Posts Tagged ‘making’

During a paper I gave at In the Loop 4, I mentioned a blurring of boundaries: when does a garment start, and when does it end? Musings about Taking time, Woolly Comrade Felicity ‘Felix’ Ford’s Slow Wardrobe project, and having conversations with other friends who make clothes to last, have culminated into my own thoughts about a Slow Wardrobe.

Brioche Sweater and grafitti

My Brioche Sweater: a recently completed garment. Or is it?

Since I started repairing with purpose, I’m slowly but surely drifting away from the idea that once the last loose end has been woven in, a garment is finished. Over time, clothes start to develop signs of wear, of having been washed, of having been used. Inevitably, an edge starts to fray, a seat wears thin, or a hole appears, and the time comes I’ll be getting out my darning needle. By making my mends visible, I continue adding to the garment. A beautiful mend can be worn as a badge of honour, and in my view, augments and alters the garment repaired.

Flanelette Plaid shirt darning by tomofholland

Darning the threadbare yoke seam of a flannelette shirt

A shift of focus from trying to keep things looking new and perfect to favouring the old and imperfect, means I’ve stopped looking at repair as a chore, but as a creative challenge in its own right. Instead of fixing something that is broken, which implies the item was finished, I now continue working on something that wasn’t complete yet. This idea is perhaps easier to embrace where it concerns clothes I made myself, but I now extend it to the clothes I buy. I frequently purchase secondhand clothes, and they already show signs of wear, and the time to repair something usually comes along sooner.

Tom spinning a yarn

Spinning a yarn

Conversely, making my own clothes has made me question at what point a garment starts. When you buy something, you could be led to believe that your garment’s life starts when you’ve handed over your cash. But this, of course, isn’t true. Somebody somewhere has laid out cloth, cut it up, seamed it, pressed it. Most likely different people were involved in different stages and many things are now mechanised.

When making your own clothes, you get to choose the fabric or yarn, the pattern, the buttons, and put it all together into a garment. You could argue that the item starts its life when you clapped your eyes on that beautiful tweed, or when you dreamt up that Christmas jumper and you started looking for the right yarn. Now that I also spin, even if as yet I haven’t spun enough of one yarn to make a whole jumper, my boundary has shifted even further back: it is possible to make a garment-specific fibre, so really, its life starts there. In fact, we can take it back right to the beginning: wool, linen, silk, and cotton are all fibres that theoretically I could grow or farm myself.

Roger from Diamond Fibre Mill

Roger from Diamond Fibre Mill spinning a yarn or two

So even if I’m not personally involved in all the process steps from farming to harvesting to processing of fibres, and subsequently turning the resulting cloth or yarn into a garment, I’m aware that all these steps are part of the story. If you want to get an understanding of some of the issues around the fashion industry, then there’s no better way than trying to make something yourself. When you wash your raw fleece, you’ll notice how much water you use. When you spin a yarn, you understand how difficult it can be to get something just right. When you sew a shirt, you get a feel for how complicated sewing can be. Try and imagine any of these processes on an industrial scale, and soon all sorts of questions pop up: how can we grow/farm fibres in huge quantities? What happens with waste water from processing fibres and dyeing it? What happens to by-products and waste from the spinning process? How can somebody sew 50 shirts a day? How are prices of clothing set on the High Street?

These are just a few questions, and answering them is difficult, and fixing things that appear to be a problem is also very complicated. So what can I do about it myself? Talking to people such as Sarah Corbett from the Craftivist Collective, or reading John-Paul Flintoff’s book Sew Your Own, made me realise that there will be things I personally cannot influence, but there are other things I can do something about. I can run workshops, I can volunteer, I can decide what goes into my wardrobe, and I can share my experiences in this blog.

A follow-up post is in the making, in which I want to share with you my thoughts about my Slow Wardrobe: what does it mean to me? Sewing and knitting my own clothes, making things that last, repairing things, and thinking about long-term style, not short-term fashion.

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I’m a bit ashamed to admit that for years, I did not have a bed. My mattress was right on the floor. I tried to pretend it was ‘minimalist’ or very ‘Japanese’, but of course, my bedroom looked more like a student dive. However, I moved house earlier this year and my ten-year old mattress really had to go. It was no longer comfortable, and as I now live in a basement flat, with carpet on the floor, the underside of a mattress is a good place to grow mould if you so wish.

As I didn’t have a huge budget, I decided to spend as much of it as I could on a new mattress, and as little as I could on a bed. As I didn’t want to buy a cheap flatpack bed, I made the decision to build my own. In Brighton, where I live, we have the amazing Wood Recycling Project, which is where I went to buy all the timber I needed for the bed. I try to be mindful of resources, so this charity that collects unwanted, but perfectly reusable wood from building sites etc, felt like the right place to source the timber from, rather than buying new. I turned up with a little sketch-cum-building plan and they were very helpful. Not only did I get some advise on my building plan, they also showed me around the timber yard and explained which types of timber would be good to use. To keep the costs down even more, I decided to buy everything unsanded:


Here it is, waiting in the kitchen as I was taking it through to the patio. You can see the sander lying on the floor. A piece of equipment I got very familiar with over my DIY weekend! But my first job was to remove nails. I had bought two joists and they are notoriously full of them:


Removing the nails didn’t take me that long, but the sanding did. I spent around 7 hours in total sanding down all the pieces of timber – there’s always a price to pay.


Nearly done! On the left are the two pieces of wood that I used to make the ‘feet’ of the bed. They are placed at the head end and the foot end, to support the two joists, which you can see on the right. I then made a platform from planks (which you can see in the middle in the picture above):


Voila! A platform bed. Perhaps more Fred Flintstone than Louis XIV in style, and definitely no Shamanic Bed for Creatives – it’s purely functional; nonetheless I’m immensely proud of it. Although I make a lot of my own things, they are usually from a very different, and perhaps more delicate, realm. Making my own bed felt very liberating, and has left me feeling enabled. Although I will not pretend my bed is even close on a parr with Rachael’s Shamanic Bed, making my own bed has made me understand better how she just Makes. She doesn’t feel one craft is better, or has more value than another, and indeed she indiscriminately joins, hand-knits, crochets, machine-knits, carves and darns until she has made what she wants to make. What I wanted to make was a comfortable bed, and I think my parting picture shows I was successful in doing just that:


Sweet dreams Anthony!

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