On being a maker

on Make  

There is something extremely satisfying about waking up, thinking “I really need some warmer pyjama pants”, then wearing them a couple of hours later after drafting, cutting and sewing up a pair out of my fabric stash.

I’ve always been a haphazard sewer at best, and an even worse pattern maker – I cut corners, guesstimate measurements, and almost always have to unpick an incorrect seam or two. But baggy fleece pyjama pants are like my favourite choc-chip cookie recipe: even if I jumble up the steps a bit or my measurements are a bit off, it’s forgiving enough that it scarcely matters in the end. It might not look perfect, but that’s not really the point of choc-chip cookies or pyjamas is it?

For these I traced my favourite cotton PJ pants (bought from Westco almost 15 years ago!) onto brown paper, then used these to cut the front and back pieces from black polar fleece I bought years ago for an abandoned plushie project. I dredged up some memories of a sewing and pattern-making class I did a few years ago, sewed up the inseams (the first one wrong to begin with), then the outer leg, added a waistband from the offcuts, threaded through a ribbon to tie at the waist and hemmed the legs. The whole process took about two hours, and would have been considerably less if I was sewing clothes as often as I once wanted to. I didn’t end up taking a photo of them, they aren’t really much to look at (see my comment about cookies above), but they are SO comfy and warm!

Generally I’m of the opinion that if I can do or make something myself, why pay someone else to do or make it? But I have had to face the fact that I can’t and shouldn’t do everything, and sometimes have to pay for the convenience or defer to the expertise of someone else. I can’t do plumbing for example, or make furniture, and I find doing my tax return so boring and confusing that I’m happy to pay someone else to do it for me. I’d rather go out for a bowl of pho or a croissant than make it myself, because for me the reward isn’t worth the time investment and the pros do it much better than I can. It’s difficult to suppress the urge to do everything myself and respect the skills of a professional, but sometimes you have to realise you need to prune some hobbies to really let the most important ones bloom properly.

If I had wanted to, I could have gone out and bought a pair of pants – probably better quality, actually – for less than $20. Does that make my time worth $10 per hour? Would it have been better if I’d spent those two hours doing freelance work, or increasing the skills I need for my job, and left the sewing to tailors? Then again, what conditions are those tailors working in, and are they being paid a decent wage for their work and expertise? By making the pants instead of buying from an ethical retailer, am I losing an opportunity to ‘vote with dollars’ and show that I am happy to pay a bit more for clothes so that the makers can be properly compensated?

I have to admit, I don’t have any answers or much coherence here – this post is a bit of a stream of consciousness! My plan with clothing is to make the easy things (like these pants) and either buy the trickier pieces secondhand or from an ethical source, even if it is much more expensive than ‘fast fashion’. I’m a terribly slow sewer, but I feel like this should be one of the things that I invest my time in, even if it means having to pay for the convenience of something else. That’s my balance, as a maker.

6 notes

  1. I think of making as an investment too. With every piece you make, your get better. Your next piece will be of a higher quality, or be done faster, etc. even if you don’t spend more. In a sense, the value of *you* appreciates.

    You don’t get that when you go buy something. :) Making is an investment in your self.

    1. I completely agree! I’ve found that even if a skill feels completely random now it sometimes contributes to something really important to me down the track.

  2. I agree with both of you – it’s an investment, whether it be a single time one or a longer term one, it’s one nonetheless. Also, sometimes I’m just curious “how hard would it be to make croissants, surely!” and bang, the maker/diy/creative side of me just goes and gets all the bells and whistles needed to make croissants once in my life, just so I can try my hand at it. But the best part? I can explain to most people who don’t know, how croissants are made – because I’ve done it! And that, I think is totally worth the one-off investment :)
    Similarly, YOU KNOW HOW PANTS ARE MADE NOW T! :)

    1. Haha crossaints was an example I was going to use for something that I can’t be bothered doing myself! I’m so tempted to try it, but I saw instructions for making puff pastry once and the amount of butter required scared me! I only indulge in them every once in a while, so happy to pay a pro to make them for me ;) I did however make a croquembouche once, just to see if I could (then it melted, but not before I got some photos).

      I suppose what it comes down to is whether the thing you’re investing time in is 1) enjoyable to do and/or 2) is a step towards a goal. If either of those things is true then I think it’s worth it.

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