Revisiting Slow Clothing

Note: If you asked my sisters, both of whom are deeply stylish, elegant and aware of fashion, who you should call before you called me to discuss issues of style, they would probably come up with about a billion names. And that's because they love me. Anyone else could come up with 3 billion. And yet my phone has been ringing off the hook and my email box is full of interview requests because this is fashion week. Why is anyone calling me, a woman who like the late, great Molly Ivins embodies clothes that make a statement - the statement "woman who wears clothes so she won't be nekkid?" Well, because I invented "slow fashion" and "slow clothing" (the Christian Science Monitor edited my quotes to make them seem a lot more hardassed than they actually were ;-)) which once were but a twinkle in my eye and now get a bazillion google hits. I feel a little weird taking credit for the coinage, since it seems like such an obvious construction, but hey - I can't tell the paper of record that!

Since this fashion week, despite its sponsorship by the Mercedes Benz company, is supposed to be "green" people want to know what I think of the green fashion movement. And the answer to that is that I think it is all very interesting, and I'm delighted that people are trying to deal with the enormous impact of our clothing - and that reminds me to go hit my local Goodwill for some more second-hand t shirts to go with my sweats. Meanwhile, here's a lightly revised version of the original article which appeared first at Groovy Green Magazine in 2006.

In conversations about social justice, energy, and our environment clothing doesn't get a lot of attention. This is in part because individually, clothing items don't carry that big an embodied energy cost. Another reason is that shirts aren't as spectacular as cars, or houses or even dinner. It is also kind of a girl thing - although male clothing is just as expensive, men, on average, shop less often and buy less when they do. Women tend to buy the household's clothing as well as their own, and to engage in recreational clothing shopping. Clothing the household has been women's work from time immemorial. And because the clothes we wear are tied intimately into how we feel about ourselves, and how others view us, clothing as a subject is somewhat fraught.

And yet, I think there are a number of really good reasons to find and learn ways to make clothing, to prioritize homemade, or locally made clothing (including learning to find it beautiful), and perhaps to create a "Slow Clothing" or "Slow Fashion" movement rather like the "Slow Food" movement currently picking up speed. Maybe it's as simple as creating a campaign in which each of us would have at least one daily wearable outfit that we've made ourselves, a kind of democratic fashion statement that acknowledges that our clothing comes with human and environmental costs.

Because while most adults may never urgently need to make clothing (there is enough clothing in the average American adult's closet to last them their entire lives), except perhaps small items that wear out easily, like underwear, socks and gloves, breaking our dependency on the clothing industry may be at least as important - and powerful - as breaking our dependency on industrial food.

Before the invention of mass production on a large scale, the average American or European had two outfits - an everyday one, which was washed weekly and permitted to get dirty, stained, worn, etc... and a "best" outfit that was kept for Sabbaths and special occasions, and was kept clean at all costs. They might also have warm outwear, knitted stockings, or additional items, depending on their wealth and the climate. The poor often had only rags - one of the gifts of industrial clothing production has been such a large surplus that even the poor can clothe themselves reasonably well through donations, thrift shops and yard sales. But that benefit has come with a price as well.

Because each pre-industrial item of clothing was home produced, it was terribly labor intensive to keep a family clothed. The work included cleaning and carding wool, flax and cotton, spinning yarn, weaving cloth, cutting and sewing it, knitting stockings and outerwear, embellishment techniques such as embroidering, lacemaking, etc..., and the work consumed a good part of the time of all the female members of the household (with some help from young boys and elderly men). In fact, in human culture, clothing production, along with food preparation, has been the central work of women in most societies for most of human history.

Industrial cloth production liberated wealthy women (and poor first world women, most of whom are quite rich by world standards) from the labor intensive work of cloth production, made it possible for them to have more and more varied clothing, and made clothing cheap for those who were poor. But it would be a mistake to believe that all women were similarly freed.

Industrialization has never been able to fully eliminate the enormous quantity of (female, often child) labor required to produce clothing - it has never found a machine that can do all the sewing, for example in a t-shirt. It has reduced that labor somewhat, but in yet another form of Jeavons' paradox, that reduction in labor per-outfit has come with an enormous growth the sheer quantity of clothing we wear. Thus, poor people, usually poor women and children, are being virtually (and sometimes literally) enslaved to produce what we wear. Even clothing factories that don't employ sweatshop labor often get their cloth from places where the cloth is manufactured by slave labor running large industrial machines. We have not eliminated the work of making our clothing - we have merely moved the labor offshore, reduced our own skill levels, and impoverished other people so we could have a lot of t-shirts

It is no accident that clothing manufacture on an industrial scale has always been oppressive work, one in which people have been terribly exploited. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, or the appalling conditions of the Lowell mills of the 19th century are not aberrations, any more than the room full of 12 year old Philippine slaves is now. Every step of industrial clothing production is inhumane and unjust in most circumstances, from the growing of cotton (which was once the product of American slave labor, and is now the most toxic crop produced in the US, putting more pesticides into the ground and water than any other), to the production of silk in India, to the sewing of dresses in factories all over the world. There are exceptions, but just as industrial food production is fundamentally and essentially inhumane in ways that cannot simply be resolved by a little tinkering, there seems little contrary evidence to the claim that industrial cloth production is equally morally problematic.

Cloth production has always been tied up with colonialism, slavery, and power. Thus, it is no accident that many of the most successful revolutionary movements in history framed their revolutions in part on the rejection of the clothing of their oppressors. Around the time of the American Revolution, for example, poorer women had always worn homespun, but in refusing to buy British cloth imports, women had their own Boston tea party. Urban and upper and middle class women accustomed to buying cloth or clothing imported from Britain proudly wore only homespun, and clothed their family entirely in their own production.

During and before the Civil War, people in the North refused to wear clothing that came from the South, because it was a product of slave labor. Women spun, wove and knitted their own wool and linen clothing, in an attempt to undermine the southern slave economy.

And Mahatma Gandhi, of course, in his famous swadeshi movement called for a boycott of all British cloth, and for women and men both to work daily at the production of khadi, or homespun cotton cloth, spun on an indigenous spinning wheel called a charka.

In each of these cases, the clothing revolution was a revolution of women, of people who had historically been left out of revolutionary planning. In India, the khadi revolution was the first call for women to be full enfranchised. In America, particularly during the civil war, women took their economic power to boycott quite seriously, and it led to women take new public roles in the anti-slavery movement.

At present, clothing is a powerful, multibillion dollar industry that encourages the exploitation of poor people all over the world, the majority of them women and children. It supports industrial agriculture, toxic pesticide use and the inhumane treatment of animals (industrial wool production is extremely problematic). It absorbs millions of barrels of oil every year for things like the creation of polyester cloth, the running of industrial machinery, and the transport of clothing made in Vietnam to stores in New Jersey. And it is an industry that is the lifeblood of places like Walmart and other mega-corporations, who make an enormous part of their profits off of our insatiable desire for more and different clothing.

So I would like to propose a "Slow Clothing" movement, one that makes economic and aesthetic and personal inroads in reducing the exploitativeness of the clothing industry. It won't solve all of the problems of industrial clothing - but a shift in our relationship to our t-shirts will make an enormous ecological difference.

Ideally, I would suggest that each household strive to create a single outfit for every man, woman and child that is entirely homemade. Now homemade might vary - ideally, of course, we would raise the sheep, spin the yarn and weave the cloth. And this can be done. But even if you buy your cloth (preferring, of course, organic cotton or sustainably produced wool or whatever), and simply sew your clothing, or repurpose old clothing, buy your yarn and knit your socks and sweater, each of us should strive to do some portion of the work of wardrobe production. This is a symbolic gesture, of course - it doesn't resolve the problem, but it also gives people some grasp of what goes into their clothing. Just as Michael Pollan gave millions of Americans a sense of what goes into their food, now it is time to fully grasp what a truly honest outfit would take from us.

For those of us who are adults, there are only a few items of clothing that we should need to purchase, if we use what is in our existing wardrobes carefully and wisely. Work clothing will need replacing, but dressy or nice clothes not used for work should last a whole lifetime or at least a very long time. Since the average American has 9 pairs of jeans in their wardrobe, purchasing even hard-wearing leisure clothing can be reduced dramatically simply by wearing the same pairs more often and long, patching and mending, line drying (dryers remove fibers from clothing), and the use of coverups, aprons, etc... Women will need maternity items, but these can be widely shared in a community. We can reduce our consumption by trying carefully to maintain our weight, or to lose weight and keep it off, so that we need not carry multiple sizes of clothing. We will need socks and underwear, but these are among the easier items to make - doing the work of handknitting or sewing small items is both satisfying and results in clothes of greater quality.

Children do need more clothes, more often because they change sizes rapidly. But again, we can reduce our needs by making some of these clothes, by engaging in good practice (ie, having children take off school or church clothing immediately and replace it with playclothes), by making repairs (by the age of 10, most children should be able to do their own clothing repairs), and by accepting lower standards for play clothes, which need not be perfect.

When we do purchase clothing, we should send a strong message to manufacturers by buying things that are not sweatshop made, ideally made locally or within our own country, and made both sustainably (ie, organically, and of natural materials) and of high quality. If we can radically reduce our clothing purchases, there will be no reason to buy cheaply made, imported, sweatshop clothing at Walmart - those with cash to spare will be able to afford to purchase high quality, environmentally sound clothing, including maybe investing in single pieces from environmentally conscious designers who make really cool stuff.

(The amazing Crunchy Chicken in her dress made of recycled neckties at the premier of her new tv show)

Used clothing can offer higher quality than we can afford new, and makes sure that clothes don't go into landfills. If we buy locally and nationally made clothing, we can reignite our national clothing manufacturing industry, whose offshoring has done so much economic harm to us.

My own family of six is kept well dressed by Goodwill and the Salvation Army, by yard sale finds and careful mending - and sometimes with a little creative sewing. It is amazing how often things can be repurposed - my kids wear mittens sewn made from old sweaters that went through a hot wash (I get these free from a thrift shop that has no other use for them), I sometimes unravel and reknit old sweaters, and I have several long work skirts that were once jeans - and I'm not seamstress.

There's so much emphasis in our culture on the new and latest thing - shifting to an aesthetic of the homemade, the remade, the used and classic, the sustainably grown and the local is a long process - and a major psychological change. But I'm thrilled that it seems to be happening all the same!

More like this

on the subject of slow fashion, have you seen:
this is a woman who makes ALL of her own clothes. including shoes. some of her stuff is beautiful, some of it is crazy, some of it is a little Mad Max. but it's fascinating.

this is a community of people who pledge to wear only used clothes and clothes which they make out of used clothes. some of the work is incredible, some of it is hilarious.

i love clothes, but i hate shopping. i buy almost everything used, with the exception of underpants, socks, and shoes. (there's nothing wrong with used shoes, i just never find any that fit me.) i mostly just mend things/take things in that i buy, but i occasionally rework or make something from scratch. we always had homemade, hand-me-downs and used clothes as kids, so i don't feel particularly virtuous for doing this. it's interesting how often "frugal" things and "green" things intersect, isn't it? i love this, b/c now i can pretend to be thrifty (rather than some kind of zombie-anticipating survivalist wacko) to my family and i can pretend to be environmentally conscious (rather than cheap) to my "cool" friends.

This has been something I've been thinking about for a long time, and I think it's time to really do it. I've been trying to cut down on disposable things (no shampoo, the keeper, reusable packaging/bags) and eat local food and walk everywhere but then I go to H&M and buy a ton of "cheap" crap because it's cute and I love clothes. I'm ready, no more shopping! Only used and handmade clothes! Thanks for the inspiration/kick in the pants :)

I'm also in the Molly Ivins fashion camp, and I dislike buying clothes most of the time (with occasional exceptions). I don't feel confident of my ability to make any major piece of clothing, nor do I wish to take time away from other pursuits for that. It hasn't been difficult to accumulate way more clothes than I need, however, because of free T-shirts from volunteer organizations I belong to, an MIL who loves buying clothes and gives me things she no longer wants, and a mom who gives me a gift card for clothing for Christmas.

I've been trying to use the gift cards wisely, to purchase things like lined jeans and thermal underwear for winter wear in a cold house, and to purchase shoes when a current pair wears out. Now that I line-dry my clothes, the lined jeans and other clothes are lasting *much* longer. Although major sewing projects are, so far, beyond my ability, I do know how to mend socks, re-sew on buttons, and repair hems and split seams, and I do these to extend the useful life of my clothes. As clothes wear to the point I don't want to be seen in public in them, they become work clothes, worn for gardening, house painting, and other messy tasks. I can use them for years longer that way.

I actually have managed the trick of staying about the same weight for thirty years, which is the final reason my closet is crowded ... I can still wear all the good clothes I bought 20+ years ago. And I do, fashion be damned. (I rather enjoy tweaking peoples' expectations that way.)

Gosh, I've been a handspinner and handweaver for a dozen years or so but never heard of the Slow Clothing movement. I used to do historical spinning demonstrations and would ask folks how many outfits they think they'd have if they had to spin the thread first and then weave the fabric. Needless to say they got the point. Kind of fun to know I've been part of a movement all along. I don't make a lot of whole handspun, handwoven outfits, but most of what we wear comes from thrift stores, if I don't make it.

As a custom seamstress and alterationist/clothing mender, as well as the chief Wardrobe Mistress for our household, I salute you! :D

If I had a dollar for everyone who has come into my studio saying (rather proudly, sometimes) that they can't even sew on a button (and make it stay) I'd....well, I'd at least be able to buy lunch somewhere nice! One of the things that I end up doing in my business is in fact educating people about why I can't *undercut* the price of wedding dresses imported from China with my *custom made*, totally custom fit, handmade wedding gowns. Besides being a very small business, small enough that I don't often qualify for wholesale rates on fabric*, I actually earn a living wage with my work. And I do every. single. bit. of work that goes into that gown. It is apparently something that no one really thinks about much these days, probably because so few people do *any* sewing, let alone sew something on the complexity order of a wedding gown.

There is more I could say about the wedding industry, but I think I'd need my own blog for that rant. ;) Suffice to say that I'm glad that someone is thinking about and talking about what actually goes into the production of clothing. And that I really do think that simple mending tasks at the very least should be something that people learn how to do for themselves. I sure don't mind taking their money for re-sewing snaps and fixing zippers (a recent job, actually), but deep in my heart I'd love for people to be more self sufficient for that and let me just *construct* clothing.

"Will sew clothing for food/barter." :D

* Wholesale prices very often have prohibitive yardage requirements. I do, however, shop sales aggressively, use coupons, and have a good relationship with a couple of businesses that offer me whatever discount they can. But I can't compete with industrial fabric purchase prices -- they are often only $1-2/yard for the big clothing companies.

Some genies won't be going back into the bottle.

The greatest, by far, revolution in clothing was the mechanical production of thread (yarn, etc.) Prior to the invention of the spinning mule/spinning jenny, the great majority of labor and cost in clothing was just making thread. That is now, and barring a New Stone Age always will be, a thing of the past.

The next greatest was the mechanical production of raw yard goods. Again, that's something that doesn't require [1] handwork any more and is economical with 18th century technology.

Hand production of clothing per se on the other hand is economically feasible for most people even now, and will be even more so if the premium pricing on retail yard goods diminishes.

[1] Yes, I know people who spin and weave. Its strictly for hobby or the luxury trade.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 23 Feb 2010 #permalink

Children do need more clothes, more often because they change sizes rapidly. But again, we can reduce our needs by making some of these clothes, by engaging in good practice (ie, having children take off school or church clothing immediately and replace it with playclothes), by making repairs (by the age of 10, most children should be able to do their own clothing repairs), and by accepting lower standards for play clothes, which need not be perfect.

And we can go back to hand-me-downs. I spent much of my childhood in second- or third-hand clothes, many of which were Clothkits to start with, which were modified to make them less obviously dated. I still remember my big bro pleading with my Mum to do something about the flared jeans I got handed down from my cousin. ;)

The munchkin I live with gets all her clothes handed down from her cousin. For someone that doesn't like pink, she has a disturbing amount of pink in her wardrobe! But that is her only complaint.

The big advantage I find to having a limited wardrobe is the utter *inability* to have Mt. Washmore! (not having kids also helps [wry grin]) Working from home also makes a difference - no one notices if I wear the same outfit until it is actually dirty!

I'm contemplating going barefoot ( to avoid wearing out my shoes and having to replace them. Not sure how to work that in with farming, though. Manure?

I'm not much one for reading fiction but I must recommend the great utopian novel "Islandia" by Austin Tappen Wright. In it, the Islandian woman Nattana makes a set of wool clothing for the American protagonist. She raised the sheep, sheared them, carded, dyed, spun and wove the fabric, then hand stitched the clothing to his proportions. The operation took weeks to complete. With proper care and barring accident, she told him, they would last his lifetime. Now, that's value. And she did it as her gift to him, just because he was a guest and she liked him.

The slow clothing shift is going to be a much harder one for me than slow food was. Slow food, fresh, local, homemade food, is just plain better than mass-produced stuff, so moving over to it hasn't been a hardship. But wearing my own awkwardly homemade creations just doesn't have the same appeal and I'm no Crunchy Chicken. (That dress rocks!) I'm all for thrift shops and consignment shops, but so far it's been more a hit or miss recreation than my normal way of shopping. This may need to change.

I'm a very girly girl, and while I'd hardly call myself a fashionista, I like having a variety of pretty clothes. Looking frumpy is depressing to me--but I'm certainly not keen on the real cost of cheap imported clothing either. And I can't for the life of me figure out how I can carve out time for much sewing, especially since my skills are rusty and would need a lot of work to get up to making clothes appropriate for the outside world. Night shirts and lounging pants, sure. Dresses, not so much. (I knit--and I have friends who hand-spin, even--but I'm rather new to it so sweaters are still a ways off.)

I see more barter in my future.

So, I have a question - where do y'all find organic fabric? I'd like to buy a bulk amount (like a whole bolt???), but the only things I seem to find are a yard of funky colored, 50% organic cotton...


try Dharma Trading Company. (I believe.) They carry a number of organic yard goods in both natural and black -- they are primarily a supply house for textiles artists, so most of their stuff is undyed. It's a good place to start though, and they have excellent resources for dyers, too, including a *lot* of texts. They are really good people, too.

Barring that, I'd run a google search on the web. Finding anything local to you is going to depend on where you live. Treadle Yard Goods in St. Paul, MN (close to me, for example), does have a small selection of organic cotton, bamboo, and possibly other fiber based fabrics. They are not a wholesaler, but you may be able to talk them into a discount for buying a bolt.

Good luck!

One thing I find about the commitment to wear second hand clothing as much as possible is that it requires planning ahead. When I discovered my eldest son had suddenly grown out of *all* his long sleeved t-shirts I just chucked a three-pack in the trolley next time I was at the supermarket. Buying from charity shops takes a lot more planning ahead as there's no guarantee they'll have something suitable that fits on the day I go. I've learnt from the supermarket t-shirt experience (brought on by the moving away of my main source of inherited clothes)that I need to plan ahead, so that now whenever I happen to be in a charity shop I keep an eye out for what he's going to need *next* winter. Of course I don't have to worry about my other sons, they can have hand-me downs from the next brother up. There was definitely sense in the old fashion for keeping growing boys in short pants all year round. Must've saved on the clothes budget as well as being very cold on the knees

I'm actually baffled at the thought that anyone would own nine pairs of jeans... I certainly don't know anyone who does, but then again, I often suspect these outrageous statistics come from either coast of the United States, and not from the Midwest, where we seem to be more practical about these things.

I'm a seamstress (by hobby, at least, I'd never be able to make a living at it by trade) and while I love the idea of making/recycling clothing, I find it's often utterly unfeasible. Fabric can be prohibitively expensive, especially if, as you suggest, it's 'organic' or locally produced. And while second-hand shops and organizations like Good Will can be a gold mine, that only works if you're a person who is of 'average' size. If you're either very small, or on the large end of the scale, you're not going to find something that will fit, and even if you have the know-how to tailor an outfit, there's only so much you can do with a mass produced garment.

So I love the idea, I wish more people would get involved, but I also wish it were a bit easier to do in a practical sense. I suppose I'll just have to be satisfied with the knowledge that I do have hand-made outfits of my own, even if they're not quite something I could wear in public (without an eyebrow raise or two, anyway).

Andy, Albany isn't exactly a cultural mecca, but I'm a 6' woman who is ummm...not thin, and I don't have any trouble clothing myself in secondhand clothes - I've also made a lot of the things I've made *out* of second hand clothes, so not prohibitively expensive.

And no, I don't have nine pairs of jeans - but it comes from a household survey I found in 2006 - I don't remember, but I don't think it was regional, I think it was US wide.

I agree, however, that shopping for used clothes requires planning - I buy up to three sizes ahead for my sons, so I have clothes for them to grow into.


I'm an 'odd' size and have trouble fiding things second-hand that fit - most Goodwill stores don't even have a rack slot for a Men's Small. I make accesory items like vests, but for shirts and trousers I just buy new, high-quality stuff from a catalog store, then wear it until the fabric starts to disintegrate. It's not perfect, but I think I get more wear out them than I would from my own distinctly amatuer sewing efforts.

I also wear the same outfit multiple days, but this can be problematic because after two or three days, the collar of my shirts turns brown, whatever color it started as. (Does anyone have any advice on preventing this, short of 'be retro and bring back the cravat'? )

I, too, am 6' tall and the only thing I have trouble finding in secondhand stores are my jeans. Most jeans in my size are far too short, and the long ones are far too wide.

Barring that, I clothe my little family primarily in clothes from thrift stores. Today I'm wearing a gorgeous deep turquoise cotton/angora turtleneck I found the other week - I've been complimented on it all day! - it looks brand new and cost me a whopping $4.99. The label says Banana Republic in it.

I spend my winters swathed in cashmere, angora, fine merino wool, and silk undershirts - all from thriftstores, and all for under $5 each. As long as it's bigger than me, I can cut it down to fit. If it's smaller, I unravel it and knit it into something else. Cashmere socks rock!

One of the most fascinating things about genealogy is the occasional detailed will you come across.

One of my ancestors in the 1700s willed three dresses to her daughters, describing the individual dresses. That notes not only the quality of the dressmaking, but the value of having such garments. It's also rare to find a woman's will.

need organic /sustainable fabrics?

I happen to work with quite a few great sellers.

check out

and (organic clothing artist)

and I still have rolls of organic fabric (and lots of unrolled yardage) sitting around here waiting for someone to make a home for it.

I tried the 100% organic, made in America - clothing business- you just can't compete on much more then an artist sewer scale. So now I really love shopping 2nd hand clothing- lots of great finds on Ebay if you like brand names- worn once for only about 10% of new cost.

I also have a closet devoted to clothing storage for my boys and girls to grow into. I never turn down a good find (usually free) and this way if anybody comes to me needing almost any size I can happily help them out.

@ Laurie: Thanks for the link! They have some really nice stuff. Have always wanted to try more dyeing, this year I'm adding woad and madder to my herb garden, and we've already got quite a bit of naturally occurring dye plants (goldenrod etc).

I started sewing mostly out of aesthetics--every time something I really need (some component of the Female Scientist Uniform) becomes fashionable, I buy three of them, and then by the time I have worn them out to rags, that item is no longer in fashion and something that will absolutely not work is being advertised as the Kewl New Thing.

Am not a fan of the new trend in women's fashion towards sex worker wear. I've made plenty of simple blouses, wrap skirts, the odd Halloween costume, but only recently got brave enough to try a real dress. A major reunion was coming up and the local shops had nothing in the way of semi-formal wear that would be appropriate for ladies my age. Sewed a really nice wool dress, took me about a weekend, but it looked great and I got lotsa compliments.

It is not a difficult skill to learn, especially for science & engineering geeks who already are familiar with spatial reasoning. It is also a skill that can be bartered or worked under the table in the event of a bad economy: If you get pretty good, you can do wedding clothes, tailoring, costuming as a side job. Some of my relatives make quilts to sell at flea markets, and they get good money for them too--normally a few hundred $$ each for a quilt that cost $30-40 in materials.

Spinning and weaving is indeed a giant ass-ache though. My MIL does it. She has infinite patience and a lot of spare time. If I was stuck making everything from raw fiber, I'd make felt and leather clothes and only have spun-fiber undies. Xena Warrior Princess be darned, the leather undies are just not suitable for summer ;).

I've always aspired to be a science & engineering geek familiar with spatial reasoning. Alas, that would require being good at math, engineering and spatial reasoning, and I fear those aspirations are doomed to go unmet. Along with the one to be able to look stylish in anything. However, I am determined to at least become reasonably proficient at sewing, if it kills me. So far (over several years) I have made three shirts for my husband and one dress for me. The dress is very badly done, and would cause anyone with either fashion sense or the ability to sew competently to fall over howling with laughter. I wear it anyway. Proudly. Because, darn it, I Made It. All By Myself. Besides, I love the fabric, mistreated as it has been ... : D
But someday, I hope to make clothing that doesn't say, "well, it beats being nekkid ..."

Yay! A fiber and clothing post! :-)

My mom sewed most of the clothes that my sister and I wore as children, and she still makes skirts and blouses for me occasionally. We also work together to embellish and repurpose older items (like a jeans jacket I had in high school) and thrift store finds. She has a serger, and turns leftover or outdated fabrics into napkins and placemats.

I'm the main knitter in the family, and primarily make socks, hats, scarves, fingerless mitts (we're all in Texas), and the occasional top or sweater. Last year I knit four pairs of socks for myself, and as this was an unusually cold winter for us, I was able to wear them a lot. It's still cold enough to wear them, and I'm glad to have them. There's nothing quite like handknit socks, made to fit the individual's feet. I'm not going to pick apart socks or sweaters for yarn, though - to me, the yarns and patterns are an enjoyable splurge, and I can certainly afford to support the efforts of individual knitwear designers and small-scale yarn producers. Some of my stash, including alpaca sportweight yarn and a wool/silk blend, was even produced locally.

I can't imagine having to produce the yarn, cloth, and clothing/bedding items for a family, however. My parents were telling me about a homestead exhibit at a museum in the Texas Panhandle (I think it was the Window on the Plains in Dumas), which included the handknits produced by one ranch woman, years ago. She had knit socks for her entire family, and for the ranch hands.

jude @ #10 - I've been a fan of your blog for several years; your work is beautiful and amazing! Thanks for sharing it.

Back during the drought of the 50's, we used to buy feed in sacks of nice printed cotton material. There was a lot of making dresses, shirts, etc. out of feed sacks on the foot treadle sewing machine. I haven't bought feed in many years so don't know what the situation is now.

There is a very interesting book, "Big Cotton" which argues that human destiny is controlled by cotton (a slight oversell).

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 23 Feb 2010 #permalink

18 R,
If the staining is on the lower edge of the collar try wearing a round neck t-shirt underneath. I know of some folks that rub a layer of beeswax (like a deodorant stick) along the collar surface to act as a barrier against dirt. You need a cross between a dickey and cravat to wear between the collar and skin that you can wash to death. Then there is the detachable collar styles then you just change out the collar.

Making one's own clothing is also a tremendous opportunity to teach and learn appreciation.

If your teenager has made that skirt herself, she's much less likely to toss it on the floor of her room to be trampled upon. When it's taken you days to make an outfit, you take much better care of it. You can also appreciate more the fine workmanship in a well-tailored outfit it a store (and recognize the junk in most stores for what it really is.)

Human beings tend to value more highly the things in which we've had to invest effort than free handouts or cheap, easily replaceable goods.

If, in addition to sewing a garment, one also had to plant the flax or cotton, or raise a sheep and go through each step before having made the fabric - how much more so would we appreciate the clothing we have. And perhaps, too, the fact that we don't need to do that today.

Perhaps if it was a high school graduation requirement for each kid to have made one item of clothing from the very start (planting, etc) to finish, modern culture might be very different that what it is.

I have very primitive sewing skills to date but would like to move into shirts - however, I'm a very NON-girly girl and dislike all the patterns at my local fabric store. They all seem to be very flouncy and feminine. Does anyone know of a source for patterns for, say, men's/boys' banded-collar shirts or short-sleeve casual shirts?

Great article, and great comments. Glad I found this site in my research (see below)

As you mentioned, " manufacture on an industrial scale has always been oppressive work, one in which people have been terribly exploited."
Iâd like to offer your readers a review of a book entitled Chicken Feathers and Garlic Skin: Diary of a Chinese Garment Factory Girl on Saipan by Chun Yu Wang, that appears on the web page for the book:

âWhat an eye-opener to the garment industry! The author willingly endured so many
things that we snobby Americans workers would NEVER tolerate (but weâll wear the
clothes created in that environment). A fascinating peek into the industry.
The author shows the garment industry from a very different perspectiveâ from the eyes
of a woman seeking to leave her homeland to make her fortune. A view from the very
bottom of the worldâs economic food chain. It is a sad but real story told in a simple
but beautiful manner. I read it in one afternoon/evening because I couldnât put it down.
Everyone who wears clothes, or has ever heard of Saipan should read this book.â

In the interest of full disclosure, I am the âas told toâ co-author of this book which is now gaining interest from labor organizations and even (PRI) Public Radio Internationalâs âThe Worldâ program recently included it in a piece. Iâm proud to have been a channel for helping this young lady get her story told, and invite any who want further reason and justification for following your shopping tips and joining the "Slow Clothing" movement to live a more conscience-driven life to check it out. (PRI interview and others at; Garment factory era info at

Spinning is (or can be) a very social activity. I was visiting my mother last week, and we stuck her wheel in the back of the car to go sit in a village hall with a group of other women, most spinning or doing other textile hobby-work. In the evenings at home, I was spinning and drinking beer, my mother knitting, my father reading or disappearing to watch films, and all of us talking or singing too. The only difficulty was treadling at a steady speed when singing songs with different tempi.

It would take a very long time to spin enough fine thread for a top-quality sheet or dress, but it's work that you can do while gossiping, reading aloud, singing, watching telly, teasing the cat or minding kids. With a spindle, you can do it while walking to the shops, cooking (in between stirring pans, for instance), scaring birds, or just lounging in the garden.

By stripey_cat (not verified) on 24 Feb 2010 #permalink

I just saw a gorgeous book on handspinning, called "Respect the Spindle," at Borders of all places. I was able to restrain myself from buying it by the realization that I would never actually get around to spinning, and if I did I would no doubt take six months to produce twenty yards of extra-crappy yarn. But for anyone who's more seriously interested, it looked like a real winner. Myself, I sure hope someone revives the spinning jenny after the zombie apocalypse, or I'll be nekkid.

One of the things I think is useful is that hand spindling (and I like my wheel a lot, but I have *time* to spindle, rather than sit at the wheel) is that it isn't that hard to make enough yarn for socks or mittens, the things we are likely to run out of first. I want that book - I saw it at a bookstore too!


I think children do need more clothes, more often because they change sizes rapidly. But again, we can reduce our needs by making some of these clothes, by engaging in good practice , by making repairs, and by accepting lower standards for play clothes, which need not be perfect.

dewey & Sharon:
There's a video of Respect the Spindle available from Interweave's website. It was on sale at one point for like 10 cents, so I watched it then. Handy for drop spindle, but nothing for wheel spinning.

And dewey: 20 yards of yarn takes only 5-10 minutes, even including time winding back up the drop spindle :)

By Mackenzie (not verified) on 21 Dec 2011 #permalink