Fashion Bytes

Image via The New York Times

At the beginning of August, The New York Times ran an article about Sarah Kate Beaumont, a Brooklyn-based teacher who makes all her own clothes.  The article then goes on to discuss Brooklyn’s successful do-it-yourself movement, but mostly focuses on Beaumont and her accomplishments, the classes she teaches, and the joy she gets from making her clothing and teaching others to do the same.

Beaumont, and the other do-it-yourself Brooklynites, are reclaiming skills that used to be wide-spread.  Tove has previously discussed the tremendous skill it takes to turn two-dimensional pattern pieces into three-dimensional garments, as well as the fact that this skill was once known to almost all women only a century or so ago. And here on Fashion Bytes, the preservation of a traditional weaving method in Mexico by Leocadia Cruz was not only international news but won the 72 year-old grandmother accolades and awards.

Is Beaumont’s success and new lifestyle the vanguard of a growing movement to return to self reliance, or a unique enterprise only possible in Brooklyn?  Do you think that traditional and do-it-yourself arts and crafts should get more press?  Are they as unique as the news media seems to think they are?  Are there any other artists who are preserving and teaching skills that we should know about?

Please share your thoughts.

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  • helen August 30, 2011 07.06 am

    I had such mixed feelings when I read that article.

    I love to see artisanal work getting press and it’s so good that people are learning these skills. But the preciousness is a bit much. Maybe it’s because I’m so tired. I sew one-of-a-kind clothes for a living and it’s a ton of work. It might even be an insane thing to be trying – I have this thought every day! So to see “slow clothes” pushed in the press as a way to be self-reliant? It’s a nice dream but it gives the idea that you can lounge in your apartment looking dreamy and have a magically simple life that sustains you.

    “How do you take something that you’ve spent a tremendous amount of time and effort on and put a price on it?” The answer is: very carefully, and with great risk.

  • helen August 30, 2011 07.07 am

    p.s. maybe I just need a vacation.

  • Andrea August 30, 2011 08.18 pm

    In home sewing, I make a distinction between self-expression and self-reliance. With luxe materials such as linen and raw silk, Beaumont seems to be more concerned with the former rather than the latter. I’d be more interested in learning about a person who sews their own hospital scrubs, for example, or someone taking the time to sew sturdy clothes for children with a plan for handing down these garments to family members or as part of a community clothing exchange. This last example is really part of the larger discipline of frugal household management. Given the extremely low cost of clothing at present, I’m not even sure how frugal it is.

    The current DYI “movement” has many cases tried to invoke the recent recession as a justification for itself. I’m just not sure that this is entirely valid.

  • Anastasia August 30, 2011 09.13 pm

    i have taught myself, or learned from elder wisewomen, skills which seem almost rare now; spinning, weaving, textile dyeing, patternmaking, how to use a sewing machine, hand sewing, hand embroidery, felting, crochet, knitting, and quilting.
    i was browsing a book from the 1960’s (anchor manual of needlework) which detailed how to make an invisible patch in a tablecloth, darn a hole (only as a last measure), sew needlelace, and remove most household stains. Many of these things I did not know how to do. I find it amazing that these basic skills were known to the majority of women only half a decade ago.
    I think, perhaps, the basis of my need to learn these skills is that they are too important to be lost so casually from society. The reappearance of these skills may point to others who share these feelings; for whatever reason, I am glad.

  • Frances Grimble September 06, 2011 06.59 pm

    There are a great many home sewers. (I’ve been sewing for over 40 years.) Whoever wrote the NY Times article apparently has never previously paid the slightest attention to anything outside the NY garment district.

    In response to the comment:

    “The current DYI ‘movement’ has [in] many cases tried to invoke the recent recession as a justification for itself. I’m just not sure that this is entirely valid.”

    There are many reasons to home sew. They are by no means mutually exclusive, but they include:

    * Getting a custom fit, or fitting a figure that is not industry standard
    * Getting better-made clothes
    * Getting exactly the styles and colors you want
    * Having a larger wardrobe
    * Saving money
    * Enjoying the creativity of sewing

    Frankly, for many women who are out of work and therefore have much more time than money, the decision to sew is a no-brainer. Especially since many sewers already have equipment and stashes of fabric bought in better times. But, you can’t force people to sew, you can’t force them to not sew, you can’t force them to sew your way. And you can’t force them to “justify” why they sew. Why on earth should they care about your opinion of their personal budgets, their personal needs, and their personal finances?

  • Frances Grimble September 06, 2011 07.05 pm

    Sorry, I meant, “their personal activities or hobbies, their personal needs, and their personal finances.”

    Many women no longer learn to sew (or weave, or spin, or embroider, or do other needlework) because they are out working 40 or more hours a week–or did, before the current recession. This simply does not leave a lot of time to dreamily sit around the house making lovely one-of-a-kind creations that each take three weeks to sew. I certainly don’t want society to restrict women’s career options (yet again!) on the grounds that they should stay at home preserving all those “lost skills.”

  • Don McCunn September 07, 2011 03.16 pm

    I find it amusing that DIY is considered a new trend. My book “How to Make Sewing Patterns” has been helping people create their own custom made clothes since 1973.

    Personally I disagree with the statement “the tremendous skill it takes to turn two-dimensional pattern pieces into three-dimensional garments.” I have witnessed novice sewers start creating their own patterns in a week or less.

    I think the skill and training of patternmaking is obfuscated by the fact that the fashion institutes are teaching people how to make clothes for the Ready-to-Wear market. Making clothes that fit an unseen body with unknown tastes is an extreme gamble.

    Patternmaking for a body that is your own or convenient for you to work with is just a matter of learning how to open your eyes to see what you need to know. It is not rocket science when you can get immediate feedback for your efforts. That’s what I teach people.

  • Barbara G September 07, 2011 08.50 pm

    I agree with Don although I’ve been sewing since I was about 4 to 6 years old, taught by my Mother, Grandmother & other relatives. I love to have a needle in my hand and thread/fabric or other hand-work to keep me out of bars or drugs. tee hee

    It gives me much satisfaction that I can make my own clothes & not walk around looking like other’s clothes & they fit me. Of course my DH has always made it possible that I have everything needed to enjoy my life, even building me a sewing room etc. I sew, embroider, knit, crochet & do other crafts when the mood strikes.

    Thank you for giving me the honor of being able to refer to this topic.
    Bobbieann in N. E. Ga.

  • AZ Barbara September 08, 2011 02.26 pm

    I feel like the song “I was country when country wasn’t cool” (substitute; frugal, sewer, crafty, etc for country) when it comes to sewing and diy projects.

    I really am happy that there is a resurgence in the desire for learning to sew.

    I feel like the author of the article has obviously led a very narrowly focused life if she has not encountered anyone that sews for themselves or family.


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