point out favourite movies that were an influence, where the leading girls made their own clothes and purported a sense of style – Andi from the John Hughes 80s classic Pretty in Pink being one of them. Or, maybe it’s because I come from generations of women who made their own clothes? Whatever the reason, I had one desire: to make and wear something I made with my own hands and think to myself that I could do it.

Once I got the machine, I thought that making my own pj pants would be a great first project. My plan was I’d use my favourite pair of pj pants as a template and give ‘er. I relied heavily on the sewing machine’s instruction manual (still do!), and tried to learn a bit about stitches, threading a bobbin and the like. Then the excitement started! Off to the fabric store; I needed to find some fabric! And this is where I discovered, really having no previous idea, that sewing clothing by hand can get pricey, as fabric can be expensive to buy off the roll.

I settled on a cool milk and cookies motif in flannel. It cost about $30 for the fabric. Thread, elastic and other supplies brought the price up to $40 for a handmade pair of pj pants, which in this age of globalization and being able to get pj sets for $15, the handmade version was twice the cost. This doesn’t include all the sweat I poured into making the pants…and the swearing…I really didn’t know what I was in for.

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My handmade pj pants. Shite photie aside, these pants have seen better days…

I did finish my pj pants, by the way. My sewing inexperience took me at least three weeks’ worth of effort to make the pair, not to mention the mess my husband had to dodge while I made the pants in our tiny one-bedroom apartment. I learned from the experience and I still have those pants today. The construction isn’t perfect – the seams are uneven, the elastic band sticks out from under the seams, and the crotch is starting to come apart…but they resemble pants. It was a lot of effort and expense for something I’d only be wearing to bed.

This was my first, and last article of clothing I have ever sewn – ever. Since then, I’ve made panelled curtains, hemmed pants and shortened drapes. But, that’s it! C’est tout. I always have hope to pick up sewing more regularly, especially after I watch a season of Project Runway, but then I get overwhelmed and move past the emotion. “Some day” always floats in the back of my mind. Seriously though, I think making these pants scarred the sewing buzz for me. The learning curve, the effort and let’s not forget the money spent, all affected my perception of sewing for future projects – no doubt about it.

A year after completing my pj pants, I went out thrift shopping with a friend. I remember her telling me that she believes there isn’t much point in making anything that costs much cheaper in the store to buy. Not knowing that I had sewed my own pair, she pulled a pair of pyjamas off the rack and said, “Take these pjs for example. They are brand new, never worn. They’re really nice and they only cost $10. I’d never make these by hand. Why would I when you can buy them already made so cheaply? The cost of the fabric alone would probably cost more than $10.”

This logic resounded with me, especially since not a year before, I had made my own pj pants. Why would anyone make anything like that when the supplies to make it cost so much?

I often think of the matriarchal side of my family in the 1940s and 50s. My Grandmother, specifically, made a lot of her clothes by hand, including those of my mom and aunt. She smocked dresses using the old-time foot-propelled Singer sewing machine, and later taught my mom and aunt how to darn and mend their stockings by hand…It wasn’t so much that they got pleasure from making their own clothes –  they had to do this because they were poor and didn’t have a Wal-Mart to go to. They couldn’t afford to buy new clothing, so they made what they could by hand and patched what needed fixing until they couldn’t any more. Fabric and supplies were cheaper to buy than buying clothes back then. Things seem to have certainly changed.

I look at all I have created with yarn. Similar to fabric, I knit pieces of clothing that I wear today. I continue to knit items for myself, a little fettered by the cost of wool, but not enough to really stop me from knitting. Why? Not only because I hate everything I find in stores these days, but because as an artist, I have realized the value in having something unique. It’s even better if you can say, “I made this. This is MY creation.”

Consider, if you will, my milk and cookies pj pants. I definitely haven’t seen that fabric in any retail store in any clothing form. That to me says that the likelihood of running into anyone with milk and cookies pj pants around here is next to nil. The same can be said about the sweater patterns I choose to knit. Yes, there might be someone with a similar style out there, but I take pride in creating something different than the norm. I say, uniqueness rocks in whatever form it manifests! For me though, I think I’ll just pursue it minus the sewing machine…