Process, Handmade

The Handmade Reality

We are obsessed with handmade in recent years, have you noticed?  I have been giving more thought to the intrigue of handmade, after having also come under its spell some years back. Recently, I have started to question how we instinctively put handmade on a pedestal.

I suppose it is not surprising...handmade necessitates (what we perceive as) luxurious amounts of time and effort.  A person who has time to make by hand must have so much skill and so much available time!  A person who can afford to pay the cost of handmade must have so much money!  On some unconscious level, our brain makes these links. Our culture further propels these notions, as heritage brands and notions of authenticity have pushed to the forefront of trend.

We also seem to associate handmade with a higher level of quality.  What is notable is that in the past, I sense it was the reverse.  My mother and many of her peers commonly learned to sew.  She says that well-made store-bought clothes were expensive and garments could be made more cheaply.  Sewing patterns from that time breeze right over important building blocks that you need to successfully sew a garment, and I suspect that is because much of that information common household knowledge.  Those same building blocks are now taught, for a price, by technical colleges, design colleges, and community education classes all over the country.  

It has been my experience that what we learn in those classes teaches us that while we can make our own garments, we cannot make garments that look exactly like the ones we buy at the store.  Interestingly, it is no longer cheaper to make our own garments, although this depends on fabric selection and personal brand preferences.  Aside from that, my point is that textiles are expensive and harder to find, and will only continue to be more so as water and natural resources continue to be stretched, and as people continue to purchase, rather than make, clothing.

We can't make clothing at home that looks exactly like clothing we buy in stores largely because clothing is made using machines and fabrics that grow more and more technical as years pass.  A practiced eye examining a piece of clothing can list a variety of machines used to finish just one garment.  You can try to re-create this garment at home, but the inside of it, and the edges of it, will be different.

We also demand unprecedented stretch and softness from fabric in recent years, and as a result, different machines and techniques must be used to make clothing.  This leads to my current sewing challenge.  If you read my perfect t-shirt series, you know that I've been trying to make some nice comfy t-shirts for this winter.  I made two entirely by hand, and three using mostly a machine.  I have been wearing them for months now, and unfortunately have concluded that I prefer the function and the feeling of the handmade one, largely due to the form and feel of the seam finish I used.  Also, in the last week, I have noticed holes on the machine-sewn ones, after not that much wearing, and very little time in a dryer.  The holes (one on each of two different shirts) are at the seams, indicating that the thread is probably too strong for the fabric.

To make a long story short, I am facing a quandary: right at the time when I was hoping to embrace the sewing machine and reserve the hand-sewing for very special garments only (due to time constraints, and the hopes of increasing my output), I am forced to admit that my hand-sewn items have indeed been more worth it.

So is handmade better, by definition?  Not necessarily.  Machine-sewn garments often have stronger and cleaner (what we see as more professional) seam finishes.  My mom also reports that she finds the quality of store-bought garments beyond satisfactory these days.  Fast fashion is no longer necessarily shoddy.  However, hand-sewing allows more control, so that perhaps you don't have garments falling apart at the seams, as are my two machine-sewn garments.  Sewing something quickly on a machine means that our eyes are not on every square inch as thoroughly as when we hand-sew.  Alternatively, machine-sewing allows us to use stronger or softer and more innovative fabrics, and to make garments more quickly. 

So then, what to do?  One thing I need to do is to find more thread options and try a few different machine techniques, to see if I can learn a machine method that I feel more excited about.  So, that's what's next.  If I can't do that, I guess I will just be wearing fewer, but better-made items, which is also not a terrible option.