A bishop-sleeve mini dress inspired by Christian Dior’s Autumn-Winter 17/18 capsule, three candy pink, midnight black and baroque jacquard A-line miniskirts, a sheer white raglan blouse and two wool-felt coats… This is the foundation of a timeless and minimalist work-to-weekend wardrobe.
But this is not your average collection sourced from hours of online shopping and boutique buys. These clothes are all hand-cut and crafted with a Singer sewing machine in the bedroom of 24-year-old graduate lawyer Polina Safonova (@polly.sews). They are the makings of the modern woman’s me-made collection.
More than 80 billion new garments are sold each year to consumers worldwide, generating 92 million tonnes of textile waste. Australia alone contributes 500,000 tonnes of fashion waste annually. From thrift shopping to recycling fibres and upcycling off-cuts and capsules of seasons past, sustainability is now becoming a priority within the fashion industry and for its consumers.
International designers such as Stella McCartney and local Australian labels like Romance Was Born and Byron-based boho brand Arnhem have recently featured upcycled fabrics and designs in their collections. Sourced from their own archives and vintage boutiques, these would-be scraps are repurposed into new-season garments and accessories such as scarves and scrunchies.
A handful of consumers have taken hands-on action to combat fast fashion’s detrimental ecological impact, turning to “me-made” couture as a means of maintaining a practical and eco-conscious approach to style.
“Sewists” – a mash of sewer and artist – have dominated a growing online niche within the sartorial landscape. With the rise of nostalgic designs inspired by ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s styling – think tie-dye tees, flared corduroys, neon tints and vintage finishes – came the resurgence of seamstresses and DIY pieces, turning away from today’s fast fashion industry and towards a mode of the past.
Sewists create homemade garments that value quality and longevity over quantity and trends. Unlike tailors and made-to-wear couture houses, me-made sewists construct everyday creations with a vision of a wholly self-made collection. Some may sell their crafts but for others, like Polina, it’s a hobby with a creative and fashion-forward benefit.
“I do it because I love to be creative and it’s a kind of therapy for me,” she says. “It’s a nice way to block out the rest of the world for a few hours and just focus on something that makes me happy. And it’s my way of being a part of the fashion world.”
Social media sewing
Social media and the internet in general have transformed the world of sewing. Thanks to sites such as Pinterest and Instagram, as well as creative hubs like Etsy, learning to sew and craft a garment is now easier than ever before. A network of hobby and professional sewists use these platforms to showcase their work and share their knowledge. You can now access thousands of patterns online for free, view tutorials on how to create the garment of your dreams and learn the differences between stitches and when and how to use them.
Brisbane local Mel Tesch (@melt.stitches) taught herself how to sew using online tutorials after a New Year’s KonMari (a tidying-up process invented by organiser extraordinaire Marie Kondo) wardrobe overhaul saw her tossing bags of unworn clothes away. She has crafted 64 garments with the sewing machine she received for her birthday in February: her very first white linen dress, her husband’s grey mandarin-collar shirt (one of her proudest achievements) and an oversized parti-coloured midi dress reworked from her childhood quilt.
Depending on what textiles are used, simple designs such as miniskirts and camisoles can cost as little as $7 and two hours to create from cutting out the design to sewing it together. A synthetic wool coat costs around $40. The DIY and me-made branch of fashion has also led to a boom in small businesses and independent crafters specialising in boutique patterns and fabrics.
Sewing for sustainability
Julia Mulcair, owner of boutique fabric store Pitt Trading, a business started by her parents in the 1980s, notes the growth of both her company and sewists in general. “We are now seeing a shift where sewing is more about sustainability – making something that lasts and is of quality. Most of our fabrics are sourced from Australian designers – at the end of their season, we buy their leftovers. This brings our customers high-quality, often overseas-sourced fabrics and saves the leftovers going unused or to landfill,” Julia shares.
While me-made fashion still means creating new garments, the homemade element eliminates excess offcuts and allows the sewist to pick and choose what fabrics they use. Many sewists tend to stick to timeless designs to ensure the longevity of each garment. Me-made designs also minimise the impact on pollution, with the fashion industry currently contributing 10 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions globally from factory production processes.
Most chain and boutique fabric stores identify where the material was spun and, in some cases, the percentage of recycled fibres. This also allows me-made sewists to rethink the #WhoMadeMyClothes revolution throughout the entire creation process. Labour is not outsourced to underpaid workers and the sewist has control over their fabrics.
This issue played an integral part in Mel’s desire to sew when she realised the time and effort that goes into crafting each garment. “I can only imagine how grossly underpaid certain overseas workers are,” she says. “I’ve since made a vow to myself not to purchase any ready-to-wear clothing.” Mel also upcycles any offcuts, repurposing would-be scraps into scrunchies to ensure minimal waste.
Interior designer Sophia Hill’s (@sophiasews_) sewing journey began in an effort to create high-quality and affordable items but has also blossomed into a redefined sense of style and acute awareness of fast fashion’s ecological impact. Whether sustainability is a side effect of me-made fashion or a driving force behind it, the revival of handmade couture offers a proactive approach to the war on fashion waste.
The final product has a guaranteed one-of-a-kind couture finish imbued with sentimental value and pride. For Sophia, the entire process evokes nostalgia. “It feels quite personal. My grandmother was an incredible seamstress as is my mother – but she doesn’t have the patience for it!” she reveals. “I inherited my grandmother’s machine so I feel like she’s always with me when I’m sewing.”
Tips for starting your own me-made collection
- Plan your piece. Have a look in your wardrobe and decide what styles you need more of and what fabrics you love.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There is an entire online network of amateur and professional sewists that would love to lend a helping hand.
- Unleash your creativity and enjoy the process. Your creations don’t need to be perfect – it’s all about expressing yourself through fashion and flaunting that one-of-a-kind finish.
Georgia Nelson is a journalist based on the South Coast of NSW and the features writer at WellBeing and WILD. She has a penchant for sustainable beauty, slow fashion and feminist literature. Find her on Instagram @geo_rose.