So I finally did it – I started a blog.
I’ve been sewing for over ten years but I only started to properly document my makes on Instagram over the last couple of years. As sewing and making my own clothes has become a greater part of my life, Instagram just isn’t cutting it as a place for me to reflect and document my projects. So here we are.
For those of you who have stumbled across this blog whilst researching projects or exploring sewing-related content on the interwebs, I would like to introduce myself and explain how I got here.
My name is Rachel, I’m 22 years old, I live in London and I have been sewing for ten years. When I tell people that I have ten years of sewing experience, they are often surprised. However, this is only my earliest recollection of being competent with a sewing machine, sewing and craft have actually been a part of my life as far back as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are of failed sewing ventures and being taught to knit.
I learned about dressmaking through movies I saw as I child. Cinderella makes a dress for the ball: the enchanting scene of flowing fabrics, spools of thread and charming anthropomorphised mice captivated me. One of my favourite childhood books, which I still own, was a compendium of fairy stories; stories shared by dressmaker fairies as they crafted a dress for the fairy queen. The illustrations of leafy skirt pattern pieces inspired me to make my earliest memory of a project, a dress for my barbie. It was very long until, to my dismay, I realised there was more to pattern construction than simply tracing around a barbie. Despite my best efforts, the dress didn’t account for Barbie being three dimensional.
Another inspiration in my adoption of sewing has been my mum. It was her fabric stash that I raided for childhood projects, and she taught me to cross-stitch, to knit and how to use a sewing machine. My earliest memory of using a sewing machine is from when I was about seven or eight; as mum fed the fabric into the sewing machine, she let me press the pedal (on the speed symbolised by the tortoise, of course). In my early teens, it was my mum who helped me to buy materials and patterns, and who guided me through the processes. Nowadays, I use YouTube and books to learn new techniques and troubleshoot. Nevertheless, my mum is still the first person I go to for aesthetic advice and for help with fitting (it’s impossible to pin garments on yourself without injuries). For her birthday this year, I finally made her a dress; I had come a long way from the tortoise speed pedal.
Crafting as a hobby really took off for me when I was in sixth form. I knitted far more often than I sewed, a chunky jumper and a satchel bag stand out as some of my favourites. But I was altogether too impatient for knitting, my technique wasn’t spectacular which meant that my progress was often slow, and I was more drawn to the speed of a sewing machine. Perhaps the more pressing reason I got into sewing was that I had reached the unfortunate stage of adolescence where I was shopping in the women’s clothing department but didn’t quite have the right body shape. I was quite tall and very skinny, so the waists and busts on clothes never fitted quite right. I regularly altered my own clothes, with more consistently good results each time. Yet again I was motivated by stubbornness, particularly the mentality that ‘some else made this, so why can’t I?’. I wasn’t regularly making my own clothes yet, but I began to have more and more sewing projects. A skirt intended for daywear became the part of a mad hatter costume (a costume that I consider to be one of my greatest achievements). Knitted snoods, and several for friends, were also a favourite project (the big stitching and yarn meant I didn’t get too impatient). Perhaps my favourite project from this period was an applique cushion of my mum’s prized Renault Clio, made in complete secret for her birthday. It still holds pride of place on her bed.
In my first year of university I realised how central sewing and craft was to my wellbeing. Since my early teens I had regularly had projects on the go, whether it was sewing, knitting and cross-stitch. The fashion and textile GCSE I had taken as an extra was my ‘fun’ GCSE, a creative outlet in a pressured academic environment. However, in the effort to pack light, I did not take my sewing machine or any crafting materials to university. I was also conscious that I was entering the University of Cambridge and I felt that I couldn’t ‘waste time’ on frivolous craft projects. After an intense first year at university, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. I realised how having projects had become a kind of self-care, giving my anxious mind an escape from itself.
In my second year, projects continued, but with a new environmental perspective. I discovered Depop, the second-hand clothes app, and the value of buying second-hand. Second-hand clothes were nothing new to me, but this was the first time I adopted buying second hand as an alternative to buying from the high street. I realised I could get clothes in excellent condition, extending their lifetime and saving myself money in the process. And this new shopping habit worked with my sewing, I bought a pair of second-hand jeans to follow an Annika Victoria tutorial for making a skirt. At a vintage fair I bought teal needlecord trousers that were too big to make a skirt from. At this point in my sewing journey, I mostly adapted clothing items into other things, as it was cheap and accessible. I still really enjoy this kind of project as it challenges me to really think about the shape and features of a garment.
My third year started with a lot of promise. After a couple of really tough years, I felt like I had finally cracked Cambridge, ready to prioritise my mental health and really smash my final year. Then things went wrong, very wrong. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and the ultimately led to me making the very difficult decision to drop out for a year. My world was turned upside down and put on hold by something I could never have predicted. Once I had recovered enough, I found refuge in my sewing. It was a way for me to keep my mind occupied and made me feel like I was still achieving despite a huge setback. The extent to which I found solace in my sewing is obvious in my project of making eight tops in one month. I was sewing every day, for most of the day, channelling my anxieties and energy into each stitch.
Taking a year off from university really gave me the time to invest in my hobby in a way that I never had the opportunity to do before, as I was so focused on academic pursuits. There is a stigma against creative subjects in schools and my creativity suffered because of it. But, when I took a step back from academia, my sewing machine replaced my laptop on my desk and in February 2019, Vivienne, my dress form, appeared in my room. I made over 30 projects in 2019 and with each one I have become more confident. Not to mention that there is no feeling like wearing something you have crafted. I proudly share my projects on my Instagram, and I tell people (probably too often) about the projects I have coming up. Sewing has become a key pillar in my identity, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
My beliefs about clothing and the fashion industry have also crystallised. By making my own clothes and seeing first-hand the cost in terms of materials, time and labour, I cannot understand how such a demand for clothes is realised in an international market. The fashion industry is exploitative, paying workers a fraction of the price they should be paid for making garments, and it is destructive. The planet is the cost we pay for new trends. Our attitudes towards clothing have completely changed in the era of fast fashion; prioritising new, cheap goods, over more expensive goods that are more enduring. This is such a complex issue and one that will require us to re-evaluate our patterns as consumers and the fashion industry to look beyond profit margins. I’m not going to save the world with my sewing machine, but I am consciously changing my purchasing habits to reflect my beliefs. I work on the basis that if I can make something then I am not allowed to buy it. I am not comfortable with participating in a culture that I see as so damaging. Instead, I buy second hand and I make my own clothes.
And I am happier. I got bored of going down the high street and seeing exactly the same things in every single shop. I hated clinical shop lights and booming music. I hated the experience of shopping, it didn’t inspire me or bring me joy. Instead of going to high street shops, I go to vintage and second-hand stores, or fabric shops. Vintage fairs are exhilarating, picking up pieces I liked before someone else could get to them and seeing their potential. I love fabric shops, and the personal connections you can make there. But mostly, making my own clothes allows me to channel my identity into my clothes in a way that I couldn’t with high street brands because I chose every part of it.
Sewing brings me joy, it is a way for me to manage my wellbeing, and it challenges me. I hope that you will enjoy following me as I continue to learn and continue to make.