Big City, Little Homestead

Living rural in the city.

Category: Books

Mending and altering clothes

In 2009, I lived in Denmark on savings and a short-term contract. I came back that September and worked through the first half of 2010, when I graduated from my program at McGill. Since then, I’ve been looking for a non-profit job; times are tough, and I’m in a terrible state for clothes again. I would rather use common sense and not buy more on credit, so I’ve combed through the fallow piles that I’ve gathered and not tossed over the past year. Pants are in limited supply now, so I have to mend and alter what I can: a pair of Miss Sixty jeans, too small for me, given by a friend; another pair of pants I’ve frayed the seams on that needs repair on the waistband; a pair of checked slacks for work that unfortunately met the teeth of a very medium-sized, caramel-coloured pet, and the same for a pair of purple cords. So I went to the Grande Bibliotheque and found this book: Mend it!

What competency we have lost in clothing maintenance by coming to rely upon cheaply made clothes in a rapid cycle of fashion changes! Yet Canadian design is not supported because of this loss of competency. We go for established name brands and not new designers with interesting ideas. Having “interesting ideas” comes from the skill to create something out of fabric. If you’ve never created something out of fabric before, how can you appreciate the idea or the tailoring that goes into your workaday wardrobe? So you stick to the tried-and-true, and sudden fads.

Regardless of whether fashion is your thing, well-made clothes never go out of style, given that they are amenable to alterations. Most of us have to alter the pants we buy, anyway, shortening and hemming the legs, tucking a too-loose waistband, especially on mid-rise (the best rise) pants. Lately, with stovepipe legs being in fashion, tapering your jeans and pants is necessary. The unfortunate side effects of this style are it makes most legs seem short and butts appear either big or completely flat, and knees wear out if you wear them long enough.

I digress. I have now read up on the techniques to repair my checked pants (repairing checks is difficult!) and I’ll tackle that next week. I’ll tell you about the project I started last week.

I took a pair of khaki pants,  split the inseams, and hand-stitched them together in the form of a skirt. I then pinned an upward tuck in the fabric so that it lies nicely over my ass (derrière, behind, what is the best word?), rather than cling as pants are supposed to do. Once that’s hand-stitched and the skirt is gently laundered and ironed, I will finish the inside edges by machine, and restitch over my handwork. Then I’ll finish the kick-pleat. I may have to pick apart the waistband, reinforce it with new tape, and stitch the edge. Then iron it, try it on, and make little adjustments until the skirt is satisfactory, and then finish the seams. As pants make for a mighty long skirt, I have a couple of styling options to use that will make the skirt a business/casual length, without cutting the fabric. It’s unfortunate I can’t show you the Before, but when it’s done, I’ll post the after.  (Updated two weeks later: it didn’t look right at all. I abandoned the project.)

I’m reading a book called Shop Class as Soulcraft, by a PhD graduate who dropped out of working at a big DC think tank because after all that struggle to attain that level, meaning was lacking from his daily work.

The book exemplifies the very reasons why I am living like I do, and writing this blog about it:

“What follows is an attempt to map the overlapping territories intimated by the phrases ‘meaningful work’ and ‘self-reliance.’ Both ideals are tied to a struggle for individual agency, which I find to be at the very center of modern life When we view our lives through the lens of this struggle, it brings certain experiences into sharper focus. Both as workers and as consumers, we feel we move in channels that have been projected from afar by vast impersonal forces. We worry that we are becoming stupider, and begin to wonder if getting an adequate grasp on the world, intellectually, depends on getting a handle on it in some literal and active sense.

“Some people respond by learning to grow their own vegetables…raising chickens on the rooftops of apartment buildings in New York City. These agrarians say they get a deep satisfaction from recovering a more direct relationship to the food they eat. Others take up knitting, and find pride in wearing clothes they have made themselves. The home economics of our grandmothers is suddenly cutting-edge chic – why should this be?

“…the new interest in self-reliance seems to have arisen before the spectre  of hard times. Frugality may be only a thin economic rationalization for a movement that really answers to a deeper need: We want to feel that our world is intelligible, so we can be responsible for it. This seems to require that the provenance of our things be brought closer to home. Many people are trying to recover a field of vision that is basically human in scale, and extricate themselves from dependence on the obscure forces of a global economy.”