After last week’s sewing meditation on ethical resourcing, one of my friends pointed me towards the book “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion.” While I have yet to read the book (though I know I should!!), I’ve read reviews and discussions of it, so I’m familiar with the basic gist. This book has of course sparked many lively conversations throughout the blogging world, and one that has been of special interest to me is the idea of “fast sewing.” In other words, while we may not be consuming ready-to-wear garments at a high rate, are we just as culpable of this kind of consumption through our rapid sewing output?
This is a topic that really hit home for me, because, at least in the past, I have been churning out garments pretty quickly – when I was in Boston, it got to the point where I was making about one garment per week, sometimes more. This meant that I quickly amassed a sizeable wardrobe – much bigger than what I would have accumulated through shopping! At first I saw my high output as commendable – I was being so productive! But after I began reading about Overdressed, I started to wonder if this was actually a bad habit instead. I also began to realize that I was using cheap fabric, which could easily have been produced under the sort of unfair conditions that this book discusses. And that bothered me, too.
Maddie suggested in these blog posts that it can be a temptation to replace an addiction to fast fashion with fast sewing, and that got me thinking – perhaps for me the problem isn’t so much “fast sewing” as it is the concept of addiction. I know that I’m prone to addictive behaviors – many of us are! And I don’t mean in dangerous, substance abusing ways; I simply mean that I can quickly latch onto something and suddenly become so irrationally attached to it that I can’t let go. Peanut butter, for example. I gave this up for Lent because I realized that, when I am presented with a jar of peanut butter, I find an unnaturally intense sense of comfort and pleasure from devouring way more than I should. Screwing the lid back on the jar elicits a surprisingly strong emotional response of near-panic. What if I can’t be happy without this? Can anything else satisfy me in the same way or to the same degree?
It may sound laughable when you put it like that – surely you can’t actually be that attached to something as silly as peanut butter – but again and again, I find myself in this position. And I know that last year, I was addicted to sewing. I felt an unnecessarily urgent need to produce as much as possible as quickly as possible. It stressed me out. On the one precious day a week I had to sew, I would often make myself go for 10 or even 12-15 hour stretches of sewing, even when I was exhausted and no longer found any joy in it. Why? Because I was afraid that if I didn’t use all the free time I had right now to sew as much as possible, that it might never come again. And again, this is ridiculous. But this is how I work.
Since moving to San Francisco, my schedule has changed from a full-time job that really takes more than 40 hours a week to part-time freelancing, so I find myself having much more time to sew. Interestingly, though, I don’t find myself sewing during every spare minute. In fact, I can go several days without feeling the need to sew, and I’m satisfied sewing for only an hour or two a day when I do. Now that sewing is no longer an addiction, my pace has naturally reset to a more reasonable output, and I find myself being much more thoughtful about what I make. What wardrobe additions do I actually need? Do I love that fabric, or can I go without? I no longer need to hold onto my sewing time for dear life, and I am free to enjoy sewing at my own pace.
So, for me, fast sewing was a symptom rather than a cause. Producing items quickly isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when you are working towards an entirely handmade wardrobe. And sometimes I do just need to make things quickly! However, I find that I am much happier when my life is generally in balance – when I don’t pursue one activity to the exclusion of all others – and when I can be more thoughtful in the activities I do choose. And once again, this can help pave the way towards the ever-elusive goal of contentment.