Recently, a friend sent me an amazing interview with a graduate student, Amy Twigger Holroyd, who is exploring "how to democratize and disrupt the clothing industry." Her comment that unless you can sew or knit you are held hostage by the fashion industry, by the silhouettes and fabrics and colors they choose, not what you like or suits you, really struck home for me.
I started sewing because I hated everything I saw in stores and couldn't afford what I liked in boutiques. Fashion is not democratic. What is cheap and readily available does not look great on anyone but skinny teenagers, and even that is debatable. There are so many ways to flatter and celebrate the female figure, but the fashion world continually emphasizes an androgynous ideal that few women can emulate.
What was even more interesting to me in the article was the idea of a diverse and localized fashion industry. Thanks to chain stores and online shopping we can buy the same clothing anywhere in the country. Which means that an Ithacan-American (read Tiny Town Times) can dress just like a Los Angelenos or a New Yorker or a small town Arkansas denizen. My southern grandfather would visit Ithaca in the '70's and comment on how the women all "dressed ugly." Which probably meant comfortably or hippy'ish and, for him, uniquely Ithacan, though not in a good way.
Having the ability to knit and sew is empowering. As I sat last week with a group of little girls learning to knit and watched them get excited about using the end balls of yarn from my finished projects, I started thinking about what we need to teach the next generation. I remember reading some time ago that we wear 10% of our wardrobe 90% of the time, and it galvanized me to clean out my closet and really consider what I want in a piece of clothing. I love clothes and I love that I can put on an outfit and feel a little more confident, a little pretty, or businesslike, or fun. I love that clothes can create a mood and that my second-hand green plaid coat always elicits a comment because the color is such a perfect contrast to the dreariness of a winter's day. There is nothing wrong with loving clothes, it is simply that we need to respect the waste of the industry that creates them.
I had a sweater that my mom knit for me in the late '80's out of a beautiful wool tweed. It was enormous, as was the fashion then, and because it was made for me I couldn't bring myself to give it away. Several years ago, I took the sweater apart, found a suitable pattern for the chunky yarn, and knit a cozy cardigan that perfectly suited the wool and my current taste. Teaching kids to reuse clothing - tearing apart a sweater that is no longer worn to make something fresh and fun is a great beginning to teaching them to be better fashion consumers.
My next class offering will involved learning how to take apart a sweater and organize the yarn to reuse. Deconstructing a sweater will teach beginning knitters about seaming and shaping in reverse. Then we'll knit something fun!