Sew it yourself! Inside the zero waste and zero sweatshop fashion revolution | Arts and crafts



My the foot is leveling nervously on the sewing machine pedal. I work cautiously through a sewing kit produced by Pattern Project, a south London “micro-factory” start-up. It has developed a laser cutting machine that can cut patterns on demand, with minimal waste. The pieces of the dropped sleeve dress that I sew were cut to my exact measurements by a little zippered laser, which whistles over the crisp Irish linen, scorching seam guides and weak in the fabric so I know exactly where to sew.

Pattern Project founders Shruti Grover, 34, and Simon Johnson, 35 – partners in life and in business – are seeking funding for their first boutique. A vision of ’22nd century’ fashion, says Grover, she will hold no inventory, but will sell bespoke garments that are laser cut in front of you in minutes, from local, ethical and sustainable fabrics – then sewn by you.

They’ve already collaborated on a zero waste pattern for fashion designer Phoebe English’s latest collection, while last weekend they exhibited at the V&A in West London as part of the London Design Festival.

Do it yourself … (from the left) Lydia Morrow; a model wearing Merchant & Mills clothing; and Leïla d’Angelo. Composite: Guardian design; courtesy of Lydia Morrow; Roderick Field; courtesy of Leila d’Angelo

Pattern Project is at the forefront of the do-it-yourself clothing-making revival, but it’s not the only company making home sewing easier. The catalyst was the Covid. “We took six weeks of sales in one day during the lockdown,” says Michael Jones of Merchant & Mills, which sells everything you could possibly need – patterns, fabrics, tools and tutorials online – to sew yours. Even now, 18 months later, sales are 50% higher than before the pandemic.

Abandoning its image as an amateur, the sew-it-yourself (SIY) movement has become something more modern, more sustainable and social. To begin with, the sewers were renamed “cushions” – because who would want to be confused with a drain pipe? In addition, thanks to a new wave of independent model makers, it is not difficult to find trendy models, downloadable in pdf format anywhere in the world.

“When I tell people that I make my own clothes, they look at me like, ‘Oh, poor little one,'” says Leila d’Angelo, a 34-year-old insurance broker who dusted her sewing machine during the second. English confinement. “Then I walk in with a strapless dress and they say, ‘Sorry, what? It is not what I expected.

Lydia Higginson from Made My Wardrobe
“The Perfect Little Challenge”… Lydia Higginson of Made My Wardrobe says a demand for face masks last year inspired many sleeping fashion designers. Photography: Dan Higginson

According to Jones, the new customers are “young and predominantly women, averse to fast fashion and much more connected with environmental issues.” Many are motivated to sew because it allows them to avoid production in sweatshops. “A lot of people clearly know that cutting and sewing is where the exploitation happens,” says Lydia Morrow, a 25-year-old Glasgow-based fashion influencer who shares microtutorials on Instagram Stories. “I can cut this now.”

There is also a lot of support available for beginner dressmakers. The Fashion District Festival, a five-day celebration of sustainable fashion that took place last week in Stratford, east London, devoted a third of this year’s program to designer workshops, including a tutorial on the recycling of kimono scarves, organized by the community interest company. Waste factory. “There is a huge appetite for people to get involved in their own fashion,” says Helen Lax, the founder of the festival. “It’s a different embodiment of the good life. Rather than just follow a pattern, the manufacturer community is stepping out of the network and trying it out. It’s about being able to take control of your style.

For many designers, the face mask was a drug of entry. After spotting a request for 500 fabric masks from a homeless charity, Lydia Higginson, the founder of Made My Wardrobe sewing kits, rallied her supporters to help. “It was a quick win – the perfect little challenge to get people back to their machines,” she says. “And then they were like, ‘What else can I do? “”

Shruti Grover and Simon Johnson, Founders of Pattern Project
A vision of fashion in the 22nd century … Shruti Grover and Simon Johnson, the founders of Pattern Project. Photograph: Jill Mead / The Guardian

The new generation of mail order sewing kits – complete with pattern, durable fabric and the promise of a healthy conscience – serve as a helping hand waiting to guide emerging seamstresses through the intimidating process of making clothes. Made My Wardrobe, which has sold 20,000 sets of overalls (from £ 58) and patterns (£ 12.50) since their launch two years ago, also offers kits for underwear, period pants and swimwear, using recycled denim and recycled fishing line (in UK sizes 6 to 24). If you get stuck, Made My Wardrobe and Pattern Project offer “sew on” video tutorials.

Although you will only find organic British and European fabrics at Pattern Project (as well as an Italian polyamide which they say will biodegrade around five years after it is discarded), the biggest fashion problem he wants to solve is is overstock. It is estimated that 20% of the 100 billion clothes produced each year are not sold; they are then usually buried, shredded or burned. “Brands are always on-order,” says Grover. “It’s cheaper to produce more and sell at crazy discounts later than to produce less, but better stuff.” The ultimate goal of Pattern Project is to see its zero waste laser in fashion stores and haberdashery stores across the country, so clothes can be cut and sewn on demand, affordably and quickly.

Meanwhile, the seamstresses are playing out what they call “the Tetris pattern – making the patterns fit into a smaller amount of fabric,” says Atia Azmi, 38, a general practitioner and host of a: CUT : The Makers’ Podcast. According to the Government’s 2019 Fixing Fashion report, “Up to 15% of the fabric can end up on the cutting room floor… Hundreds of thousands of tons of fabric are wasted in the design and production stage before that the clothes do not reach the customer ”. Within the sewing community, zero waste downloadable patterns have exploded online.

At work at Mend Assembly in Totnes, Devon
Super seamstress … at work at Mend Assembly in Totnes, Devon. Photography: Annemieke Goldswain-Hein

Reducing “fashion miles” – the distance a garment and its components travel throughout the supply chain – is also on the agenda of dressmakers. The starting point for the new Mend Assembly in Totnes, Devon – a two-story center offering tailoring space, tailoring shops, repairs and recycling – was ‘dress localism’, says its co-founder, Joss Whipple.

In addition to using ‘existing waste streams’ (recycling old sweatshirts into children’s leggings, for example), Mend Assembly hopes to work with the regenerative ‘farm to clothes’ concept of the non-profit group Fibershed, according to which the local demand for clothing is satisfied by using local natural fibers in closed loop. “We believe that when clothing aligns with local practices, many problematic elements of the global business model disappear, from reducing carbon and transportation to a deeper connection, respecting and caring for the clothing we own and carry, ”Mend said. Assembly website.

This connection is tangible for members of the manufacturer community. “When you wear something you’ve done, not for a second you realize it,” d’Angelo said. “Every time I look down I think about the mistakes I made and how I saved them and I am filled with pride. It is the pinnacle of conscious consumption.

My Pattern Project dress takes four hours to sew, although a professional can do it in an hour. The experience gives me a new appreciation for the skilled tailoring of millions of unrequited garment workers around the world. “The more you do for yourself, the more you realize how much time and effort it takes to make things – and how cheap things are on Main Street, compared to the time it takes,” Azmi explains. “The value people place on fashion has decreased because of the cost. “

For d’Angelo, who admitted to himself as “no one a thousand miles away”, sewing is “the only way for me to slow down and give my body a space to relax”. Morrow, who’s made half of the clothes she owns, says, “It’s so empowering to have created an extension of who you are from scratch. For Azmi, it’s about boosting morale by perfecting the fit. “I am 5 feet 2 inches [1.57 metres], so usually the clothes are too long or the shoulders are not straight. Now I can tailor them exactly how I want them, or match them with a hijab, or make the sleeves longer. I feel more confident when something looks good on me.

To get involved, d’Angelo recommends following the Instagram hashtags #sewfrosting, #indiepatterns, and #tntpatterns. You’ll find monthly challenges based on a loose theme, but the ultimate challenge is to sew your entire wardrobe. Working toward an 80:20 ratio of handmade and purchased clothes, d’Angelo took on the challenge this summer to create a 15-piece vacation wardrobe. Sewing until the last second, she says she felt like “a capable person in a world out of control.” The shopping sprees of yesteryear have been replaced by research trips; instead of asking, “Should I buy this?” She now asks, “Could I do that?” She said, “If I’m not ready to spend five hours doing it, do I really want to?”

I walk out of the Pattern Project studio in a perfectly fitted dress in exactly the color I wanted. The kit cost £ 60. I find myself thinking, “What to do next? “



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