Fashion Revolution – Towards a fully handmade wardrobe

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By Marie-Emilienne

For the past 6 years, I have been sewing all my clothes. Well almost all. I sew everything that I can, the clothes I have the skills to make myself or for which I can find the right fabric. In 6 years, I have only bought 2 pairs of jeans (after trying twice to make some but they didn’t fit me properly), 1 puff vest to wear under my coat and 3 jeggings. So almost nothing. I bought less than 2 garments per year. I sew all the other myself.

It has been and continue to be an exciting adventure. Yes, at the beginning it can feel like a challenge and one can doubt to be able to sew everything one actually needs. But trust me it’s easier than you think. The first step towards a fully handmade wardrobe was to ask myself the following questions: What are my real needs? How many items of clothing do I really need? I am a sewing pattern designer but ironically, compared to all the women I know, I am the one with the least amount of clothes. They are all of great quality and I love them all! I have just the right amount and in the morning, I don’t need to think twice to decide what to wear.

On the picture above, I wear my favourite outfit to go feed my hens – yes, I have hens, it comes in pair with the market grower boyfriend 😉 In this pair of Panoramix trousers, my favourite Apollon sweater and my boyfriend’s Jacques coat, I do almost all the gardening work but it’s also the outfit I prefer to go for a long walk with him. A very versatile outfit, that I wear often. My entire wardrobe is based on this principle: quality items of clothing that I truly love, in which I am super comfortable and only a few piece so I can mix and match them easily and that can be of use in different activities.

So today I want to share with you the joy of not buying retail clothing anymore, the joy of sewing a wardrobe that reflects who I am, with only items I love profoundly.

Are you intrigued? Then, continue reading. In the rest of the article I give you advice and I also share a template to help you make the step towards a more sustainable and handmade wardrobe.

After which, I cover some of the benefits of sewing your own wardrobe. And there’s quite a few…

Sew your ideal wardrobe

Identify what comfort is for you

  • In which type of garments and fits do you feel the most comfortable ?

Do not give in to the temptation of having the latest trendy patterns. Out of the hundredths sewing patterns that are launched each season, choose the ones you know you are going to feel good in. A style that suits you doesn’t mean to follow the trend. For exemple it can be trendy to wear a midi length skirt at the moment but as far as you are concerned, if the cut is not above the knee, you don’t feel comfy. Trust yourself and only wear clothes in which you feel good.

  • What fabric do you like to wear?

No, not everyone like to wear flowy fabrics or on the contrary rigid fabrics. Everyone has its own sensibility and only YOU can tell what your is when it comes to choosing fabrics.

  • What colours do you like to wear?

There can be a huge difference between what you like to wear, the current trends and what you actually feel at the best at ease in. Select only the fits, material and colours in which you feel great.

To feel good in your clothes is not an exact science obviously. When you slip on one of your clothes, close your eyes and try to feel the fabric. Is it pleasant? Or is it getting in the way? Do you feel like you want to change clothes? For each fabric, define if wearing it, feels nice or not. This way you can determine a list of fabric that are right for you. Ask yourself the same questions for the fits and colours.

Here is what I learnt doing this exercise. I like the rigid but soft fabrics like corduroy, sweatshirting, denim for the winter and cotton fabrics like poplin and African wax fabric for the summer. As for the fits, I prefer either a relaxed fit which doesn’t get in the way of my movements (which sometimes means very stretchy fabrics). Regarding the colours, I only feel good in dark navy to navy, black, light pink or light blue and poppy red. That’s it.

When you have answered all those questions (which took me a few months to define), make an inventory of all the clothes you own. Then, only keep the ones that fit ALL those categories. Put the other ones in a box and see if you miss having them in your wardrobe. If after a few months you have not needed them, give them away or sell them.

2 – Identify your needs

Once you have defined the garment you feel the most comfortable in, carry on by identifying your real needs and ask yourself those questions:

  • What are your activities?
  • How many and what type of clothing do you need for each?
  • Which items of clothing do you already own?
  • Which ones should you sew or buy?

Do not go on a shopping spree straight away (whether it’s patterns/fabrics or off the rack garments). Plan. In order of importance, list all the clothes that you can sew. Still by order of importance, list the ones that you think you should buy. Start by sewing the ones on the “to sew” list. After that you might want to carry on sewing some of the cloths in the “to buy” category. And when it’s not possible anymore, buy the ones that you still need.

To help you define your needs, we have created a ready to print template. You can then write down all the answers and start creating a fully handmade wardrobe.

The benefits of sewing your own wardrobe

I have not yet talked about the benefits of sewing your own wardrobe. There are numerous benefits but some of those benefits, like the satisfaction of having created something with your own hands or having made a unique item of clothing, are not quantifiable.

The personal benefits

  • We can choose clothes that fit us completely. We choose the fabric, the colour, the fit, and all the details in between.
  • We can adapt the clothes to our morphology so it fits us perfectly and we are comfortable in them
  • Each garment that we make, like any other artisanal object, has a soul and we love it

The ethical benefits

Having worked in China for a few years, I visited a few textile factories, I can confirm what we often hear: the working conditions are appalling. These human beings behind the machines are modern slaves. They are barely paid and live well below the standard of living in their country.

Once, I was invited to the wedding of one of my assistant’s sisters. The wedding was in the country and it was very fun. However, there I met their other sister and her husband. They worked in a factory that made rope. They only had one day off every 10 days, and couldn’t raise their son who lived with my assistant’s parents. They lived near the factory and slept in unsanitary dormitories. What a life !

And sadly, the day after the wedding, we woke up with them having left overnight to resume their post at the factory. They didn’t say goodbye to the bride and groom nor their son, to hide their shame…. This is a small example of the millions of people who work in these factories.

The environnemental benefits

When you sew your clothes, you choose the textiles to make them. We can therefore choose ecological textiles (flax, hemp) that require little water for their production and / or recycled or second-hand textiles. Also, it is good to consider buying certified “organic” textiles. This assures you that the fields have not been treated with pesticides which pollute our soils, but also our water.

In the tiny village I live in in Burgundy, you cannot drink tap water. And yes, the many cultivated fields around pollute our water. If we continue to pollute the soil and water, we will soon have no drinking water at all. And without water there is no life…. Each of us is a consumer and we can choose to give our money to people who work with respect for the soil, water and life. Every little action counts. And you too, if you haven’t already, today you can choose to support eco-friendly and organic textiles.

Another ecological benefit of sewing your clothes is that you make them at home and they don’t travel thousands of miles with all the impact it has on the ozone layer.

Those are for me the main reasons to make your own clothes. It is quite a complex topic and there are still a lot of other benefits. If you want to dive deeper in this we advise you to consult the Fashion Revolution website. For those who don’t know how to sew and want to participate in the Fashion Revolution, you can simply participate by:

  • buying second-hand clothes. Why make an item that already exists and which is looking for a new home? For example, I buy second-hand shoes more often than not now.
  • reducing the number of items you won and only keeping the ones that suit your needs and only replacing them when necessary.
  • only buying clothes from companies that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performances like B Corp companies.

Give it a go

Not that any of you was still doubting it, but making your own clothes is good for you and the planet. I hope that this article will inspire you to sew yourself a fully handmade wardrobe. To help you start the process we have created a template that you can download by clicking on the link below.

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