It’s no secret that handmade fashions and do it yourself couture are making a comeback.
Just look at Pinterest if you don’t believe me. Half the posts in the fashion tag have to do with a no-sew ruffle scarf made from a t-shirt, or seven patterns to make a lattice-back fashion statement out of a tired tank top.
This idea is anything but new. Although women are used to shopping at boutiques and department stores to pull together the perfect outfit, there was a time when none of that existed.
Especially in the wilds of America, far from the east coast ports with their European-inspired dressmakers and tailors, women had to be self-sufficient for their fashion needs.
I’m not sure when it was, but sometime before the 1980s, any thought of mending clothing if it was damaged went out the window. And so today fashions last a season, or clothing wears out within a few trips through the washing machine. This is the only apparel world I’ve ever known.
I remember thinking of sewing as some kind of lost art practiced only by the elder coven of women in society – not unlike witchcraft, crochet and the art of properly de-boning a chicken.
My grandmother had an old sewing machine – the kind that folded down into a mid-century side table with a matching chair. Though it was rarely used when I was around, I regarded this piece of furniture with boundless curiosity. Because I knew that my grandmother could, with this machine, make nearly anything my little heart desired – from a new fleece bathrobe to a prom dress for Barbie.
I’m not sure where that old sewing machine ended up after she passed away. I was too young and preoccupied with the styles available in the juniors’ section at Kohl’s to care much about what happened to it.
But in the years since, I’ve often wished that I had staked my claim while I had the chance. Especially since I joined Pinterest saw the amazing range of things I could make with access to a sewing machine.
I’ve found tutorials for shirts, dresses, skirts, hoodies, scarves – you name it, people are sewing it and posting it on Pinterest.
Ever since I joined the social network pinboard site, I had been studiously ignoring the DIY projects that involved a sewing machine...until mid-May.
You see, in mid-May, my mom and I went to a large neighborhood garage sale and bought an old-fashioned sewing machine for $25.My sewing machine is a very mid-century-style antique that folds down into a side table, just like my grandmother’s, with a fabulous 1960s storage seat included.
To be more precise, the machine is a Singer Fashion-Mate 237 and it includes zigzag capability, side-loading bobbin, adjustable needle and stitch position, reverse feed, and feed dogs drop capability. This particular machine was purchased by the former owner’s husband as a wedding gift to her in 1967.
In the storage bench was a turquoise oval case in space-age bakelite containing a button holer (which I have no idea how to use) and a tin can of sewing machine oil that looks to be as old as the machine itself.
We forked over the cash, loaded the machine into my mom’s truck and went directly to JoAnn Fabrics to pick out patterns and material.
I chose a deceptively simple yoked skirt template for my first project. Deceptively simple, because the project involved zippers, a waistband and several different pieces to jigsaw together. For my first project, I should have probably made a simple circle skirt or a tank top, but I’ve never been one for baby steps.
Making things even more complicated was the fact that the pattern was incorrect. The skirt itself fit, but the waistband was far too small to even fit onto the skirt.
Needless to say, this experience rather soured me on patterns.
Luckily, during my Pinterest trawl, I noticed that most projects don’t have an actual ink and paper pattern – it’s more online diagrams and a series of instructions.
I’ve found this is much less confusing than cutting out a pattern, pinning it to the paper and trying to decipher the draconian instructions. It’s worse than putting together an Ikea bedroom suite.
I’ve also found that I very much like sewing knit fabrics. Although the stitches are harder to pull out when you screw up, the fabric itself is much more forgiving. Plus, it usually sticks to itself pretty well, thus minimizing the need for tedious pins.
For anyone with even a touch of creativity, certain sewing projects can be extremely easy and fashionable. Plus, a sewing machine allows the seamstress to repair or customize clothing to fit.
That is not to say that making your own clothes is any more cost-effective than shopping for them. In purchasing supplies for the sewing projects I listed below, I discovered that, in terms of price alone, I might as well have gone to a high-end department store to buy the same number of pieces.
The number one good thing about making something for yourself is personal satisfaction. With locally-sourced or eco-friendly fabric, any amateur clothing maker can be certain his or her new garments are both fair trade and green, without troubling elements of unethical labor involved.
Elsewhere in this issue, you will see the work of Lake Michigan area's emerging designers and the craftsmanship of that art form. I am not a fashion designer.
I’m just a person that was lucky enough to find a magical sewing machine. And now I know the secret that women in my grandmother’s generation knew – with enough determination and patience, you can make anything.