When I was eleven years old, or somewhere in that preteen time, I realized that by sewing my own clothes I could have more than if we bought them ready made. My grandmother had always made my clothes, but she was beginning to suffer from arthritis, and so was having to cut back on her own sewing. The solution was for her to teach me.
Today, people don’t sew in order to save money, unless they are in the custom of buying it all at Bergdorf Goodman. Clothes have gotten so cheap that in most cases it is cheaper just to buy a garment and be done with it. But there are plenty of people who sew not because it is cheap, but because they like being able to create their own clothes. The fit can be better, and you get to choose your own fabrics and colors.
But it is a mistake that by sewing (and knitting…) you are eliminating all social and environmental problems from your wardrobe. The growing and manufacture of cotton and other textiles is costly in terms of water, dye, and chemical usage. Slave labor is associated with cotton farms in Asia, and textile factories in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are big polluters.
There is still textile production in the US, though it can be hard to source. Organic cottons are also available, which at least helps with the problem of pesticides. If you like wool, made in the USA Pendleton is hard to beat.
If money is not a concern, there are still factories in France and Italy that make stunning silks and woolens. The UK produces Harris Tweed and other woolens, and the superb Liberty cottons are printed in the UK. (I could not find where the cloth was actually manufactured, though the cotton is grown in Egypt.)
But the best solution is to try to source fabric secondhand. Most serious sewers have a fabric stash. You can see an old photo of mine above. Most of the pieces I can pick out in the photo were ones I found at my Goodwill Outlet Center. I have a really hard time leaving behind great fabric, and so I have quite a collection. To be honest, I could be kept busy for several years sewing up what I already have. When at the Goodwill bins I also look for garments made of great fabric that I can adapt to something new. There is also lots of great vintage fabric on ebay and etsy.
As with ready made clothing, you need more than just fabric to make a garment. There are still thread manufacturers in the US, but most of them produce in bulk for industrial use. When I bought my new sewing machine (nine years ago!) the consultant advised me to only use a high quality European made thread, like Gütermann, as they are tightly spun and do not produce as much lint. If you have ever used a cheap thread, you might have noticed how it actually looks furry.
I also buy good vintage thread when I find it. The sheen of a roll of old Coats & Clark mercerized is hard to beat. But always do a stress test on any old threads, as if stored in high heat, they can become dry rotted and will be too weak with which to sew.
I love it when I run across the remains of a seamstress’s sewing box at the Goodwill bins. I always stock up on elastic, snaps, hook and eyes, zippers, and buttons when I find them. And look at the bottom shelf in my photo to see a bin filled with vintage bias binding and rick-rack.
One thing I would really love to do is learn to knit past a simple knit and purl. Knitting has become so popular that it has helped sustain many small fiber farms which produce wool from sheep and other animals. There is an alpaca farm just a few miles from me, and their yarn is in very high demand. I’m afraid to get anywhere near the front door of a yarn shop, as I know I’d be sucked in. But it is great that this resource is available to knitters.
Making your own clothing can be one way to improve your closet, but as with buying ready made clothing, you have to do a little work and research to ensure you are making wise environmental choices.