MRS SEW & SEW
Above is an official government cartoon featuring Mrs. Sew and Sew a "woman of resource and ideas" who promoted the "make do and mend" philosophy of the lean World War II years. In Britain, clothes were rationed from 1941-1949. At the beginning of the ration, women were allotted 66 coupons to spend on a year's wardrobe. Because clothing was limited, sewing and what we'd now call "refashioning" was essential. After all, as the voice over states, "Just think of the coupons you'll save!"
Last year, I sewed furiously. I wanted lots: Lots of thrifted clothes, lots of patterns, lots of fabric, lots of homemade items. I think this is part of my M.O., as whenever I embark on something new, obsessive behavior sets in. As an example, seven years ago, I began a vegetable garden and my hoarding tendencies followed suit: sewing patterns were heirloom seeds, fabric yards were cubic feet of steer, chicken manure and sea kelp, and I needed a serger like I needed a coiled garden hose. I even (badly) maintained an espaliered lemon tree for a while.
And my sewing is following a similar trajectory. It's slowing way, way down. All that obsessive sewing has equipped me with the tools and skills to begin sewing consciously. I've donated many of the initial items I made as I'm finally getting confident enough to to 'fess up to my own shoddy work. I'm also getting better at knowing what types of clothes flatter me and it's getting easier to resist stockpiling things I'll never wear.
I feel I'm ready for a challenge: a framework that will both push me and organize an aspect of my life that has been whim to every desire. I've been inspired by many great challenges out there: Think of Zoe, who who took a lifetime Wardrobe Refashion pledge; of Solvi, who just wrapped up a year of not buying new clothes; of Sarah's Thrifty365 Pledge; and Isis' Ethical Clothing Pledge. And the list goes on.
In my last post, I noted how inspired I was by Susannah of Cargo Cult Craft's "Fashion on the Ration," challenge, as she just completed a year living on the 1941 ration. In a post reflecting on the challenge, she says:
Because everything I’ve bought or sewed in these 12 months has had to pull its weight, probably the #1 most important thing I’ve taken away from FOTR is the 90% rule: 90% of my wardrobe needs to equip me for my real life, not my fantasy life. Therefore, no matter how fun it is to perv out on patterns for 1930s bias-cut evening gowns and whatnot, I need to focus 90% of the money, time and effort I put into sewing and shopping time on clothing for my real life.It comes as no surprise to you, readers, that I totally dig this. Though my fantasy life takes me through decades and dresses, my finished objects attest to my desire for clothes I'll actually wear. In another post, Susannah adds:
Everyday clothing is, after all, what I spend every day in. Didn’t it deserve the kind of attention, imagination, enthusiasm and budget I’d formerly reserved for my showier sewing projects? Shouldn’t I be able to look and feel good at the office, around town, on the couch? Wouldn’t it be great to open my Normal Wardrobe every morning and see a bunch of garments I could get as excited about as the stuff in my Dress-up Chest?Yes, yes, yes!
And so today, Jan. 23, 2011 I begin my own Fashion on the Ration challenge, shamelessly copied from Cargo Cult Craft. For the next year, I will only use my allotted 66 "coupons" to buy new clothing and fabric. I will continue to sew, refashion and thrift items below a certain threshold. More details on the nitty-gritty in an upcoming post.
But here's why I dig it and why I think it fits:
The Quality Factor
- Because the coupons limit how many items you can buy, it behooves me to buy quality. I'm such a cheapskate that I need this sort of permission.
- I enjoy shopping more than I enjoy buying. Shopping, to me, is all about possibility. Buying, however, is a demand on a product that usually doesn't live up to its promise. I'm realizing that quality items, regardless of how much I paid, fill me with gratitude. Cheap crap, on the other hand, frustrates me with my own bad judgment. This is true of sewing, too. Hello, quality fabric, quality details.
- My primary interest is sewing and style for my real life, no matter how plain that is. Busy girl, I need things that pull their weight. Versatility and durability are key. This year I'd like to focus on how I can have these things in my closet and make them beautiful as well.
- Since stockpiling clothes will no longer be part of my M.O. I can move beyond just clothing in my pursuit of a personal style. Perhaps I can finally get over my fear of bobby pins and up the earring pair queue by more than two.
- Since this challenge is rooted in 1941, this will be a wonderful opportunity to explore vintage fashion.
- I appreciate that the option to buy new clothing and fabric is not limitless, just as my bank account and closet space are not limitless.
- I hardly buy new, but I'm curious if that's just the story I tell myself, and that all the little purchases add up. This will be an excuse to keep track.
Oh my. Words of warning? Here’s one: Be prepared to discover garments you really can’t make yourself, buy secondhand or go without. Running shoes and bathingsuits, for instance!I've been warned. I may self-destruct by summer, but I'll document that as well. Either way, thanks Susannah, for the inspiration!
Here’s another: Be prepared to spend a lot of time in shops looking closely at clothes and roaring with frustration. Also, if you try to bone up on what styles suit your body shape, be prepared to welter in a sea of conflicting advice.
And so it begins. So long cheap crap. So long hoarding.
Wish me luck!