out with the old

You may remember that a year ago I decided to stop buying clothes for the duration of 2008. My decision to do this was sparked by a couple of things. I had been reading a bit about darning and mending and wanted to think about what repairing and caring for one’s clothes meant. Also, since I heard this very-well researched series of documentaries on the BBC world service, I had been increasingly bothered by textile waste — the sheer amounts of it, as well as the complicated politics of its disposal. I then had a moment of utter revulsion after seeing Florence and Fred’s Affordable Elegance advertisements, in which the disposability of the 20 quid dresses they had designed for Tesco’s was “cleverly” celebrated.

landfill
(textile waste now makes up 30% of rubbish destined for UK landfill sites)

The year is up, and here’s my summary of the project: During 2008 I have fashioned or refashioned for myself 7 tops, 5 skirts, 4 dresses, 3 sweaters, 3 pairs of socks, 2 shrugs, 2 cardigans, 2 hats, 1 shawl, 1 coat, 1 maud, 1 tank top, 1 jacket, 1 pair of gloves, and 1 scarf. Additionally, I have repaired and re-repaired the sleeves of sweaters, the seats of pants, the hems of coats, the heels of socks, the tops of mittens, and the feet of stockings. I made lots of things from patterns and kits and in doing so, have participated, in a vicarious sort of a way, in the design process of some really talented people. I also designed several items of clothing for myself from scratch, and have encountered my own limits and shortcomings along the way. This year of stitching and knitting and learning has been both enjoyable and thought provoking. It has certainly changed the way I think about the making, consumption and meaning of worn textiles.

clothingoneself
(clothing myself in 2008)

Despite the apparently prohibitive terms I set myself (“you will not buy clothes”) this project was never about denial. As you may have gathered, I am someone who loves clothes. I mean, I really love clothes. The things I wear are a source of tremendous pleasure for me, and I regard dressing up in them (however foolishly) as a sort of creative act. So I was not about to deny myself that pleasure or that creativity, but rather wanted to think about focusing it a little differently. One other thing that the project was not was generically anti-consumerist. For I am undeniably a consumer. I exchange money for stuff. I do not regard The Commodity as the root of all evil and in fact I think that commerce — of ideas and words as well as things — is generally a very necessary good. So I did not deny myself the pleasure of clothes, nor did I cease to be a consumer. I bought notions and fabric and quite a lot of yarn. I continued to cut pictures out of magazines, read about fashion history, and dream about the qualities of fabric, and the possibilities of different outfits, just as I had done before. Raw materials, ideas and images continued to be rich sources of inspiration and enjoyment to me. And I had many, many clothes already. To be frank, I had no need of any more. But if there was something that I wanted, as opposed to needed, I would have to think about how to make it, about where the stuff to make it was coming from, and then about how to sew or knit it up for myself. So, in fact, the only thing that I stopped doing this year was spending a lot of time in shops, and buying a lot of clothes in them. And I can honestly say that I’ve not missed this in the slightest.

romney
(handsome Romney. Diamonds Farm. Horam, East Sussex)

What I started rather than stopped doing over the course of the year is much more interesting (well, it is to me at least). Of course, I made things, and I thought about what I was doing when I was making them. But additionally, I also visited farms, crofts, mills and other businesses where fibre is spun, dyed, and woven into cloth. I have learnt how fabric is produced from animal or plant to finished garment, how and where it is sold, to whom, and why. My love of finished textiles has developed into an interest in the process of their production, and the history of those processes. I’ve started thinking in a new way about the importance of textiles to different local economies; about the provenance of materials; about how Britain’s regional fabric is a very literal thing; and about the ways in which different national, local and global histories are all woven up in, and told through, textiles. I’ve also met and learnt from lots of wonderful people who live and work with fibre and fabric. Through this, I have also started to regard the value of textiles very differently indeed.

sweatshop

Clothes are not cheap. Time and care and labour are all expended in the rearing of a British sheep, but the three pence the farmer receives for the fleece makes it hardly worth the shearing. At the other end of the production-consumption chain, 2 million tonnes of largely man-made textile waste is discarded in Britain every year. The quality of this stuff is so low that charity shops cannot re-sell it, and laudable schemes like Oxfam’s wastesaver find it difficult to re-use or recycle. Our cheaply bought and easily discarded textiles swell mountains of domestic landfill, or are exported in containers for other countries to deal with. In the Czech Republic, for example, the outbuildings of former collective farms are now filled, floor to ceiling, with Western Europe’s abandoned clothing. Meanwhile, in Sri Lanka, adults and children suffer the indignity and poverty brought by brutal employment practices that we should more accurately term indenture or slavery. And all to make a mountain of transitory crap that is daily bought and thrown away.

bicyclethief2
(Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) exchanges his bed linen for his bike in the Bicycle Thieves)

Now, I am not making any great claims for myself here. I know that my 2008 make-your-own project was an exploratory luxury. While I could go on about how I have learnt new things about production, process, and materiality, I also know that fundamentally, this is the politics of luxury: of someone who has enough disposable income to spend on yarn and fabric, and enough leisure time to make things and (crucially) to enjoy making them. People do not have the time or money for such luxuries, and they certainly still need cheap textiles. But we also need textiles of durable, lasting quality. We aren’t pawning our good bedlinen (as in the Bicycle Thieves), we are chucking it out and buying another flimsy ten-pound duvet cover whose seams were sewn up by an impoverished ten-year-old on the Indian subcontinent. A recent consumer survey for Asda has apparently shown that supermarket shoppers now value durability as much as price where clothing is concerned. Asda is now changing its “George” ranges to reflect this shift in priorities. Wouldn’t it be nice if they added a guarantee of fair, non-exploitative labour into this mix?

stoppax

I want to conclude with some inconclusive remarks about mending and representing mending. I’ve been doing a lot of darning this year, and have become very interested in the care and repair of clothes, as well as in the way that mended and re-made textiles are such rich repositories of personal and cultural memory. A lot of really good British artists are interested in this as well. I particularly admire, for example, Kirsty Hall, Celia Pym and Tabitha Moses, who all use the processes of mending or repair to explore the evocative and ritual nature of textiles. The work of these artists is rich with thought and meaning. But their practice is now one of the only ways, it seems to me, that contemporary audiences can look at made and mended things as public objects upon which to think and reflect. And sometimes, I am a little troubled by how the only way to approach the acts of women and men that were once quotidian and exceptionally ordinary is through extraordinary forms of representation, such as those that art affords. While the work of the three artists I mentioned is without exception, truly brilliant, there are certainly many other art practitioners whose work does little more than decontextualise familiar household textiles and the practices associated with them to very little end. I am naming no names, because this is something I am still thinking about . . . but I am wondering . . . could there be another way? Or if this is just a matter of there being Bad and Good textile art, as with any other form of art or practice. Anyway, there’s something to mull over further. (Any thoughts on this issue appreciated).

styles
Scrap of linen check (1759) used to identify foundling number 13169. (London Metropolitan Archives)

Making and mending my own clothes will continue in 2009, as will the thinking about the making. But I might just have to buy myself the odd pair of pants, and also hope to have a bit more time for some other truly luxuriant crafty things that I enjoy and have not done much of in 2008 — in particular, embroidery. I also have a new and exciting year-long project for 2009. More on this — and on my lovely trip to Islay — anon.

55 responses

  1. Thanks for all your thoughts on this – very interesting and gives me lots to think about too. My hope for this year is to get better at spinning, and quite possibly to be able to help with the shearing of my parents’ sheep, so that I might be able to see the fleece entirely through its process from the ewe’s back all the way to a completed sweater.

    I’m glad there are others who think about the life cycle of textiles rather than just buying cheap clothes that wear out and are thrown away in a few short months.

  2. Thank you for an informative post – it explains so many things, and I can only hope that more people start to make similar choices! I have noticed differences in thrift store shopping- way back when I started (some 20 years ago) there was low quality, but also quite a bit of sturdy clothing from a bygone time that needed a quick repair or two. These items were a joy to adopt; they seemed full of stories from different times and people, and would easily hold up for more wear. Today those finds are rare, and more common are thoroughly pilled, frayed, and sagging items from the disposable clothing stores- no stories, just a short season of wear, and then a rag not suited for much!

  3. What a great post; I remember my grandma teaching me to mend the heels of worn socks stretching them over the light bulb :) Good times. It’s nice to hear that there are those who promote recycling.

  4. A really interesting post – this subject has been on my mind recently, and we seem to think alike. I started volunteering at a charity shop back in April, and since then my way of thinking (about many things, but especially clothes) has been changed.

    For example, a lot of modern t-shirt fabric is thin and wears appallingly, as is evidenced by its condition when it reaches the shop. The same goes for most of the acrylic knit jumpers – by contrast, the pure wool ones are, by and large, in good nick. The designer clothes I see are beautifully made and the fabric quality is outstanding – they will last, but then one assumes they’ve been worn with care because of their cachet. The supermarket brands and Primark are almost always badly made from terribly cheap fabrics. I see clothes at every stage in their life cycle, which is fascinating but often horrifying.

    I haven’t bought anything new (aside from undies and tights) since I started volunteering, and every time I go into a ‘proper’ shop now I look at the fabric before the fit. Often I find something gorgeous that I won’t allow myself to buy because it just won’t survive a few washes! I’d rather make it myself or donate some money to a good cause and get it second-hand.

    It’s had an impact on my knitting, too: I find I want to use hard-wearing wools that will stand the test of time (and the wash) rather than something soft that I know will pill. I’ve also started spinning, and if I can ever get enough yarn spun for a jumper I’ll be over the moon. (The next step will be doing it straight from the fleece. Too bad my garden isn’t big enough to keep sheep!)

  5. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I’ve just recently started to follow your blog after signing up for the “owl-sweater-pattern”.
    Myself, I’ve decided to buy nothing (except food etc) for three months, and to make clothes of the fabric I have stashed up here at home. When I read your thoughts about mending, I must say it’s really really inspiring! I think I will prolong my “buy nothing” but maybe lessen it to not buy any clothes for the rest of the year (except maybe for that pair of Levi’s I long for :)) and make my own.

  6. This is very, very interesting and something I’d like to try sometime. The main clothes I buy are work clothes – smart tops, skirts and trousers – and my aim for this year (now I have my own sewing machine!) is to learn to make at least simple clothes. And to finish that Clothkits skirt that you helped me with!

    Your year of craft has been an inspiration – I can think of at least two things that I’ve made or knitted after seeing them on your blog first. Thank you for that, and I look forward to seeing what you create this year.

  7. What an interesting and thought provoking project! I have just spent a year living overseas and haven’t had much spare cash. I taught myself to sew. My children’s new clothes have “almost” all been either hand made (some refashioned from charity shop items) or second hand. (I bought them a new pair of shoes each and 3 white T shirts for my little girl). I am seriously thinking about taking the same pledge for myself.

    A few years ago I was travelling in central Africa and had a few long conversations with friends about why most local people were dressed in the worst cheap second hand Western clothes while the local clothing industry had all but disappeared. This is a difficult and complicated problem and I don’t claim to understand the global rag trade properly.

    Your post has helped me really think about where my own position should be. Thank You.

  8. What an interesting post. I’ve read it twice now – once, quickly at work (I work in a library and it’s exam time – not much to do), and once just now. As everyone else said, it’s very informative and interesting. I have tons of clothes – tons and tons – and despite my best effort at charity-shopping the stuff I don’t wear I still have more than a wardrobe full. I think I might try to join you in your ‘no clothes’ pledge. I’ve been wanting to take up sewing for years now, and I even have a bit of fabric stashed under the bed (not much. Literally just 2 or 3 different ones) that I’ve been meaning to sew into skirts and/or dresses. I’ve made a lot of berets this winter – I now have a box full – and I think it might be time to move on to other projects, knitting wise. I’m already trying to make an owl jumper – I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since your last post.

    But – Primark at el. are rather tempting to a poor grad student who can barely afford their shirts :)

  9. 1.
    I have seen hell. It is white. Snow-white.
    from the BBC rendering of Mrs. Gaskell’s North and South, about the dark satanic mills a decade before engels.

    2.
    seagulls ply our inland landfills here too. i’ve always wanted to spend the day there, thinking.

    3.
    when i get more space, i hope to make rag rugs of the waste textiles you mention. i have the loom. the video on how to thread it. etc. have taken the classes, etc etc etc.

    4.
    what about underpants? i think one of the odham’s books you recommend has patterns for knitted undies which boggled my poor antipodean mind. it’s hot down here.

    i would like a better system of underwear though.

  10. You are so right! And there is another aspect: So many people are unemployed and feel bored, and so many people spend their time with a hobby and produce things that just catch dust. For everyday life, they buy cheap things, because they don’t have the money for high quality. At the same time, so many crafts and skills are being lost, because people can’t afford to buy the products. The crafts are not being taught in schools. They don’t have the tools, building, and the material to start a workshop. Old workshops are run down, the tools and machines are thrown away, although some old machines live forever. If we got that altogether, it would make sense. Teach people to create their own things and use them, let them feel the satisfaction from being creative and have useful things for little money. Example: wooden spoons. People who are unemployed could learn to create them. Invent new shapes, design and carve them, then use or sell them, discard plastic spoons, and — voilà! — there is a new job. And this refers to clothing. Your ideas may be part of a start.

  11. You are AMAZING. I have made the resolution to buy as little new clothes as possible, but I’m already finding that impossible to keep. Even though I try to buy everything vintage, 2nd hand, or recycled, it’s nearly impossible for me to resist the urge. I take my hat off to you for having the resolve to see it through – and thank you thank you thank you for bringing up the issue of textile waste. I worked for several years in Edinburgh at a vintage textiles shop and can never understand why some people don’t notice the difference between good and cheap fabrics… or think of their environmental/ethical consequences.

    Please keep these thought provoking posts coming :)

  12. I am deep in thought, like those above. You elucidated many things I have been concerned about during the past year: I left my job as a case manager for victims of human trafficking, and am embarking on a very creative, crafty period in which I’ve spent more time sewing and knitting in the last 3 months than I have in the last 10 years. If you don’t mind, I’m going to repost this on my blog– it is very much in the vein I am exploring in re fashion anthropology and fashion’s potential role in social work. Your personal project is very much poking me in the brain, too– I’ve observed my wardrobe completely change from self-designed and sewn things mixed with lots of secondhand finds to almost entirely dominated by bland, “acceptable” office-wear. I’m at a point where I’m not particularly excited about wearing any given thing I own. I’m making a reversal, with my recent sewing, but it’s an interesting transformation… More thinking to do… This is definitely the best craft blog I have ever read, and the best blog discovery of this year. Thank you so much for opening your mind to us all.
    PS RE UNDERWEAR: I did recently see some tutorials on Craftster for reconstructing t-shirts into panties, and someone on Etsy was selling a kit, tho it was sold out at the time I looked for it. Worth checking those sites, it looked quite easy.

  13. I have a job that is *very* hard on clothes. (I paint theatrical scenery.) My work clothes quickly get stiff with paint, and then develop shredded holes. I am conflicted about the clothes I buy for my work. Somewhere along the journey of my life, I developed a real distaste for buying my clothes in thrift shops. (The stains, the smells, the poor quality — I find it all so depressing.) If I have to be the grubbiest person at the theater, I want my clothes to be at least moderately stylish. However, I’m unwilling to spend a lot of money on clothes that I know I am going to ruin.

    So, I buy inexpensive clothes for work, and I buy the best quality I can afford for my non-work wardrobe.

    And I don’t feel entirely comfortable with this choice.

  14. Oh god, thanks for this post. I have **so** been thinking about these issues this year. I just used Freecycle (.org) to gift away the boyfriend’s pants and keep them out of the landfill. I’ve always given things to charity shops, but I’ve become really bothered in the past year by all of the DUMPING that we do as a human race, let alone my nation. And I was just wondering how to mend the bottom of pants, so I’ll be checking that mending book out. Too much, we have too much. And then we dump it. And other people suffer for it. It’s got to stop. Whatever happened to a nation full of re-users? Actually, there is this fabulous free movie I’m looking for the link of, on the problem of dumping and “cheap” materials (which are not cheap at all), and apparently, back in the 50s, some economists and the US government got together, and decided to massage people into buying things continually to give them a (temporary) sense of fulfillment, meaning that they’d need to buy more stuff later to be happy. Really really sick. I haven’t actually bought any clothes since I saw that movie 5 months ago.

    And I’ve really been thinking about my vast yarn and fiber purchases. I think they need to be curtailed as well. It all needs to be curtailed, especially the cheap things that actually come with hefty hidden price tags.

  15. This is a very well-timed post – I sat swearing quietly while mending my work trousers last night, I had to really force myself to do it but I’m very happy to wear these trousers again today, they have been lingering at the bottom of my wardrobe for a while. I have enjoyed since charity shopping most of my wardrobe, having slightly fewer clothes and I have a few things to refashion. I loved this post and particular love the idea of a regional fabric of Britian…

  16. Another excellent post! I made a very similar pledge last year, and can honestly the say that I managed to limit my “shop bought” to three good quality t-shirts and some stockings… until my husband commented that I needed more clothes and deposited some cash in the joint account for me to use for materials or ready-made, as long as I promised to spend it! So far, I have used my “legacy” to buy good quality fabric, vintage patterns and three good quality basic shirts for work (in a sale, so cheaper than I could make them). I am determined not to be sucked into disposable fashion – have you seen the wrinkled tat in shops like H&M? They don’t even bother to iron them before putting clothes on the rails! I want to respect my clothes and making them myself certainly helps with that as I know the work that went into producing them.

  17. I am a master reknitter and reweaver. I was the owner of a 75 year old business in Seattle for over ten years. During the last world war it employed many reweavers and people lined up down the hall waiting to bring in their repairs. The shop had to close the doors sometimes just so they could get their work done. By the time I closed the shop a year and a half ago, I was the only reweaver left. All of my weavers had retired. No one wanted to learn. I tried the entire time I owned my shop to find people that I could teach my skill to but of the few that did accept my challenge none completed it. It was TOO difficult. One thing I learned in this time was the different mindsets of people about clothing. Many people have no problem whatsoever in discarding HUGE amounts of clothing over the years with no thought whatsoever of recycling or reusing them. My customers on the otherhand would bring in their items for repair and carefully conserve their wardrobes. When I left the city and closed my business I left a large group of wonderful loyal customers and it was very hard because I knew that by leaving I was also taking away their one place to get their repairs done. I definitely agree with your views and think we should all strive to reuse and stop the waste. Unfortunately, in the case of truly invisible repairs the people capable of doing these are sadly dwindling.

  18. Such thoughtful remarks. Textile waste is such a fascinating issue–ironically stores like ‘American Apparel’ which produce sometimes locally-made, inexpensive, non-sweatshop clothing are also promoting the notion of expendable, cheap, ‘trash’ clothing.

  19. Oh dear, where to start? This, as always, is such a thought-provoking post. I totally agree with you that we have too many badly-made cheap clothes – the country is saturated with them. I applaud you for making a stand and I think your clothing and style is very inspiring – even to an old woman like me!! Lets hope that this recession will bring out the skills and talents that we all have and make us realise that we cannot continue to waste the world’s resources in this way. Less is definitely more!! Keep up the good work – I really enjoy reading yor blog – always inspirational.

  20. How I love your blog! Aside from knitting, my mother and I hook and braid rugs from wool clothes that we search diligently for at the charity shops. It certainly has to be a retro piece to be 100% wool and I only cut up the ugly ones! I don’t know if a lot of rug hooking and/or braiding is done in the UK these days but it is very popular in North America and they make very warm floor coverings.

    Can’t wait for the owl sweater – it looks superb. I also named my first daughter Rowan as its my favorite yarn/designer and the pure breeds yarn looks very interesting.

    Cheers,
    Kim in Newfoundland, Canada

  21. It’s always so wonderful to read one of your thoughtful and thoughty posts. You’ve given me a lot to think about in reading this. I certainly know that my perception of the value of clothing has changed considerably since I became interested in fashion and design, but I’ve not managed to go off the grid, so to speak, in terms of clothing. Three growing children certainly make it difficult to fashion all the clothes they need. But being able to make some of our clothes has changed a lot about how I function.

    I think your post may be the impetus I need to learn to sew this year. I have a marvelous sewing machine, a book on how to sew, and a lot of good will, but I’ve never really gotten it down.

  22. My friends have always put down my penchant for buying designers’ creations to pure extravagance, as if I would experience a personal frisson of excitement at the reading of the price tag. In reality, I have always done so because a designer’s item is far more likely to last, and last well, for many years, especially when compared to most high-street tat. And so I have Armani suits that date back to 2001, a lovely pink Lacroix coat that I bought in 2002 and many, many other items that have seen me through the years and whose memories in different locations and moment of my life are as sharp to me as this very screen.

    Oh and if only I possessed your dexterity with the sewing machine and what I presume is a good dose of patience! I have a sewing machine but it is causing me more stress than the setting of the alarm clock… This year I will try harder; now that I have figured out the tension should not be on what is essentially a non-tension of 0, I should at least avoid those evil knots underneath the needle. I love making things and hate to throw stuff out. I’d put a line through the crap sold on the high-street if only it were possible.

  23. Hi, what a thought-provoking post. I have a bit of a weakness for Laura Ashley and my thinking is that if I pay a bit more for a ‘good’ item of clothing it will last longer. Your post has prompted me into trying to find out a bit more about whether Laura Ashley use ethical methods to produce their clothes.

  24. this is truly inspiring! Being a person who is also interested in fashion history as well as a seamstress and designer the evolution of textile and clothing manufacture form individuals to major business and the greater effects this has on our lives is very interesting. As a high school student i loved vintage patterns (or reproductions of them) and wanted to spend a year only wearing vintage clothes i had made myself. I sadly never did but while i think i am a long way mentally and fashionable to make 2009 my year of not buying any clothes I have a greater interest and fortunately am in a position to spend more time making clothing for myself this year. The industrial revolution and the continuing evolution of technology have given people more “free” time than ever but our society has given us a perpetual drive to do more and a feeling of incompetence if we do not do more even if it isn’t necessary. It is very wonderful to see that many are returning to simple handcrafts to occupy this free time and that many are ENJOYING it. It creates the appreciation needed not only for the crafts people of the past but a better understanding of how things are created today. it is that understanding and appreciation that i think will shape the world to come not only in textiles and clothing but in food and farming and the way each person on the planet actually lives. Thank you so much for sharing!

  25. A really relevant post reinforced by the main news item tonight on UK sweat shops producing goods for Primark. People are being paid £3 per hour and jumpers selling for less than £10. I keep hoping that the downturn will bring people to their senses re how much we actually need and what the environment needs but I still see shoppers coming out of high street chains carrying bags stuffed with clothes that won’t last five minutes. Thanks for caring.

  26. Beautifully written. I think the “value” we place on our clothes is what this is fundamental. And that goes beyond the monetary value to include ethics, aesthetics, pleasure, meaning and, as you so eloquently put it, regional fabric (I particularly like the geography/ fabric dimension). The link between time and textiles is also interesting one – your scrap of foundling fabric is especially evocative.

    I’ve been watching your projects unfold this year and been inspired by you and others to get back in touch with some old skills. So I’ve got out the Eithne Farry, my old Odhams and my sewing machine, I’ve spoken to my boss about working part time. I’m back in touch, literally.

  27. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this “wide field” as they say in Fontanes “Effie Briest”. For quite a few years I’ve been thinking that some goods tend to be too cheap for people to really value them. When food or clothes as essential goods are valued by their prices rather than by their quality, origin (i.e. regional products to avoid long and sometimes silly transports to and fro) and contents, it is no wonder that nowadays the crafts and crafters are getting praised only in artful contexts completely detached from everyday life. And artists sometimes use old crafts as a mere staffage aiming to be a new “avantgarde”. The question remains of how can people be persuaded to change their attitude towards products which are readily available and, moreover, which they didn’t/can’t make themselves? To literally care more for the goods? I should like that! For now I try my best to create something pleasant and, if not durable, at least re-useable. Off to the needles …

  28. I think somebody above mentioned this article, and I’m sure it will come as no surprise (if you’ve not already seen it): http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7824291.stm . A vicious circle of those desperately seeking employment, exploitation and the horribly disposal nature of our society. All thoroughly depressing but your article worded some aspects of this beautifully. A lot to think about.

    Anna

  29. loved this post.

    so sad that we are, or were, all so addicted to consumerism, and fashon for so long. The thoughtless must have.

    Change, whether driven by the slowing economy, or driven by personal ethics, it will be good to see.

  30. I love this post and have avidly followed the whole project throughout the year on this blog. I have learned so much from your wardrobe development, mending and UK textile research undertakings and I love the thorough, articulate and precise way in which you approach issues of consumption, class, creativity, fashion etc.

    For me your comments on art and the Everyday are very interesting and there is a marvellous discussion to be had on the appropriation of quotidian and everyday things – by artists – for the creation of meanings.

    Re: good and bad art, I think that whatever an artist’s material is, they either use that with skill or not. My opinion is that the material an artist works with can be anything – fabric, sound, social situations, paint, mud, ice, yarn, wool, fleece, plastic, rubbish, their own possessions, found materials, cassette tapes etc. – and their sensitivity to that material and use of it, is what makes the work successful or not. The success of a work is bound up in the gap between how the work is intended to be received, and how it is actually received.

    I think that for instance with Celia Pym, her adoption of darning and mending as an actual material to work with, is really successful in saying something about how we regard and value our clothes, and the important personal memories that are stored in them. Her practise is undertaken as a direct challenge to today’s chuck away and replace cheaply mentality, and her knowledge of the material she works with is thorough, in that she is astute about the contexts surrounding her chosen artistic activities and materials.

    And there is an extended economic argument pertaining to this that I think is quite crucial, which is that most people cannot afford to pay anyone (even in minimum wage terms) to undertake tasks (like darning) that are considered to be both unnecessary (why darn when you can chuck out and buy new for cheaper?) and menial (there is still a great undervaluing of this kind of skill.) I know that some people do get small darning jobs done through Prick Your Finger, but something like the extremely mangled jumper that Celia Pym darned during her artist residency took over a week to mend and I do not know anyone who could afford to pay someone for a weeks’ work to mend a sweater. Fortunately for me, I would be happy to undertake this activity myself, but then I do not have the demands of a full-time job or small children to feed eating into my personal time, and my desire in wanting to undertake such an activity comes from a position much like yours, of having invested much critical thought and cultural engagement with the value of doing such a thing. It is extremely complex – the economics of this – and interesting to note that often it is only the clothes deemed to be of intense personal value that people bother to take anywhere for darning. (As observed by Celia Pym.) Or as in your situation, people seem to darn sometimes of part of a personal examination of the value of textiles. But that previous, personal investment in darning – either some reading up on the subject, some discussion at a knitting group, some art exhibition somewhere that involved darning and made you think about it – seems to be a vital, motivating factor for people to darn.
    Without that personal investment in the meaning of the activity, I think there is a widespread attitude of ‘why bother?’ surrounding the mending of things.

    It is difficult to imagine a way of contending the social perception of the value of darning that doesn’t involve some form of cultural protest, because activities like darning do challenge our collective perception of values. So to my mind, it makes sense that at present, we are mostly seeing these mending activities in rarefied art contexts. Firstly, it is the only way people can undertake such work and get paid anything realistic for it (art grants) and secondly, the only way to culturally protest about an economy that eschews mending, is to make a public, cultural activity out of it in the hope that this public action will result in some consideration, debate and – optimistically – some massive social change in the way we consider it.

    As you have discovered in your own critical engagement with the whole way we think about the Value of Clothes, the perception that clothes are cheap is complete nonsense. Yet all over the UK people are buying skirts and jumpers and trousers at insanely low prices. That creates a dilemma not only of values, but also of meaning… and it is meaning (hopefully) that artists must address.

    There is definitely bad art that attempts to make work without taking into account the social/political/economic realities associated with their ‘materials;’ I’d be interested to see who goes on your list in that regard.

    Sorry this is very long and rambling and many points I think I could have made better, but I did want to respond in some way because your post is so monumental and epic and your process of not buying any clothes has been incredibly inspiring to me on many levels, but especially in the whole arena of values.

  31. Wazz, you write (and knit, and sew) so beautifully. I had to come back to this post this evening after skimming it at work, so I could digest it fully.

    I admit I’ve bought more than my share of cheap clothing at H&M and the like, even since I ceased to be an impoverished student looking for a fashion kick, but at least I have never been one for wearing once and throwing away – older items move to the gym clothes then finally the DIY drawers. However, since I took up knitting again I have learned to value quality textiles and how to look after them too.

    After this, I might even face up to my pile of mending and handwashing this weekend. Thanks!

  32. I was unaware of the amount of waste, but assumed it must be tremendouse, with new fads every month. I have not quit buying clothing, although I do make about half of what I wear. The other half comes from second hand stores and ‘seconds’ stores. So many times I can find top quality clothing for a fraction of the original price, and know that it will not end up in a land fill.

    Thank you for all the beautiful, well written posts. I am glad to find others who value making things last.

  33. This was such an inspiring post.
    I haven’t bought a piece of new clothing for ages and your post helped me ponder why. I love the creative process of making my own clothes and have also oddly started to enjoy the process of mending my cherished clothes when they are “sick”, and the sheer volume of disposal cheap badly made clothing out there is depressing.
    Congrats on your year of no clothes buying- do you think this is something you’ll continue into the future? I can imagine it would be a bit of a shock to go back to the shops…

  34. Pingback: The Domestic Soundscape » Blog Archive » Trying it on.

  35. I just stumbled across your blog and I must say, it is super inspiring. I’ve been thinking for several years now that I wanted to make a committment to only make my clothes for one year. I know how to knit, crochet & sew quite well, in fact I come from a long line of seamstresses–my mother, who taught me how to sew, only ever had handmade clothes that her mother (my grandmother) sewed for her. My mother never even owned a pair of jeans until she married my dad, because denim was the one material my grandmother refused to sew with.

    So I think I’ve finally decided to make that committment, even with the possiblility of having a baby this year, which was the one thing that I wasn’t sure I could do–make maternity stuff. But then I decided that was just an excuse. So I plan on posting an entry on my blog about my decision, and I think I will add a link to your blog entry about your decision, if that is ok.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with the world. :)

  36. i’ve been thinking about the same problems for the past few years as well but have had a hard time actually putting these thoughts into practice. in the fall we moved from toronto, canada, to berlin and in the process setting up a new home i’ve not had the tiniest desire to go out and buy new clothes… rather i’ve also thought about darning my old socks, and repairing old clothes. you’ve definitely inspired me to try and take it to the next level this year. thank you… you’ve done a beautiful job!

  37. This is a very interesting post . I am concerned about these matters too as where i live, in Africa , I see arriving all the clothes people throw away in Europe and America (pretending they give away to the poorest) just because they want to buy new ones, in a sick consumistic way ! And these clothes are sold at lowest prices in local markets killing the local fabrics production !

  38. What a great article! I just found your blog and am adding you on my blog roll. I enjoy your depth and clear thinking. I grew up in Brazil and my Mom used to darn my Dad’s socks all the time because his feet were so big that he couldn’t get any socks locally. It was always a wonderful sight to watch her work her way using a light bulb as a support.

    My brother, sister and I all have the thrifting gene (we’ve decided that it’s genetic) and I used to love the thrift stores in Chicago. I moved away three years ago to a small town which is limited in that department and miss it, but even buying second hand can be an overboard practice. I have enough clothes to last me a lifetime! But, this tension between wanting, needing and trying to conserve is at the core of my business: needing to sell in order to make a living, yet hoping that people will move into a lifestyle where there is less waste and consumption. Aaargh!

    Anyway, nice to meet you! Stop over sometime at Fiber Focus! Rachel

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