Homemade legitimacy

Immitating Storebought

Hmm, that is a fairly hefty title. I am somehow dubious that I will be able to live up to it. Anyway, here’s some thoughts on something(s) I ponder fairly regularly. Specifically, the “legitimacy” of homemade clothing.

But first, what do I mean by “legitimacy”? Fairly simply, I mean what’s considered (in a given society) normal, proper, acceptable—legitimate. Legitimacy can apply to anything, from the proper way to brew a cup of tea to what makes a legitimate government, but, this being a sewing blog, I’m going to talk about how this idea applies to clothing. Especially the clothing we make ourselves.

It’s no secret that, sometime in the last fifty to sixty years, “homemade” became a bit of a stigma, at least as it applies to clothing. (Homemade dinner, on the other hand, still seems to be a major goal in cooking, and plenty of thoroughly commercial food products are advertised as “home style”. Obviously they’re not eating my homemade cooking.) I’m not a social historian, so I can’t really offer any proof of why “homemade” became “Becky Home-Ecky”. I’m going to speculate anyway, though. ;)

I suspect that clothing made by others for you has always been desirable—in the bulk of history, when clothing was all hand-stitched, there were still garment-producing professionals, and I’m pretty sure the fancy gowns and suits of yesteryear we admire were all made by people who specialized in their craft. Which is not to say there wasn’t plenty of stitching excellence in the home, but I suspect the yen for someone else to do that damned work was always there.

Although clothing production seems, from what I can tell, to have lagged somewhat behind a lot of other areas in industrialization, by the middle of the last century, it was thoroughly industrialized. And, like all industrialized processes, there were subtle differences in the product as compared to the home-made version. A de-emphasis (frankly, complete avoidance) of hand stitching. Different patterns of construction—setting sleeves before sewing the side-seams, for example—that facilitate sewing at the expense of individualized fitting. And, of course, specialized stitches from specialized machines, which a manufacturer can afford to invest in, but which would not become practical for home-stitchers for decades (if ever. What percentage of us have coverstitch machines?). And one of the biggest things this created, I think, was a feeling that our home-made garments don’t always (or ever?) measure up. Our home-mades feel illegitimate.

Not immitating storebought.

Now, there may have been some intentional work on the part of clothing manufacturers to undermine the appeal of home-stitched goods, and there may have been some anti-domestic backlash rejecting sewing along with the traditional, limited notions of femininity that it went with, and there may even have been a decline in the quality of home-sewing due to its lesser importance, but frankly, even if there hadn’t been, I think the delegitimizing of home sewing would’ve happened regardless. As soon as different methods were adopted in the factories, there was a difference in the product—a difference between home-stitched and storebought. And, frankly, as humans we have a very hard time seeing “different” and not judging “better or worse.” As soon as manufactured clothing became equivalent in quality, cost, and fit (or at least, enough years had gone by for people to forget what custom fit actually looks like), the fact that it was easier than making your own would increase its popularity, normalize it, legitimize it, and home-stitched clothing becomes different and thus bad, illegitimate. It may not have happened the first generation, but I know so many people who talk about hating the home-made clothes their mom or grandma made them. I felt the same way when I got home-made underwear for Christmas as a child. And it wasn’t because there was anything wrong with the underwear. They just weren’t “normal.” And therefore they were bad. (And I didn’t grow up in a home or even a school where brand was a big thing, so it wasn’t about branding.) Even though I started sewing as a child, and made costume-type garments in my teens and twenties, I never really considered trying to make everyday garments. The look, the details, wouldn’t be right. (And “right,” of course, is how storebought looks.) Even without ever hearing the term, I had no interest in making something “Becky Home-Ecky.” It’s worth admitting that what prompted my plunge into garment sewing was the decision to make a classic, tailored winter coat—something that I felt I could make look “right” with the home-sewing tools I had at my disposal, since the seams are all enclosed and the look itself dates back to a time before mass-manufactured clothing.

Triple-stitch zig-zag finish—This looks “wrong” (homemade, unprofessional) to a lot of people, yet it functions just as well as a coverstitched edge. Is it really aesthetically inferior, or are we just not used to it?

Storebought clothing, and the techniques that went with it, had become the standard, and anything different became wrong. I wasn’t around to observe this directly, but at a guess I’d peg this transition sometime in the early 70s, though it certainly started earlier. In my family, my grandmother sewed for her children in the 50s, but had given it up by the 60s. Possibly that’s because she had more children to manage, or boys weren’t as fun to sew for as girls, but I think the fact that storebought clothing was becoming increasingly affordable was probably a big factor. But I don’t get a sense that my mother ever thought of her home-made clothes as inferior, at least as a child.

Shirring—mainstream, independently manufactured, and home-stitched. The exteriors look similar, although my home-stitched versions have closer lines of stitching (two on the right). The mass-produced garment (left) uses a different stitch, which resembles a chain on the inside.

How, then, do we deal with the fact that, in this day and age, the things we sew will always be seen, to some extent, as attempts to imitate something else—storebought, mass-produced, clothing?

The modern home garment sewing crew (or at least the blogging portion of it, which is really all I can speak for) tackles this problem in two main ways, I think. The first method is technical: striving to emulate storebought clothing more closely, by using “industrial” construction techniques, and by mimicking, to the best of our ability, the stitches and fabrics (and styles) used by the industry, and by investing in sergers and even coverstitch machines, that can achieve some of the specialized techniques of the manufacturer. The other is psychological—recognizing the reasons for the differences between the clothes we make and the ones we buy, assessing their importance (do you really care if your seam is serged once your clothes are on?), and trying to accept, to varying degrees, that different doesn’t always mean worse (Do my jeans have to have that particular wash to be “real” jeans?). The Me-Made-Month challenges are a prime example of of this approach, and it’s probably the biggest single contribution of the sewing blog community (aside from the whole, y’know, community thing.)—helping us think about our home-made clothes, not just as imitations of something from a store, but as a genre in their own right.

And again, different is not the same as wrong—both of these approaches are great, when used appropriately. Like, by all means serge your T-shirt if you have a serger. It’s fast and tidy, which is why the manufacturers do it, too. But don’t necessarily let the lack of a serger keep you from ever attempting a tee. Accept the little quirks and booboos of your home-stitched garments—but don’t stop striving to improve on your next make. Use excellence as your standard—but don’t accept “storebought” as the standard of excellence without thought.

One weakness of the “imitation” approach is that it can limit our creativity. I’ll cite an example from one of my favourite things to make—jeans. One of the standard features of traditional jeans is a flat-felled inseam. Now, a flat-felled inseam is certainly not beyond a home stitcher for any technological reason—anything but—but a pure “imitation” mentality limits us to using only that technique—when, if you start looking at storebought “jeans”, you’ll find that while it’s common, it’s by no means universal. Designers of manufactured jeans have no need to legitimize themselves by sticking to traditional, “proper” features—but if we take a strict “imitation” mindset as home-stitchers, on the other hand, we will limit ourselves to only doing things the traditional way. We will lose one of the greatest strengths of home sewing—our ability to be creative and individual.

“Acceptance” has its weaknesses, too, of course. I can accept my wonky hems, my unfinished seams, and my not-quite-right tees all I want, and wear them proudly—but if I use this as an excuse for lazy work, well, that’s just being sloppy, and it will show and contribute to the impression others have of home-sewing as second-class sewing. Not to mention I won’t get any better at what I’m trying to do.

Where we draw these lines will vary between stitchers (some of us are all about being on-trend and having our stuff be indistinguishable from what could be bought at a store; others are all about creating a vintage or couture look that celebrates the hand-made) and over time for individual stitchers, and I don’t think there’s any right or wrong answers. Except, maybe, the answer that would be blindly accepting mass-produced clothing as the only legitimate form. But I doubt anyone who thinks that is reading a sewing blog ;).

I’m really curious to hear where you all are—where you draw these lines, and what’s most important to you. How do you legitimize your sewing, to yourself and to others? Or do you even try?

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84 Comments

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84 responses to “Homemade legitimacy

  1. This is a really interesting post. I think I try and legitimise my stuff by aiming for the highest quality finish I can achieve realistically with the materials/time/money I have available.
    In terms of legitimacy I don’t really think about what the inside looks like – I don’t have a serger, but anything more than a zigzag to stop fraying is is purely personal preference and a desire for increasing skills, nothing to do with legitimacy (except of course obvious exceptions such as french or bound seams in chiffon or other transparent fabrics).
    However, the outside is what I think about – getting crisp and even hems and necklines, but most importantly getting a good fit. I think if something fits well it’s slightly less important for all the little details to be perfect, however if the fit is off, people are more likely to notice other little things that are ‘wrong’ too.
    I like to think I’m achieving a ‘legitimate’ look, as I sometimes get people (who know I sew and have seen things I’ve made) asking me if I made something that I’ve bought – I think that if they’re asking this it means they can’t tell the difference and I think I’m achieving clothing legitimacy.

  2. Bri

    It’s funny because growing up I was never concerned about the “different” thing. I actually liked being different, but I was an army brat and used to it. I always referred to the kids who were all dressing a like as “sheep”! I see different and think cool! I like to make my clothes because I know no one else will have anything like it.

    I still absolutely love your star wars dress!

  3. Have you read the book, The Culture of Sewing? I blogged about it here (w/ links to the book on Amazon).
    http://badmomgoodmom.blogspot.com/2011/01/2010-diy-wrap-up.html

    I think that my sewing is better than RTW in many respects. The fit is better and the inside finishes are cleaner. Though I have a serger, it is a point of pride for me to use it as little as possible when sewing with wovens. This is what the inside of my clothes looks like. You won’t find that kind of finish in all but the most expensive designer clothes.
    http://badmomgoodmom.blogspot.com/2012/05/in-praise-of-nerds.html
    It’s mostly “single needle” French, flat-fell or bound seams.

    Sure, my flat-fell seams are not perfectly straight. But, they are getting straighter all the time through practice. And the fit of my me-mades is so much better than RTW made for the “average” figure.

    Recently, I sewed a knit top and didn’t feel like changing the thread in the serger. So I sewed it all with my regular sewing machine with a straight stitch. I am planning a post about that because I feel that people shouldn’t be afraid to sew X because they lack Y. They should just go for it, using the most appropriate technique for what they have on hand.

    • Thanks for the link to that book—it looks fascinating! I agree with accepting the limits of whatever you have available and working with that. I also love how we set ourselves new or different standards of excellence—the couture look, for example—rather than blindly accepting mass-market storebought goods as the standard.

  4. Heather

    This is really interesting. My goal is to have my clothes look really expensive and well made, i.e. perfectly matched plaids or prints, matching seams where they should, lined, no pucker at the bottom of the invisible zipper, etc. I’m working on learning bound buttonholes too. I guess in the back of my head, I don’t want my clothes to look “homemade”, in that negative way that you mention. Who knows where that came from but really I should stop viewing it as negative because when people find out I sew, they are either envious or try to get me to make things for them too, or both. I like being able to express my personal style, put my very high standards to good use, adjust the fit properly, and control the modesty of what I’m wearing. My mom sewed for me growing up, and I have to say I love attending gatherings knowing that no one else will be wearing what I am.

  5. I was recently talking to this girl I’m distantly related to and she was asking me about my sewing. She’s asked about my knitting before and, while she’s not really rude, I can just tell she doesn’t get it. Why would anyone make their own clothes when you can go buy them at the mall? I wear my hand knit sweaters proudly, even the ones that aren’t perfect, but since I’ve just recently started sewing I’m a little more insecure about the garments I make. I know they’re far from perfect, but the only way to improve is to practice and I’m past the point in my life where I care too much about what people think of me, especially something as trite as where I get my clothes.

    What I wonder, though, is why some people feel like my clothes aren’t “legitimate” since they don’t have a label in them. Most people think it’s really cool that I can make stuff, but then there are those people who just don’t get it. Maybe they never will. While I try not to look too “Becky Home-Ecky” I’m not going to scrap all my imperfect creations just to fit in. Of course I’m always trying to improve, too. My goal with both sewing and knitting is for people to say “That’s such a great, unique item. Where did you get it/did you make it?”

  6. Oh, this is such a wonderful topic, and something I’d been thinking about as well. One of the great things about conventions of geeks is so many of the costumes are made by the people wearing them, or by their friends. I saw so many dresses made with spoonflower fabric this weekend, it was unreal! One lady came into my friends booth wearing a dress I recognized as one of the Big 4 patterns in the tardis fabric. I could tell she hadn’t figure out fit yet, but complimented her heartily on how nice of a job she did and gave her my card and told her to get in touch, that I’d love to share information with her.

    Much like Bri, I’ve never minded being different. And now that I”m at a level that most of what i make fits well and looks “polished” on the outside, I’ve had several co-workers (that didn’t know I sew at the time) ask me how I was able to afford such high-end clothing. And now my daughter’s friends are starting to become envious of her wardrobe.

    So, all that rambling to say this: I believe its our job to bring legitimacy back to the idea of home-made clothing. And if not getting people to make themselves, to educate them in quality and fit. To help people understand that every body is different and clothes should take that into account, that it is not OUR job to fit THEIR (mass manufacturing) clothes. Its THEIR job to fit OUR bodies.

    • That convention sounds so amazing… /sigh. I didn’t get into fit too much in this post just because I feel like that’s a whole ‘nother layer of complexity to the issue, but I definitely feel like the ability to get a custom fit is one of the things homemade clothes really, absolutely, beats mass-produced in hands-down. And a great fit can make up for a multiple of other “illegitimacies”… once you’ve figured out how to achieve it. (Good luck with the pants, by the way! ;) )

  7. I’ve never felt a great need for what I make to look exactly like the ready-to-wear world. Mainly because that would require being trendy, and not every trend is something I want to follow. For instance, if I make an item with trendy lines, but in a non-trendy color or print, one could argue that it is obviously homemade because no designer would have made something only halfway trendy. I do agree that I don’t want people to look at my clothes and ask “did you make it?” because of sloppy stitching or wonky zippers. Usually, though, when people have asked me lately it’s because they are pretty sure they’ve never seen anything like it in the stores (the kind of comments you probably get with your Star Wars dress) Usually when people comment on my clothing, the question of “did you make it?” isn’t asked. They just want to tell me it looks good. That either means that I’m doing ok as far as quality, or that the random strangers who’ve taken time out to comment on my attire aren’t thinking in terms of “homemade” vs. “store-bought”. In all fairness, though, Northwest Oregon isn’t exactly snobby about clothing sourcing, or if anything the snobbiness is leaned toward applause for DIY’ers and disgust for someone looking like they stepped out of a mainstream commercial ad. As far as knit-wear, I’ve done with and without a serger and personally prefer with, just in terms of construction speed, but as far as wearability, it’s pretty equal, and no one ever commented to me that the hems looked odd, even without a cover-stitch. My theory on the proliferation of knitwear in ready-to-wear is that manufacturers early-on realized that they could do less fitting and make fewer sizes and fit more people, so they specialized in knits rather than wovens. Since they didn’t have to make as many garment sizes, the price was cheaper, and knit-wear became the go-to standard for mainstream society.

    I find it helpful to think of myself and my home-sewn garments as a brand (though I’m not selling anything). In ready-to-wear there might be garment quirks and such, but obvious construction mistakes aren’t usually allowed to be sold. Firstly, because they won’t be bought, and secondly because just having that item out there for the public to see would hurt the manufacturer’s brand. If I make a minor mistake, then it can usually stay, but sometimes getting the seam-ripper out and doing over is the best way to protect my personal “brand” integrity. (when this happens, I am telling myself in my head that I need to rip it out and redo, but it sounds like my Mom’s voice) I guess my version of legitimacy is whether what I end up with after my sewing is done is something that I would pay money for in its finished form. It doesn’t matter whether it actually IS something that I could go out and purchase, just whether I would or not if it wasn’t something I made. For a wearable muslin to be wearable rather than just a muslin, I guess the question is whether I would accept it/wear it if it were a demo/test garment and the manufacturer offered it to me for free .

    This is a mercilessly long comment. Thanks for letting me post it anyway :)

    • I love the concept of a personal brand, it makes perfect sense at distinguishing between the style choices and the quality choices.

    • I like this idea too; I’ve ordered some custom labels with my logo on them so it’ll be cool to see how I’ll feel about my own makes once a “legit” tag is on them, and whether I’ll feel more inclined to make picky fixes before that tag gets added – as you say, to protect your ‘brand integrity’ :)

    • I was hoping for long and thoughtful comments! I love the idea of a “personal brand”, too. While I’m pretty happy to wear even most of my loopier efforts (at least around the house) I definitely feel the “brand” when it comes time to give away something—am I going to be embarrassed if someone sees the inside? Have I trimmed all the threads? How even are my bindings? … etc.

      • I completely agree about developing one’s own brand. I have done this. Not only in terms of having a label and a “style” but in that I imagine I’m some fancy socialite that I’m couture sewing for. It’s a goofy fantasy but I find it fun. (Effectively I play the role of the wearer, the tailor, the stylist etc.)

      • oh i totally found this when i sewed christmas presents for family last year, sewing something that someone else was going to wear definitely made me up the ante on the inside

  8. Very interesting and thought provoking post! For me, I think “legitimacy” is all about having clothes that fit and don’t look like a middle school craft project. So much RTW doesn’t fit me well that I think even when I have minor problems with my sewn projects, the overall look is so much better (because of the better fit) that everyone else thinks my clothes look great because I look great because things fit. It is weird, but proper fit and proportion do wonders to legitimize home sewn clothes.

    As far as techniques go, I do strive to have my garments neatly finished as much as possible, but I can also accept when things aren’t perfect. I often use a mixture of machine and hand sewing to get the best results possible though. I suppose my goal is to mimic RTW in that I want everything to look finished, even if I can’t entirely copy their construction process. For example, while I might not have a coverstitch machine (though I want one), but I can often fake the look using a serger/twin needle combo. So maybe my process takes longer than a manufacturer would need, but the finished results are similar enough that only another person who sews would notice it as being “off.” Or I might sew a lot of a coat with a machine, but hand-stitch the lining in place for more control. In both cases only a critical eye would see anything as being different from RTW, but I end up with a unique and well-fitted garment (assuming, you know, things work out as we all want them to).

    I don’t think you have to chase the trends or sew up-to-date styles for clothes to look legitimate. I mean, it is possible that if you aren’t wearing trendy styles that others will give your appearance a more critical eye, but I don’t think they will dismiss your clothing as being illegitimate as long as it is sewn with reasonable technique (ie, smooth seams, finished hems, etc.) and the fit looks good.

  9. Such an interesting post! I’ve noticed a shift in the way people ask “Did you make this yourself?” Nowadays, not as many women (and men) are able to sew, I guess the thought of making their own clothes has probably never crossed the mind of a lot of people. So instead of looking too closely at the seams and construction details like my mother’s generation would or like other “sewists” do ;) a lot of people my age or younger (40-) are in awe that someone can actually make a complete garment by themselves. There is some of that “wow, you can do this?” audible in the question.
    In general, I’m glad I don’t have to wear storebought anymore, I really appreciate the freedom of choosing my own patterns and fabrics. There is so much out there! But, admittedly, I don’t like it if my zippers are crooked or the fabric pattern doesn’t match at the seams – details like that which would probably make some people ask in a different way “Did you make this yourself?”. And if the seams look different because I don’t have professional equipment – I don’t care, really, that’s just the way it is, and with second hand clothes I really appreciate it if I find something handsewn (I wonder what non-sewists think).
    So – freedom from fashion industry, yay!, sloppy “homemade” sewing – not so much (well, of course, I’m not so good at fitting still, but miles better than storebought for my figure).

    Sewing for others is a completely different cup of tea, though. Interestingly enough, apart from sewing for my kids, I really don’t sew for others unless I’m really sure that the recipient appreciates “homemade” for what it’s worth. I’d hate it if someone thought, oh no, I got one of those homemade bags again… so I guess I’m not all that self-assured about my work all the time…
    Sorry, such a long comment!

  10. Very interesting blog post and comments.

    It’s made me realise I’ve got to the stage where my technique is good enough that I don’t have to think so much about legitimacy and not looking amateur in execution. There has to be some advantages to getting old and making lots of mistakes!

    When one of my colleagues discovered I sewed she said “That’s how you have such different clothing” (I took that in a positive way..) quickly followed up by “where do you get all those lovely fabrics from?”. I’ve had that comment and question in the past too. Perhaps that’s part of the legitimacy, using high (or higher) end fabrics. I’m very lucky to be able to source designer bolt ends.

    • Fabric is a big deal, isn’t it? I know the biggest thing that I’ve been disatisfied with about my homemade jeans is finding a good-quality stretch denim—but at the same time I can’t seem to stop myself from haunting the bargain racks and thrift store fabric sections…

  11. Uta

    That’s a great post! I thought back to when my mom sewed for me as a child – I loved her handmade dresses or “special” garments, but it wouldn’t have occured to her (or me) to sew everyday wear, and I would have cringed at handmade underwear or jeans. Then again, the 70s and 80s when I grew up were a very uniform time. These days I believe truly anything goes, and I’d be surprised if a non-sewer would even recognize a handmade item. That makes it so surprising when sewists feel they have to use RTW techniques; the vast majority of people are so far removed from making clothes they couldn’t tell the difference. And no, I don’t have a serger and yes, I use zigzag stitch on my knit garments :-) I do see a bit of (leftover?) conformity in my son who’s in grade school. At that age (after baby/toddlerhood when mom expresses herself dressing the passive child and teenagers who express themselves through their clothing) the kids dress relatively “legitimately” H&M style. DD now started grade school and I’m watching how she’ll go. So far she loves handmade, being the recipient of the lovely patterns and fabrics that now exist for little children (my mom would have had to either use either velvet/taffeta or very utilitarian fabric to sew for me as a child). In adult garments I see the trend to sew vintage and not care whether it looks handmade or not; in children’s garments I think there’s a real movement towards sewing what can’t be bought (sometimes quite over-the-top) that isn’t vintage and only exists in the handmade universe. I like it! Sorry for the long comment…

    • Yeah, I grew up with often a few homemade “special” items, but it would never have occurred to my mom to make me everyday things. I find it really interesting watching my kids approach to fashion/conformity—Tyo is generally more comfortable being “out there” (in her own specific way), while Syo is a lot more sensitive to the trends, whatever they may be. I like making the everyday stuff when it gets the snot worn out of it, though…

      • Claire

        When it comes to kids, I only have my own memories… but in retrospect, I remember disliking the clothes that were made for me not because “they weren’t store-bought”, but because they just weren’t my style! Mom/grandma just made stuff they wanted to make for me, without bothering to get my input. As an adult I’ve found I have a much, much different style and personality than them (I’m more like my dad). It’s sad that sewing is a skill I never picked up from them, because it never occurred to me (until adulthood) that it could serve my own personal desires.

  12. sfc

    Great topic.
    I think my home sewing became legitimate when I was able to employ the techniques to achieve what I had envisioned creatively. That was big.

  13. Miriana

    A very interesting, and thought provoking posts. Here’s my twopennyworth…
    1. Home made allows you to fit to your own body. This means I now own clothing made from wovens (am tall with a bust, so impossible to buy them) rather than the ubiquitous easier to fit knits. And what would you know, they’re more flattering (especially as it skims over, rather than clings to a belly that’s pushed out two children). I’m over 6 foot so I’m slowly getting used to the sensation of the bottom of my top reaching the top of my trousers (and beyond).

    2. Home made allows you to buy more expensive fabrics than you’d be able to afford in the shops

    3. I think home made quality is often higher. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had to re-hem or re-attach buttons almost as soon as I’ve brought something back from the shops.

    4. no one will look at the inside of what you wear. And I’m not sure thy look that closely at the outside either – so I doubt they’d notice the zigzagging on the outside.

    If it’s not obvious already, I don’t see home made as illigitimate; it’s bespoke, and often employs high end techniques. Retail is about churning stuff out very cheaply and corners are cut . I think we need to look at the quality of shop bought clothing as critically as we look at our home made stuff (my step daughter recently bought a lined skirt and was raving about it – I think it was a bit of a novelty for her as lot of manufacturers don’t bother)

    I haven’t made much, but I’ve loved most of what I’ve made and wear it all the time with a shameful amount of pride!

    All that said, the hems of jeans need topstitching (I’m still cross with that lazy tailor who did the alteration).

    • I think critiquing storebought stuff to the standard of our homemade things can be eye-opening, can’t it? (I like to do something similar to models on magazine covers, actually…)

      And I agree, fit and luxe are where home-sewing blows storebought out of the water. I, too, haven’t owned a well-fitting woven top from a store since I was a teenager. And I’m neither busty nor overly tall. :)

  14. JillyP

    Excellent post, and a topic I think about quite a bit. I strive for something that looks well-made and fits properly. I do worry that items I’ve made for myself or my hard-to-buy for DD will look home-made, but that concern has to do with the quality of my construction rather than a desire to look exactly like RTW. With 30ish years of sewing experience I’m still learning and developing better sewing skills all the time. The sewing blog community has really been a huge help in building my skills in the past few years and has helped me take my clothing construction to a more “legitimate” looking level.

    • I have found blogs SO helpful—they’ve basically taken me from a very basic costume stitcher to someone who makes almost my entire wardrobe. And you’re absolutely right that fit and good construction are huge conveyers of “legitimacy.” :D

  15. NANCY

    Wow. I touched on this topic in my blog last week. This post really helps me answer questions I had.
    I can honestly say that I do get a bit of an ego boost when complimented on my work. People do seem to be genuinely envious of people with sewing skills… so why does hand made have such a “bad” rep? Isn’t it the regular persons version of coture?
    As far as RTW goes, I used to be absolutely certaint that it was best, now I really don’t. I guess the sewist in me makes me really look at garments and notice their flaws. My projects somehow seem better than most RTW. I have rarely had one of my garments need mending just from simply washing it.

    • I wish you’d left a blog link, I’d love to read that post!

      Yeah, having spent several minutes this morning fixing a spontaneous rip in my niece’s brand-new first-day-of-school shirt (glorious Walmart couture), I’m not really feeling the alure of the RTW right now…

      • I tried to post the link in this reply, but for some reason I must be the problem! I can’t get it to work! Sorry! I did enjoy all or the comments on your post! It is really nice to know that there are so many people who feel so passionate about sewing! It is one of the things I am so proud that I learned! I hope to teach at least one person in my lifetime how to sew!

  16. I consider my sewing to be “legitimate”. Is it perfect? No. Do I sometimes worry that things will look homemade? Yes. Is that mostly an irrational fear born of lack of self confidence and not much else? Absolutely. Most of the time I worry if my clothes will look homemade not because of finishing or whatever, but because of the styles/materials that I prefer not always being “in fashion”. Oddly, I never gave a rat’s patootie about what was in fashion when I wore RTW, it’s more now that I’m making my own. I like velvets and jewel tones…especially together. Better sick the fashion police on me. ;-)

    • I feel like i have to pay more active attention to trends now that I’m more-or-less free of them, lest I wander off in wardrobe la-la land and end up looking like I fell off of a hollywood film set or something… which is kind of annoyingly ironic, actually. >_< I don’t mind standing out—but I want to stand out because I *meant* to, not because I just didn’t pay attention…

  17. Always food for thought and room for discussion on this topic.

    I loved (most) of the clothing my mom made for me. The exception would be when she made a green jumper (as in a dress you’d wear a shirt under, not a sweater) and I told her I wouldn’t wear anything green. Quite often, when people talk about the handmade gifts they didn’t want, it was more about the style or fabric than the fact that they made them that was a problem.

    You know I do find I get more compliments on the things I’ve made so they must pass the RTW test on the outside. I think there are a few reasons for the compliments. First would be the fit. Second, I pick colours that suit me and I have more choices in a fabric store than in a clothing store. Maybe a store has a dress that would be great on me, but not in a colour I like, in the end, it’s a fail.

    As for finishes, I’ve come to appreciate spending time on the inside thanks to bloggers. I think some of the solutions for finishing seams are actually prettier than a coverstich, like the bias finishes? Beautiful.

    • I think you’re right about the notorious handmade gift problem being more about style than handmade, per se. (I can come up with equally unwelcome storebought gifts from well-meaning relatives)—but I think often what sticks in people’s minds (or maybe just the collective unconscious) is the “homemade” part rather than the “just not right for me” part. Hmm.

      Reading blogs has definitely upped my inclination to finish my interiors…

  18. Thoughtful post! I suppose that NY (and my hometown of Brooklyn in particular) is such a hotbed for DIY that I’ve never encountered any overt snobbery – most people are pretty impressed that I can make clothing that is wearable. And I generally don’t tell people “I made this” unless the compliment or ask where I got it.

    I think of my sewing as “custom” as opposed to “homemade”. I agree with Carolyn that I too think of it like branding, except that I take it one step further – I think of anything I make as “private label”, so a luxury brand ;-). I don’t save money by sewing and the investment in time is also a consideration. So, making clothing for myself is a real luxury. And that’s what I project when I wear what I make and when I talk about it. Maybe that’s how I legitimize it in my mind.

    • I don’t think I’ve ever encountered overt snobbery, either—but I still get a bit of the underlying (and even internalized) discomfort. People who say “Oh, I have a sewing machine, but I could never make X because I don’t have a serger.” Things like that.

      I definitely agree that home-sewing is at its best when immitating luxury goods. :)

  19. SUCH an interesting post! I know exactly what you mean; my sister and I grew up wearing handmade clothing (because my mum is a STAR) and she made us pretty much everything until we turned teenagers and became “aware” of our image – that is to say, how others perceived it, as opposed to how we wished to dress. The ironic thing is that it wasn’t just us; my mum used to hand make and tailor my dad’s work suits, even hand-embroidering his initials on his breast pockets, and while all I remember is him being impeccably dressed, she tells me that he was embarrassed that his suits were hand made!

    Before I started sewing there were things I would consider to be ‘right’ in terms of clothing looking professional. For instance, seams had to be serged. Now I much prefer seeing hand stitching inside a garment, and the incredible finishes that hand sewing makes possible. To me, serged seams look less quality now, than such loving details do.

    I find it interesting how we revere RTW so much and yet is it really that great? I never found clothes that fit me well, nor fabrics I adored, nor styles which suited me in retail stores. Before I started sewing I’d have clothing custom made and i was ok with that – so why not my own? I still feel a bit weird about walking out in my own handmade clothing, as though there’s a big sign above my head announcing the fact I made it and that everyone should look for flaws LOL.

    • Angela

      I completely understand! I can go shopping for RTW and item after item doesn’t fit right (at all!), is cheaply made, ugly fabric, etc. And then I worry about my sewing???

    • I think the most fascinating part of all this is how sewing changes the way we look at clothes—instead of conformity and normalcy, we learn to value fit, attention to detail, and quality or even luxury. :D

      As for the invisible sign over your head, I find my feeling about it varies—when I wear stuff like the firt outfit in the post, there’s no sign—nobody is going to look twice at it, never mind assess my stitching. For something like the Star Wars dress, though, it’s much more obviously home- (or at least custom) made, so in some ways there’s a higher burden of “legitimacy” to meet…

  20. great post Taran & hope the move has gone well :-)

    i have a distinction in my head between handmade and homemade, with homemade being the less favourable descriptor. I began making my clothes as a matter of taste – I know what I want, I can see it in my head and I couldn’t find it in the shops, so I took myself off to evening classes. i don’t try to copy what’s in the shops and if some one compliments something i’m wearing i just say thanks, same as i would if it was shop bought. i only tell them i made it if they ask where i got it – my sis on the other hand has taken to telling strangers when they compliment that i made it, usually greeted with a flabbergasted disbelief on the part of the stranger!

    • Yeah, I’ve encountered the homemade/handmade distinction before, although it’s not one that comes naturally to me (I tend to reserve “handmade” as something stitched by hand, not using a sewing machine, probably because of my background in costuming). I actually used “homemade” intentionally because that’s exactly the negative connotation I’m talking about. :)

  21. Interesting post. I think you are right, a big part of legitimacy is normalcy. So, once we get it into our heads that jeans look a certain way, then they have to look that way. Specialized industrial machines do sew some things better than home machines and people can be very sensitive to that difference, but in most cases it isn’t all that important. Yet, we scan clothes and notice when the manufacturing method is different. I must admit that sometimes the home made-ness of clothing can interfere with an interaction because people have these weird ideas about what it signals (that you think you are more clever, have more time, reject all of capitalism, have no money, have a lot of money for “hobbies”, are a boring homebody, reject feminism etc. etc.)

    Now sewing and the internet has really raised people’s education about how to do things so they look good, not just like a manufactured product. I think we are going to see more people proudly wearing their stuff and pretty soon that handmade look is going to be desirable again. I think that knitters went through this process about 10 years ago, when people assumed that hand knitting was just inferior afghans and ill-fitting mittens, now designers try to imitate handknits. I think that once “slow” fashion becomes an idea, we will be so legit!

  22. I liked this a lot. Its something I think about from time to time in a nebulous way – I can’t say I’ve ever really put it all together like this.

    My goal has always been for complete strangers to come up to me and ask where I got something. (And it happens from time to time, which makes me grin all day) They don’t know me, so they have no reason to tell me something is nice, and if they think I bought it, clearly the construction looks professionally done.

    Then, as people get to know me, they realize just how much of my wardrobe is handmade and that it fits a lot better than what they are wearing, and they want to learn to sew. I’ve ended up teaching several people this way. I’d agree that its a matter of changing perceptions from the wonky stuff that people think of to the demi-couture that we actually do.

  23. Oooh! Great post.

    And ouch, a little bit. About sloppiness. I confess I’ve gotten a little sloppy in some of my sewing, but I’m trying to get rid of that nasty habit.. And you’re right, it does bring down the tone of homesewing on the whole… ;)

    • LOL! Hey, we all go there sometimes. (And sometimes sloppy things even turn into favourites, although not often…) I think as hobbyists it’s great if we strive for our best, but I’d hate to say every single home stitcher is *obligated* to be an ambassador for home-sewing.

      … or maybe I just don’t want to feel so bad about my own lazy tendencies…

  24. I don’t know but I do like having a ‘professional’ finish to the clothing I make. Perhaps then part of it is the pleasure I get wearing me-made items that are better than RTW with buttons that stay on, zippers and seams that don’t fail or stretch out etc. And when the recipient of such an item takes pride in the fact that I’ve ‘slaved over a hot machine’ to make it just for them. Perhaps that’s when I feel its worth while or proper sewing.

    I have to admit that I do like the know how I ‘should’ be doing something. What’s the right way to make a welt pocket for example. But again, as I am slowly learning to appreciate, how and when to apply the plethora of ‘rules’, is so much a part of proper sewing….

    • I find that in sewing, like other arts, we need to know the rules so that we understand when and why to break them! ;) … and yes, which techique is “right” can vary a lot by situation…

  25. What an interesting post! My mom taught me to sew, and she was taught by a French couturier who lived in Vancouver at the time. She sewed to emulate the high-end designer wear that she couldn’t afford. Growing up, I remember her sewing a few things for me, and they were all finished *perfectly* and I was always proud to wear them. When I seriously started sewing for myself around 14 yrs old or so, I, too, tried my best to emulate all the couture stuff I worshiped in Vogue magazine. Didn’t care that I was the only one in school tripping around in stilettos. I thoroughly enjoyed the learning process and wearing completely unique the-best-I-could-make clothes. Then I went to university, got married and had 3 kids and all of a sudden I hated sewing because nothing fit, and I just wanted to look like any other RTW-clad SAHM. (sleep deprivation had nothing to do with that, lol) But I’ve come full circle, and although I’m never trendy and most definitely not chic and stylish for the most part, I am happier with my mostly me-made closet of clothes. And the things I really hate the most are the garments where I try to emulate RTW. If I take the time to do as couture-ish a job as possible, I’m more likely to wear the garment and enjoy wearing it. And if I do get the question “did you make that?” it’s usually a shock/surprise question. I think mass manufacturing is so “normal” and poor fit is so acceptable that anyone who sews reasonably well and knows how to fit their projects properly is going to stand out from the crowd anyways!

    • I think giving us affordable versions of designer (or near-designer) apparel is one of home sewing’s biggest (potential) strengths. Your mom sounds amazing! :)

      Sometimes I like to stand out, but other times I just want to blend in and be invisible—I can definitely see early motherhood being one of those times. Which is why I like to sew both kinds of things, I guess. ;)

  26. Really good post Tanit, Is someone missing working on their thesis?

    The difference between home made and store bought has always interested me. For instance, I don’t think there is a person alive who would choose store bought preserves or jam over home made. The same with bread, could anyone prefer Wonder Bread to home made bread? Yet, my Mom told me when she was a kid (in the 30’s and 40’s) store bought bread was universally thought to be superior.

    Exactly the way that some people feel poorly made, poorly fitting clothing is superior to custom garments produced at home. As more and more people start to sew, let us hope this changes.

    • Actually I’ve been sitting on this draft for like two months… lack of new (legitimate? ;) ) material made me finally polish it and put it up. ;)

      And, now I’m wishing I had some of my grandma’s homemade bread and jam… (although my mom’s home-made, 100% whole wheat hippie bread was definitely not preferable to storebought, at least in my opinion as a child…)

      • When you come here, or when I go to where you are, I will bring and/or bake some bread for you and I will also supply some of my home grown home made jam. I promise. And I will teach you how to bake your own bread. Easier that sewing. Waaaaay easier.

        • make that “than sewing”.

          • LOL!

            We try bread-baking every once in a while but definitely haven’t managed to knock it out of the park yet… I have very little motivation when it comes to food, so my striving for excellence in that department is limited mostly to making sure my kids eat healthily enough that I can sleep at night. Of course you’re welcome to come feed me bread and homemade jam any time…

    • Marilise

      My grandmother (a very talented bread baker) told me exactly the same thing. When she was a young wife in the 30’s being able to afford store bought bread was thrilling to her and to my grandfather (who always wanted Wonder bread rather than her absolutely delicious home-made bread).

      • My grandma’s story of bread from the thirties was how proud they were that they always got *something* on their bread for lunch (even if it was just butter), because many kids had nothing but bread, or even nothing at all… I don’t know if it was storebought bread or not, though…

        • Marilise

          Although my grandmother liked the taste of her own bread much better being able to buy bread cut down on her (long) list of daily chores as a farmer’s wife. Somewhat ironic in a way because they actually grew wheat. Their kids never went without food because they could grow their own, but my dad does remember getting bread and “dripping” (the grease from cooking meat) for his lunch sometimes.

  27. This is such an interesting topic, a complex mix of conscious and subconscious thought and emotion. It’s great that handmade has become such a positive thing recently.

    I think about the practical reasons for RTW seams, techniques and finishes. For example, jeans have flat felled (or faux flat felled) inseams because they get the most wear. Or 4 thread serged seams–I’ve had to mend many t-shirts with 3 thread seams. I prefer to set sleeves in flat and almost always checked the fit beforehand. Collar techniques from RTW are great! I enjoy handstitching but I also don’t like having to use it unnecessarily, or where machine sewing would be better.

    I too prefer to make special garments myself and leave basics to RTW. Often there’s something very specific that I want but can’t find, or can’t afford. Those are my favorite garments to make.

    • Yeah, I’m fascinated by the interplay between form and function, especially how functional elements get co-opted for their aesthetic, and then often extended and warped far beyond any original function…

  28. I feel like this is the post I would have wanted to write about this topic, except that I didn’t go to the trouble of thinking it through enough to write like this! When I think back to the first garments I made (and wore out of the house quite proudly!), I cringe a little because they were so home-made in the sloppiness department. I’ve gotten so much better about that in the last few months, especially on the insides so that things hold up well in the wash. But when it comes to weird fabrics and being obviously home-made in that way, I don’t really care if I’m on trend or look like RTW. I think as long as the fit is good and the seams are pressed and more-or-less matched, then that’s good enough for me. I really like what Carolyn said about a personal brand — my brand is all about outrageous fabrics with (hopefully) more professional execution. Sometimes, though, I end up wearing those older pieces out when it’s a laundry emergency or I don’t think I’ll run into anyone, and then when I do see someone I know, inevitably my husband will point out that I made what I’m wearing…and inside I’m screaming NOOOO now they’ll think this is representative of my current level of sewing!!

    • Yeah, that learning curve is a beotch, isn’t it? It makes me really glad that my first two decades of sewing were pretty much exclusively costume-grade—the poor finishing and sloppy execution is pretty much expected. >_< I'm actually wearing the first (successful) blouse I made myself, a JJ off burdastyle, and aside from the fact that I had no clue about how to fit it and didn't even pretend to finish the seams, it's pretty decent. Oh, and those unfinished seams have held up just fine for over two years now…

  29. Great post and comments! So many points floating around my head but the one I wanted to throw into the pot was about growing up in the 70 s with my awesome mum who made everything ( not quite knickers mind you but that’s prob due to lack of access to the right fabric). She sewed jeans, cords, pinafores, tailored her own clothing ( seeing photos of her out on day trips she looked SO smartly and immaculately dressed, always). She made jam, baked cakes, baked funny shaped loaves from which our packed lunches were made, and she had a knitting machine. Everything was made by her and she has a much greater attention to detail than me, so everything was as good inside as out. But as a kid, surrounded by shop bought manufactured synthetic “trendy” clothed friends, having to take my weird brown oval sandwiches and handmade pizza out amongst the mass of white squares of slimy ham sandwiches at lunch time….I wanted to be ‘ normal’. I didn’t value it as a kid ( clearly I do now) because it made me stand out. But what if everyone made their own? If individuality and quirky lunches, quirky but well fitting quality clothes were the norm….I bet I’d have celebrated it then as I do now. So let’s hope that there is a turn for the better, that there is a rise in home sewing, crafting and the like, as extolled by the media. Not only for the pleasure and learning it brings to those doing it, but for all those kids out there so they can value the blood sweat and tears of their mums/ grannies/ aunts!!

    • Yeah, we have such a hard time with “different” not being either better or worse, don’t we? Especially at certain stages of childhood. I agree, more diversity—so that different becomes the new normal?—seems like the answer.

  30. I’m late to this party… What a fantastic post, T. I haven’t read the comments so I’m sure someone’s already said anything I could come up with but, what struck me is the reminder that, time was, we aspired (perhaps) to emulate master tailors, now we aspire to make our clothing look like good, mass-produced RTW.

    How do I legitimize my sewing? Hmmm, well I wear it. And I also believe that, as long as fit is excellent and I’m moving towards improved technique all the time, then what I’m sewing is fundamentally legitimate, if not as much as one day it might be. I also try to use the best fabrics, notions, machines, gizmos – to make the outcome as standardized as possible.

  31. Let us not forget that much mass produced clothing is really badly made! Badly finished, crooked top stitching, not sewn down properly – lots of that. Serging/overlocking the heck out of everything and making seam allowances so narrow it alters the heft and sit for the worse. Unevenly gathered sleeved heads….I could go on forever. When people buy a garment most wouldn’t even notice, including often, us! But when YOU are the one who didn’t even out them gathers, it’s a different matter entirely, because unlike those poor sweatshop workers, we mostly give a “flying” about the outcome and the doing of it brings it to our attention. WE know too much. :)

    • I must admit, now that I know what to look for, every time I see a knit tee-shirt twisting at the side-seams because it’s cut off grain, I want to smirk a little… Not because my side-seams never twist, but because I feel (HA!) legitimized by discovering the same kinds of problems in storebought pieces… /sigh.

  32. Marilise

    From an historical perspective, I think that being able to afford store-bought clothing may have had some influence in how home-sewn garments were perceived. My mother has told me that when she was growing up on a farm in the 40’s, it was quite a treat to be able to purchase a skirt, a blouse, or a coat rather than try to make it. My mother has told me that the girls who had to make their own dresses out of the fabric from flour sacks and wear them to school were rather pitied by their friends. Mom said that she and her sisters would only wear their flour sack dresses at home doing chores.

    My mom did grew up in a time when lots of girls learned basic sewing in school–whether they liked to sew or not. They had to in order to pass from one grade to another and to graduate from high school (as most rural schools) had basic sewing (and cooking) in their curiculums. According to my mom, most home economics teachers did not teach (perhaps they didn’t know how, themselves) how to make garments fit other than letting out or taking in a seam here or there. Lots of girls/women could sew but what they turned out didn’t fit or look very nice. When you went to the store, you could go through whole racks of clothes in a rather short time and probably find something that looked better than home-made. I think seamstresses/sewists these days self-select, and they have lots more information about how to produce garments that look as nice or better than RTW.

    • Yeah, the fitting my mother learned was very rudimentary—I can’t help but feel that there was some distinct loss over the last few generations previous, as my grandmother has mentioned her mother drafting her own patterns… I know the information existed as I have plenty of older books with very similar fitting discussions to modern books, but it doesn’t seem to have been disseminated as widely as the basic sewing skills. I think you’re right about the cachet of RTW, as well.

      • Angela

        Same here… my mother grew up doing basic sewing but nothing too advanced, and sewed when I was a kid ( I am 48 now). But, she had to follow a pattern precisely – the thought of altering it was foreign to her. She seemed to believe that if the pattern company drafted it a certain way, then that is how it had to be sewn. No changes allowed. She quit sewing for me as I reached middle-school and grew taller and long-waisted. Nothing would fit right, even she had to admit that. One of the reasons I took up sewing for myself was to have things long enough in the torso.

        This entire post has been quite interesting. Yep, I sew in part because RTW doesn’t fit right, it is cheaply made, etc. and yet – I then try to replicate RTW techniques. Hmmm…… my sewing is at the stage that if it is as good as RTW I’m pleased, but I would much rather have it look better than RTW. To be able to train with someone with detailed knowledge would be a dream come true, but the only thing I know about around here are classes at JoAnn’s.

  33. Not to rehash what Uta said above (and maybe others did too — I tried to read all the comments, they’re so interesting, but I couldn’t do it in just one sitting!) but I find it interesting how “homemade” in children’s clothing can have such a different vibe from “homemade” in adults’ clothing, at least on the sewing blogosphere. The type of grown-up home-sewn garments we’re really proud of are the ones that look high-end, use couture techniques, and have fantastic structural details, whereas when I think of homemade kids’ clothes I think of novelty prints, and rick rack, and piping, and slight wackiness/adorableness. (At this moment I might possibly be thinking of those littlest white hearts&piping jeans you made for your niece, which I love.)

    I appreciate and am awed by the skill it takes to sew couture-style clothing, but at the same time I love seeing a grown-up home sewer making novelty/wackiness/what-the-hell-is-that kind of clothing for themselves and wearing it regularly.

    And maybe I’m going overboard a bit, but I think that difference between kids-homemade and adult-homemade is there in the reasons we sew, too. I started sewing clothes for myself around 7 years ago, at about 13-yrs-old, and at the time I was still young (and dumb) enough that I could come up with the most ridiculous designs (celtic embroidery on badly fitting “sweatpants”, hello?) and wear them proudly, just because I’d made them. When it came to RTW clothing I was/am a regulation jeans-and-hoodie kind of girl, but anything I had made myself was fair game. And from what I’ve heard, youth/children’s programs that focus on crafts and sewing are also about making stuff all by yourself (too sick, yo!), rather than making clothing that necessarily is couture, or professional, or even good looking. As a contrast, while I still like fun, silly detailing, a lot the clothes I sew now are meant to imitate — however vaguely — “real” professional clothing.

    All this is not to say that bad construction etc. is something to be proud of, as you say in your post, but that I think it’s wonderful when I see the way sewers take pride in making things and making them well, and that I like it even more when that pride is more like completely giddy exhilaration at having made something, however silly and strange the garment might be. Especially if the garment’s silly and strange. People being ridiculously, childishly happy about their sewing makes me ridiculously happy in turn, you know?

    Anyways, I’m so sorry for taking over so much of your comment wall, but this was a great, thoughtful post, and I really appreciated your examination and celebration of homesewing, and the discussion it created. Thanks :).

  34. OH GOD, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize JUST how long this was until I posted. Please, please tell me if you’d prefer that I take some of my ramblings elsewhere, I won’t take it the wrong way.

    • LOL! I, for one, appreciate comments of any length, especially when they’re as awesome as yours was. :) I hadn’t thought much about the differences between sewing for kids vs. adults in the way you put it—but it’s a great point.

  35. I wholeheartedly agree with your post. But a few things- RTW clothing does often have booboo’s too, with an occasional wonky hem & especially when it comes to matching stripes & plaids. Keeping that in mind can help ease some of the anxiety about getting your garments perfect & thinking that if you don’t people will be able to instantly spot your garments as homemade. As for clothing mass production, that didn’t just start in the previous century, but in the one before that. Mechanized weaving was very big in the 1800’s & one of the clarion calls for the Luddites. You can even see it in the famous Seurat painting, La Grande Jatte (seen in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, the painting with all the dots that they keep zooming in on). In that 1800’s painting Seurat was criticizing the bourgeoisie for tying to emulate the upper classes while all looking similar because they all bought mass produced clothing in department stores. While the painting wasn’t necessarily about clothing, it does a great job to show how even back in the 1800’s people were having the same problems as today- looking the same because they bought their clothing from the same store.

    • yeah, I’ve actually been reading “The Invention of the Sewing Machine” by Grace Cooper (it’s available on Project Gutenberg, I think)… the first really workable sewing machine patents weren’t filed until the mid-1800s, basically, which I think was really the beginning of the industrialized clothing revolution—a good fifty or more years after industrial spinning and weaving became the norm. But while I’ve read enough to be fascinated, I don’t have enough of the historical background to really get into that end of the transition. But, I figured I could make at least a half-ass case for what’s been happening in the last fifty years or so, which is, I’d argue, around the time that “storebought” finally “won”. :) It definitely seems like it was a much slower transition to industrial clothing manufacture as the norm (which is not necessarily the same as it becoming the ideal) than, say, to industrial weaving or spinning. Which might relate to the size/cost of a sewing machine vs. the size/cost of an industrial loom or spinning machine, but also the problems (as SO many people have pointed out) of fitting… which would take us off in a whole ‘nother direction if I’m not careful.

      I suspect the exact timing and nature of this transition varied from place to place and among social classes, too…

  36. Great point- emphasizing the difference between the norm & the ideal. I agree about store-bought winning during the past decade. The transition did vary a bit from place to place, but it mainly started in Paris & London in the 1800’s with the advent of department stores selling RTW that emulated what the upper classes had made for them. This also extended to home furnishings. While I don’t know much of anything about industrial lace making, I would think this had a big impact on commercial clothing too. Imagine having to hand make hairpin lace & then suddenly being able to buy it on the cheap! RTW was definitely not something the poor could buy, but if I remember correctly middle class people were the ones who started buying it first. The wealthy didn’t want to be seen wearing the same dress as a middle class person.

  37. Pingback: Finished Objects: Trio of Tiny Shorts and Valuing The Sewing (with worksheet pdf goodness) « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

  38. Great post. It certainly is true that e have been made to believe that hand-made is not as good as factory made. If the term ‘home made’ instead of ‘hand made’. Like cooking at home, making our own clothes is one of the most rewarding things we can do.
    I’m glad that home sewers are emulating couture techniques as it will (hopefully0 inspire others to sew- knowing they can make clothes on par or better than store bought.

  39. Sox

    When I was in my twenties, I started sewing because I couldn’t afford the clothes I liked, but didn’t like the quality of the clothes I could afford. Those clothes were made from flimsy fabrics, had narrow seams from weak thread and buttons that had to be re-attached before I could wear them. I have to make my own trousers and skirts, as RTW does not design clothes for curvy, fit women.
    My friends and colleagues are impressed with my ability to sew my own clothes and will always ask me if I made what I am wearing.
    There are only a few times when I will not admit to making something; when it hasn’t turned out perfectly (ie; the plaids don’t match). Then I will say I bought it.

  40. If I had time, I would read every single comment, because you have written such a well-thought-out and meaningful post. You are absolutely right that these attitudes took off in the 1970’s, which is the decade in which I morphed from kid to young adult. I did sew a lot of my own clothes in that time, becuase I was so tall and skinny and super long jeans did not exist yet (though that was not too hard – just buy mens jeans – that worked). I will sound like a braggard when I say this but I had good manual dexterity and I was able to stitch things together in a way that looked as good as RTW (as long as one did not look inside – zig-zagging to finish seams is sooooo home-made) and of course I selected styles that could be sewn to look as good as RTW. I stayed away from anything that would have required a specialized machine to do well. It got worse in the 80’s, the decade of the YUPPIE. By then I only did alterations, with the exception of maternity wear because the shops were not yet stocking professional clothing for pregnant ladies. I am so %^%$# relieved that we are now in a decade that does appreciate a much wider variety of everything- people are not slaves to fashion as much as it seemed to me back then. We are more interested in personal style and creativity. Ooops, longest comment ever?? Oh well, you struck a nerve. Great POst.

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