Most of my Clothes Used to be Bedsheets

 

It’s true, most of my clothes were originally produced to cover mattresses. Other people’s mattresses. Now, those old sheets have become my arsenal of t-shirts and dresses. I love transforming bedsheets into everyday garments.

The Practical:

It’s already been established that I’m operating on a tight making budget. $40 a month doesn’t go very far for everything needed to make clothing. Plus, I’m a newbie. I’ve only been sewing regularly for nine months – and teaching myself no less. If I hope to get any better, I need to practice, which requires access to materials. Sheets have a ton of yardage. Thrifted bedsheets, which I can sometimes buy according to weight, are a perfect solution to a tight budget. Most of the time I can get a bedsheet for $1-3, and each bedsheet will make two items (50 cents a shirt! that’s even cheaper that fast fashion). But the practical is only one piece to this grand making adventure.

The Philosophical: Beyond the practical reasons for sewing with bedsheets.

When I use my hands to create a garment from a discarded textile, I give those materials new life. I honor the hands involved in producing those materials – from the farmer who grew the cotton, to the workers who processed the fiber, to the artists who compiled the pieces together. My transformed garment remembers all of their efforts. I’m remembering the nameless and faceless. I’m refusing to let their efforts be masked. I’m recognizing that behind every item is a collection of hands desperate to make a living because my community demands absurdly cheap materials. And by remembering them I can resist my own urge to demand the same. I consider making garments out of discarded items as a gentle but powerful act of resistance. I resist the structures of capitalism that equate human beings to energy – simply cheap resources to get the job done. I resist the culture of waste – that new is always better and the old is better off discarded. I resist the idea that making things by hand is useless and meaningless. I resist the concept that handwork is too costly and inefficient.

Each time I choose to transform a discarded item into an everyday basic, I am habituated to see the good in the unwanted and discarded. This act small act of resistance reminds me not to give in to the demanding voices of an economic system that feeds on cheap labor and easy access to anything I want.

Making from unwanted items satisfies more than just my small budget, it creates the space for thoughtful reflection and critical engagement with economics, culture, and capitalism. I’ve grown to love my practice of sewing from bedsheets. But it doesn’t end there, while the practical and philosophical reasons for sewing with bedsheets are necessarily entwined, I wonder what would happen if my craft budget increased? I’m committed to the philosophy behind making with used materials, but I don’t believe that used materials are the only answer to my environmental and ethical commitments. Used materials fit within my budget at the moment, but I’m confident that ethical options are available at any budget point. I know if I had the resources, I would gravitate towards newly produced materials that acknowledge and valued the work of farmers, producers, and makers.

I’m purely speculating. I don’t have the resources at the moment to buy new, and I don’t think I’m good enough at sewing to use new ethically produced materials without the fear of ruining them forever. So while I’m building my skills with needle and thread, I feel confident and comfortable with my choice to use discarded items.

All that from an old bedsheet!

Happy Making.

 

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Clothing Swaps are Magic

I’ve been a swapper since birth. My twin sister and I had one closet until we were in grade school. Then, when that vast resource was halved, we would walk the entire 20 feet of the hallway to build outfits. Though, her outfits were always more put together. My friends would always swap clothes, and our church had a great culture of swapping hand-me-downs. I loved it.

img_3990-1Sporting some hand-me-downs

Swapping, not donating, is my favorite way to let go of used clothing.

  • Swaps reduce waste by providing a venue for used items to be reworn
  • Swaps are more personal
  • By swapping with a small group, there’s a greater chance clothes will be used and cared for
  • Every swap I’ve been to has unique and interesting items
  • Swaps have a minimal door fee, by the pound fee, or could be free!

In my last post I wrote about my handmade wardrobe goals. Well, every season my replacement plan leaves me with a few items that I no longer wear. They’re still usable, so I shuffle them off to my local swap.

My favorite swap in St. Louis happens at PerennialSTL – a creative reuse studio. Besides generally being my favorite place in the world, Perennail hosts well organized swaps that draw in people from all walks of life. After the swap is over, any leftover items that can be used for classes and workshops are set aside and unusable items are sent to the local textile recycling plant (I think to be made into airplane upholstery or carpets?)

img_4985Setting up at Perennial
I’ve volunteered at the past few swaps – it’s amazing how much is donated, how much people take, and the amount left behind. Watching the vast quantity of clothing pile up is almost overwhelming. Because of the piles of cute and trendy pieces, I am so tempted to grab whatever fits, but this doesn’t actually address my overall goal of reducing waste. If I continue to grab whatever I like, I’m still participating in the endless cycle of consuming textiles rather than wearing fewer pieces for longer periods. I also don’t need seven variations of a button down – I just don’t.

Now that I’ve committed to making my clothes from used materials, I try to see the swap as a materials resource and keep my eye out for quality fabrics. Before I go I write down the items I’m potentially interested in to guide my browsing. Before I leave the swap I scrutinize everything for repurpose-ability. I try to have very high standards at this point in the process. I only take home that which can and will be used.

Clothing swaps have been a huge resource in my slow fashion journey. But, if you don’t live close to St. Louis, don’t fret. If you live in a city, there is probably a swap close by – it might even pop up in Google. If you live remotely, why not try organizing a swap for your community? All you need is a designated space and time. I organized a few swaps in college where we laid clothes out on dorm beds and couches – it was amazing.

I would love to hear your stories about clothing swaps! Let me know in the comments below.

Until then, happy making (or swapping)

Why Reclaimed Craft

Craft because I have to, reclaim because I can.

Craft

I make things all the time. Sometimes I say it’s an obsession or an addiction. But actually, making is more like a passion and a devotion to a practice. I make because I feel most alive when my I’m pouring myself into a project. Most of the time it’s a garment, probably knit or sewn, but I make other things too.

 

Reclaimed Materials

Making things requires resources. Whether I’m making a new sweater or a quilt, I need stuff. I used reclaimed materials for most of my projects. Here are two reasons why.

  1. I’m a grad student. Grad student’s don’t have a ton of expendable resources. I have a small budget for crafts every month, but that’s not enough to satisfy my insatiable desire for sweaters or dresses.
  2. I care about my environment – and I try to reject consumerism whenever possible. I don’t buy the message that new things are better or will make me happy. I want to take what I have and transform it into something I am proud of.

So where do most of my materials come from? They’re recycled (hence reclaimed). I find some pride in taking items that are cast aside (used jeans, a sweater from 2002, an old bed sheet) and transforming them into something beautiful. I love this process more than using new materials because it adds depth to my projects. I find materials anywhere, from my local upcycled community workshop, a thrift store, the dumpster, friends, or even my own belongings.

Reclaimed Craft

I also mean reclaimed as in retrieving what was lost. I’m trying to rediscover the notion of a skilled and considerate craftsperson. Someone who cares about their work and environment, takes time with their projects, and aspires for balance between practicality and aesthetic. Overall I want craft in this space to point towards, and hopefully represent, skill in making things by hand, and less about popsicle sticks and chalkboards.

So I want to invite you on this journey with me. I hope Reclaimed Craft can be a place that inspires you to use what you have and see beauty in the rejects. The potential is out there, we just have to have the eyes to see.