A Return to

I went to school in the twilight era of home economics. On crisp winter afternoons in the school's leaf-strewn quad, our friends would crowd outside the kitchen, waiting to get a taste of what we had been working on. Tasters of squashed choux puffs and bicarb tasting scones (the kind that makes your teeth squeak) would make their way out to a clamouring tide of school girls. But one of my favourite subjects was fast losing favour as a too-domestic pursuit in the beckoning age of computers, tech and progress. In our imagined futures, we would command tech offices and would certainly have no use for baking trays or sewing machines – so they simply had to go.

At the time, I thought little more of this period than the opportunity to sew my school dance dresses during class time. By the time university passed, I found myself living in that future, but also swamped with all the debris of the digital world. I hankered for the snip of scissors through some fabric and the whir of the sewing machine.

To me, practical pursuits have a charm that is difficult to resist. But when I picked up sewing again, I found that it was a pastime that had been dead in the water for some time. I flicked through catalogues at the sewing shop, jotting down the numbers of patterns I loved. Each time I did, the assistant came out from the back shaking her head: no stock of this, no stock of that.
The shop was not to blame; it seemed a simple case of supply and demand. Who is sewing at home for themselves, for fun, anymore? We live in the era of fast fashion chains. If we want clothes, we buy them. If we want fun, we shop for them. Clothing is everywhere – and it's cheap.

We tend to forget that this hasn’t always been the case. For previous generations, well-made clothes, although expensive, were an investment to last through the seasons. For our generation, clothes have lost their value. Not only are they cheaper but we value them less. We are willing to buy carelessly, repair less and throw away more.

That lower price tag comes with a number of costs that we are not always aware of. The system works to hide things that we would be horrified to see: the garment workers who are exploited for cheap labour and our environment that silently takes the toll of a booming fashion industry.

I think there is something else that the system blurs, much less talked about but no less important. That is our power to make.

Clothes nowadays emerge whole from unknown places, devoid of context. And if we never see how clothes are made, it takes a great imaginative leap to know that we can do it ourselves. Let me put it this way: imagine a world of only takeout food, where there are no supermarkets for ingredients and no recipe books. That’s the world of clothing right now. We have limited access to raw materials and we no longer understand for ourselves how garments are made. So of course we rely on a rapacious, broken system to provide for us.

I wanted my power back. So I started making sewing patterns. I was surprised by how much I loved it. The process of moving from two-dimensional surfaces to three-dimensional objects was thrilling. For me, pattern making is like the architecture of fashion. I work right through from concept to completion, from paper to fabric, tweaking each piece until it fits like a perfectly interlocking puzzle. I felt that if I could give someone a tool to create with, we would be one step closer to weakening our reliance on fast fashion. I believe sewing your own clothes can do that.

Once you start learning to sew – I promise it’s not that hard, you only think it is – you are put in dialogue with your clothing.

Instead of just consuming fashion, you become part of the process of its creation and can really appreciate the end result. And just like our schoolgirl baking, it may be bad at first, but it will definitely get better. It’s a little strange that I’m finding my way in this world off the back of a bunch of skills I learned in an outdated home economics classroom. As it turns out, sewing can mean much more than homemaking. In our fast-paced, digital world, there is a lot to be said for slowing down, looking to tradition for inspiration, and connecting with the origin of our clothing.

Why not set some time aside to spark or rekindle your sewing skills by trying out a simple hanging plant embroidery. Download the easy instructions below. And don’t forget to share your creations by tagging Conteu and Afternoon.
Photograph by Carla CorreiraPhotograph by Carla Correira

Jennifer Jacobs | By reviving her passion for sewing, Jennifer Jacobs of Afternoon hopes to bring the love of a forgotten craft to a new generation of makers. When she's not sewing, she likes a strong cup of tea and hanging out her bird, Kipling.

Previous Story
Next Story