We live in an era and a society that is obsessed with things like health. We use organic beauty products, because we know they are better for us. We clean with earth friendly products, so we don’t pollute our homes. We eat healthy and organic foods to minimize our risk of cancer. We know that eventually we will all die, and yet, we do what we can to improve our quality of life in the here and now. And yes, all of these things are great. We should avoid the practices that we know are bad for us, and do the things that are good for us (as far as we know that they are good for us!)
There is one element that is centre to all of these practices though, and that is that they are all good for you. As in, you personally.
Ethical Fashion is not something you do for you. It is something you do for someone else.
Ethical fashion, to be really honest, doesn’t benefit you personally in any way whatsoever. In fact, one could argue, it’s really a pain and a bother when it comes right down to it.
Fair trade fashion is often more expensive than the fast fashion garments you can find at your local mall. Fair trade and ethically made garments can be hard to find: most of your local chain stores don’t carry responsible brands in stock (especially here in Canada). And, sometimes the fair trade fashions you do find, will not be your fashion style. Building a fair trade wardrobe involves research. Which brands are ethical? Where did this come from? And really, #whomademyclothes? Being a conscious consumer involves constant questioning; not just, “Do I want this?” but, “Do I need this”? And, then there is always the question of, “What is the longevity of this garment?” Sometimes ethical fashion means going without something, until you can find it in an ethical and fair trade version.
Other options to buying fair trade fashion would be practices like thrifting, or buying vintage. This takes time though. To build a second-hand wardrobe, you put in countless hours searching for pieces that you not only like, but that fit, and are in good condition as well. Vintage is rare, depending on where you live, and it can be hard to find. You can’t just stop in at your local store to pick out exactly what you want and need. And once you find the thrifted or vintage garment you are looking for, it will require upkeep that new garments don’t. Mending and fixing go hand-in-hand with pre-loved garments.
Another option is making your own clothes. This again, is a large time investment (especially if you are like me, and are an extremely slow seamstress.) It also means acquiring the skills to be able to make the garments yourself, as you want to end up with something wearable; not a “Becky-Home-Ecky” that should be turned into a rag. And again, with new fabrics and textile, you must question, “Where did this fabric come from?” With reused textiles, you run into other problems and the quirks that come along with refashioning.
Ethical fashion is hard. Creating a wardrobe full of garments that are fair trade, where the workers who sewed your clothes (because each and every piece of clothing has been made by human hands, somewhere) are earning a wage they can truly live on, is really frustrating sometimes.
But, nobody should have to die for fashion.
That shouldn’t even be a thought that enters the equation. Because really, there should be no such term as “Ethical Fashion”. That is so redundant it’s like saying “Edible Food”.
Nobody should have to drop out of school at nine years old to go to work, just to be able to put food on the table.
Nobody should have to work with toxic fabric dyes, and no safety equipment, in order to afford their monthly rent.
And nobody should have to go to work in an unsafe factory, which may collapse at any moment, in order to survive . . . but end up dying instead.
Because nobody’s life is worth less than a t-shirt.
Fashion is something that shouldn’t be only about you. Your clothes might seem like a highly personal choice, but instead I would challenge you to view your wardrobe with an outward focus too and take a moment to think about how what you buy ultimately impacts the lives of those who you may not be able to see, but are affected nevertheless. And then not only think about it, but see what steps you can take to make a difference.
“Demand quality, not just in the products you buy, but in the life of the person who made it.”- Orsola De Castro
As I mentioned last week, October is Slow Fashion Month, and Fair Trade Month. I know it’s the last week, but I didn’t want the month to pass by without sharing some of my ethical fashion journey, and the reasons behind why I am building my wardrobe the way that I am. This weeks prompt is “Known Origins”. There is a story behind each and every garment tag, and usually it is a story we’ll never know. But it is those stories, and the realities that garment workers are facing around the world every day, that are shaping my wardrobe choices. It’s not always an easy journey, and sometimes I really just wish that I could throw in the towel and go and buy all the things. I do fail sometimes, making purchases that I end up regretting, because I know that they aren’t ethical purchases. Overall I have come to a point in my wardrobe, though, where I just don’t feel good about wearing cheap fashion, with unknown origins. And so, I choose to wear slow fashion whenever possible, because of the lives of the people behind the garment tags. Because, as I said before, nobody’s life is worth less than a t-shirt.
What exciting words full of promise and possibility! Here is the chance to turn something old, ugly and unusable into something new, special, creative, and, well . . . useable.
I wholeheartedly agree with all of these sentiments, as refashioning is such a great idea. It’s eco friendly by using something that would otherwise be thrown out, and instead of letting it become end-of-life, rescuing it and transforming it into something better. Refashioning saves existing textiles by recycling them, so that the garments are kept out of the landfill. Someday it is my goal to be zero-waste, so it totally makes sense that I would be completely into refashioning. And yet. . . I have a confession to make. . . I don’t really love refashioning garments. I hate altering things, and I love cutting into brand new fabric. To be completely honest, I just don’t enjoy the process of upcycling, as much as I love the idea of it.
On the surface it sounds so great- take something that is old and useless and transform it into something good again. Our thrift shops today are overrun with used, ugly, or cheap clothes. They are full of garments from the 80’s and 90’s, that were never cool and definitely won’t ever be again. There are clothes that are ruined because they are either stained or ripped, and are only good for rags, but if something can’t even be used for a rag, what happens to it then? All that is left is for it to be thrown away as an end-of-life textile.
I don’t know why people don’t talk about it more often, (maybe it hits just a little too close to home) but the fashion industry is the second largest contributor of pollution on earth. That’s right: the second largest in the world, behind only the oil industry. I don’t know about you, but when I think of things that are damaging to the environment, I think of, yes the oil industry, but also things like, clear cut logging, or chemicals in farming practices. I don’t think about the innocent t-shirt hanging in my closet.
While we hear a lot about the impact the oil industry has, we hear hardly anything about what the fashion industry is doing to destroy our planet. The fashion industry is full of synthetic dyes and chemicals, abundant water usage and waste, and airborne pollution to name just a few. Not only are the chemicals, water usage and pollution bad enough, but many of the cheap garments being manufactured today are made from fabrics like polyester blends, that cannot be recycled, do not biodegrade, and are so poor in quality that they wear out and are almost immediately thrown out, contributing to landfill waste.
I get depressed just thinking about it all.
This is where I start thinking- what can I do to put a dent in this endless cycle of waste? There are a few ways we can help to turn the fashion industry around, and one of those things is refashioning existing textiles. Because refashioning uses textiles that have already been produced and cast aside, they are no longer a harmful part of the fashion industry cycle. By refashioning them you are giving them new life.
These are the inspiring things that I hear and tell myself, and so I decide that I am going to refashion! Instead of buying new fabric all the time, and continuously adding to my stash, I start buying fabrics and garments from the thrift stores that I can restyle and upcycle instead. I decide to join in challenges like the recent Refashioners challenge. I see a dress at the thrift store, and say to myself “This has potential. I’ll take this old thing and make something new out of it. If I just alter this, it will be perfect. If I just remove the sleeves, recut the hem, etc. then I can make this unusable thing useable again.” And I forget to take into account that a preloved garment, comes with predetermined issues.
Often the fabric is skewed or stretched over time. Sometimes I find snags or stains I didn’t notice before, or the fabric is unevenly faded and I have to make some strategic, emergency adjustments along the way. Often there isn’t enough fabric to make what I originally wanted to, so there is a lot of pattern hacking involved and changing plans midway. There are seams in odd places, and sometimes the seams have weakened the fabric, or left holes in it. Hours of frustration ensue in which I question everything, “Who made this ugly thing in the first place? Who sewed that seam crookedly, so now I can’t measure or cut where I want to? Why did they do this or that or the other? Why did I ever get the idea in my head to embark on this project????”
In short- what sometimes seems like such an easy and quick fix, is not. There are a whole host of problems with refashioning. But, nothing in life is easy, and sometimes the best things in life are a challenge to overcome, right? There are sometimes a whole host of problems that come along with sewing something brand new too.
So, after the hours, days, (weeks? months?) of my refashioning project, I put the final touches on the garment. It’s done, and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I persevered through it all, sometimes with mixed results. But then I look at what it was before, and what it is now, and I feel that sense of accomplishment! I promise myself I’ll never do it again… but boy did that turn out great!
And then much to the consternation everyone around me, who is forced to listed to my agonizing over the project, I’ll invariably end up starting another refashioning project. Is it possible to hate something so much, and yet love it too? It really is so satisfying to be able to look at something that was once wasteful and is now a productive member of society again 🙂 Some of my favourite garments are ones that were refashioned. I love them, just like I love my vintage pieces, because they have history. They have a story behind them. And I put a lot of work into them even if, like my latest refashioning project, it wasn’t a beast to sew, I still invested the time and effort into it. But isn’t it true that we tend to love those things that we had to work for?
So, I hope that, even if you aren’t into refashioning, you will take some tiny steps too. Maybe it’s fixing that blouse where the seam came undone, or the button fell off, instead of tossing it out. (Or getting someone to mend it for you, if you can’t do it.) Maybe it’s seeking out garments that are made of recycled materials instead of new materials. Maybe it’s choosing to buy your clothes at the thrift store, even if you aren’t refashioning them. (There are, obviously, a lot of nice clothes in the thrift stores that require no refashioning- and I think my fellow vintage lovers will have this one down-pat. Wearing vintage is like the ultimate planet saving practice!) Maybe it is buying quality, timeless garments in the first place, so they don’t end up in the thrift stores, stretched out of shape, pilled and out of style within a year, destined for the landfill. Or, maybe it is a more ambitious project of refashioning an existing garment into something completely new. (And if that is the case, good luck, and you can look at this year’s Refashioners challenge for tons of inspiration!)
The bottom line is, if we each take some tiny steps, even if they seem rather insignificant on their own, then together we can make bigger difference. Sometimes it really can start with something as simple as refashioning an old pair of jeans into a retro top, rather than buying a new one. You’ve got to start somewhere, so it may as well be there, right?
What do you think of refashioning? Have you ever refashioned anything before? Do you have any other ideas for ways to help decrease the impact of the fashion industry on our world?
Hooray! I didn’t wait until the last possible moment to finish up my entry for The Refashioner’s 2016. This is a record, I think. I was fully expecting myself to leave it to the last week, (day? hour?) but I actually finished this project up last Wednesday- with a full week and a half to spare! (Let’s just overlook the fact that it took me 8 weeks to get the project done, even though it actually only took three afternoons of sewing to construct it. . . hehe.)
When I first heard about the Refashioners 2016 challenge at the beginning of August, I was intrigued, but also a bit apprehensive. I am not a denim girl. I used to wear blue jeans all the time, but in the last few years, they haven’t found much of a place in my wardrobe. Not that I hate denim, I just don’t seem drawn to it as much as I used to be. I did at one point have a pair of skinnies that I liked to pair with my fur coat as it made me feel rather hip 😉 but they have worn out now, and the only other pair are designated for painting and other messy home renovation projects (designated as such, because they are covered in paint). So, even though I loved the idea of taking part in the challenge- I had to think seriously about what I could make that I would actually want to wear after I made it- and I came up with the answer: a retro styled bustier/playsuit top. (And just in time to put it away for winter too! What ridiculous timing. . . )
So, in case you are here only to see the details, here they are first, and then I will continue after this to ramble on about how I made it, what mistakes I made (what? mistakes!?), and whether I will make it again. Oh, and show you a billion more photos too.
The Low Down:
Butterick Patterns by Gertie 5882 bodice pattern
Dark denim bodice made out of the bottom cutoffs of my sister’s old jeans
Light denim pleated inset made out of the back piece of the pant legs of my brother’s ripped jeans
Floral lining made out of a remnant from a past project
Boning leftover from a past project
A recycled vintage zipper from the stash
Thread we already owned
Cost= $0.00, since everything was from the stash!
My inspiration, and details that I wanted to include in the final project:
A winged “collar” or any other bust detail for interest
1″ crisscrossed or straight straps. No halter straps as I find they give me headaches 🙁
Ideally, I wanted to make the top out of patterned or coloured denim, or utilize two different washes of blue denim for contrast and interest
I thought about using topstitching or preserving some of the flatfelled seams, but it ended up coming across as “biker chick” rather than “vintage girl”
I was nervous about sewing with a stretch denim, but decided to do it so the top would be more comfortable for hot summer days (note that this pattern is designed for woven, but I was able to sew the stretch just fine. I also cut my lining on the bias, so that it would have some stretch too.)
I wanted to try out an exposed zipper, since I was planning on a centre back zipper anyways. Now that the exposed zipper trend is now. . . you know. . . going out of style and all that. I’ve never been one for following the trends anyways 😉
In the spirit of the challenge, I wanted it to be made out of all recycled or remnant materials
I have seen several fitted bodice tops like this before, such as this one from Deadly Dames, and I really like them, as they are an easy summer option to pair perfectly with 1950’s style skirts. My original plan was to take a tried-and-true dress pattern that I have, bone it, and then add a collar flip to the top neckline. This was a popular style of bodice in the 1950’s, as I have seen several patterns utilize a detail like that, and even my Grandma’s wedding dress from the 1950’s has a collar flip like that. The Sweetheart Sundress pattern from Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing uses this detail as well. I’ve always liked this style, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to try it out. Well, as you can see from the finished garment, I obviously didn’t end up sticking with that plan, and here’s why.
Left: the failed first try. Right: so many different colours in one pair of jeans!
I started with an old faded pair of stretch jeans from my sister, (just to test things out first) cut out the pattern, sewed it up, tried it on, and then decided that it just didn’t have enough structure (as I was planning to wear this without any other underpinnings). It just felt like the bodice was the wrong shape, even with the addition of boning, and I thought that I would always feel slightly uncomfortable wearing it. I also wasn’t happy with the shape of the top neckline. After fiddling with it for a while, I decided to change plans. (Which is not unheard of during my sewing projects!)
Top: The cutoffs, lining and zipper. Right: I don’t think anyone minded me cutting these jeans up. Used for the inset bust detail. Right: Butterick 5882 pattern
The other option I had run across when deciding what to make for the challenge, was the bodice of Gertie’s Butterick 5882 pattern. I had not used this pattern before, but have wanted to for a while. We got it when it first came out which was. . . a few years ago, and there it was still waiting in the pattern drawer. This was the perfect project to try the pattern out on, and get all of the potential fitting issues out of the way, before I committed to making the dress out of a more expensive material. I am happy to say that we did manage to get the majority of the fitting issues out of the way, so next time should be a breeze. Also, it was an exciting pattern to make, as it was my first time using boning, sewing a shelf bust style, and sewing with a heavier denim material.
Left: Pattern placement on the denim cutoffs- perfect amount of material! Right: A bit too much ease I would say. . .
I chose to cut out the pattern at a size 16, as I thought it would be better to cut it out one size too big, as a test run, than a size too small. However, when I basted the seams up and tried it on . . . there was a lot of ease. I could’ve omitted the two back pieces and it still would have fit. So, I cut the pieces down to a size 12, which fit much better, though I did still end up taking some material out of the centre front pieces, the sides and the back to get better fit. I also sewed the front seams with a curve as pictured (below) for a nice smooth front. Also note, since this was a refashioning project and I was working with limited material, I cut the centre front piece as two separate pieces, and seamed it up the front.
Top: I curved the front seams in a little bit, for a closer fit. Bottom: The boning sewn into place on the lining.
Once we had gotten the majority of the bodice fitting down, the rest of the top went together pretty straightforwardly. The boning went in much easier than I was anticipating. I don’t know what I was anticipating, but I was expecting it to be hard, I guess. The kind of boning I used had a pre-sewn channel which was nice. Considering how nice of a fit, and the structure that the boning created, I am now hooked and thinking of all the other projects I can bone! I now see why so many vintage patterns use boning- it just makes a really nice structured bodice, eliminates crumpling and fits really well.
Left: The ill fated seam of doom. I sewed it wrong, but it was also very thick! There were a lot of layers of denim in that seam. Right: You can see the exposed raw edge a bit in this picture (right where the strap meets the front). It is covered from the right side by the strap. Bottom: Sewing the strap down covered up the problem.
The bra pieces went together nicely, with no problems there, but are you ready for the mistake I mentioned? 🙁 I lost track of where my notches were, and accidentally trimmed the seams, so when I sewed the front pleated bra pieces on to the bodice bottom, I placed them too close to the edge, which meant that the raw edges couldn’t be completely encased in the lining seam. At this point though (it was several steps down the road when I realized the mistake and I had already graded the seams) I was not about to take it apart again and move them in. So, instead, to save the situation, I just flipped the straps down instead of twisting them like the pattern calls for. I don’t mind the look, even though it did widen out the neckline more than originally planned. I have seen these bustier tops with every kind of strap under the sun, though, so no one will even notice. Right? I also stitched the straps down all around the front, underneath the inset too, as it kept trying to flip up. I also decided to criss cross the straps across the back, so that I will not have a problem with them slipping off my shoulders.
Top Left: Removing the teeth from the zipper (sounds painful!) Top Right: The correct length. Bottom Left: Sewing in the zipper. Bottom Right: Slipstitching the lining over the raw edges of the back zipper seam.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I wanted to include an exposed zipper up the back. My criteria for a zipper was one that had brass teeth, as I think that it suits the denim better than a silver zipper would. (And I’m not much of a silver girl anyways.) I originally was going to purchase a navy, separating zipper with brass teeth, since we didn’t already have one that was the correct colour. But apparently, a navy zipper with brass teeth is an impossible thing to want. So, all options exhausted, I looked through the stash again, and found this lovely aged one that came from who knows where. Originally it had been rejected, since it is khaki not navy, but then I decided that it would work fine, and would be even better than purchasing a new zipper as it would keep in the spirit of recycling and reusing. It was too long, but I simply removed some of the teeth with pliers, reinserted the zipper stop, and cut it to size and it works perfectly. Once the zipper was sewn in- I was done! And then I had to wait a few days to take these pictures, because it decided to be fall time all of a sudden.
So, would I make this pattern again? Yes! In fact, my original plan for the refashion was to not use blue denim at all, but to use a tan and cream, polka dot pair of jeans I found at the thrift store. However, once I had had the one detour along the way, I decided to continue making the top out of the old denim scraps, instead of cutting into the other pair. That way I could work out any kinks along the way, and then when I cut into the polka dot pair, I can avoid the mistakes of the first trial run. So basically, this denim one is a wearable muslin, and the polka dot one is going to be the next project! Also, I like how this pattern goes together, and fits, so I am planning on making it at some point as a dress, as it was originally designed to be 🙂
So, in conclusion, I am really glad that I found out about the Refashioners 2016 challenge in time to take part this year. I liked the challenge of using a material I would normally not be drawn to, and finding a way around those limitations to end up with a garment that I like- and I do really like how this top turned out. It is completely different than anything I have in my wardrobe, and after looking at it for a while- maybe I am more of a denim girl than I thought I was at first!
So did any of you participate in the Refashioners 2016 Challenge? Or, even if you didn’t take part in the contest, have you ever refashioned something into something completely different? And, what are your thoughts towards denim? Is denim something you are drawn to, or like me, would it take a bit of convincing to make it a part of your wardrobe?
Have you heard about the Refashioners Challenge before? I had vaguely heard something about it last year, in the days before I had a blog, and I never really looked into what it was all about. Then just last week I saw a link to the blog, The Makery, and it caught my eye, especially as last week I was posting about my latest refashioning project, and since taking part in Fashion Revolution, I have pledged to become more conscious in my wardrobe. I took a look at what the challenge is, and I have decided that I am going to be taking part this year!
The gist behind the Refashioners challenge is taking something that we usually toss out, (basically an end of life garment) and turning it into something new, but it is not a simple challenge- oh no there are guidelines! Last year’s challenge was a men’s button up shirt, which people made some great things from! This years challenge is: jeans. Basically it is wide open- take a pair, or multiple pairs, of jeans, and refashion them into something new.
But I think that the challenge this year is going to make us all work for that prize! Jeans are a tough one for me, as there isn’t much fabric to work with, and I don’t really wear denim all that much. I used to live in jeans, but since converting to a vintage style of dress, I hardly wear them anymore. Not that you can’t have vintage style denim- I’ve just never found any that fit yet, and I’ve not gotten around to sewing any yet.
So, I had to think long and hard about what I could make from a pair of jeans that:
1. Would use such a minimal amount of fabric
2. I could piece, without it ending up looking like a hippie patchwork. Other people totally rock that style, but I wouldn’t like to wear it myself.
3.Which brings me to- would I actually wear it? That would be the key- something I would want to wear afterwards. As that is pretty much the whole point of refashioning 🙂 I am not a fan of the faded, washed denim style, so any jeans I use, will need to look fresh, not faded, and I will need to be able to make them into something that doesn’t look too “crafty” if you know what I mean.
But the thought of overcoming the challenge, the satisfaction of refashioning something old into something new, being part of this online community, and- oh yeah- the amazing prize packages, really drew me in and so I decided that I would join in.
The challenge runs until the end of September, so if you are thinking of joining in you’ve still got plenty of time! (Did I mention the amazing prize packages yet???)
I’m not giving any hints yet as to what I have decided to do, and I am still in the planning stages- as I need to hit up a thrift store for the perfect pair of jeans, (remember I don’t have any old pairs lying around!) but it is definitely going to be vintage inspired. I am going to try and keep as many original denim details in the final design, so that it is obvious that it was a refashioned piece, hopefully without making it look too “crafty”.
Oh, and of course, this challenge would come along, right as my summer/fall gets busy, so the pressure is on.
Time to get sewing!
Have you heard about the Refashioners Challenge before?
Are you planning on taking part?
No, I am not making any of these things, I just wanted to include a picture of sewing related stuff!