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The Creative Reaction


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This site is no longer being updated so head over to Seamwork to get all the latest patterns, tutorials, video classes, and more.

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These days, we have unlimited access to beautiful things, all the time.

There are lifestyle blogs that show off an endless parade of beautiful items you may or may not be able to afford. There are personal blogs that depict “perfect” lives with all of the messiness edited out. There is pinterest, a constant stream of prettiness and ideas you’ll never have time for. There’s tumblr. There are online shops. There are ads.

This endless parade of pretty is something I find myself adjusting to. It is so easy to zone out and stare. I’ve done it for more hours than I care to admit.

The constant craving

I recently heard a talk by Buddhist teacher Martine Batchelor in which she described the choice we have in how we react to beautiful things: we can react with craving, or with creative engagement.

She gave the example of a beautiful bouquet of flowers. You can look at it, see that it is beautiful, and then immediately think, “I want that for myself.”

Or you may look at it and think, “look how beautifully they’re arranged, why can’t I ever do it that well? What’s wrong with me?”

Or, finally, you can look at it and experience its beauty for what it is and engage creatively with it.

But what is creative engagement?

Actually, I wasn’t totally sure what that meant. I think I know what it means to fully appreciate a beautiful flower, but what does it mean to engage creatively with it?

The next day, I was out on my usual Saturday run along the Willamette river. It was a rare clear day with perfect blue skies. Deep winter hadn’t set in yet, and there was a gorgeous tree covered in glowing golden leaves. Below the bank, the river reflected the branches of hundreds of trees.


I stopped to admire the view and thought about this talk. I tried to really observe all the colors around me, the stillness and crispness of the air, the sound of geese on the water.

I had an idea then. What she described, this creative engagement with the world, is an artist’s way of seeing.

If you’ve ever tried to paint, you are probably familiar with how your entire way of looking at things changes. You become aware of things you never noticed before, like the way light and color and shadow work, and how everything is interpreted through your eyes and brain. Suddenly, the world is different. It’s like you’ve switched off auto pilot and are seeing things as they really are.

The same thing can happen when you draw a sketch, write a poem, make music. Your appreciation of the sensory world becomes deepened when you try to interpret them in an artistic way. You don’t have to be a great artist to do this. I think the mere act of attempting to create something can have a profound impact on how you think.

So, my question now is this: Can we creatively engage with consumer culture?

Can we look at pictures of beautiful clothes that we are supposed to want to buy and instead of reacting with desire (“I wish I could afford that”) or inferiority (“I will never look as good as her”), look deeper at what we find beautiful in them?

Can creative activities like sewing help us to foster these kinds of reactions?

Obviously, I think the answer is yes. I think that making clothing gives you the chance to appreciate the language of fashion in a totally different way, and to disentangle yourself from the consumption cycle without rejecting the beauty, nuance, and potential of fashion.

Of course, I don’t think you need to sew in order to engage creatively with fashion. I’ve seen many people who have different creative responses, whether it’s designing and sketching or putting together creative outfits. I just think sewing is a really effective way to change your thinking about clothing.

Do you feel that sewing makes you react differently to the siren song of consumerism? Or perhaps this isn’t even an issue for some of you?

I guess my question boils down to this: how does the creative act of sewing affect the way you “consume” fashion?

Sarai Mitnick   —   Founder

Sarai started Colette back in 2009. She believes the primary role of a business should be to help people. She loves good books, sewing with wool, her charming cats, working in her garden, and eating salsa.

Comments 76


Sewing has absolutely changed the way I engage with consumer fashion. I pin darling outfits and glamorous gowns on Pinterest for their creative inspiration — not because I want to rush out and buy them. Since starting to sew less than a year ago, I have easily turned away from buying many items that I could make for myself. That’s not to say that I make all my clothing now, but I certainly look to today’s consumer culture less for “I want that!” and more for “hey! I could make that!”


I go into all the stores – Marshalls, Target, Anthropologie – and I say, “I can make that!” Not that I do, and actually when I sew it tends to be something you wouldn’t find at any of the abovementioned stores. But I do like getting ideas at these stores. For example, at Anthropologie yesterday, I saw a plaid flannel shirt…instead of piping on the back, there was a row of zig zag stitches, likely in a heavier-weight rayon thread. I might try to duplicate that sometime (since I want a plaid shirt). Will save some $ on buying piping…and time not making it!

Sew Little Time

i totally agree with the above posters – i still go into shops but i find i rarely buy anything (or want to buy anything) as i know i could make it better (not in terms of construction, although that probably is the case for high street shops – but in terms of fit/ colour/ fabric – i could make it more ME). i rarely pin clothes – for some reason (maybe as i don’t like to shop for clothes online) i rarely look at them online. i tend to pin interiors (which i would again use as inspiration rather than wanting to buy the exact thing), crafts, kids stuff, recipes and sewing patterns.


Wow, what a thought-provoking and challenging post! I think the way learning how to sew is teaching me to creatively engange with garments I see, is in the way I have received “new eyes” to regard a garment with. Now that I know more about what constitutes quality garment production, I can really appreciate a well-finished garment, fabrics that are well-matched with patterns and so on.

But after reading your thoughts, I feel inspired to start looking at clothes more to appreciate their beauty in and of itself rather than just to judge whether I would want to buy and wear them. Consumerism generally spurs us to see-and-buy, see-and-buy, and doesn’t encourage simply looking and appreciating the beauty in the details.

Thanks for sharing this!


I totally agree. It just make me look more peacefully, just like things are. Shapes, fabrics.. No more for what someone want to sell it to me.


I’ve recently had this epiphany myself, but it’s not even about clothes – it’s fabric! When I see beautiful fabric, I buy it. Yarn too. Now I’m learning to just appreciate that it exists because I know I’ll never wear most of it.

Sewing has changed how I shop though. I won’t buy overpriced, polyester tops, even if they’re from Anthropologie and REALLY cute. I always think I can make something better in silk.

Laura Isabel Serna

I rarely comment, Sarai, but I will say that sewing has (1) changed my consumption habits as I think carefully about what is flattering and what will last and (2) given me an experience rather than an object. Sure it’s fun to buy beautiful fabric (and hoard it) but it’s also fun to learn new skills, organize a project, fail, try again….it’s a lot more gratifying and I think at least slightly cheaper than going to the mall. I’m not even an expert seamstress–not by far, I’m only now very very slowly putting together my Anise in a basketweave wool. I’ll probably be able to wear it next year as I live in Los Angeles. But I like that my daughter has seen me working on something over a long stretch of time and trying again and researching and trying again … etc.
I’m definitely choosier about what I do buy, now that I have some confidence in my basic sewing skills. AND I can make things in colors and fabrics I like rather than waiting for a store to have the perfect thing or choosing from what’s there.


I learned this concept many years ago the first time I worked in a fabric store. It quickly became apparent that I could not bring home ALL the pretty things. :-)

I figured out that I got just as much pleasure from grabbing bolts and arranging them in combinations I liked on the counter (then putting them away) as I would have if I’d bought the stuff home.


That’s really interesting.

One of my soft spots is vintage rayon prints. I have quite a stash of them (and plan to cut into some of them this year. really. I will.)

I sometimes wonder if having just a little swatch of these would be almost as satisfying, though.


What about buying (or making) tiny canvas frames (I have some that are 10cm x10cm) and stretching the fabric over them. You could make an awesome display wall with them. I think I will have to do that as well as I have some amazing vintage cottons that are laying in a cupboard as I am too precious about them to cut them up. I worry that I won’t do justice to the fabric….


It’s all to easy to sit for hours on Pinterest getting ‘inspiration’ as I like to call it. But I agree with the other posters that I often find myself saying ‘I could make that’ when I shop in stores. I think for me the creative connection with store bought fashion comes from the construction. I frequently notice where seams are placed, or the fabric that has been chosen. I don’t often sew things, although I’d love to make more clothes, but this connection with the creation of fashion is something that really interests me. For instance, when I see a really interesting dress I find myself asking how they made it, how is the lining attached etc.

Diane @ Vintage Zest

I’m soooo glad you posted this! I definitely feel this way from time to time, and I even blogged about it myself.

Like I said in my post, I remind myself that I enjoy creating, even if those items don’t look perfect. The reactions I get from friends, family, and even strangers is a reminder of how even as a beginner sewer, I should be proud of my little projects. :)


Pound for pound, I buy more now as a sewist than I ever did buying clothing, so in a purist sense I think we still consume fashion – rather than consuming the finished garment we consume the vision. I don’t think this is a bad thing – I think it’s forcing us to be creative, use a different view as you described in painting. I think sewing has helped my creative eye mature – and while I do sit and stare at my stash in awe of it’s beauty, I consider it part of the process. So I guess I would say I still engage, but in a more purposeful way. And I’m certainly not lusting over the latest J. Crew catalog or hoping to be skinny – being able to sew frees me from all of that. I can just be me.


I guess the distinction for me is that buying clothing feels very passive. Someone else has designed it, manufactured it, chosen it, marketed it. I just buy it. And often this buying feels like a substitution for something else. It’s meant to make me feel good about myself, to feel stylish or beautiful, and so often it fails in that regard.

But sewing, even though it involves acts of consumption, feels very different to me. It isn’t about buying into a false promise, at least for me, because ultimately it’s not about the final product. It’s about the creativity and fun of making.

Of course, I do want to make clothes that look great and make me feel great. But my favorite part of sewing is undoubtedly the creative part, the planning… not the finishing and wearing.


I agree with most if not all of the posters above…

I’m still trying to work up the courage to commit to sewing my own clothing (not doing too badly, but as I used to be a total type-A personality and an extreme perfectionist to boot it’s a difficult battle sometimes), but just by researching sewing methods, finishing techniques, and they way that some items and materials are put together or paired up, it has definately changed my view of, well, things. Colours, textures, patterns…they all have a slightly different meaning for me. Seeing mannequins in shop windows from a different perspective now – not “Gee, I like that outfit, I’ll go try it on” anymore, but “Wow, that’s a nicely put-together item, I wonder if I could do that?”. It has also taught me what to look for in a well-constructed garment, too. I’m finding my eye wandering towards funky details on classic items, and bypassing “fashionable” or “trendy” items completely.

Wow, long-winded, aren’t I? *lol*


I’ve gotten so bad about Pinterest I’ve had to set a timer. Yes, really, or I’d never get anything done at all. A lot of the things I wind up pinning are either inspirational (as in I’d never be able to buy that, but maybe I or somebody I know could make that) or recipes.

Sewing has gotten me to be more picky about the clothing I do buy, and it’s gotten me to stretch my sewing skills. I’ve decided to try tailoring because I saw a suit and thought “maybe I could make that…”


No shame! I use a timer all the time to keep me on task when I’m working on something tedious! I give myself 10 minute breaks every hour to goof off online, so that I don’t spend hours doing it instead of working. It works great!


I love this concept of creative engagement, thank you for sharing!


I am probably much older than most of your followers – have been sewing my own clothes since I was 14, a very long time ago. When I was a young mom with four children under the age of five and a husband that worked seasonally, I sewed so my children would have clothes. At that time, I could buy a pretty cotton print for $.39 a yard and make it stretch a long way. My oldest three were girls giving me much more opportunity to learn to embellish and create clothes they would be proud of.
I say all of this to say – sewing has given me the opportunity to foster and grow my creativity while drastically reducing my consumerism. Even at this stage of my life, I rarely buy clothes new off the rack. I do shop resale – usually upcycle the garments I purchase into something different or better fitting. I have learned to “see” flowered hair clips for my granddaughters out of the dated polyester dress, a handbag from the wool sweater or man’s jacket, a skirt from a man’s shirt, etc. I do have a considerable stash, as one person pointed out, pound for pound, perhaps I consume as much -but the satisfaction I get from taking a piece of cloth and fashioning it into a OOAK item that I am proud of is priceless.


It’s good to hear from you, Lillian. It’s amazing to hear from women from so many life stages all facing down the same issues and thoughts.

I also love hearing from the mothers and grandmothers in this thread, and how they feel their creative pursuits affect their young ones.

Terri Dufresne

I also have been sewing a long time. I first made my own clothes when I was young, then made clothes for my daughters, clothes for customers, and worked into wedding dresses. There is nothing quite as satisfying as making a garment with your own twist and knowing you did your best. Creating something is, to me, a very gratifying experience.

Jane W.

It’s taken a while for sewing to change my relationship with consumer culture. I’m just now getting to the point where sewing isn’t about “making more” (the quieter sister of “buying more” and “having more”).

I do not miss shopping for RTW *at all.* It feels incredibly liberating to be off of that treadmill.


I love that you phrased it that way: “the quieter sister of ‘buying more’.”

Catholic Bibliophagist

Although I started sewing as a teenager (back before most of your readers were even thought of), I was never particularly interested in fashion as such. But since I’ve become interested in vintage patterns and have upgraded my sewing techniques, I find myself watching old movies with different eyes and getting excited over some of the amazing outfits on some of the actresses.

Mara Donofrio

Sewing has absolutely changed how I look at consumerism. It has given me a deep understanding of the time commitment required to make a laboriously perfect garment. On one hand, I can now see a simple polyester garment in the store and go, “Why on earth does that cost so much? It clearly took 2 minutes to make and it’s make of a plastic bag!” and on the other hand I’m appalled when I see an inexpensive silk garment with fine construction details. How much did someone NOT get paid to make that? I’d rather sew these garments myself. That way, I can feel good about the labor, materials (silk! I hate polyester!) and money that went into them and I know it’ll be perfect for me.
It’s also become difficult for me to shop for RTW when I know I could make something so much better myself!


I am greatly disturbed by seeing low priced garments too. We forget that every single piece of clothing out there was made by a real person, just like you and I, sitting at a sewing machine.


Sewing has changed how I engage with fashion, because it has freed me from worrying about what might be “in” this year, or if the proportions this year have any hope of fitting me. So much less dressing room tragedy in my life these days! About all I worry about is if the tanktops and sweaters I plan to wear with my me-made items are in good colors. :)

Instead, I spend time on pinterest and blogs like this one, referencing really great clothes that suit my style, taste, and figure. It’s a much slower process, which is actually good – becuase now a mistake is something that will take time and effort to fix, I am much more careful about analyzing how mistakes were made (fit? proportion/style? fabric? construction details?) and going forth ever improving.


Ups, I have a problem with this. Sewing has also both reduced my consumerism and made me more critical with the quality and ethics of the clothes I buy. Now my sewing skills have reached a decent intermediate level I don’t buy anymore cheap fabric, poorly finished clothes and that’s good.
But on the other hand I have sewn so many clothes I don’t wear, need or even like –not my style at all- just because I know how to, I can do better or just to learn a new technique. Plus I have yards and yards of nice fabric, buttons and notions on yard sales and trips to London, patterns I bought on sale just because they were so cheap and even books I don’t read just but they were oh so pretty. Even worse, I have many projects of things I really like or even need but I don’t sew because I feel guilty I have to sew first the most expensive fabric!
Although I love sewing for its creativity and I think this somewhat better sometimes I think I have just changed one buying habit for another.


I think I have to concur with Ines on this subject!


I hear this and have sometimes felt the same way.

I have never been a big spendthrift. I hem and haw about everything I buy. But for some reason, I never have the same feelings about buying fabric, it always seems like a good idea to me. I’ve recognized that, though, and have gotten a little better.

Most people have something that they find irresistible, even if they’re good about spending in other areas. I think for a lot of sewists, it’s fabric. For a lot of knitters, it’s yarn. And on and on.


This is a really beautiful post. I’ve been struggling with this a lot recently — not so much in regard to buying clothes (with the exception of shoes, lol), but just in terms of how I want to live my life. How should I react to the (seemingly perfect) lives I see on blogs, in magazines, movies, etc. — with envy? With hopelessness? Should I buy or do the things these people do, in order to be as happy, fulfilled, and successful as they seem to be? And a question I’ve been asking myself lately — am I actually unsatisfied with my own life, or is it just a matter of constant comparison?
I think that keeping this sort of constructive attitude in mind can be so worthwhile in so many different contexts. Thank you for so eloquently reminding me of that.


I agree with you Julie. It’s so easy to get caught up in everything around us and begin to question our own lives and if we are good enough, happy enough, successful enough. I need to focus more on what makes me happy in my reality and be true to who I am.


Pinterest is a constant source of inspiration for me! I use it to plan and collect ideas for my life. I use Pinterest much more than I use Facebook. I have boards for sewing ideas and details and notions etc. It is a fantastic way to collect visions and inspiring images.
Sewing has definitely changed my perspective on Fashion. I am now able to truly appreciate the work and time that goes into garments. Instead of buying lots of cheap clothing I now purchase fewer items that are more money but of higher quality.


I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately. Though maybe not in the same depth as you. I have been questioning what am I really getting from pinterest. Am I pinning just for pinning’s sake? Is it just making me jealous, materialistic and feel inferior? I want to use it drive my personal growth. Use it to forge new skills and experiment. I’m calling it my “don’t just pin it” challenge. I want to make or do tangible things from my pins!


Pinterest has actually made this a lot easier for me. I tend to pin three types of sewing-things:

1.) Costumes, generally for dance, generally 100 years old, that I respect for the sheer amount of work involved in creating (beading! wires! a thousand acres of coutil and chiffon!), but seriously, what would you even do with it if you had it?
2.) Traditional folkloric ethnic costumes–same reasons. OMG, the needlework, though. The ribbons. *swoons*
3.) Modern and vintage wearable stuff, where I don’t usually think, “I WANT THAT SKIRT,” as much as I think, “I WANT TO USE THAT TECHNIQUE.” I want that pocket detail. I want that inverse pleat.

It helps that I know, beyond all shadow of a doubt, that there are approximately 7 items of off-the-rack-clothing in the entire country that will actually fit me. It doesn’t matter how pretty the things online are, they won’t fit.


Sewing out of necessity or desire is a joyful creative outlet. I love texture, the process, the challenge. It feeds my soul to be productive and creative. When I look at blogs, magazines, or what might be in the fabric store, I have to remember to be content with what I have and to try to be creative with contentment, which is a challenge in our world today.


Such great thoughts and ideas in this post! I pin stuff, but I don’t feel that I’m in a competition, inferior or superior. Just uneducated. Following sewing blogs and using or pinning a new sewing technique is my way of continuing my education without being enrolled in school. I have noticed that my sewing habit has even influenced my children’s perspective of being a consumer. I have heard each them (ages 3, 5, and 7) say, “Mom, you can make that for me,” rather than, “Mom, we could buy that at the store.” I think more than anything, I like the idea of not being dependent on a manufacturer for my wardrobe.


I agree that being able to look at something and not just say “I like/want that” but to figure out what it is about it that I really like and how I might use it, is a definite advantage of being able to sew! And perhaps part of what it means to engage creatively with something?

I love the idea of just being able to look and appreciate – and let go. Maybe that dress wouldn’t even look good on me, but it looks fantastic on the woman who’s wearing it. If I can accept the beauty that’s there and have the experience be part of my life without needing the thing, how fabulous would that be?


It is really interesting that you should write a post about this topic : I asked myself the exact same question when I realized that I had hundreds of liked pictures on tumblr + flickr + evernote.
I realized that I was accumulating pictures that I liked, inspired me, made me laugh, without really thinking either about it, or them. So I started something to understand what made my own “aesthetics”, and to sketcth each of these images one by own. It’s rather fun !
Sewing is different : it is a way to giving a reality to a fantasy of beauty.


Very thought-provoking post! While learning to sew has removed most of my desire to shop for clothing, I do still shop for inspiration, as others have mentioned. I’m not as creative as many ladies. I’d probably sew everything in a solid color soft fabric if I didn’t have sewing blogs and bloggers who make the most wonderful combinations to copy — yes, I admit it, I am completely OK with saying, “I love the color combination she used, I’ll do the same thing!” At the same time, I think sewing is easier to look at and appreciate what others have done without wanting to make it. I appreciate the beauty of coats and capes — but I doubt I’d sew that anytime soon. I have a serviceable coat and I don’t need a cape. But I’ve also mostly stopped using Pinterest. I felt as though it gave me unrealistic desires. While I wish I could be so mindful to enjoy the beauty all the time, I do definitely also try to remove certain consumerist behavioral drivers so that I don’t become oversaturated.

Tiffany Simmons

Great post! I’m just going to echo what most commenters have already said and say that I’ve stopped trying to worry about ‘what’s hot’ right now. Instead, I look at what is truely beautiful and will be more timeless and, therefore, less disposable.

April Sensiba

I find that sewing gives me more appreciation for the way that something is put together. I can truly admire the craftsmanship of an item just by understanding how it is put together.


I agree completely, and it’s why making things is the core of meaning for me personally. Just today I was looking at Michelle Obama’s inauguration coat and mentally analyzing its cut and guessing about the fabric content. This was an engrossing train of thought and completely disconnected from judgement. As you say, it was engagement.


I definitely have the attitude, “I can make that ” When it comes to fashion. I am even making my own wedding dress, partly to save money, partly to get exactly what I want. I guess that is why I sew, and it is a great feeling to make something and wear it!


Lovely post. This reminds me of walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain last year. It was springtime, and there were flowers in bloom everywhere… delicate white wildflowers, dense bushes of purple buds, whole fields full of beautiful red poppies. And it was hard, seeing all this prettiness, to resist the urge to photograph everything. Not in a creative way – I’m no great photographer – but in an acquisitive way, like ‘If I get a photo of this I can have it and keep it.’ I don’t know how much it’s a human nature thing and how much a consumer capitalism thing. I had to consciously *try* to simply experience and enjoy, rather than want to possess… it didn’t come naturally.
Similarly, re sewing, I’m reluctant to let myself have a romantic view of an activity which, in the way I practice it, is every bit as consumerist as straight-up clothes shopping. Sure, I don’t by clothes anymore and I have an appreciation for quality and workmanship. But I’m still spending a huge amount of money on a selfish purpose – a hobby I enjoy and clothes that make me look good. I have fabric and pattern desires that far exceed my available time and funds. And I really struggle (& mostly fail) to silence that ravenous sewing-consumer-monster inside of me.
I guess what I’m getting at is that yes, I’m sure *some* people can healthily, creatively engage with consumer culture through sewing, but for me (perhaps because I’m not very creatively talented), it’s nowhere near so noble an activity, and there is a lot of envy, unaffordable desire, etc. involved, unfortunately. I recently got interested in interior design and started reading design blogs, but for all the same reasons, I found that looking at all these beautiful, expensive homes was just making me miserable. I couldn’t engage with it in any healthier way so I just stopped reading and abandoned the whole enterprise. Even though sewing is similar for me, though, I love it too much to give it away! I just have to get my noble elsewhere….


Wow, I have had exactly the same experience with photography. For a while this past year, I almost completely gave up on taking photos because I felt it was interfering with my ability to appreciate things as they are. It’s like trying to hoard memories, it doesn’t work that way.

But taking a break really reset my attitude, and I could return to it with a fresh perspective. Now I love taking photos again, but at the same time, I don’t mind skipping photo ops if I don’t feel it in the moment.

I don’t know. But maybe if you feel frustrated by your own attitude, it’s possible that it might shift with time? I think sometimes this just happens when you’re aware of it and thinking about it.


Yes, perhaps it might! It certainly helps a bit to know that I’m not the only one struggling a little with this stuff. I’m feeling inspired right now to make my next project something from the stash, and focus on technique & skill-building instead of planning and fabric/pattern buying!


I love the direction you have been taking with your recent posts on consumerism. I am new to sewing and I don’t sew well enough at this point to make clothing I would wear in public, but I have gained so much insight from the sewing community and blogs such as yours. I don’t buy clothes mindlessly anymore, in fact I rarely buy at all. I am learning to wait patiently for my skills to increase and to refrain from instant gratification which almost always led to disappoints.

When shopping I am more aware of the quality of a garment and where and how it was made. This awareness has also affected other areas in my life such as beauty product purchasing and food consumption. It all ties together.

I look forward to more posts on your thoughts and progess on this subject and all the comments from so many creative individuals on this site.


disappointments not disappoints!


Thanks Rebecca! I’m glad you like them. It’s been on my mind a lot lately, so it’s nice to have a place to discuss these topics.


It’s interesting that you post about this immediately after I started my own take on Ulyana Sergeenko’s designs. I recently found her Fall Collection 2011 {} and fell in love with the feel of it immediately. So I found some fabric, hacked a couple patterns together and am making my own inspired dress.
Visually enjoying the collection made me want to sew – made me want to create something myself. Not that I’m that good of a seamstress, unfortunately, but I can sew well enough to make something that I’m pleased with, that I created, based on something I could never afford. That way I don’t have to worry about seeing something and then getting frustrated because I want it but can’t buy it. I just go to the fabric stash and create.
Gorgeous picture of the leaves by the way! What a sunny, happifying yellow!


That collection is really lovely! Such pretty styling.

Annie V.

I find this post and all the comments very interesting. I finished a dress yesterday, made of thrifted vintage fabric and notions, this dress costs me about 8$. My husband said “Wow! this dress looks stunning on you!” I intend to live a frugal way, I do not own many clothes. I never buy RTW for me because RTW don’t fit well on me. I don’t wear jeans because I hate them. Sewing gives me the power of wearing what I want for the price I chose to pay for. Sewing also slows me down very much, as for knitting. I can’t have it right now, so I plan instead, and the pleasure is much great when I finally wear a cloth that I waited for a long time.

Some people asked me to hem or repair their clothes… How much I hate that, I always refuse now! There is nothing creative in hemming a jean or change a zipper on a RTW cloth, I realize what I love in sewing is create, is flatter a body shape by putting on it made-to-measure good quality, creative, unique oufits.

I pass (too) many hours on the net reading blogs and pinning. I love to look at the fashion shows (thanks to Beth for the great link!), it gives me so much inspiration about shapes, colors, fabrics, styling!


In defense of mending, repairing, hemming, and their sexier sister, “up-cycling”, its all part of ultimate ‘anti-consumerism”. I like doing those prosaic tasks accompanied by background music while my mind is free to where it will. After recently patching jeans for family and friends, the current project is repairing frog fasteners on a loden wool cape originally bought by my aunt in the 1960s, then worn by my mother, me, my older daughter and now the younger who always gets rave notices on the cape’s evergreen style. Keeping great garments (or even well-beloved jeans) in repair is not just thrifty, it is a thread in the skein of life’s continum.


I guest it all depends on the kind of person you are and your personal circumstances. Since I left college not so long ago my budget is still quite tight, so for me money acts like a filter and I can buy only things I really need or really really love. But when sewing my abilities –and time- are the only limits. If I like something I just can make it. Worse, if I don’t like the colour, or the fit, or the fabric is poor quality I just have to change that. And the internet offers so much “want” and inspiration!


Thank you for another thought-provoking post. Sewing has definitely helped me to appreciate the beautiful for what it is, rather than immediately feel the urge to purchase, to consume. I try to be very careful about RTW purchases, buying little and only what I really like and know suits me, rather than succumbing to the pull of “fast fashion”. My parents worked as buyers in big department stores in New York back in the 60s and 70s and both always insisted that when you buy clothes, you buy quality, so that it lasts. If quality costs more, you buy fewer things but that’s all the better. My French mother-in-law has related saying (she applies it to everything, but it’s very good for clothes): “Si c’est pas cher, on sait pourquoi”. “If it’s not expensive, you know why…” So true: it’s cheap because it’s poor quality or was made under awful conditions. Of course, I also have a very personal incentive for making my own things and very carefully selecting the rest: I am not a little person (US size 16/18, FR size 48, and 5’10/178 cm) and so if I want nice things, it takes more effort to find them here in Paris. And that’s before the whole quality and consumerism issues are added to the mix. So sewing is great for me. I can take inspiration without wanting to buy and I can find or create the beautiful in/for me, rather than gnashing my teeth in a dressing room as I try on another over or underpriced, ill-fitting garment.


What a thought provoking post, and comments! I am particularly inspired by Annie V and Kate’s comments above. Like Kate, I am larger than the average woman (UK size 22 (US 18 ish) and 6′ tall), and I spent more years than I care to remember making myself miserable by desiring and trying on RTW that was just not made for my frame! I have made clothes for myself in the past, and am just starting again after a break of about 16 years. My mum used to make nearly all my clothes when I was growing up, particularly when I was in my teens and far too tall for the ‘trendy’ girls clothes shops! Watching her make my clothes taught me how long it takes to make an item of clothing, what it actually costs in terms of time and effort, and how much better quality it will be! I still have a blouse she made for me 28 years ago, and it’s still in great condition. I doubt a RTW blouse bought at the same time would still exist!! I love Kate’s mother-in-law’s saying, and will be stealing that to use myself – in French, of course!

Like Annie V, I am trying to live frugally, and I don’t often buy anything for myself to wear that is brand new. This year I have bought two beautiful pure wool coats from charity shops, both of which fit perfectly (virtually unheard of, even when buying RTW!) and will last me for years. One cost £11.99, the other £14.99 ($18.99 and $23.74 according to Google!) I feel very satisfied that I can make use of things that would otherwise maybe be thrown away, rather than buying a new item of inferior quality that will not last as long.

I love the way creating makes me feel, and I get ‘twitchy’ when I can’t be creative for a period of time – whether that’s sewing, quilting, cooking, baking, knitting … or just going for a walk and really looking at the beautiful countryside around me. I find these things calming. My passion is quilting, but I have found myself becoming more and more uneasy about the amount of quilting cotton out there that we are encouraged to buy, and buy, and buy. The consumerism takes over, and one starts to feel out of touch if one doesn’t have the latest Anna Maria Horner, Tula Pink or Lotta Jansdotter prints (to name a few of my favourites!) I didn’t get into quilting (or sewing, for that matter) to become more consumeristic (is that a word??) Consequently I buy a lot of second-hand clothes to use for my quilting, and mix in a few new prints to bring things up to date!

My aim for 2013 is to be able to buy second hand clothes and either adapt them or make them into whole new garments for me – not easy at my size, but I’m going to give it a go!


Gosh – I didn’t realise that comment was so long! Sorry! :)


My worry lately is that my feelings about making stuff are a bit too similar to other people’s feelings about shopping. Of course sewing your own clothes, bags, cushions etc has many advantages over simply shopping – it can change the way you think about the stuff you see, and how it was produced – but I think it can also become just another way to HAVE STUFF. And we tell ourselves that it’s automatically OK, because we’re making the stuff rather than buying it. I’m not so sure… And I do find that craft blogs and Pinterest etc induce that same ‘wanty’ anxious feeling, even when it’s about things to make. Yesterday I decided not to log into Blogger or look at Flickr or Pinterest or anything else all day, or to do any sewing at all, or even glance at a knitting book. It was quite a relief! I’ll be doing the same thing again next Monday, and perhaps it’ll spread to other days of the week… So I don’t think that making stuff instead of buying it is necessarily, in itself, healthy. The same consumerist craziness can definitely apply, even if the rate of acquisition is slowed down.


I totally agree with you. I have only known a handful of women in my life that were comfortable having a small wardrobe that truly flattered them and were stylistically creative with their hair/outfits. Having the consciousness to be materialistically minimal AND have enough self-confidence to take risks or be creative is one of the greatest qualities a woman can have. I don’t think if matters if you grew up having things or not having things. It is a inner-dialog we each have to have with ourselves to detect where the needle lies between a need and a want. It took a long time for me to buy fashion magazines, since I believed they transformed women themselves into objects. I would see myself as an object wearing/using the object. I would place low value on myself if I could not be objectified by the products because I could not afford them (or have any place to go in them)! Eventually, I realized that was my own insecurity I needed to deal with in a way other than shunning the glossy magazines/catalogs.


Such a thought-provoking post! I have been much more aware of just enjoying clothes that I see, and appreciating the fabric and construction. Since I am still developing my skills, I am in NO danger of having too many clothes! Seriously, my wardrobe is painfully small right now.

This consumerism push is very evident when shopping for sewing machines! So easy to find oneself wanting more and more on the machine when it simply isn’t needed. I’m researching – soon to buy – a machine, and I’ve had to really be honest with myself about the fact that I don’t want to do embroidery or quilting, just garment sewing. So many machines seem to push to put on features for those hobbies.

Jamie Grace-Duff

My whole my style board on Pinterest is really things I could make, or how to alter some of my own clothing. When I look at “consumer” fashion I often try to think if I need to buy it, or if I already have something similar that needs a tweak or the cost. Hey if Old Navy is selling the cutest shirt for under $10, I am buying that because it will cost me more in fabric and time than to buy that off the rack!


I completely agree. Since I’ve started sewing seriously, it’s much harder for me to purchase clothing because I am so mindful of all the effort that went into making the item I might be considering and the relatively small price I am paying for all this effort. It’s raised my awareness, which is so powerful.

Hana – Marmota

Artist’s way of seeing… Spot on. When I do that, I’m usually quite happy. I’m not buddhist, and cannot imagine being, but this works. For me, being Christian, it’s an attitude of thankfulness instead of an attitude of (false) entitlement. And that’s how it works with everything else as well.
I have to fight the attitude of entitlement, of course.


The tree is so beautiful, and I just realised how truly blessed I am as I find it natural to be totally absorbed by the wonder of nature. Not sure how to apply this to reign in my desire to make or own ‘things’, perhaps I can practise appreciation of a project or fabric rather than desire.
If we can believe that everything in the natural world already belongs to everybody, this can be extended to the material world … no need to buy what you already have.


I found great freedom in looking at things with a creative reaction through sewing. Suddenly, I don’t have to envy that girl’s body, since anything I draft and sew for myself flatters me. Suddenly it becomes about creating, not having. Sewing becomes a form of meditation, personal mastery. The intent lies in creating, not necessarily wearing.


Oh my, did I ever need to read this today!!! Thank you so much for addressing this. I am starting my own creative business, and lately I’ve been feeling a little overstimulated. I couldn’t agree more with you about how sewing changes how we interact with fashion. My love of fashion makes me want to push myself to develop a more sophisticated skill set.

Thank you for pulling me back a little today. I’m going to stare at things a little longer today.


Great thoughtful post. Yes I do find that sewing frees me from the consumerist shopping drive – first thought is ‘I can make that myself’. Even though it usually turns out a little differently to the original inspiration, I like that it’s individual, and a process – sometimes the aim in mind just changes as I go along. Plus now I notice the poor finishes on lots of RTW clothing – unfinished seams, flimsy or rough fabrics.

What I do find difficult is that ‘endless parade of pretty’. In handmade, as in RTW fashion, there can sometimes be just too much choice. I can get sidetracked on blogs or Pinterest, feeding on so many images and ideas that I get overwhelmed – and then give up and don’t create anything at all. Sometimes it’s better to soak up just a little, then shut off and go sew.


Sewing has changed the way I feel about all consumption, not just fashion. Because I now know that I can sew I feel a little more confident in trying other DYI activities. I crave relying less on outside help and doing more myself. Sewing has changed the way I look at “stuff.” Aside from buying raw materials, it has cut down on my urge to shop. Sewing fulfills me more than I ever imagined.

Lady ID

Sewing makes me a more knowledgable fashion “comsumer”. I love fashion – I love looking at different ideas, techniques, etc and finding inspiration in many places.

On the consumer side of it, I was never a crazy shopper but now I shop less – I browse but my reaction is often “I can make that” or “I should learn to make that” which means I mostly buy jeans and basics like tank tops. For other clothes, I am more conscious of finishing, fabric quality, etc.

This year I gave away a bunch of clothes that no longer fit or that I had hardly even worn with the goal of replacing them with my own creations.

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