Monthly Archives: January 2013

My hobby

What do you call something that you do when you’re not working, that you don’t just do because it keeps you alive, that you make time for where you can, spend a certain amount of your disposable income on doing, and enjoy?

For me, things that fall into this category are photography, walking, music, reading and knitting.

I believe they’re known as hobbies.

What about clothes, though? I think this is something people don’t realise. I like wearing clothes, I like buying clothes, I like looking at clothes on the internet or in the weekend newpaper supplements, and I like thinking about clothes. I have to wear clothes, though, and I think this is where people get confused.

But equally I have to eat food and there are plenty of people who count ‘cooking’ as a hobby. If I wrote a post about my quest for more ethical eating, I don’t think anyone would question that it wouldn’t necessarily entail a change in how much of my money I spend on doing so. If I’m a foodie there won’t be much difference between getting Waitrose best-quality this-or-that, and the Fairtrade/vegetarian/etc equivalent (whatever my particular ethical beef happened to be. Pun semi-intentional).

I was asked on this blog what harm my increased spending on clothes would do to the rest of my budget – would it stop me supporting independent cafes or bookshops, for example? I think this is a fair question – if nothing else, no-one but myself really knows what my spending looks like pre- or post-ethical resolution, but also it is a definite consideration. I love town centres, little cafes, restaurants and independent shops, just as much as anyone and I want to still have a town centre to go into on a Saturday when friends visit or walking isn’t an option or just for fun, and the only way we get to keep that is by using those shops and cafes. It would be a thought worth considering – that my supposedly ‘good’ choices were ruining other things I value.

But I think some people take that line of thought bizarrely far. The comments on a recent Guardian article about giving up clothes shopping for a year by and large completely miss the point. The author of the article spends something like £1200 on clothes each year, has hardly changed size during adulthood despite marriage and motherhood, has an amazing archive of vintage items to draw from since her mother worked in fashion and kept everything, as well as the hoard of her own things from the past however many decades of shopping, and partway through the year a friend gives her some very pricey shoes, box-fresh, tags-on, because they’ve never fitted the friend in question. How do you buy expensive shoes that don’t fit – and then keep them?! So the author of the piece has a huge and rather lovely wardrobe to draw her clothes from before she resolves to stop buying clothes.

Evidently this woman is very lucky. However she also has always taken care of her clothes and in the course of the year learns to do so even more – darning tights for starters. Her attitude to clothes-buying changes and when the year ends she doesn’t feel a major sense of relief. She says she felt ‘liberated’ by her challenge rather than constrained, and intends to spend the next year continuing to get rid of things rather than buy new things.

All the comments, however, are in the vein of ‘£1200? I don’t think I spend £100 a year on my clothes’, harping on about her privilege, her rich friends, asking things like ‘would it have been as interesting if you simply could not afford to buy clothes for a year?’, and accusing the post of being shallow.

I’ll admit it’s hardly hard-hitting journalism, but it very much struck a chord with me. I don’t know what your hobbies might be, but what if some good could be done to the world if everyone did less of it, and on that basis you decided to give that hobby up for a year (or at least the buying of things associated with that hobby)? Say you really like gaming (since I’ve spoken about it recently) so you spend a year playing all the games you already own and ignoring all the old releases? You then write a blog about it and I come along and comment ‘well people in Africa don’t have Playstations so I don’t see why you think this is so hard’ or ‘well I didn’t even spend £10 on games last year, basically you’re just spoilt’.

Anyway, it’s only just struck me that ‘clothes’ is a hobby of mine. Buying them, choosing what to wear, imagining perfect (usually nonexistent or unobtainable) outfits for upcoming events, looking at clothes on the internet to hanker after new things or gaze mournfully at things I never will have. Wearing clothes I like makes me feel happy; wearing clothes that don’t quite work together puts me in a bad mood.

But if even I didn’t really consider that clothes could count as a past-time, how could I expect people to understand that who literally view them only as a necessity, merely as a thing that stands between them and social nicety and possibly hypothermia?

And it’s possible that part of this realisation is due to the imminent arrival of J’s sewing machine. Now all those unobtainable or imaginary clothes can be real, and can really fit and suit me. The despair as I realise I can’t get a dress I like for S’s graduate ball for less than £more-than-I-have is allayed by the revelation that I can get a dress of extreme gorgeousness in any one of my favourite colours for much less money… and much more time.

I’d better get planning.


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I was going to wait until I could give you a teaser photo, a macro of some obscure aspect of my first sewing project. Such an obscure macro that comment discussion would rage until someone said, ‘A-ha! Jenny, are you making a dress?’.

Sadly that post isn’t going to happen because I really want to talk about it, and because I’m not going to be able to start work on my dress for at least a week. So far I have a pattern, but no fabric, no thread, no notions, and no sewing machine.

That last bit might seem like an especially big hurdle, but it’s on its way. My spiritual director bought one for the purposes of making things like curtains and draft excluders a few years ago but has as yet not got round to using it (having a family rather got in the way) so he offered it to me to borrow for as long as we both live in this city and as long as he doesn’t need it.

So I’ve got all kinds of ideas for things I want to make. True to form I fell in love with a pattern which says it’s for ‘intermediate’ sewers (what do we call sewing people these days – I’d far rather say seamstresses but it does sound like a feminine word, like waitress or actress, and seamster definitely isn’t a word, and ‘tailor’ refers only to suiting doesn’t it?) so this is going to be a slow and frustrating process, and for precisely that reason I am going to do it properly, with chalk, making a muslin, buying a book that all the reviews seem to think is the Bible of sewing.

Let’s be honest, I’ve got a touch of beginner’s arrogance. I haven’t anticipated all the things that might go wrong. I should probably start off with a genuinely beginner-level pattern but if I did I definitely wouldn’t bother with muslins and caution and books and would probably mess up horribly as a result. I hope therefore that my combination of arrogance (I can definitely do a harder pattern) and caution (OK then, I’ll buy the book) will actually work out well for me, resulting in the most slowly-made dress ever, but one which works and looks right in the end.

I suppose making my own clothes was a natural next step in my quest for sustainability. I’m trying not to let my brain ask where the fabric comes from, because the idea of trying to source fabric made in fair trade conditions makes me want to cry. I just know it’ll be the most frustrating experience ever.

I promise, though, those photos will come. Maybe I’ll mix them in with other confusing macro details and make a macro quiz. Although I think that’s been done before…


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In Spite Of Myself

New Year’s resolutions. I always say I don’t make any – why should you pick an arbitrary starting point to do something new? Why not just say you’re going to do it from the moment you think of it? Or so I say. Somehow, though, it always seems to happen, however much I try not to and however much it’s basically an accident. Because however much I say it’s an arbitrary point to pick in the calendar which we have designated as the start of the year, it does make sense. After weeks of bad weather and stress (is it a stressful time of year or am I still on academic time?), followed by Christmas, which is by this point a wholly necessary feast of brightness and gluttony and love and laziness, we want new steps and Spring and clean sheets. Culturally it would be wired-in to think like this, I think, even if Resolutions weren’t a Thing.

So quite without meaning to, I have made one resolution. This one, as my resolutions tend to do, has more or less crept up on me. I’ve always talked the talk about fair trade and being a considerate consumer and all the rest of it, and other than tea, coffee and bananas, there’s always been a good reason not to walk the walk very often. Mainly it was being a student, a combination of not being very well-off and also wanting to dress like every early twentysomething girl and therefore having to go to the same high-street cheap shops in order to do it. I’m not a student any more, but I’m not rich, and I’m still young, but somehow I wanted to go sales shopping, looked on the internet, ogled the shops when I went past them, and couldn’t get further than that. I don’t really know how I reached this point, but I have.

From now on, where possible, all my clothes will be as ethical as possible. Primarily fair trade but I’m not afraid of dabbling in clothes made in Britain (revitalising our industries and helping with unemployment), or organic clothing (cotton production with pesticides being basically the worst thing ever) or indeed any other kind of ‘ethics’ that might crop up. I’ve made a fairly good start – with a little of the money I earned before Christmas, I just treated myself to some little goodies from the January sales at Monkee Genes, People Tree, Nancy Dee and Elroy (via Think Boutique).

So, my resolutions, yet again, have crept up on me. If I discover any more, maybe I’ll let you know.

P.S. if anyone knows where I can get tights (ordinary black 40 denier tights I mean) under any kind of ethical consideration, or proper shoes (e.g. brown leather knee-high boots – mine are dying fast), do let me know, and I’ll start saving…!



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