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Lizz Roe – August


August – Wear or use something I have made everyday!

There’s lots of encouragement on the web, in recent books and in practical groups for people wanting to make things – whether it’s wood turning, fabric and textiles, metal-work, basketwork, leather-craft or whatever. Although I’ve done metalwork and woodwork in the past, made soap from scratch, learnt about how to make shoes, woven baskets and made several rugs and cushions what I mostly do now is make clothes.

As I look round the flat I can find the following that I made from scratch:

  1. Wooden picture frame
  2. Copper pot with a fitted lid
  3. Firepoker
  4. Hammer (really!)
  5. Candlestick
  6. Soap
  7. Soapdish
  8. Bookcase
  9. Several quilts
  10. Wooden picture portfolio
  11. Felt slippers
  12. Large wooden spoon
  13. A few bags
  14. Curtains
  15. Tablecloths
  16. Scritchy pads for washing up (made from the little nylon string bags that fruit and veg come in)
  17. A few bits of jewellery (including a fabulous necklace made from mother of pearl buttons)
  18. Clothes-wise I’ve got a fair amount of winter stuff I’ve made – skirts, hats, scarves, gloves, pullovers. But not so much in the way of summer stuff. Earlier in the year I made two skirts for the summer and I have knitted a nice cardigan – but I could make some trousers and a shirt or two – I’ve plenty of fabric. Hmm – yes – this is one of my own up things – I have way too much fabric! Oh yeah – I also made two silk skirts for walking and camping back in June when I thought about the fact that I was going camping in July for two weeks and needed lightweight stuff! (They weigh next to nothing, they’re easy to wash, they dry really fast, they pack down tiny (into their pocket) and they look pretty groovy – maybe I could patent them for the walking/camping market!

I was lucky in that I was taught how to make clothes when I was at school – shirts, trousers and so forth,and I’ve carried on making things now and again. I know how to use commercial patterns and I started making my own patterns a few years ago. The key I found was to make things up in very cheap or even free fabric first before using posh or bought fabric to make things. Now I’m more confident – I’ve adapted clothes, I’ve made clothes from scratch, I’ve taken things apart that I really like – made a pattern from them and then made them anew as well as making new versions of them.

I’ve been through my wardrobe and made a list of all the clothes that I’ve made (and worn more than once), there are lots more I’ve made in my life but I often make things for other people too:-

mittens, beret, gloves, scarf, coat, 3 pinnafores, 4 cordurouy skirts, 1 reversible fleece cape, 2 pullovers, 1 cardigan, 3 cotton skirts, 2 aprons, 2 sari skirts, 3 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of shoes, 1 pair of slippers, 2 shirts, 1 pair of trousers, 1 kurta, 1 headscarf/bandanna thing and 1 wild patchwork cotton hat. (You know you want to see the pictures don’t you?)

John Paul Flintoff recently made a big splash with his book ‘through the eye of the needle’ which amongst other things includes him making some of his own clothes. It’s interesting that it was this thing that was used as the central marketing message for the book as it’s about lots of other things too. But maybe the whole ‘man makes own clothes’ is just irresistible. One of my friends read it and said they thought of me – isn’t that fun! Or maybe they thought of me because they thought my fashion sense was as suspect as his is. It’s a great book and is a fabulous reminder of the many ways in which the whole fashion industry is just bonkers!

I went to the fancy silk store down near the market on saturday and spent a happy hour walking round thinking about fabrics and the coming winter and the absence of the kind of trousers I like in the shops (i.e with waists that come up to the waist rather than half way down your bum). This is the thing about making your own clothes you can actually make what you want to wear. Ok you might need a bit of trial and error to begin with, but what’s the worst that can happen? Perhaps the easiest thing to do is to start with plain fabrics and then you don’t have to worry about matching up complicated stripes or patterns on seams and so forth.

One of the great things I found out back in June is that Clothkits is back. A lovely woman called Kay has started it up again and is selling online and via a catalogue. The only clothkits thing I have from my childhood is an elephant cushion – my aunty got it for me when I was very little and helped me make it on her hand-cranked sewing machine. I think I mostly watched that bit but I do remember stuffing it and using a pencil to poke the stuffing right down into the corners. It’s still great. When I couldn’t sleep as a child I used to count the number of elephants on it. (More interesting than sheep.) Now it sits on my sofa along with a fantastic russian doll cushion that came from a knitter in Shetland (and loads of cushions from all over the world – the USA, Libya, Morocco, Cyprus, India, Turkey). The website has some great pictures from the 70s and early 80s and she has some fab designs for women and children – I bought a needlecord skirt kit in the summer sale – it’s pretty nice!

She and I had an email conversation about the sorts of people who buy clothkits now, who want to make their own clothes, who are into the whole re-claim traditional women’s crafts thing, and we agree it’s a definite trend! Her stuff is increasingly popular (I think Quakers might be well keen so I hope she gets in touch with the Friend – the Quaker newspaper).

Alongside the revival of some of these ‘domestic skills’ other traditional skills such as wood-turning, thatching, stone-carving etc are being supported by things like Country Living magazine who support an annual awards scheme. What’s a bit weird is that many of these skills were really dying out because they were so undervalued. Who wanted handmade when you could have factory produced – something shiny and synthetic rather than something home-made and a bit rough round the edges. Now these crafts are coming back they’re mostly (so it seems) being taken up by middle-class or at least middle income people (often ex-professionals or down-shifters) who are giving them a whole new lease of life, new kinds of status and who charge the equivalent of at least a living wage for their time and skill. Of course I think it’s great that people can get paid for their skills but it’s a bit weird too. I can remember when my uncle, who was a gamekeeper, did some work on some pheasant shoot and got a quarter bottle of rum for his effort, the next year the landowner called in a consultant and he got shed loads of dough! All the locals smiled into the sleeves about it, this was typical and normal they said – but it revealed something crucial about our society and the way it operates socially, economically and politically.

A few years ago I had an MA student who did her thesis on women who sew – she looked at a group of women who made army uniforms and contrasted them with women who made church vestments professionally, and women who were professional embroiderers. Her data revealed a complex stratification within a single occupation relating to class, education, ethnicity and professional history – some of which was a total surprise, in particular where the groups intersected.

Nevertheless getting back to a situation where we know how to make things rather than are dependent on someone else to make it for us means we have just that little bit more freedom.

My latest skirt cost £5 in fabric plus my own time. Alternatively I could have worked for a number of hours earned the ££ and then got someone else to make it for me (or bought a skirt in a shop) – but making it was a huge amount of satisfaction, people saying nice things about it was also very satisfying, and each time I look at it I have a little glow of gladness.

Week 1

I use the curtain in the bathroom every day!

This week I have worn the groovy new cardigan, a pinnafore I made a few years ago from free fabric, 3 different skirts, some trousers, and a scarf.

I also used my home made hammer to break open a money bank to pay for an archeology dig I’m going on.

Week 2

The cardigan was out again, so was another one I made last year, I wore another skirt I made a while ago (from a sari) and I made a long shirt too which I might wear next week. Another pair of trousers was in evidence as was a headscarf and a headband. I wore the fabulous necklace one day and on another used the bag I made from a pair of jeans. This week also saw a friend’s fancy dress birthday party (happy birthday Maudy) – my fancy dress was as a ‘plain’ Quaker which involved a dress a friend made me and a bonnet I made – very fetching!

Week 3

I wore the clothkits skirt this week and am now making a shirt to go with it. I wore the long shirt and a long waistcoat I knitted a few years ago too. For some of this week I’m on a dig and this means the lovely walking skirts are in evidence. I have also used a wooden comb that a friend made me. One of the hilarious things that the archaeologists want me to make are fluffy knitted sandbags! (This is a kind of dig joke – the long winter evenings just fly by). We did all kinds of things in the evenings during the week I was there – we had a ‘pub’ trip one night (local back room of one of the islander’s houses), card playing where we played a game for a few hands using the rules of another game before we worked out what was going wrong, carving a carrot into fish (which went into the following evening’s stew), mid-dig party (also my last night), field trip debrief (which was more about the lunch we’d had in a hotel on another island than about the archaeology), put the archaeology world to rights night (after a desperate search for someone’s order of wine which we think got sent to the wrong island, and which prompted a quick sortee for offsales), it was a totally excellent week in every respect; I learnt a lot, I had a week outdoors doing practical things (I shifted about 60 barrows of earth on one day, did a trowel clean on the inside floor of an early neolithic house on another, uncovered the base of a new round structure on a hard trowel, found some great worked flints and skaill knives on a light trowel of one section of the dig, did lots of finds washing and processing, and found more flints and flakes when I was doing turf cleaning, I also went on 3 field trips, one shopping trip, and cooked dinner for 6 several times, and lost a lot of card games), I met some fantastic people (you know who you are), and had one of the most fulfilling weeks I can remember for ages. I felt this enormous sense of gratitude to have had the opportunity.

Week 4

This week I’m in Uzbekhistan! So I’ve taken all kinds of home made skirts and 2 shirts and 2 long scarves I’ve made. I’m using a shoulder bag I’ve made, and a pursebelt and a slightly weird hat with a huge brim that I made a few years ago.

What I Learnt – It was a challenge but it was nice too. Each time I wore something or used something I made I felt this nice sense of achieving something. When I was camping at the start of the summer I had time to cut things out and pin them together – then when I was back at home I had time to sew them with the machine. When I was on holiday at the end of the month several people commented on my nice/interesting clothes and accessories! Sweet.

One of the things that was interesting was talking with the archeology people about making things (which in part was prompted by the carrot goldfish escapade, which in turn had been prompted by the collection of whisky bottles our landlord had – some of which were filled with tea and some of which were just crying out for a goldfish or two to swim around in) and the humour that could be had from doing creative things together – which making a bit of a leap is what in many ways an archaeological excavation is about – something incredibly practical and creative and which requires cooperation and collaboration and humour (and food). Several of the group have been involved in experimental archaeological projects too, where you endeavor to make or do something with the resources the people of the time would have had. For example on one of the trips someone showed me how skaill knives were made and then got me to do it – which was just great. I loved this side of the dig – it was hard work, but it felt amazing each time anyone stood back and said hmm – look at this, what do we think? The site supervisor clearly knew his stuff but other people had ideas too, and even though I knew practically zero I could still make the odd suggestion based on observation (odd sometimes being the most accurate word) no Lizz not a patio and sauna, well, probably not. There was such a lot of creativity going on.

Next Month make all the christmas, eid and birthday presents for the next 12 months!

To see the other months in this series, please see the Lizz Roe page.

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