I came across “The Class Dynamics of DIY Clothing” the other day while looking for something completely unrelated. (Because that is how the internet works.) I can’t help but agree with the essay, and own my privilege in this area.
I know how to sew, have a decent machine in working order, a good amount of fabric squirreled away, and pretty much every sort of notion you might need to make basic items. If I like a pattern that doesn’t come in my size, I know how to make it bigger.
The initial buy-in to begin sewing is expensive – mostly because of the equipment. You need access to a sewing machine, an iron, an ironing board, good scissors, pins, needles, marking tools, and a space large enough to cut fabric (whether on a table or the floor). You’ll need a pattern (or the ability to make a pattern), thread, and fabric – which is often more expensive than a ready-made garment, especially if you wear natural fibers. You may need zippers, elastic, buttons, bias tape, interfacing, or trim. You will need adequate time (and energy) to sew.
The bottom floor for sewing is several stories up the building, if you catch my meaning.
I learned to sew in home economics when I was 13, though I wasn’t very into it at the time. Various relatives pooled their money to buy me a basic sewing machine for my 15th birthday, after I became interested in making my own clothes…because I couldn’t find anything I liked in my size in stores. (Does that sound familiar?) My grandma worked in a garment factory and had access to very cheap fabric remnants that I used both for practice and for finished garments in those early years.
By the time I was 18 I was working as a theatrical costumer. My experience is absolutely atypical.
I think there’s something else going on beneath this cheerful admonition to “do it yourself,” too: a little whiff of the “you’re on your own” mentality so prevalent these days. Society (in the form of the retail marketplace in this example) is failing to provide for your needs? Well, too bad! You’re on your own! Just do it yourself. Go sew your own, fatty, and get out of my face.
I could be wrong about that, but it seems to be there.
I truly love clothes, and I enjoy sewing. I would never tell someone not to make their own clothes if they were inclined to do so. And though I think that retail options should definitely be expanded in larger sizes, I’m not sure how much change we can expect in the short term. Even before the economy tanked, when fat ladies were (supposedly) lined up with cash in hand, retailers didn’t do much to expand plus size offerings anywhere other than online. So what do we do?
I wish I knew.
(I made this dress, and I wore this exact same outfit today – though this photo is from last fall.)