I am planning an afternoon at my sewing machine today. Concerned about the difficulty in guaranteeing the provenance of my clothing I have been working to improve my dressmaking skills over the last few months. I am yet to construct a dress I am happy with but am learning a lot about different fabrics and how they behave in different circumstances and enjoying the journey. My activity has prompted questions from my daughter:
Why are you sewing?
Isn’t dress making something your granny did during the war when clothing was rationed?
Its true there is no economic justification for dressmaking today? One can buy a skirt for less than a cup of coffee on any high street. So why then do people still make things?
I think it is instinctive, intuitive if you like, and goes way back to early man and woman. We all have an innate drive to make things - some people choose to express this through baking, gardening or knitting, and dressmaking is another way this creative urge can be satisfied. Over the last twenty years, the digital revolution has initiated a hunger for texture, and the physicality of touching fabric and thread is a great stress-beater. Sewing is soothing and mindful and is generally less expensive than therapy.
There is a great sense of achievement at being able to follow a pattern and assemble a garment. Once one becomes more proficient, adjustments can be made to achieve a perfect fit. One can choose the fabric - Cloth House in Berwick Street has a wonderful selection of interesting and unusual fabrics from India and Japan, which would be hard to find in high street garments. Over the past couple of years, companies like The Makers Atelier and Merchant and Mills (I am planning a visit to their newly expanded shop in Rye next Saturday) have introduced stylish, easy-to-follow patterns, which have made entry-level dress making more accessible. This is essential as the skill continuum was broken in the eighties when dressmaking was decidedly out of fashion. TV shows like The Great British Sewing Bee have also helped to raise the profile of sewing to a new audience, as has the Knitting & Stitching consumer show.
Personalisation is one of the biggest trends in retail at the moment and dressmaking is the perfect vehicle for expressing one's creative skills. A dressmaker will never make the social faux-pas of wearing the same dress as another guest at a social function. Even if it is something discreet, like the choice of a quirky button or trim, small touches can transform an outfit. I have a delicious piece of cotton velvet from The Draper’s Daughter to work with and will leave the raw selvedges as a detail at the cuff.
Sewing is faster than knitting and lasts longer than a Victoria sponge - but I will probably have a slice with a coffee once I am finished.
Blog post by Polly Leonard.