I wore my Driftless Cardigan–photograph below from Instagram, and yet another garment I have yet to blog about because I’m too busy wearing it–this morning, and a friend asked if I had made it. And what I told her is this weird revelation that I’ve been having over and over, and that feels so obvious that I keep doing a double-take, because how have I failed to see the truth of this so many times? It is this: I wear the clothes most that I like most.
I mean, FOR REAL. Like it’s possible to have a more banal epiphany, a more lame realization. I WEAR THE STUFF I LIKE BECAUSE THAT’S THE STUFF I LIKE. This is, perhaps, not the deepest thought I’ve ever had. And yet! It feels so pivotal!
Plus, see, there’s a little more to it than that. Honest, there really is, particularly if you’re someone who sews. The point of my comment to my friend this morning wasn’t that I wear stuff I like–it was that I have made a LOT of stuff in the past, with my very own two hands, that I didn’t really wear that often. And it was because I didn’t like it as much–certainly not MORE–than things I already had in my closet. I wasn’t making those garments because I needed them, or even because I wanted the actual finished product. It was because I wanted to do the sewing, but not because I wanted the sewn item. Do you see how that can lead to a lot of back-of-closet pieces?
I think more and more of us are aware of the ways in which consumption affects our lives, and how easy it is as someone who Makes, capital M, to fall into this trap of accumulation. We call it “stashing” but I think we all recognize that it’s really hoarding. I have said multiple times recently that I’m working through some uncomfortable feelings about my own greed. I don’t like feeling that I’ve bought a ton of stuff that I didn’t really need, I just wanted to HAVE it. But then I never use it? It just sits there? What IS that?
Let’s put those two ideas together, two ideas that don’t seem to relate to one another, but gimme a minute and I’ll show you how they’re actually two puzzle pieces that fit in a way that makes it obvious that this one’s the corner and that one’s the bottom edge and we’re finally getting the borders done so we can start to work on the inside. ONE: I keep sewing things I don’t really want. TWO: I keep accumulating fabrics that I ONLY want.
Good grief, are we all just a bunch of sad bunnies lost in a snowy forest, or what? WHY AREN’T WE SEWING THINGS WITH THAT FABRIC WE’VE BEEN HOARDING?
Because then, I would have lots of items I am really excited about, and a much smaller trove of neatly stacked “precious” fabrics that will molder and become dust before I can possibly get to them. It isn’t so much about not stashing fabric, it’s more about making things I really love and love to use. I don’t want to address the greed of having lots of fabrics I don’t need by replacing it with the greed of having a lot of GARMENTS I don’t need–I want to use the two categories to build the DNA of good sewing practices, deliberate acts of creation, the double-helix of satisfaction and beauty, without waste or gluttony.
The thing is, having more fabric stashed is not the same as using less or consuming less. We’ve still spent money on it; if we ordered it we’ve still used fossil fuels to have it shipped to us; we’re still giving up space in our homes–and in our chi–to keep it folded up and put away (and heated and cooled!). It may be stashed, but that doesn’t make it LESS. And all those same observations apply equally to anything we make from that fabric! That’s the kicker. The trick isn’t to sew through it mindlessly, just to say, “Hey! I’m using up my stash!!” The trick is to find the balance that sews through it mindFULLy, leaving us with less in the stash and more things we WANT TO WEAR EVERY DAY.
What are the garments you’re most happy with? For me, it’s the the ones that are (A) nicest, that mimic expensive clothing, like my Liberty tuxedo tank top, which took such a small bit of fabric but feels so expensive; or (B) classic basics that are building blocks for my everyday life, and that work with every outfit, like that Driftless Cardigan up there, sewn up in a buttery soft navy French terry/fleecy hybrid that looks good no matter how much I wear it. I don’t wear the novelty pieces, like the zillion skirts I have given to charity over the years made of the cute kawaii fabrics that I love but don’t really know how to use in my wardrobe. I wear the navy linen cropped pants that are the perfect alternative to shorts, and the black rayon maxi dress that’s cool and comfy and appropriate for a wide range of outings, and the linen checked Tova top that makes me feel casual and chic. These are the pieces that don’t always make it on the blog–because I’m too busy waiting for them to come out of the dryer so I can photograph them, but as soon as they do, I put them back on and never get the chance.
We wait and wait to use fabrics because we don’t want to “waste” them–but instead, we end up wasting our time and energy because we sew things we don’t really desire. How upside-down is that? When I read Amy Herzog say of knitting that we ought to knit up big swatches before starting a project to ask ourselves, “Do I want to wear this fabric?” it was this ENORMOUS game-changer for me. I don’t know why it struck a nerve right when it did, but my brain opened up and birds flew out and around me like a Disney movie as I realized: I am NOT thinking that way about the things I make. I am not thinking, “DO I want to wear this?” I am thinking, “Do I want to SEW this?” And those are different questions that act on different drives.
They will never stop making fabric. There is no, no, no reason to save up fabric. It will fall apart and turn to dust over time and you will never get to enjoy it if you leave it sitting on a shelf, un-sewn. And didn’t you buy it so you could enjoy it? Didn’t I buy it because I loved it so much that I ignored the contraints of my budget in order to get just a little piece of it? Aren’t we all preventing that fabric from realizing its DESTINY by leaving it un-sewn??
I know that for some of us, it seems so expensive to cut into our precious prints. We don’t want to “waste” it. But if I have learned nothing else in 20+ years of garment-making, I have learned this: use cheap fabric, get cheap clothing. It’s not that you have to spend a fortune on supplies–it’s just that instead of spreading our budgets out over LOTS of supplies, why not get really good ones and end up with something you love to use, over and over again? And if we stop asking “Do I want to sew it?” and start asking, “Do I want to WEAR it?” we make different choices in how we invest our resources before sewing.
So, for me, this is the END of The Stash. I don’t know that I can commit to not buying any fabric for a year, blah, blah. I’m pretty bad at following through on those kinds of pledges and things, so I won’t bother making you or myself a promise I’m going to forget about later. But I’m done buying fabric and shoving it in a closet. And let’s be real: I don’t need to buy ANY fabric for a long, long time unless I have a specific project in mind. I have a LOT of fabric up in here, y’all.
Anybody else picking up what I’m putting down? I have felt a definite shift over the past year or so, toward a more thoughtful and deliberate way of approaching our sewing, and it smells GOOD. Hope some of that is wafting your way and that your sewing is satisfying you today.
AnnSeptember 20, 2016 at 4:05 pm
This struck a cord with me. Only recently have I been using those carefully hoarder fabrics to line a pouch or back a quilt because why not? I’m trying hard not to buy more fabric, I really have no more room for it. I’m going to make friends shopping bags out of whatever fabric I thinks suits them, special fabric or not will not matter. The environmental aspect of it certainly rings true for me and of course the costs. I figure if I use the fabric I bring in vs storing it it will actually be less expensive to use the pricier fabrics but buy sooo much less than previously. I am going to be trying oh so hard to be true to myself….damn designers have to stop being so genius at what they do, I’m weak. Thanks for a great post.
DeborahSeptember 21, 2016 at 2:58 pm
When I made my Supertote for our family vacation this year, I deliberately lined it with Liberty fabric. Now I get to see it and touch it every day, and I am enjoying it VASTLY more than if I had it folded up “safe” in a cabinet somewhere. I don’t like feeling as though I have oceans of fabric that I just “can’t bear” to part with–I’d much rather use up the pieces I adore and see them ALL THE TIME, and then sell or donate the ones that haven’t been used because I just don’t like them all that much!! (But I agree, these designers are killing me with all their new substrates and gorgeous colors and patterns!! Yeesh!!)
JaiaSeptember 20, 2016 at 4:48 pm
You wrote a fabulous piece here. I often struggle with stashing vs. using and fear cutting into my “good” fabrics. I’m trying very hard to work past that this fall. I just started a quilt with a bundle I’ve been hoarding for a while and its both scary and exciting. I don’t know why USING my fabric feels like LOSING my fabric when in reality I’m giving it life. You’ve given me a lot to think about! Thank you!
DeborahSeptember 21, 2016 at 2:59 pm
Oh, I’m so glad I’m not the only one who feels this way!! It just seems so foolish to continue hanging on to fabric I adore but never getting to see it or use it–to the point that I forget I have it!–and then right next to it is fabric that I probably won’t ever use because I only like it OK. I’d much rather have beautiful handmade things that I get to use everyday, things that my children might want one day. They’re not going to comb through my fabric stash when they inherit it, right?? And YES! Using it is NOT losing it!! Lovely way to phrase it.
TanyaSeptember 20, 2016 at 5:26 pm
I truly enjoy your posts that tackle bigger ideas like this. I come away with something to think over and ask myself how to apply my values to my sewing. Your approach to Christmas, your year of Margin are two topics that I constantly refer back to. Please keep challenging yourself, and us, to be conscious participants.
DeborahSeptember 21, 2016 at 3:01 pm
Thank you so much for saying that! Sometimes I feel like I repeat myself, but these ideas really latch onto my brain and won’t let go until I work them through. I’m so glad to know that you’re reading them and tackling the same ideas–and that we’re all working alongside one another to sew with integrity and consistency of value, even if we’re all working on our own. We’re in good company! 🙂
SamanthaSeptember 20, 2016 at 6:11 pm
yes yes yes yes yes…..
I’ve been on a stash binge for most of the last year. Bringing very little in and being brave and sewing with the beautiful fabric I already own. So far it has been pretty successful, and man, do I like sewing with good fabric. But I do have one sticky point, and that is the muslin situation. I have some tried and true patterns that I have made in scrummy fabric, but there are some new ones I want to try out, and then I get cautious about using the good stuf for something I might not like. What usually happens is I make garments in ok fabrics (that usually ended up in my stash through sales) and then find I love the shape…..but am ambivalent about the fabric, and then feel less in love with the garment. Is this just my neurosis that gets me in this bind….? Should I just go buy a bolt of actual muslin and be done with it…..?
Also, since I’m sharing, I do wish the fabric companies would slow down with new releases of fabric lines…. Such temptation. Although you are very right, we will NEVER run out of fabric. Remind myself of that fact often. Great post!
DeborahSeptember 21, 2016 at 3:08 pm
Isn’t it SO MUCH BETTER sewing with good fabric? It makes all the difference–while you’re sewing, after you’re sewing, even when it’s just in the closet and you’re working through ideas of wardrobe (capsule or otherwise). It’s satisfying, and I find I need far FEWER items if the individual pieces are made from quality goods, you know?
As for muslin, I love the idea of the “wearable muslin,” but I’ve finally just gone all the way to actual muslin fabric. I felt far more wasteful cutting into even less desirable fabric for a test run–particularly if I only like the fabric OK, because then I’m left with a garment I feel guilty about not wearing, but don’t necessarily want to get rid of. I use actual muslin, and never do closures or seam finishes, just the bare minimum to verify fit–and then they get used as pillow/floor cushion stuffing. It *does* require some space, but I’m building up toward two square ottomans (ottomi? ottoma?) that will require HUGE amounts of stuffing, and shoving in old towels and scraps of muslins makes more sense. Because I feel the same way you do: if I don’t love the fabric, then I’ll never wear the garment, and then I’m in a quandary.
I have felt for YEARS that the fabric sales cycle was out of control. Every six months? All I can do in that much time is plan, but not execute! And some of these incredible fabrics don’t come back around often enough–particularly the garment substrates like rayon and lawn–for me to wait. So then I have to decide, do I stash it for the future? Do I delay all my other planned projects so I can sew with this now? Do I let it go by and assume that there will be more stuff just as good coming along in the future? I’m working with the last as my assumption now, but the temptation is SO, so strong to grab and stash… Le sigh. (If these are our only problems, we are living good lives, but the struggle is still real!)
Thanks so much for your comment and sharing your thoughts!!
AnnSeptember 20, 2016 at 10:51 pm
Wonderful post. You express my sentiments in such a more thoughtful way than I could.
DeborahSeptember 21, 2016 at 3:09 pm
Thank you so much!! I’m always glad to know others are feeling the same things I am! 🙂
Rachelle CrosbieSeptember 21, 2016 at 4:14 am
I’m a bit the same, though in my case I have a yarn stash, fabric stash, fibre stash and a haberdashery stash. I’m in the process of changing how I do things, I have bought stuff relatively recently, but it’s been because I have nothing suitable in the stash for something I actually need! Stretch denim was one and the yarn for an aran weight jersey was another.
I cut out a few things recently too, in one case it was some Liberty cotton I’ve been sitting on, it’s going to be a long-sleeved princess seamed shirt and I’m expecting I’ll live in it once it’s sewn. It had to wait for the needs for the family to be sewn though as I want to savor this make.
DeborahSeptember 21, 2016 at 3:12 pm
Since I’m fairly new to garment knitting (versus just dishcloths), I have only just now confronted my yarn stash. I got it all out the other day and took a photo, then counted the number of different yarns–when it came to 37, and I knew I’d knitted three sweaters in the past year, I figured I have about 10 years’ worth of yarn. And since I have been buying nice yarn, it isn’t cheap. So maybe 10 years’ worth is enough to have on hand??
So I’m working through the things I have, and at some point in the near future will have to treat my fabric stash as if I’m moving, and just liquidate a lot of it. I have some incredible pieces that don’t work for my color palette or that I only like OK or that are too novelty for the wardrobe I’m building, and so they will never, ever get used. It’s time to pass them along to someone who will love them more than I do!!
Sabrina B.September 21, 2016 at 12:25 pm
The end of the stash — love it. I’m totally with you on this one.
I think you’re right, too, not to make draconian pledges. Better to change one’s approach, and process, to be more thoughtful all the time, even when buying new fabric.
DeborahSeptember 21, 2016 at 3:14 pm
Haha!! I was worried it sounded too much like MUSTACHE, but that’s the word, so that’s what I called it! 🙂
And yes, exactly. Just like I don’t want to sew from my stash simply to check that box, I don’t want to make some arbitrary pledge just to prove something to myself or anyone else. I am trying to be analytical and also honest with myself, and work forward each day just making the next right decision, thoughtfully and on purpose. I confess I haven’t been sewing that way, not for a long time and maybe not ever. I am curious to see what I produce as a collective whole when I approach what I’m making more deliberately!
JessSeptember 21, 2016 at 6:17 pm
Excellent post! I’m working my way through my stash right now and so many of these realizations & questions really resonate with me. Have you seen the Stash Less series? I love the way Felicia Semple is diving into many of the underlying motivations and patterns of stashing, guilt, greed, etc: http://thecraftsessions.com/stash-less
DeborahSeptember 27, 2016 at 3:06 pm
Oh, I haven’t seen her posts, but I just browsed them and I can’t wait to dig in!! Thanks so much for sharing the link!! 🙂
Sabrina B.September 26, 2016 at 3:23 pm
This article in the NY Times on money and values reminded me of your post. Becoming mindfully aware of one’s sewing expenditures (both money and time aspects of it) and then asking oneself whether those expenditures align with one’s values — like sewing what you want to wear rather than sewing what you want to sew.
DeborahSeptember 26, 2016 at 10:31 pm
Oooh, this is totally what I’m talking about!! Thanks so much for the link!
Jean C.October 10, 2016 at 4:42 pm
I do understand what you are saying; but not everyone has the same amount of sewing time available. Also different things were/are on the things to sew list. For example… as a mom (my kids are now grown and having families of their own) I was constantly being pulled in different sewing directions…. church clothes, costumes, mending, Christmas sewing, someee times I would even get to sew for me! But that always seemed to be on the bottom of the list, and although I may have purchased the fabric and all the notions to make said items for me… it just didn’t always happen. Some times I would finally get the time; and was sew darn tired it was like… hmmm, sew and make mistakes that I will be ticked off about or wait! So after that the “stash” of fabric started to pile up. I must say though in my defense; I have used a lot of fabric for clothing and for service projects. Quilts etc… for people in need or as I said quilts. So nice to be able to jump into my stash to use what I have instead of buying more. Each person has to do what they feel right. I have grandkids now that I am teaching to sew, what better than to use some of those precious pieces of fabric that I bought because I loved them for something my granddaughters, sons and nieces kids will enjoy using.
ShaliniNovember 16, 2016 at 2:07 am
Love this post. Really resonates. We are about to move and I see a huge stash of fabric I love but I have not used. Will definitely work through it over the coming year. Thank you Deborah. I hope you are going well. I miss you fun, delightful self and classes. 🙂
JanelleJanuary 7, 2017 at 2:36 pm
My stash is mostly quilting fabric so it’s not suitable to make wearable clothing at this point. But I am certainly guilty of having much more yarn stash than I’m ever going to knit. Some of it I bought because I loved the look of it, not because I had plans for it. Maybe that’s its purpose for me: just to be beautiful.