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Episode 173: Sewing As A Part of Slow Fashion with Zoe of Check Your Thread (part 1)

Amanda is joined by Zoe Edwards, host of Check Your Thread.  This is part one of their conversation. They will be talking about how and why Zoe started a podcast about sewing and her relationship with sewing. They will also unpack the privileges that make sewing more challenging or inaccessible for many people (and how it could be better).  Amanda explains the connection between Temu, “996” work culture, and forced labor.

Get connected with Zoe:
Check Your Thread
Introduction to Garment Fabrics (by Zoe)
Zoe’s personal sewing blog
Instagram: @checkyourthread

Further reading:
“New employee death at Chinese tech giant Pinduoduo prompts calls for boycott,” Lily Kuo and Lyric Li, The Washington Post.
“The Truth About Temu, the Most Downloaded New App in America,” Andrew R. Chow, Time.
“Worker Deaths Put Big Tech in China Under Scrutiny,” Vivian Wang, The New York Times.
“China’s latest tech darling is selling a treasure trove of fake goods,” Echo Huang, Quartz.
“The Latest Hot E-Commerce Idea in China: The Bargain Bin,” Raymond Zhong, The New York Times.
“China’s ‘996’ Work Culture Under Scrutiny After Employee’s Death,” Heather Mowbray, CX Tech.
“Tired of 996? Get Ready for 715 and the Return of China’s ‘Evil Capitalists’,” Han Xu, CX Tech.
“Rise at 11? China’s Single Time Zone Means Keeping Odd Hours,” Javier C. Hernandez, The New York Times.
“What to know about Temu, one of the most downloaded shopping apps,” Shira Ovide, The Washington Post.
“Shein and Temu’s battle for US bargain shoppers is getting nasty,” Michelle Toh, CNN.
“Congress Spotlights ‘Serious’ Forced Labor Concerns With Chinese Shopping Sites,” Ana Swanson and Claire Fu,The New York Times.
Congressional report on forced labor.

Thanks to this episode’s sponsor, Lucky Sweater. Use invite code “clotheshorse” to join today!

Transcript

Welcome to Clotheshorse, the podcast that still gets a little frazzled by threading my sewing machine.

 

I’m your host, Amanda and this is episode 173.  Today’s special guest is Zoe Edwards, the host of Check Your Thread, a podcast that looks at how to sew more sustainably.  I’m so excited to talk to Zoe about all things sewing! I’ve been looking for so long for just the right guest!  And Zoe was definitely the right person for the job, because we talked for so long that this episode is actually part one of two.  In this week’s episode, we’ll be talking about how and why Zoe started a podcast about sewing, her relationship with sewing, and we’ll unpack the privileges that make sewing more challenging or inaccessible for many people.

 

But before we jump into all of that…last week I promised you that I would explain/introduce/unpack another big player in the new era of ultra fast fashion. So let’s get into that:

It was 1:30 am, in the last days of 2020.  And put a pin in that time, because it matters.  It matters a lot.  1:30 am.  It was December 29th, at 1:30 am

 

A 22 year old employee of Chinese ecommerce giant, Pinduoduo, was leaving work.  She clutched her stomach and collapsed.  Her coworkers–also still at the office at 1:30 am–rushed her to the hospital, but she died six hours later.

 

She was 22 years old. Her name was Fei. There is no official explanation for what happened, but word spread fast across social media that she had died of exhaustion.

 

A spokesperson for Pinduoduo explained that in the far west of China–where this happened–it is normal to work very late (past midnight) due to China’s single time zone.  This time zone spans 2000 miles (for context, the US is about 2,800 miles in width).  This means that in the east, in Beijing, the sun might rise at 6 or 7 am, but in the far west, that won’t happen until 10 am.  So it has a strange impact on day-to-day life in the far west of China, with exams happening late at night, dinners at midnight, etc.  But still, even if the sun rises at 10 am, leaving work just 8 and half hours before that is still a very long day.  It’s the equivalent of staying at the office until 10 or 11 pm here in the U.S.

 

Fei had been working at Pinduoduo since 2019.  And in October 2020, just a few months before her death, she had written about the working conditions of her employer on WeChat, saying, “We employees are at the mercy of capitalism.”

 

A few weeks after Fei’s death, another employee of Pinduoduo–his last name is Wang– posted a video about the abysmal working conditions of the company, saying that the company required that all employees work at least 300 hours per month.  Fei worked in the grocery department, which required employees to work 380 hours per month. 

Let’s do the math there: 380 hours per month, divided by 4 weeks in a month, is 95 hours per week.  Divide that by 7 days, and you get 13.5 hours each day.

 

In his video, Wang said, “Maybe I’m still studentlike and haven’t learned to be a professional who hides my thoughts and protects myself. But I think the world should not be like this.”

He was fired by Pinduoduo for posting the video, along with posting a photo of the ambulance taking Fei away.

 

Around the same time, another young Pinduoduo employee–with the last name Tan–requested some time off from work–then traveled home…then jumped to his death from the roof of a building in his home town.  

 

Many in China called for a boycott of Pinduoduo and other tech companies that rely on/enforce the 996 rule: employees must work from 9 am- 9 pm, 6 days a week. 72 hours a week…practically a vacation compared to the 95 hours each week demanded by the grocery department at Pinduoduo. In fact, workers in China have been saying that more companies ascribe to a 715 culture–15 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

 

One commenter on a discussion of the deaths and Pinduoduo’s part in it said, “What is sadder than a society in which your work unit squeezes you for your value and then brainwashes you, saying, ‘If you don’t work overtime, you won’t be motivated.’”

 

I want to make clear to you that odds are very, very high that if you are buying something from Shein, AliExpress, TaoBao, and Temu, you are supporting companies that are overworking employees on all levels, from the factories to the offices.  And I would also add that that’s also happening when you buy something from just about any fast fashion retailer or brand.  This is not isolated to China, and it’s not isolated to just a few companies.

 

So what is Pinduoduo? It is an online platform selling just about anything–from clothes to toys to groceries–all at bargain basement prices, offering free and fast shipping.  And if this reminds you of another big company–Amazon–well, you’re right.  And that’s not the first time we will see that parallel. I like this description of the company from the Washington Post, “an online deals platform responsible for minting the country’s second-richest man.”  That man is named Colin Huang, and he founded Pinduoduo in 2015–not that long ago–and it is a massive platform now.

 

Big Western brands have been seeing strong and growing sales in China for years: Apple, Nike, Gucci.  But there is another part of the population in China–primarily rural and low income shoppers–who are more interested in bargains: a 40 cent pair of earrings, 50 rolls of toilet paper for $4.75, a pair of “Playboy” brand pants for $3. 10 mangos for $1.50.

 

That’s the space Pinduoduo occupies, selling via its app to about 350 million customers per year (as of 2018…I have no doubt that it has continued to grow since then).  I am going to share a NYT article by Raymond Zhong (from 2018) in the show notes that really goes into Pinduoduo and its customer base/their behavior…but I’m going to share some of the customer quotes because it’s fascinating–and not dissimilar to some consumer behaviors we see happening around us. 

 

First is Mr. Li.  He is 45 and he and wife operate a food truck outside a factory: 

 

Over the past two years, Mr. Li has bought nearly $1,000 worth of merchandise on Pinduoduo — the equivalent of around two months’ income for him. Among his purchases: an inflatable paddle boat, a fishing bag and a cherry-red motorized car for his young daughter to drive around.

 

Mr. Li knows he is a little addicted. And regretted purchases? He has a few.

 

Some were made out of curiosity. In other cases, the items were of such lousy quality that he threw them out after they arrived. The toys he has bought for his daughter — including dolls, a violin and a keyboard — have been particularly bad, he said.

 

It is all so inexpensive, though, that he said he didn’t mind the occasional misfire.

 

“It’s nothing, really,” he said of his spending on the app.

 

Does this sound familiar to you? Maybe a little bit like buying random stuff from Amazon or Shein? And it being so low quality and disappointing that you toss it or donate it?

 

Another customer:

Ms. Kang, a 52-year-old retiree in the southwestern city of Chengdu, has used Pinduoduo to buy shoes, clothes, gadgets — “quite a lot,” she said, although the quality isn’t always great.

 

This spring, she got stung by two bad purchases. First, there was a $5 wardrobe with colorful fabric panels and a “real wood” frame. One touch was all she needed to realize the thing was no good. Then she bought a chiffon skirt with a floral pattern — less than $6, including a yellow T-shirt to wear with it — that arrived with a jagged tear down the side.

 

Ms. Kang said she is now less likely to buy things on Pinduoduo solely because they are cheap. But she still looks at the app every day.



In fact, many customers look at the app every day because Pinduoduo has sort of “gamified” the shopping experience, with incentives for inviting friends to join the platform (like free products), spinning wheels that offer surprise discounts, pop up windows that tell you what other people you know are buying, endless coupons, free shipping, and an endless array of new stuff arriving on the site. This dizzying experience is intentional. The company has called its app “a combination of Costco and Disneyland.”

 

Pinduoduo doesn’t actually make any of the stuff it sells. Instead, it is a platform for merchants to list and sell their stuff. Pinduoduo collects a fee for each sale and charges these merchants to promote their products on the app.    As a result of this type of platform, we see a lot of the same stuff that happens on say, eBay or Etsy: there are a lot of knockoffs. There are a lot of disappointing products.  And Pinduoduo has no control over what customers actually receive.  The merchants themselves are generally factories/manufacturers/suppliers across China and Pinduoduo isn’t really even seeing the product that they ship. So they don’t know what is a knockoff, a scam, or never shipped to the customers in the first place.

 

In fact, industry analysts have concerns about this.  A website full of knockoffs is both a legal liability and a customer service liability. Pinduoduo itself only makes about a dollar and some change off each customer every year, so to make the business work–as of 2018 it was not profitable–it needs to bring in more and more AND MORE customers. When you build a business that makes only about a dollar off of each customer, you’re making the conscious decision to run a business that relies on volume.  If you want to make a billion dollars per year, then you need to sell to one billion customers.  And as of 2018,  analysts were concerned that Pinduoduo did not have enough potential customers in China to get to that point. And a site full of knockoffs and low quality products wasn’t going to bring in younger, savvier customers.  

 

So what’s a company to do? We’re getting to that, I promise!

 

Do you watch the Super Bowl? You’re probably not surprised to hear that I usually do not, unless I’ve been invited to a Super Bowl party featuring a lot of dips.  I love dip! Since Dustin and I don’t really have friends here in Austin, and we don’t have cable, so naturally we did not watch the Super Bowl. In fact, since it was a Sunday, I was probably working on an episode of this podcast, which I usually do from the time I wake up on Sunday, until I go to bed.  

But all night I received DMs and emails from members of the Clotheshorse community telling me about a commercial that aired during the game for a new shopping app called Temu.

 

So…of course I watched the commercial and it’s pretty…terrible.  A horrible song urges customers that they will “feel so rich” and “shop like a billionaire” with all of the low prices on Temu. The commercial itself features a bedazzled red gown for $9.99, among many other unbelievable bargains.  I literally mean UNBELIEVABLE. Like, there’s no way you’re getting THAT  gown for $9.99.  

 

Temu actually paid to air that ad TWICE during the Super Bowl, which wasn’t a cheap undertaking. And despite launching just six months earlier, its app had already been installed more than 19 million times. But it was officially making an investment in reaching even more customers, possibly lower income, rural customers who weren’t super app shopping savvy via the Super Bowl spots. After the Super Bowl, app downloads increased to 24 million.

 

A visit to the Temu website–I literally have it open in another window right now– features so much stuff, I don’t even know where to begin:

  • A roll of 5000 cute animal stickers for $1.99 (they are definitely knockoffs of Squishmallows art)
  • Purple “color correcting” foam for teeth for a mere $4.94.  I’m no dentist, but it seems like a bad idea.
  • A dryer vent cleaning brush for $2.28
  • An ergonomically designed device for removing corn from the cob for $1.58
  • And a pumpkin tee for $7.19.

Nothing is branded and the photography is a bit hmmm…inconsistent. And in that way, it’s not unlike what we see happening on Amazon, with a lot of third party sellers selling us unbranded products.  Amazon has proven that many, many customers will always prioritize low prices over any kind of brand loyalty or fancy product photography.  Temu is just riding that wave.

 

An obvious knockoff of the iconic Urban Decay Nakeds eyeshadow palette for $4.27.

12 kitchen sponges for $1.96.

30 “Sanrio” Croc charms for $6.99.

A plushie that is a stack of pancakes with a cat face for $8.48.

 

That’s just the beginning, and you kinda can’t look away.  I can’t even imagine having this on my phone as an app, just scrolling away as I drink coffee in the morning or can’t fall asleep at night. It’s just as entertaining and vast as scrolling away on TikTok or Reddit.  There’s always something new to see and there’s probably never an end.  It’s shopping masquerading as entertainment.

 

Of course, there’s also a spinning wheel offering me an additional deal, lots of timers running out on additional discounts, and icons showing me who just bought the 3 pack of sports bras or suction cup soap dishes.  A banner promises free shipping and returns…but a timer says the free shipping on all orders will run out in 9 hours and 54 minutes.   There is concurrently an “anniversary sale” and “lightning deals.”  I am reminded that I might have an ever better experience if I download the app and create an account. 

 

If this sounds familiar to you, that’s because it should: Temu is owned by Pinduoduo. And it’s part of a larger plan to acquire more customers and drive more revenue for the company.

 

The model is the same as Pinduoduo:

  • Sell lots of stuff at low prices
  • All products are shipped directly from factories and suppliers, as Temu is just the platform that connects them to customers. 
  • The “gamified” shopping experience still exists and customers receive free products for suggesting to their friends and sharing their purchases.

 

The same problems that Pinduoduo faces in China are found on the Temu website:  I spent a few minutes scrolling and found about a dozen copies of other products, brands and designers.  Some very light digging on Reddit uncovered customers who never received their order or thought they were ordering an Apple watch and received a random no-name cell phone instead.  The subreddit for USPS workers discusses Temu more than you might expect: the nonstop flow of Temu packages (which some say are slowing down), the way the orange of Temu’s shipping boxes rubs off on their skin and clothing, and even a listing for a roll of USPS Forever stamps that they found on the Temu app (these are being sold as real stamps but they are not). Still other Reddit posts rave about buying knockoff Nintendo Switches for $7.

 

Temu might succeed and grow. Right now it is the second most downloaded app in the U.S.  So it really might take off. And it might not, but either way, platforms like Temu and Shein ARE changing what shopping is like for us.  For one, both platforms promise easy and cheap access to just about any item we want (along with lots of other products we didn’t know we wanted until we saw them).

 

And they also change the way products and orders make their way around the globe. Go to Best Buy or Target right now, and almost everything in the stores was made in China.  But first it was bought by the retailer (let’s say Target), shipped overseas in a big order with a bunch of other stuff, received in the warehouse, then sent out to the stores or stocked on the website.  There were touch points along the way for quality control. So anything egregiously disappointing or dangerous was filtered out before reaching customers.  But that process is slow.  Companies like Shein and Temu cut out the middle man, having the factories ship directly to the customers. Sure, you lose the quality control, but you get the product so much faster. That’s how Shein can get a knockoff into the hands of a customer in the same month the original was launched in the first place.  

 

We talk a lot about how the fast fashion era has changed customer behavior and kinda, the expectations of customers, right? We want stuff fast, cheap, and easily.  We want constant newness.  And fast fashion made us expect that as the norm.  Now platforms like Shein and Temu are upping the ante, offering it even faster, even cheaper, and even more of everything. This is the era of ultra fast fashion.  It feels so dystopic to me. Add that layer of what’s happening in Pinduoduo’s corporate offices (meaning: also Temu) makes it even more depressing and ugh…just so frustrating to me.   

 

On top of all of that, a report issued in June by the U.S. House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party said that Temu had failed “to maintain even the facade of a meaningful compliance program” for its supply chains and was most likely importing products into the United States that were made with forced labor on “a regular basis.” In fact, the report went on to say “American consumers should know that there is an extremely high risk that Temu’s supply chains are contaminated with forced labor.” 

Furthermore, Temu’s business model “is to avoid bearing responsibility for compliance with the UFLPA and other prohibitions on forced labor while relying on tens of thousands of Chinese suppliers to ship goods direct to U.S. consumers.” The UFLPA is the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, passed in 2021 to prevent products manufactured using the forced labor of Uyghur Muslims in to the United States.  It’s a really big deal, and it seems as if both Temu and Shein are trying to get around it.  

In fact, Congress is pressing Temu, Shein, Adidas, and Nike for more information, because their investigation indicates that all four of those companies are not doing everything they can to ensure that they are not selling products made with forced labor.

 

I’ll end this segment just by adding that now Shein is suing Temu.  And Temu is fighting back. Shein claims that Temu is paying influencers to say  things like “Shein is not the only cheap option for clothing! Check Temu.com out, cheaper and way better quality.” Temu counters that Shein is forcing suppliers to only sell on their platform, pulling more than 10,000 product listings from Temu since October. 

 

There’s a part of me that just doesn’t want to care about their legal fight. It’s like seeing two people you despise fighting in a bar. You don’t want to get involved because you don’t like them, but if you don’t, someone innocent is going to be hit with a flying chair. So you have to break it up. You have to care about it.  People across the world are already being hurt by these two brands: think about the forced labor, the corporate workers required to work more than 300 hours each month, the customers getting shitty, disappointing products, the postal workers turning orange from the Temu boxes, the stuff piling up in the landfills, the environmental impact of all of that production and shipping.  

 

We have to care about this stuff, even if we don’t partake in the shopping. We have to tell our friends what’s really happening. We need to spread the word.  Unfortunately just skipping Temu or Shein is not going to be enough, because their impact is so disastrous and growing with every day.  And I often wonder…Shein has been taking down Zara and H+M by beating them at their game with lower prices and more options.  Who will come along and eclipse Shein by turning all of that up a notch? I don’t want to know. But I know I have to care.




Okay, well I know that I need a major palate cleanser after talking so much about Temu and ultra fast fashion, and you know what will be perfect? A conversation about sewing! So let’s jump into my convo with Zoe!

Amanda:

Okay, and I’m gonna ask you, Zoe, why don’t you introduce yourself to everybody?

 

Zoe:

Well, thank you very much for having me on your podcast. I’m very excited. My name is Zoe. I am a sewing obsessive, I think. I’m a sewing blogger. I am a writer. I am a sewing teacher and I am also a podcaster because I have a podcast called Check Your Thread, which is all about how to sew more sustainably.

 

Amanda:

And I’m excited to have you here today because, you know, we are a community full of sewers, or sewists, not sewers. 

 

Zoe:

I use both, I use both.

 

Amanda:

Okay, I think the problem is that sewer looks like the word, is the word sewer? And that’s kind of unseemly. Yeah. So we’re a community full of people who make things and I get so many questions about sewing and how sewing can be more sustainable, how it can be more budget friendly, and how it can be a part of a more sustainable lifestyle. So we’re going to talk all about that today.

So how long have you been sewing?

 

Zoe:

I have been sewing like a lot of people kind of since they were a kid really on and off. My mum was a seamstress on and off and my nan was. Kind of yes and no really I think because it was her job and she didn’t actually present it to me as a way that it was like a fun creative activity you know. Yeah, like it was more an activity that she did to make money, you know, like when I was little and she would be doing some dressmaking and alterations. Plus, she herself is very small, so she was always altering garments for herself, like raising hems and, you know, sleeve lengths and stuff. And that is, I mean, arguably not the most fun sewing activity. you know, a fun creative thing. So although I was sewing a bit as a kid, it actually took me. quite a while throughout my teens of trying different kind of creative mediums and creative disciplines to kind of figure out what really was going to be for me. And then eventually by the time I was about 19 I’d kind of come back to sewing as something that could actually be kind of creative and interesting. So then I went on to study fashion design at university. But I quickly found that I’m not a great designer, I’m kind of better at making and and the pattern cutting and the construction really interested me. So yeah, so that’s kind of how I got into it. And then from then I was kind of sewing on and off, like always making like bags to sell and little side projects and stuff. And then eventually I got a job in the quote unquote fashion industry as a production assistant, so ordering all the trims and you know, everything that goes into a garment the fabric, making sure that they were in the right factories. This was all mainly made in Romania, a lot of the stuff that the company I was working for us. And yeah, so just making sure that everything was in the right factory. right quantity at the right, you know, in the right factory for the orders that we were creating. And I quickly got super disillusioned with the fashion industry. We weren’t using the term like fast fashion at the time, you know, but it was definitely that part. Well, I had a few jobs in fashion, but that was the one that was like really the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. starting to think about, you know, like how I could live more sustainably, although once again that wasn’t really a term that we were using necessarily, and just thinking about how in my own life I could extract myself from buying cheap ready-to-wear clothes that didn’t really feel like me, didn’t really express who I was, I couldn’t afford like the cool nice stuff online sewing community that was kind of burgeoning. I guess this was around maybe like 2007, something like that. So there was various kind of community blogs and forums and stuff for starting out and the kind of indie pattern scene was just starting and it was all super exciting. I think there was actually a lot of parallels going on with what was going on in knitting at the time, you know, like that house. Yeah, you know, that whole like “Stitch and Bitch”  kind of phenomena.

 

Amanda:

Oh, that’s how I got into knitting.

 

Zoe:

So it was that same kind of mindset, that kind of like DIY, do it yourself. Lots of people sharing their projects, sharing their ideas, sharing their hacks. It was all really quite rough and ready and everyone was super supportive, you know? And it just felt such a lovely. place on the internet to be and really inspiring. And also I didn’t have much money and everyone was doing everything on a shoestring, you know, and it was like, this is like, this is where I belong and I got so inspired. And I actually then quit that job, ran away to Spain for a couple of years. And at that point I really, really got deep into making my own wardrobe and extracting myself from shop bought clothing. So that would have been about, yeah, 2008, 2009. So I’ve kind of not really bought clothes apart from like underwear since about then really yeah

 

Amanda:

That’s amazing.

 

Zoe:

sounds exhausting now I think of it

 

Amanda:

Yeah, seriously. You touched on a few things there that I think are really important to talk about. And one is, you talked about your mother sort of not making sewing sound very fun or cool

or creative. And I felt, I think a lot of listeners probably are feeling that because I think for our mother’s generation and previous generations, it really was a chore, you know, and even, you know, my mom was not a great sewer. every once in a while she would sew something like a costume or something, but she could do hemming, repairs, that kind of thing, and she became the person in the family who had to hem everybody’s pants, you know what I mean?

 

Zoe:

Yeah, that’s not fun.

 

Amanda:

it’s just not fun, right? And for me, there was part of me that’s like, I think sewing might be really cool, but it doesn’t seem like it. Based on my mom’s reaction, and then taking, like sewing in home economics class in middle school, first off, we sewed an apron, which is so boring, and. 

 

Zoe:

Yeah, to do some more chores, cool!

 

Amanda:

I know exactly because you were intended to wear it for the second half of the year when you learn how to cook and both it’s interesting because I love cooking like learning new recipes cooking for other people It’s like one of my favorite things and even when I’m working all the time I generally cook a full dinner every night just because it’s like it’s just a nice creative outlet that is sort of like a basic need also because you have to eat and even the way we were taught to cook it wasn’t about you know, creativity or getting any sort of joy from either cooking or consuming it. It was like cooking to get it done, to take care of people, to uphold your responsibility, to stick to a budget. And sewing was really similar that way. I remember being very disappointed. I was so excited when I went to the store to get the fabric to make this apron, and I was like, I’m gonna be sewing all the time now. And then we sat down to do it, and I was like, wow, this is really dull. And we had to practice all these different stitches on cards. and I hated it. I still to this day, I’m the worst at hemming because I have like a mental block on it, I think because that was really tedious.

 

Zoe:

Yeah.

 

Amanda:

And I was sewing this apron and being like, this is boring, I hate this, this is so stupid. And I didn’t sew again until I was an adult and it was around that same time when everybody was starting to get into it and I was like, wow, I could be altering clothes all the time, I could be making things and. other people are interested in this too, finally were saying like, hey, sewing is interesting and useful and a creative expression. And that was totally different than the way it was presented to me as a kid.

 

Zoe:

absolutely. And what you were saying there about how your mum kind of became the default person that did all the hemming or making the fancy dress outfits. And I think, especially until I guess the 90s when ready-to-wear stuff started to become a bit cheaper, it was often, you know, became a role of a mother to make some clothing for their family because it was cheaper than buying ready-to-wear clothing. And it’s interesting actually, I teach like a sewing class, often I teach beginners, and I’ll like kind of, you know, have a little bit of a warmup at the beginning of a class. And I get everyone to kind of, you know, talk about who they are and talk about like, what inspired them to kind of sign up to the class. And invariably I’ll get at least one person going, oh, my mom made all our clothes. And then I thought, oh, it’s really nice you wanted this connection with your mom. And then a little while later, I started thinking like, yeah, but did she enjoy it? You know, like you’ve got the nostalgia. of wearing those clothes that your mum made and obviously you love your mum. But maybe she didn’t love making them. She loved you. But I just think about, yeah, no one asked these women, you know. It was just expected, I think, you know.

 

Amanda:

For sure, and I think there was a little bit of a change when our mothers were kids, where suddenly like, clothes sewn by your mom weren’t as cool. So then you have that job of like, sewing for your family, and everybody’s kind of like, I’d rather have something from a store. Yeah, I remember my mom saying that to me. I like, my, wait, it was who? It was my… great grandmother lived with my mom’s family when my mom was growing up. And she was one of those people who could sew and cook anything. And so she was making my mom’s clothes and she was like, oh it made me so mad. I just wanted to go to the store and get something new

and store made. And she would be sewing it and you know she would try to like buy patterns that were cool and it still just made me so mad. And I look back and I’m just like why was I such a jerk? You know?

 

Zoe:

Yeah, yeah, . But you do on your podcast, like such a good job of like tracking, you know, consumerism. And it’s not by accident that we were starting to, you know, that mental shift of like, oh, no, I want the stuff from the store. That’s not an accident. That was, you know, that’s deliberate, wasn’t it? Like advertising has deliberately made us think that way.

 

Amanda:

For sure, for sure, yeah. And I also think that. You know, if we were still sewing our own clothes, as the majority of us were still doing that, or at least sewing half of our clothes, or even a quarter of our clothes, I think we would have a really different relationship with shopping as well, and we would ask ourselves, why are things so cheap? I don’t think fast fashion as a business model would have been successful as it’s been, because we would say, this doesn’t add up pretty early on. We would say, like, how could that dress only be $20? I just made a dress last week and it was $50 worth of fabric and took me, you know, hours upon hours. Like nothing

makes any sense. And I think it’s because we all shifted away from even understanding how garments are made. I mean, you know, people think that robots make clothes. Or as if you just thread up the sewing machine and kick back and watch a movie and it’s just like whips out some clothes. I’m like, no, sewing, I mean, you know, I’m preaching the choir here. It’s such hard work. You have to have so much focus. There’s so much time you spent like ripping things out and starting over again.



Zoe:

people that are making clothing, they’re not making clothing, they’re just doing one process, aren’t they? All day, all week, hours on end, and that has got to be even, that’s got to be more tiring, more demoralising.

 

Amanda:

Yeah, you’re just sewing one sleeve. That’s all

 

Zoe:

Yeah, you don’t even get the joy of even learning different skills and seeing how it all comes together and being part of it, you’re just literally being treated like, yeah, like a machine just to do that.

 

Amanda:

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And I think you just talked about that really struck me is thinking about, you know, fast fashion in the UK when. I worked, one of the brands I worked for, ModCloth, we would go to London quite a bit to meet with vendors. We had a lot of vendors there who were making clothes in the UK or in Romania, somewhere in Eastern Europe.

And you know, there was this part, then I was like, oh, well, this must not be fast fashion. I mean, this is

 

Zoe:

Oh really?

 

Amanda:

so naive, so of me, so naive of me because, you know, it’s not, it’s not coming from China or India. I mean, this was years ago before I like really learned the story. And we’ve seen stuff come out. Like even, you know, Boohoo is making clothes domestically in the UK and not paying people, right? They’ve been accused of wage theft and all kinds of other stuff. But the UK does have its like sort of own variety of fast fashion that is a little bit different, you know, like to go to the high street there, the brands are different, they have different names, right? But they are doing the same thing, you know?

 

Zoe:

Yeah, but we still like, you know, the main brands are still like, you know, Zara, Mango, H&M. They’re still the main ones on the high street really.

 

Amanda:

Yeah, definitely.

 

Zoe:

So it’s the same model, yeah. And then maybe some of the factories located different places, but you’re right. There’s still actually some, actually in lockdown, there was towards the beginning of the pandemic and the lockdown there was. this kind of revelation that there was a sweatshop in Leicester and loads of people had come down with Covid. So there is still actually sweatshops in the UK, it’s just, you know, they don’t get reported on very much because

it is obviously less. But I think that to go back to what you were saying before, I think that one of the reasons why, you know, it’s become so ubiquitous is that we’ve just been taught to… like forget and I think once again I think this is deliberate like we’ve been taught to completely ignore qualities so there’s like you know you’re you know the people trying to make things that are gonna last and we’ve just been trained out of even considering how long something is gonna last haven’t we?

 

Amanda:

Yeah, it’s true. I mean, I know that Forever 21 isn’t as big in the UK, although I remember there being one on Oxford Circle. And it was very much in marketing itself as this Los Angeles brand, which made me laugh, coming there from LA and seeing it there. But Forever 21 was the first really big fast fashion chain here in the United States. And in the beginning, shopping there felt very uncomfortable for me because I knew that stuff would only last one or two wears, and

it would fit strangely. and you’d have to safety pin it all together to go out. I mean, obviously you weren’t going to get out the sewing machine and doing very much to this because it might not survive it. It’s not like it had any seam allowance or anything. And I, at the beginning, was like, well, this seems so silly to waste my hard earned money on something I can only wear once or twice. And then over time, that just becomes the norm. And you don’t think about it anymore. And you’re like, well, I did wear it five times. So of course, now it’s disintegrated.

 

Zoe:

somehow that’s okay. Yeah, like we’ve been trained to accept that.

 

Amanda:

Yeah, it happened very slowly and it was a mental shift for so many people. And you know, that’s still going on with people buying just boatloads of clothes from Shein.

The quality there is also pretty terrible, but it’s in line with anything else you could buy in the fast fashion realm right now. Zoe:

Yeah,

 

Zoe:

I remember when I was like a kind of in my maybe late teens, early 20s, going to H&M and some of that stuff was actually pretty well made,

 

Amanda:

It was. I have, I still have clothes that are from H&M in the early part of the century. It was, there was definitely a change in H&M specifically where you’re like, wow. Like I hadn’t gone to H&M in a really long time. And I went a couple years ago looking for something specific for a friend of mine who was ill and in the hospital needed like sweatpants and. I went into H&M because I couldn’t find any sweatpants at the mall. I was like, where do sweatpants come from? I don’t even know. And I was like, OK, H&M will have sweatpants, surely, right? And I was shocked by how paper thin a lot of the fabrics were and how poor the sewing was and how bad the buttons were. And just it was all very shocking to me because I remember… around like 2008, 2009, 2010, going to H&M in New York City. There was one that was near, a huge one that was near a building where I always went for vendor appointments. And I would always treat myself to something at H&M. And it wasn’t cheap there. Like the prices were higher than Forever 21, for example, but not as high as going to like urban outfitters. And the stuff that I bought there was such nice quality.

 

Zoe:

Yeah.

 

Amanda:

It lasted for a long time or resold it or turned it into other things. And that’s not the case now. I mean, it’s just like our standards for what we are okay with are so low.

 

Zoe:

Yeah, absolutely.

 

Amanda:

It’s really, and it’s filtered into more expensive brands as well, where you’re just like, why did you put the zipper in this? This is a $300 dress. So our expectations have just changed so much, which is why I get really excited about the prospect of more and more people learning sewing, working into their lives. I mean, you’re obviously like going above and beyond by sewing everything, and I don’t have that expectation for a lot of people, but I do think that It can be good in so many ways because you can make things that fit you, that you like, that you want to have a long-term relationship with, that are truly what you want instead of what is close to what you want, or maybe far away from what you want, but there.

 

Zoe:

Yeah, absolutely. Well, that’s it, isn’t it? Even if you’re, if whatever you’re buying in a shop, even if it’s, you know, you really like it, there’s always going to be something about it that is like, it’s just like a bit tight at the neck or I wouldn’t have quite had the sleeve like that. There’s always something and when you make a garment, like you have to make every single choice. to make that garment come into existence. You know, you have to choose the colour, you have to choose what sleeve shape, you have to choose the buttons or the zip, you know, you have to make every single decision. So you can’t help but have your personality reflected in that garment, you know, you can’t help but have that then as some, I mean, it doesn’t always work out, but you know, as something that you are connected with to a greater degree, even if it’s something that you really love from a shop. Like it’s kind of. you’re in it, you know, whether you think of it in that terms or not, you know.

 

Amanda:

Yeah, yeah, definitely. And I think we’ve been kind of just shortchanging ourselves for a really long time because we’ve gotten accustomed to nothing being great. It’s really depressing. I

mean, that’s our money that we spend. And all these resources go into it. And people experience horrible things making it. And when you think about it, the whole story is so sad.

You know?

 

Zoe:

absolutely, absolutely. So, I mean, the thing is, it’s like, it’s, it’s not necessarily more sustainable to sew something, you know there are lots of caveats when it comes to saying it’s more sustainable to sew. And in some cases, yes, that’s true. And there are other benefits from sewing stuff. you know, for example, there is a lot of mental health benefits that you can enjoy from sewing in the same way that some people might get enjoyment from maybe doing ceramics or painting or going for a jog or, you know, it can be a really nice outlet for some people. It’s a really good way to get away from a screen, especially if that’s your, you know, that’s your day job and you’re just staring at a screen all the time. There’s something really, really lovely about having the tactile, you know, enjoyment of, of of the fabric and creating something. And I think a spell, I mean, this is something that I definitely found when I had really small children, like making something that stays made, you know?

Like… Like you know you spend so much time doing like piles of laundry and washing up and tidying up and it just gets undone in like a split second but you can make something, you can slowly build it and it can then it exists and you did that and that is so fulfilling you know.

 

Amanda:

Absolutely. Yeah, I mean you don’t get that in a lot of things you do in life.

Okay, so let’s rewind we’re gonna go back a few questions here, um, why did you start a podcast about sewing?

 

Zoe:

Oh, such a good question. Okay, so I have been blogging about sewing since about 2008. because I wanted to be part of that DIY scene, that we were talking about, part of that enjoyable, supportive, creative kind of sewing, emerging online sewing scene that was happening that felt so exciting. I also had some in real life sewing friends that I’d met and they kind of egged me on a little bit as well. So I actually started this blog and I didn’t know it was necessarily about sewing at the time but otherwise I probably would have spent a little bit longer thinking up of a better name but anyway.

So sewing and writing about it and thinking about it and talking about what it meant and what it you know it became very interlinked it’s almost got to the point where sometimes even talking about the ideas that this was bringing up for me and the exploration of those ideas almost became… some in some regards almost more important than the sewing itself or the item that I was making like yeah it became a big part of like communicating about it became a big part of my enjoyment of it and having feedback and reading what other people were writing what they were thinking and feeling you know through the kind of lens of sewing and the connected you know the connected topics like, you know, like the ethics. We were starting to realise that, you know, clothing wasn’t, you know, was made in kind of problematic circumstances. So we’re talking about the ethics, talking about sustainability and talking about body issues, talking about feminism. There are so many topics that… you know, all wrapped up in sewing and adjacent to sewing. So I was just falling absolutely in love with that. And then kind of blogging started to go, another thing about blogging as well, it is so time consuming.

So I can completely say why blogging, and then also, you know, you’re putting hours and hours and hours of time into a blog that… isn’t, I mean some people were doing it for money but most of us were just doing it because we loved it and we wanted to kind of be part of it all. But that becomes unsustainable at a certain point in most people’s lives you know, I think it’s different maybe if you’re in your early 20s and stuff, I don’t know depending on your life but it’s you know putting that amount of time and effort into it started to become unsustainable for me especially when I started having kids and stuff. And then generally the online sewing community generally kind of moved over to Instagram as it’s you know, that was where it congregated, you know. And I can completely understand that because it’s much quicker to take a photo on your phone, write a caption, pop it up there, rather than crafting a long blog and editing images and all that. So, although I liked that immediacy and I enjoy that immediacy and I like to come in and, you know, be part of the scene on there, it felt like something was missing. It felt like, you know, I mean, as we were saying before, before we started to record, you know, like, it’s not a great place for nuanced discussion, you know? I mean, you’ve only got so many characters, you know, no one’s gonna then go on to, you know, see what else you’ve got to write in the comments and stuff. And yeah, it was a difficult, I found it, I struggle with it as a place to really kind of, get a lot of ideas across in a kind of more nuanced, more balanced way. So I kind of felt a bit of frustration with that. I’d also, I mean, I’ve also always been, you know, like seeing what’s going on out there, getting really inspired by people. There’s so many people doing really interesting things. So I was always collecting all these like links and bookmarks and, you know, things that I’d found on the internet. And I was kind of like collecting and collecting, collecting them, like, why am I, you know, what am I doing with this? You know, like, Literally, what am I doing?

 

Amanda:

Right.

 

Zoe:

And then I actually just became just madly in love with listening to podcasts myself. I think that’s the gateway.

 

Amanda:

I think so too. I mean, it’s interesting when I meet people who don’t listen to podcasts, I’m like, oh, you are just missing out.

 

Zoe:

Yeah, or people that just like they listened for a bit once like what it didn’t become your entire life. What? How?

 

Amanda:

It wasn’t like what you did. I mean, like, I guess my big question for people who don’t listen to podcasts is, what do you do when you’re doing laundry or cleaning the house or cooking dinner or, I mean, taking a shower? Like, what are you doing?

 

Zoe:

Yeah, don’t you know you could be like, yeah, there’s like a whole world out there you could be engaging with at the same time.

Yeah, yeah. So I first, so when I, to go back to my kind of like origin story a little bit, when I moved to Spain and I was really getting into garment sewing whilst I was out there, and then when I moved back to the UK, I didn’t want to get another job in fashion because I was just so over that. whole thing and by then I’d already been making my own clothes for a couple of years and it was just I couldn’t even imagine but so I didn’t know what I was gonna do basically when we moved back to the UK but I was really lucky in that I actually managed to get a job as a seamstress but working for like a textile reuse and recycling charity. It was so fortunate it was so fortunate so basically they are a charity that have a lot of charity shops in London where they sell you know secondhand clothing obviously, but they also had, I don’t know if they still do, but they definitely used to have this little side kind of range of clothing that was made in a studio in Brighton where I live. And it was made by a lot with like a lot of donated fabrics who get donated fabrics from various companies, but also a lot of like very ubiquitous garments, like sweatshirts, men’s button up shirts, jeans, the things that you get. Charity shops get so many of that they don’t have a high resale value. So we would get donations of those, you know, t-shirts, things that you’d get a lot of. And we’d make like a range of women’s wear clothing doing that. And that was just so perfect for me because I was so into sewing and I was into sustainability. And I didn’t really want to work in the quote unquote fashion industry, but I didn’t know what else I was going to do. So I ended up doing that for a couple of years until they closed the studio. And then from then I then got into teaching. But anyway, but when I was working at that studio, making the clothing, there was just myself and my boss. in the studio and she went on maternity leave and it was just me and I remembered my friend saying to me like oh you know you should listen to this podcast it’s called This American Life I’m like okay so then when I suddenly found myself on my own it was like oh I should give that a try and I just fell hard for it

I was listening to like literally six episodes a day I was obsessed I went through like the back catalogue almostAnd then I got into like Radiolab and then just went on from there. And then when I started teaching sewing classes, I was mainly living in Brighton but teaching in London, which is a couple of hours each way. So that was a great opportunity to do even more podcast listening.

So it became a big part of my life. And then when I had very small kids, They kind of fulfilled another role for me really. They kind of almost gave me like a bit of a connection to the wider world. I was living in a small, you know, small flat with my two kids and I wasn’t working very much at the time and yeah, so when they were having naps and stuff like that, it gave me something to kind of, yeah, to feel part of and, yeah, and it just became such a big part of my life and then I guess it all then kind of came together and something clicked and I was like, oh, maybe I should start a podcast.

You know? And it took a couple of years for that initial idea until it actually then started. So there was like COVID and also like the, you know, developing the idea, like I knew I wanted to do something about sewing, but I didn’t quite have that. angle and it took a while for it to become like oh it should be about sewing more sustainably. Also during the point of kind of prepping for it I also got offered a book contract so I wrote a book about mending clothes as well so that kind of delayed starting the podcast by about six months as well so but it was good really because then by the time it was ready like I really knew what it should be about how it should be like it came very fully formed at that

 

Amanda:

Yeah, that’s amazing. So, you know, this is a really, you actually picked a really great time, you know, whether fate made this happen or not, to start a podcast about sewing, because I have, at least it appears to me, since, basically since the pandemic began, we’ve really seen an increased interest in sewing again.

 

Zoe:

Mmm, yeah.

 

Amanda:

And why do you think that is? Why are more people interested in it?

 

Zoe:

Good question. I think in the UK at least, I think that the Great British Sewing Bee had a little bit of an effect as well. Have you seen that programme?

 

Amanda:

I have not, but I would not be surprised if that is part of it for sure.

 

Zoe:

Yeah, for sure. It definitely is because, for example, like my sewing machine repair person suddenly got very, very busy when the Great British Sewing Bee happened. But yeah, I think… I mean, I think it’s all the good things really. It’s people wanting to move away from screens, at least for some of their leisure time. It’s people missing out on, yeah, making stuff and doing stuff with their hands. I think there’s like, I mean, everyone approaches it differently, but there can be a real element of play.

It could be quite meditative as well. It can be, you can get into quite a… a kind of flow state with it as well, when you become really focused on what you’re doing, and it can be a really good stress relief in that sense. I definitely found that for myself. Like I was saying before, when you make something and it stays made, and it’s something that you can control. So it sounds a bit dark, but it’s part of your life that you can control.

 

Amanda:

It is true. And I also think social media with all of its very unnuanced conversations about things has also had a major impact on more people getting into sewing. And obviously the algorithm that we experience, our experience on social media was tailored for us based on our behavior

 

Zoe:

Mm.

 

Amanda:

and interests. But I just felt like in 2020, a lot of people here in the US either got into making bread or they started sewing

 

Zoe:

Yes.

 

Amanda:

and I was seeing more and more people posting about stuff, working on projects, and it was really exciting to me because I hadn’t seen that for about 10 years.

 

Zoe:

Yeah, yeah, that’s so true. Well, I think that was it, wasn’t it, when everyone was at home, and a lot of people either got their machines out or got machines so that they could sew masks,

and then you’ve got the machine out, you’re like, what else can I make? And I think maybe a lot of people wanted to do hobbies like that, but they didn’t have the time until they were like furloughed from work.

Also, it is quite an accessible hobby as well in terms of pastime or activity, compared to say like ceramics or painting, you know, where you have to, you know, you need space, you know, a sewing machine can, you can pop it on your table, put it away again after you can. I mean, everybody has textiles in their life as well, you know, like you don’t have to go to the fabric shop, although you could, you know, order fabric during lockdown. Everyone had something to hand, probably, that they could. you know, get going with at least. I think in terms of, you know, entry level, like, you know, cost of entry, like it’s fairly low compared to some pastimes or some activities that you could have, you know, taken up.

 

Amanda:

Yeah, I think you call out something really important there, which is that everybody has some textiles lying around in one way or another. And we did notice over the past few years, and it really began that year when people were like, oh, I’m finally at home and having time to do

 

Zoe:

Mmm.

 

Amanda:

things, that we saw this rise of people making clothes out of sheets and tea towels and bath towels and all kinds of other fabrics that already existed that, you know, hadn’t really, it hadn’t been very popular for quite some

 

Zoe:

No.

 

Amanda:

time. And now,

 

Zoe:

Mmm.

 

Amanda:

you know, seeing something made out of a bedsheet or some old curtains or what have you is the norm. You know,

 

Zoe:

Yeah.

 

Amanda:

we’re like, of course, why wouldn’t you sew clothes out of that? But I remember in the first few posts I saw coming up on social media where someone was like, look, I made this dress out of these sheets. People being a little like, well, that’s weird. Can you really wear that? It’s like, yeah, you can. And now we wouldn’t

 

Zoe:

Yeah,

 

Amanda:

bat

 

Zoe:

it’s

 

Amanda:

an

 

Zoe:

fabric.

 

Amanda:

eyelash. I’d be like, of course, right? But. You know, it was it was definitely a big sea change in terms of how we viewed textiles. Right.

 

Zoe:

Mmm.

 

Amanda:

And there was a very clear dividing line. And now it’s like, oh, actually, there’s all this stuff that we could be using.

 

Zoe:

Yeah.

 

Amanda:

So I think that’s really cool. And I do hope that people continue to sew. And this is like we’ve built like I don’t. It doesn’t seem like a lot of people that I know are making bread these days, like, to be honest,

 

Zoe:

I’m sorry.

 

Amanda:

but I hope that they’re still sewing. And I think that they are. You

 

Zoe:

Yeah.

 

Amanda:

know, because I’ve seen that, but you know, something, I got a little push notification yesterday about a little news article that I had to read because the headline was about how people kind of feel like they don’t have hobbies anymore because there’s so much pressure to monetize all your hobbies.

 

Zoe:

Yes,

 

Amanda:

So people

 

Zoe:

yeah.

 

Amanda:

who might’ve started making bread or sewing in 2020 now feel like it has to, they have to make money off of it.

 

Zoe:

Mmm.

 

Amanda:

And I wondered, like, what are your thoughts on that?

 

Zoe:

I definitely agree. I think you’re right. I think a lot of, there is definitely a social pressure to this whole rise of the side hustle.

 

Amanda:

Oh, that’s exactly the word phrase that was used in this article multiple times.

 

Zoe:

Yeah. Yeah, I mean, there’s a social pressure, but there’s also generally the financial pressure as well, isn’t it? Like the cost of living crisis is real and everything is getting so expensive that often you kind of have to find, you know, for many people, not everyone, obviously, many people do have to kind of find ways to, you know, bring in some extra money. Like I’ve certainly been thinking about how, you know, I can make some extra money and… you know, do some extra sewing stuff. And so I think that, you know, like maybe there’s a lot of people that are gonna go back into alterations stuff like that as well, which is fine if that’s what they want to, but it’s, you know, it’s kind of sad if they feel that they have to monetize it. But also whenever you make something and people discover that you sew, I have… I mean, I would not even begin to be able to tell you how many times people have got, oh, you could sell that or you could make those to sell. And it’s like, let me unpack fast fashion prices to you and why that would never work and why people would never be able to actually accept the prices that

I would need to charge for this to be happening. But yeah, I think when you hear that so much as well, like, oh, they are, that’s really nice. You can make that to sell and. Even if you don’t want to, I guess hearing that again and again might make people think, oh, maybe I should make that to sell.

 

Amanda:

Right? I mean, and I think it is this pressure to like, you should have a side hustle. I had a boss who was a terrible person. I’ll just preface that. I mean, she’s not a terrible person, but she’s just like not a compassionate person or I don’t know. And she, we were interviewing people for a role on my team and she said, well, my personal policy is that I don’t hire anyone who doesn’t have a side hustle. And I was like, why?

 

Zoe:

what does that mean? Yeah.

 

Amanda:

And she said, well. because then I know they really care about, you know, getting ahead in the world. And I was like, I don’t want to hire someone who has to have a side hustle to exist. Like,

we need to pay them more, you know? Like, people, it is not natural or healthy. And I fall prey to this, and I’m sure you do as well, to be working the kind of hours that we work right now.

 

Zoe:

Yeah,

 

Amanda:

You

 

Zoe:

so

 

Amanda:

know?

 

Zoe:

you’re gonna have a full-time job and a side hustle and some have a social life and like eat and keep yourself clean and if you’ve got kids deal with them. Like how?

 

Amanda:

No, I

 

Zoe:

It’s

 

Amanda:

know. I mean, that’s

 

Zoe:

heartbreaking.

 

Amanda:

like, honestly, like the past two years of my life have been like, all I do is work and then work on my side hustle and my other side hustle. And then like, I get to eat and take a shower sometimes. You know, like, like

 

Zoe:

Yeah, I don’t have

 

Amanda:

that’s

 

Zoe:

friends.

 

Amanda:

a, yeah, exactly. Like friends, what are they? And I think that like,

 

Zoe:

Yeah, they can listen to my podcast if they want to hang out with

 

Amanda:

right,

 

Zoe:

me.

 

Amanda:

exactly how I’m doing. It makes me sad that like there is like, you know. Sewing can be just such like a personal thing, a creative expression. And I’m really excited for everyone who’s actually been able to like make a living, start a business, like

 

Zoe:

Mm.

 

Amanda:

do this and leave whatever they were doing before that was making them unhappy.

 

Zoe:

Yeah.

 

Amanda:

But I also, it’s okay to just sew for yourself.

 

Zoe:

Yes, I have a lot of respect for people that have really kind of like ring fenced their hobby, you know, as

 

Amanda:

Yeah!

 

Zoe:

their hobby. And you have to be really, you know, I was just, I just, literally the podcast episode I just released last week was a chat with me and two of my closest, like in real life sewing buddies. And we were just talking about the litany of ridiculous requests we’ve had to just hem my daughter’s curtains. Just do

 

Amanda:

Oh

 

Zoe:

this, just do that. Like you have to be I mean there’s a whole Instagram account called can you sew this for me? I don’t know if you’ve seen it like

 

Amanda:

Oh, I have.

 

Zoe:

it all

 

Amanda:

It is

 

Zoe:

yeah

 

Amanda:

always infuriating to me.

 

Zoe:

Yes

 

Amanda:

I was in a, well, I’m not was. I’m still in this Facebook group for people who like this brand, Sulky, which is, like, they sell a lot of secondhand, so I’m in it. And someone had posted a photo from a new product launch, and it was a dress that, I mean, the amount of fabric involved in it, I can’t even begin to speculate,

 

Zoe:

Yeah.

 

Amanda:

because it’s layers and layers and layers. There’s a lot of sewing in it. like very skilled sewing on top of that,

 

Zoe:

Yeah.

 

Amanda:

you know? You know how it is, the more fabric

 

Zoe:

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

Amanda:

there is, the more complicated it is to sew. And I wanna say the price was like $350. And someone said, hey, this pricing is out of control.

 

Zoe:

Oh

 

Amanda:

I know someone can make this for me for cheaper. Is there anyone in this group or do you recommend anyone? And I was like feeling like my blood pressure rising just reading that, because that kind of.

 

Zoe:

Yeah,

 

Amanda:

that kind of thought always

 

Zoe:

so

 

Amanda:

pushes

 

Zoe:

offensive.

 

Amanda:

my buttons. And I was about to swoop in and say something not unpleasant, but just like, well, actually, as a person who works in the industry, this pricing makes sense to me. And

 

Zoe:

Yeah.

 

Amanda:

someone else said, well, I’m seamstress. And I can tell you right now, the bare minimum I would charge you for this is $350. And here’s

 

Zoe:

Yes!

 

Amanda:

why. It’s many

 

Zoe:

Brilliant.

 

Amanda:

hours of work because of XYZ pattern cutting, because obviously it’s a one-off pattern cut, too.

 

Zoe:

Mm,

 

Amanda:

And

 

Zoe:

and you’re gonna

 

Amanda:

the

 

Zoe:

want

 

Amanda:

fa-

 

Zoe:

it to fit you.

 

Amanda:

Right. And the fabric use is a lot. There’s like yards and yards and yards of fabric in this. And the person was like, oh, well, I just found someone who was going to sew it for free. And someone was like,

 

Zoe:

Oh

 

Amanda:

who? And she was like, my grandmother. It was like, well, bless her

 

Zoe:

Poor

 

Amanda:

heart.

 

Zoe:

grandmother.

 

Amanda:

I know she’s going to be sewing that for a really long time. And, you know, hopefully she’s

 

Zoe:

I

 

Amanda:

retired

 

Zoe:

found something

 

Amanda:

and

 

Zoe:

else.

 

Amanda:

something

 

Zoe:

Oh

 

Amanda:

fun

 

Zoe:

god

 

Amanda:

to

 

Zoe:

that’s

 

Amanda:

do.

 

Zoe:

so awful.

 

Amanda:

I

 

Zoe:

That’s

 

Amanda:

know.

 

Zoe:

exploitative. Oh my grandmother will do it. Well,

 

Amanda:

It’s

 

Zoe:

it’s

 

Amanda:

really…

 

Zoe:

because she loves you, not because it’s like okay to ask.

 

Amanda:

I know, right? Right, exactly. So I’m glad that more people are speaking out about that kind of thing, but

 

Zoe:

It’s tough

 

Amanda:

I mean,

 

Zoe:

though,

 

Amanda:

yeah.

 

Zoe:

because you get, I mean literally, all you need to do is look at that. I can’t, I don’t even follow Can You Sew This For Me account anymore because

 

Amanda:

Ha!

 

Zoe:

there’s too many things to annoy me in the world. I don’t need that on top of it, you know, but

 

Amanda:

Right,

 

Zoe:

yeah.

 

Amanda:

right, yeah,

 

Zoe:

Literally,

 

Amanda:

yeah.

 

Zoe:

it’s like people think that you’ve got nothing else to do, like you have no ideas of your own and you like to sew, so of course you’d like to make my daughter’s curtains, you know, like, no I don’t want

 

Amanda:

Ugh.

 

Zoe:

to make it. It’s not like I’ve run out of ideas of things to use my own sewing machine for. It’s

 

Amanda:

No, I know, right? Yeah, it’s really…

 

Zoe:

almost like they think that you’re doing them a favour, you know, oh I’m doing

 

Amanda:

Yeah,

 

Zoe:

you a favour

 

Amanda:

like all

 

Zoe:

because I’ve

 

Amanda:

filling

 

Zoe:

given you a purpose.

 

Amanda:

this void in your life. Yeah, you were just sitting around your hands hovering above the sewing machine, but nothing was coming out of it. And,

 

Zoe:

Yeah.

 

Amanda:

you know, and I also think it goes back to this idea that people think like you just load up the fabric, turn it on, and then

 

Zoe:

Yes.

 

Amanda:

you kick back and watch Netflix while it sews the dress for you. And, you know, like especially like looking at these dresses with so many layers of fabrics,

 

Zoe:

Oh,

 

Amanda:

like just

 

Zoe:

I can’t even imagine the

 

Amanda:

all

 

Zoe:

amount of

 

Amanda:

the

 

Zoe:

gathering.

 

Amanda:

steps involved. Yeah, exactly. Gathering as soon as I see it. I try to avoid gathering. It takes me seven tries to get it right.

 

Zoe:

Yeah, it’s such a headache.

 

Amanda:

So, but what’s interesting, okay, so people think that sewing is like really easy and we’re all just sitting around waiting for someone to offer to let us sew something for them or whatever, but there also is still this like, which we touched on when we first started talking, this belief, this thought out there that Home-sewn clothes are somehow inferior, which even saying this makes me, it disgusts me thinking about the kind of clothes I’ve received when I’ve ordered from certain brands.

This idea that like those clothes, like clothes that are mass produced are more, are superior

in terms of quality or longevity to home-sewn clothes.You know, a big part of that is marketing, and that definitely was a very intentional decision back in the middle of the last century to get people to go shopping. But you said something when we were preparing for this conversation that I thought was really interesting, that there’s sort of this like, I don’t know, like, I mean, this pressure is not the right word, but in the sewist community, to make your finished product look as mass produced as possible.

 

Zoe:

Hmm. Yeah, it’s yeah, that’s something that I’ve definitely felt guilty of myself. And I think there’s this I’m trying to track where that comes from. And I can’t quite put my finger on it. So I can only imagine that it’s a lot of different things, you know. But yeah, there is definitely it’s interesting to see because traditionally and even to this day, things that are handmade in some regards are revered, you know, like couture sewing is often like couture garments are one-offs and they are often hand sewn by incredibly skilled people, you know, and that is revered as a fantastic thing. You know, some really expensive tailored suit, a lot of those elements will be hand stitched. So why is that different to something that has been created? at home, like it’s still like a skilled, practiced, experienced person, largely, who is doing that and it takes a long time to get good at it and then to make something that then you can wear is such an achievement. But I definitely felt that when I was really getting into sewing back in about 2008, 2009, making my own clothes, I really had… I struggled to kind of almost trust those garments in the way that I could with a shop bought garment. Like I think I was convinced that the zip was gonna bust or a seam was gonna rip. And I don’t know where that come from because ultimately the machinery is the same, you know, the processes are the same. And it took me a long time to realise, and now actually like my things are less likely to break because I’ve, for one, I’ve got a bigger seam allowance, for two, I know I’ve got better quality fabric, so it is less likely to kind of, you know, tear and rip. I know that the seams are finished better because, you know, I’ve got to overlock them more carefully and I’ve used stronger thread probably, like there’s so many things. that is kind of superior to a lot of fast fashion stuff, but still there was this disconnect about whether or not I could really trust them. And that is when I started the Me Made May thing, but I know we’ll probably get into that later. So I think there is still something really interesting going on between the difference between like handmade versus homemade, you know? And I do think that, Largely that has got something to do with the fact that homemade is often done by women or people who are assigned female at birth. And there’s obviously a great big history of those kind of things, activities being kind of disregarded and devalued. Just as when cooking was suddenly done outside of the home by male chefs, that’s elevated to an art form. But when it’s done day in, day out by… a woman in the home, it’s treated much differently. And I think that there’s definitely an element of that. Definitely what we were talking about before about advertising kind of, yeah, kind of like making things appear so much more glamorous and exciting when they’re bought in a shop. And there’s also the whole experience of shopping, isn’t it? Like it’s obviously a very kind of controlled and considered. experience, you know, from the smells and the sounds and thefeel and the lighting and the music and all your senses have been considered to make shopping an exciting and desirable activity. Otherwise, how else are we going to keep partying with our money every single week? So there’s a lot of things going on. I think there’s also, maybe I think that there’s a lot of stigma as well. I don’t know if stigma is the right word, but I think during the Second World War when the clothing was rationed and I know this was more so in the UK than the US but I know that it was rationing as well in the US you know and certain certainly things weren’t as easily accessible and I think that people had to make do with stuff that was made from home or adapted from stuff that they found and that’s obviously gonna do it within It’s not a choice at that point, you know, it’s not something that’s like fun and exciting. It’s something that was put upon people in a really stressful time. It has a lot of negative connotations of, you know, and that and that goes through the generations, I think, as well. And I think that when our parents who are, you know, probably the first generation born after the Second World War. there’s still a lot of that, yeah, I’m gonna use the word stigma, that stigma, that influence of this kind of negativity of like, oh, I had to make stuff out of what I could find and stuff at home. And all I wanted to do was go to the shop and feel like a glamorous model swanning

around. So I think there’s a lot of elements of that. But I do get so heartened by the fact that, and I know that there always was, and I think as we were talking about that kind of DIY community that existed in that kind of early, early mid late 2000s that was definitely a bit of a pushback and that was awesome to see. And then I think again nowadays I think that there is a real embracing from the sewing community and sister communities. Towards things that are less manufactured, are less akin to shop bought things. Like for example, there is definitely, and I don’t wanna make it sound like these are all brand new things, because obviously they’re not, and obviously there are people who have been doing this like forever, but there’s definitely an increased interest in natural dyeing. and people trying to dye things themselves. There’s definitely increased interest in visible mending.

And there’s also, I’ve really discovered more recently, there’s a real, there’s a growing interest in people actually hand stitching entire garments, which is a real kind of pushback against making your clothes look like they’re shop-bought, because instantly, as soon as you start stitching something by hand, you know, with the actual seams, the top stitching, everything, like you are definitely, you know, you are, do you know what I mean? Like you kind of say that this is not a shop or thing. This is something I’ve created by hand and I’m celebrating that. And I think that’s what’s different. There’s a new celebration of an embracing of a lot of these kind of methods and techniques that have been around for ages. And that’s really exciting to see. And I do see that as a big pushback against a lot of the consumerism and a lot of the consumerism and more. commercialization of the sewing industry as well. I think that’s been a big trend since. I mean, everything’s got a lot sleeker, it’s a lot less, you know, and in some senses it’s good, like the more, you know, for example, sewing patterns, like what we can now expect from an indie sewing pattern now has changed very, very much from 15 years ago, you know.

And that is good because we know that the quality is going to be there. It’s going to be have a largely most sewing pattern companies are kind of making larger size ranges and they would have been tested more carefully. And that’s really good. However, it has lost a little bit of that kind of raw DIY. Let’s have a go kind of essence, you know, and there’s a lot of companies and businesses that are making a lot of money from home sewers as well. It’s become a real industry in and of itself, so I think there’s probably some of the pushback maybe against that. I don’t know, I hope so, because it’s definitely something that makes me feel a bit uncomfortable, you know.

 

Amanda:

Yeah, no, I agree. I mean, I definitely see that. I do think because there’s been such a rise in interest, it definitely is like, oh, this is like a big money-making opportunity. And I hope, like I was saying earlier, that I hope this interest in sewing is not a passing trend, but we have certainly seen trends over the years, specifically in like the handmade craft kind of realm. that were big business and led to a lot of waste and I think people abandoned, like who can forget scrapbooking? I don’t know if it was as big in the UK as it is here in the United States, but suddenly every chain craft store had just aisles upon aisles upon aisles of scrapbooking supplies, where it was just like, wow. Like. stickers and little crystals and frames and cutouts and papers and you name it, right? And that was such a huge trend. Now, what’s interesting here in the US is like we still see that like if you go to your typical craft or sewing chain store,

it’s primarily craft projects like that they’re focusing on and like artificial flowers and lots of decor.

 

Zoe:

Yeah, yeah.

 

Amanda:

And even, you know, we don’t have. have as many places here in the United States, especially if you live in a rural area, to go buy fabric or actual sewing supplies. You have to buy that stuff online.

 

Zoe:

Yeah, and it’s really expensive.

 

Amanda:

it’s so expensive. Like, and I do think, you know, that is something that turns people off of sewing. We live in a world right now where clothes are wildly underpriced. They’re cheaper now than they were in the 1990s. And then you were like, well, I don’t care. I’m going to make my own clothes. And you go to the fabric store. And you walk out like, wow, I could have bought three dresses for that price. And they

 

Zoe:

At

 

Amanda:

would

 

Zoe:

least,

 

Amanda:

be here right

 

Zoe:

yeah.

 

Amanda:

now. Yeah. And then people are like, oh, well, that’s so expensive. These fabric stores are ripping us off or something. And it’s like, well, actually, it’s the clothing prices that are

 

Zoe:

Yeah.

 

Amanda:

the problem. That’s always a really. difficult conversation to have with people.

 

Zoe:

Yeah, I mean, that’s how much clothes should cost, isn’t it?

 

Amanda:

Yeah,

 

Zoe:

Like the

 

Amanda:

it

 

Zoe:

price

 

Amanda:

really

 

Zoe:

of

 

Amanda:

is,

 

Zoe:

a good

 

Amanda:

right?

 

Zoe:

bit of fabric, yeah,

 

Amanda:

Yeah.

 

Zoe:

and a nice pattern, put those together. That is the price that you should be spending at least on a manufactured garment, like it just is. But yeah, it is, it comes in, it is a shock to people. It really is. And I get it because it isn’t super accessible. Like it really isn’t. And I touch on… try, you know, I’ve did a whole series on sewing on a budget and how you can sew for less. You know, it’s something that I think about, in fact I’m actually writing a book about that at the moment as well because it’s something I’m super passionate about. But yeah, it is, it is expensive. I mean, I’ve literally, I’ve spent, today I work for an online fabric shop one day a week and I’ve spent all day cutting out fabric and I can’t afford a lot of the fabric that I’m cutting, you

 

Amanda:

Whew,

 

Zoe:

know.

 

Amanda:

yeah, I bet. I bet. Yeah, I mean, it is expensive. And yeah, retailers do get that bulk discount of buying entire runs of fabric for their manufacturing. But they’re also, I mean, most fabrics being used to make new clothing right now are synthetic.

 

Zoe:

Mm.

 

Amanda:

And that’s cheaper. And My experience working as a buyer is any time a design came to the table and we couldn’t afford it as is from the first sample, which, spoiler, we never could,

 

Zoe:

Yeah

 

Amanda:

it was always, first question was like, okay, we got to swap the fabric.

 

Zoe:

Right, yeah.

 

Amanda:

You know,

 

Zoe:

And

 

Amanda:

that’s

 

Zoe:

I remember

 

Amanda:

going to cut

 

Zoe:

when I

 

Amanda:

the

 

Zoe:

was,

 

Amanda:

price. You

 

Zoe:

yeah,

 

Amanda:

know?

 

Zoe:

I remember when I was working at that, that fast fashion fabric job that I was telling you about that I was ordering the trims, like one of my jobs was ordering the care labels. So I would get the test reports back from the fabric that had to be externally tested, you know, by law. And I’d get

 

Amanda:

I’m gonna

 

Zoe:

the test

 

Amanda:

go.

 

Zoe:

reports and try and have to figure out, you know, which of the, you know, the logos you could apply to this. And I was thinking this fabric, you know, it’s like, it’s fed so badly on pilling and fading and this and

 

Amanda:

Ugh.

 

Zoe:

this. And I was like, well, there’s nothing that I can put on this care label that’s gonna make this garment last, you know, more than a couple of washes,

 

Amanda:

Ha!

 

Zoe:

or at least look like something you’d want to wear after a couple of washes, you know?

 

Amanda:

No, it is true. It is true, man. When I think about some of the fabrics that we would move forward with because we could afford them, really, really bad, bad stuff where

 

Zoe:

Yeah.

 

Amanda:

it is pilling just from someone handling it, you know?

 

Zoe:

Yeah, absolutely.

 

Amanda:

Um.

 

Zoe:

But why have we got okay with, I mean, why have we got okay with wrapping our bodies in that and wrapping our kids in that, you know?

 

Amanda:

Agreed agreed. I why have we been okay with that? Why do we shortchange ourselves, you know?

 

Zoe:

Yeah.

 

Amanda:

Okay, so, you know, we’re gonna talk more about sewing obviously I you know And we’re obviously very excited about more and more people getting into sewing and the sort of like sewing revolution that we’re seeing right now but sewing is also a privilege

 

Zoe:

Yes.

 

Amanda:

that is can be hard, you know, like if you’re listening to this and you’re like I when would I sew? I totally feel you. So I thought we could just talk a little bit about the ways in which sewing is a privilege because, and I was telling you this when we were preparing for this, every time I post about like shopping secondhand or you know anything related to like how we can have a more sustainable lifestyle, someone will swoop in and say well I don’t understand why everybody isn’t just sewing all their clothes

 

Zoe:

Go.

 

Amanda:

because that’s the most sustainable thing and that’s what I do and I always have to say like it doesn’t work for everyone, right?

 

Zoe:

Yeah,

 

Amanda:

So,

 

Zoe:

and it’s not the most sustainable thing either, but anyway,

 

Amanda:

spoiler, we’re gonna talk about that too, yeah.

 

Zoe:

yes.

 

Amanda:

I mean, for one, it takes a lot of time, you know? And if you have kids and multiple jobs and now you have to have a side hustle and all this other stuff, like, when do you sew?

 

Zoe:

Yeah, absolutely.

 

Amanda:

Right?

 

Zoe:

You have to, I mean, there’s so many times when I literally, I, you know, it’s the end of the day, finally everyone’s in bed or whatever. And then I’m like, okay, I could either like sit on the sofa and watch Married at First Sight or I could do some sewing. What have I got, you know, what have I got the energy for? And it’s tough sometimes to, sometimes I try and do both. I sit and watch Married at First Sight whilst I sew, but… But yeah, you know, you have to kind of constantly be like, do I have the energy for this? I mean, I think, I mean, some people like, I have younger colleagues who don’t have kids and they have like a whole Saturday afternoon to sew if they want, and that is lovely and I’m very happy for them. But, you know, I kind of tend to find that my sewing happens in bursts of 15 minutes, you know. And it takes a while and it’s frustrating, but it’s either that or not do any at all and not get any of the benefits that I enjoy from sewing. So I think it’s definitely about managing your expectations and being realistic with what you can achieve. And yeah, you’re not gonna have a new garment every week, but maybe that’s okay, you know?

 

Amanda:

We’re gonna talk in a few about how sewing can be very unsustainable, but one thing that I do see often, which I talked to you about before, is like people get into sewing, and suddenly they’re sewing a new outfit every week, or multiple new outfits every week, because they have the privilege of time to do that. AndI don’t think anyone needs new clothes every week. And so it’s just replacing.

 

Zoe:

No, no, I just saw something on Instagram. I haven’t had a shot, I pinned it, so I didn’t have

a chance to kind of, I saved it to go back to later, because I think this is gonna be a really good start of a podcast episode, but I saw something about how basically we can’t have more than five, did you see that? There’s something on Instagram that’s basically like, I don’t know the source, so I feel like I can’t really talk about it yet, but it was something like, in terms of, the resources that we are currently dealing with in the world, people can’t have more than five new garments a year. And I thought that is really interesting considering we are now at the moment, on average people are buying, I think it’s about, is it about 70 garments a year or something?

 

Amanda:

and so that actually, you know, the argument using like the Earth logic protocol, the Earth logic like model, is that we should cut our consumption of new garments by 75%, which would,

if you use that 70 number, that would get us to, I knew that number off the top of my head, can you tell? I’m like. I didn’t have enough coffee. That would get us to about 18-ish per year we could have.

 

Zoe:

Right.

 

Amanda:

Now that includes underwear and socks and things like that I would assume and that’s okay. But I do think like, well five sounds really extreme, but it also makes sense to me because there is so much clothing out there right now and there’s so many textiles that already exist out there too.

 

Zoe:

Yeah, so this is what I’m thinking. I’m thinking, I mean, like last year, I gave myself a challenge of only buying six lengths of fabric all year, which is, I mean, considering I work in a fabric shop one day a week

 

Amanda:

That’s

 

Zoe:

and I get

 

Amanda:

very

 

Zoe:

an…

 

Amanda:

tempting.

 

Zoe:

and I get a staff discount. It was tough, but I did it. But I also own fabric. Like I have a modest fabric stash. Plus there are textiles, as we discussed, like in and around my home. There are garments in my wardrobe that I’m not wearing. That is a source of fabric. There are many other textiles, you know, and I was allowing myself secondhand textiles as well on top of that, but.

I mean, and currently I’m actually on a fabric ban entirely. I’m actually doing a challenge, which is I’m really enjoying to kind of get myself more in a more resourceful mindset. I could talk about that in a bit maybe, but yeah, I think that limiting fabric is limiting purchase of new fabric is something that I think some sewers need to apply, especially if they have quite a lot already in their cupboards, you know, in flat fabric form. It makes me feel a bit icky, the fabric that I have and I don’t have very much compared to a lot of other people. I don’t want to, you know, put my

sense of things onto other people. But yeah, I mean, you’re sitting on loads of fabric and yet you’re buying lots more fabric. And I think that is maybe transferring that fast fashion mindset and shopping habit. to just transferring it onto fabric, you know?

 

Amanda:

Absolutely, I mean, and I see the same thing happening with people switching from, you know, doing a haul on Shein to doing a haul of secondhand clothing.

 

Zoe:

Right.

 

Amanda:

It is, it’s, unfortunately, we, I mean, and this is something that I’m thinking about constantly right now, is we all have a lot of work to do to break a lot of habits that have really been ingrained in us since we were children.

 I think about, like, when I was a kid, I had so much desire for new Barbie stuff all the time

and stickers and, you know, you’d watch, here in the United States, like, they, in the 80s and 90s, they basically, like, said, you can advertise as much as you want to children.

 

Zoe:

Wow.

 

Amanda:

So you would watch television on a Saturday morning, watching the cartoons, which seems like a very wholesome, acceptable thing to do. And you would be, for every minute of cartoon, you were probably seeing 30 seconds of advertising, all of toys and candy and cereal and

things your mom could buy you, right? And so it just filled you with this constant desire to have things. And I think we all have a lot of unpacking to move away from that.

 

Zoe:

absolutely.

 

Amanda:

It’s like mental work, emotional work that we have to do. And I think that’s hard because a lot of people would rather hear, oh, instead of buying this, just buy that.

And that’s not how it’s going to work, right? Yeah, it’s like way more complex than that. So other aspects of sewing as a privilege, and this is a big one that we cannot underscore enough, is that access to learning is really limited.

 

Zoe:

Hmm, yes, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I mean, there are different ways to learn, but I mean, going to a sewing class is… It’s expensive, whether that’s at a fabric store or at a sewing school or you’re doing an online sewing thing or it’s a community college, it is really expensive and you could probably muddle through to a certain extent using YouTube videos and stuff like that but to be honest, it’s one of those situations where I think with sewing, you don’t know what you don’t know…so it’s hard to kind of muddle along and kind of figure it out yourself without any kind of background or anyone to ask. So it is kind of easier to start with some instruction because then at least you’ve got some basic knowledge and you’re not, also it’s very expensive. Like the more mistakes you make are really expensive. So you’re probably gonna save, you’re gonna save fabric probably by kind of having some. kind of more comprehensive tuition to begin with I think as well you know.

 

Amanda:

Absolutely and patterns are expensive and if you cut them out wrong I mean, I’ve learned that lesson very hard way, you know, and not always very intuitive, I would say, like sewing from a pattern and figuring out your fit.

And, you know, like there are certain things that really require a little bit of in-person training that are, like, for example, gathering, you know, or, God forbid, smocking, you know, things like that are very, very challenging. You’re not going to probably pick it up from a YouTube video. Even

 

Zoe:

Yeah.

 

Amanda:

I really wanted to learn how to knit when my daughter was a baby and so I You know I’d have any friends who knit knitted. This is before YouTube and so I bought a book From the store on how to knit and let me tell you not the best way to learn

 

Zoe:

I can’t imagine anything more difficult.

 

Amanda:

It was so difficult. And you know what? It cost me a lot of time and frustration and yarn to learn it. And it was just so funny. Years later, I was knitting next to someone else and I was like, I always struggle with this thing. And they were like, oh, this, this is all you do. And I was like, wait, what? You know, and you look at these, you know, I think that like we’ve been led to believe we can just like pick up these things like that. And that’s probably because it goes back to this idea of like women’s work and it being simple and unskilled. But whether it’s knitting or embroidery. or sewing or weaving or any of these other textile arts, they’re really hard. 

 

Zoe:

Yeah, if you’ve not been exposed to them, if they’ve not been around you, you’ve got nothing to start with, like you or ground zero. And that is tough, that is really tough. Not having anyone next to you to be like, sorry, what, what we’re doing? That’s just so difficult. I can’t believe you even tried. I’m really impressed you even tried with a book

 

Amanda:

I did! I made so many, so many things out of it, but then years later someone showed me like a really quick technical change that made… I was like, oh wow. Like I remember the first thing I knit, you know, like… Surely the book mentioned this somewhere, but I didn’t catch this. It was a very big book. It had a lot of stuff in it. In my mind, I was like, okay, so when I pull the yarn through, I wanna pull it tightly, right? So that like, this lasts forever, right? And so I kept doing that, you know, cause I didn’t know that like, there’s this tension that it creates on its own just from doing it, right? You don’t need to be pooling things hard,  and so I kept getting these weird bunched up. little things. I would knit a couple rows and be like, what is this a scrunchie? Like what is going wrong here?

 

Zoe:

Yeah, I’m not gonna be able to put my arm in that.

 

Amanda:

yeah, and you know, I was like, I have no one to ask about this. 

 

Zoe:

I know, and like, I mean, fabric’s expensive, but yarn can be really expensive.

 

Amanda:

I know I know yarn is so expensive. It’s another one where people are like I don’t get it I can go buy a scarf over at Primark for four dollars. It’s like yeah, well like it’s different.

 

Zoe:

Because it’s plastic, 

 

Amanda:

Yeah, it’s plastic exactly um Okay, so the last thing you know that like I think can be really I mean we’ve already hit on it like Sewing is expensive you need to know how to do it you need the time, but you also need the space and I you know where my sewing has always happened is at the kitchen table. Like that’s where it’s for me right.

 

Zoe:

Yeah, yeah. I love that. Yeah. Well, I completely agree. And this is actually something that I’ve been really pushing back against recently. I actually came up with kind of by accident, but I’m actually really pleased that I did, came up with this hashtag called Sewing Space Amnesty, because I wanted to see what real people’s real sewing spaces were like, you know, and I wanted other people to see that not everybody has got this, you know, this perfect craft room that’s pristine and it’s all got Ikea everything everywhere and it’s all white and there’s just shelves and you’ve got room for every kind of machine you can buy and it’s all lined up and it’s all perfect because I mean I think most sewing is happening on a kitchen table and I don’t want people to feel that isn’t I don’t know, like I don’t want people to feel that isn’t okay or that isn’t

proper sewing, you know?

 

Amanda:

Yeah.

 

Zoe:

I think that, I mean, there’s definitely like, I mean, I was taught, I’ve made an episode on this with my friend Shamsel Rodgers, who’s a textile activist. Shams lives in North America and has a lot more space than myself. So we were just having a bit of a laugh about the differences between. I mean, this is obviously vast generalisations, we very much accepted it was vast generalisations, but the space that a lot of homes in North America have, like you might have a spare room for a craft space or a basement or something, compared to like small flats in Europe.

 

Amanda:

Yeah, yeah. Or imagine if you lived in Japan where the apartments are even smaller.

 

Zoe:

goodness. Yeah, you’re probably sewing literally on your oven top, aren’t you?

 

Amanda:

Yeah, oh your back and your neck would be so miserable.

 

Zoe:

Yeah, literally you probably store your machine inside the oven when it’s switched off or something.

 

Amanda:

Exactly, exactly. I definitely had places like that myself. But it is, it is, I think that we sometimes like let perfection be the enemy of progress, where we’re saying like, okay, well, I don’t have a whole space for this. Um, so I guess I can’t do it. And listen, some spaces just don’t work for it. You know, even I get frustrated because it’s like, okay, well, I’ve got to… bring out the sewing machine, get everything all set up. But if we want to eat at the table, then I have to take it away, right?

 

Zoe:

Absolutely,

 

Amanda:

And pack it all up in the reverse. And that can also, that’s time that a lot of people won’t have

 

Zoe:

Yes, and energy as well. When you’re at the end of the day, the last thing you wanna do is just get your heavy machine out, get everything set up. You’re like, I’ve literally got enough energy to do two scenes. Like, I can’t get everything out as well.

 

Amanda:

Yeah, yeah, and I think you know that’s another privilege is just having the space and then you know like we’re saying the time the energy the skill there’s a lot to it and That’s why so many people aren’t sewing their clothes

 

Zoe:

But that’s another reason why I’m really excited about this re-interest, this renewed interest in hand sewing, because that is something that is more accessible.

People can do it, there’s also more opportunities to do it. You can do it on public transport, you can do it in a waiting room. But also people that are, you know, they don’t have the physical ability, you know, maybe they’re sick or maybe they have a, you know, a long-term illness or it’s something that, you know, they don’t have the strength to get their machine out sometimes or all the time, you know. So I hope that people continue to embrace hand sewing as legitimate sewing, you know.

 

Amanda:

Yeah, absolutely. And it’s way, I mean, talk about the long game. I mean, you are, like I did, I. wore this beautiful dress in Japan in January, and we were at this museum. And it was very busy there because it was the week of New Year’s, and so we will probably never go there again the week of New Year’s because everybody has off work, and so everything is very crowded. And a child stepped on the back of my dress, and it had like layers, you know, it was a Selkie dress and they ripped the bottom like. two feet off about half of the dress. So I had to like hold it with my hand for the rest of our museum trip and then we went

to a convenience store and bought a mini sewing kit and Dustin and I stood out on the street. and sewed each end together. And it was like not the best mend, but at least it wasn’t dragging on the ground. So I came back and I was like, okay, now I’ve got to mend it. And it’s quite delicate fabric and it wasn’t ripped on the seam. It was like some of it was, some of it was just ripped. And of course there was gathering. And I was like, I can’t do this with a machine. I’m gonna have to do it by hand.

 

Zoe:

Yeah.

 

Amanda:

And it took hours. Just hours, you know, of like tiny, tiny stitches holding this huge dress. And, you know, like I really earned to be able to wear that dress again.

 

Zoe:

Absolutely!

 

Amanda:

You know what I mean? Ha ha ha.

 

Zoe:

Yeah, but did you feel, how did you feel afterwards? Did you feel proud?

 

Amanda:

I did feel proud because I said, you know, a lot of people would have thrown this trash, this out. They would have thrown this dress out, this beautiful dress that I’d only worn a few times at that point. And even though it was secondhand, it still had so much more life in it.

 

Zoe:

Yeah.

 

Amanda:

And I mean, I was also very proud that we managed to piece it back together, with it on my body, standing on the sidewalk. with one of those horrible little plastic sewing kits. You know what I’m talking about, From a convenience store. Yeah. And I was like, wow, you know, I’m really lucky to have a partner who is like, yeah, we’ll just sew this right up here on the side of the street.

 

Zoe:

I love it, I love it, it’s made me very happy, that story’s made me very, very happy.

 

Amanda:

Yeah, and it didn’t look bad, honestly. I could have probably kept wearing it, but I looked at it when we came back and I was like, you know, the most I could get out of this is one more wear before it needs to be really fixed. So I’m really gonna sit down and do it. And I think in my mind, it was gonna be really easy. Oh, the other thing is like, it was a black dress with floral, but we didn’t have quite enough black threads. So it was half navy thread, half black thread. I mean, it was a huge, huge. rip in the dress.

 

Zoe:

Oh wow.

 

Amanda:

But yeah, I did after I fixed it by hand. I really felt like, ah, I’ve really done something and, you know, this was worth all that time and a sense of accomplishment and I felt like someone should congratulate me. So thank you for appreciating that.

 

Zoe:

Yeah, it’s incredible. I’m very proud of you.

 

Amanda:

Thank you. Thank you.

Thanks again to Zoe for spending so much time with me from thousands of miles away! She will be back next week when we will explore how sewing can be more sustainable! And please, give her podcast Check Your Thread a listen! I’ll share all of the links in the show notes!

 

I have one more thing to discuss before I get to turn the AC back on, so let’s get to it: it’s a new audio essay opportunity!

 

Secondhand September is just around the corner. And you know it’s a big deal for me! And I’m sure it’s a big deal for a lot of you, too! Are you passionate about the secondhand way of life? Then I want YOU to submit an audio essay! I want to hear from thrifting aficionados, yard sale lovers, vintage obsessors, resellers, Buy Nothing members, clothing swappers…anyone who loves secondhand!  I have a few ideas for what you could discuss:

  • How did you get into secondhand shopping?  Any specific funny, inspiring, or super weird secondhand shopping memories?
  • Why do you love secondhand?
  • Where is your favorite place/way of finding secondhand items?
  • What’s your all-time favorite secondhand find? Where, when, and how did you find it?
  • What advice would you give someone who is just getting started and is feeling frustrated? Any lessons you have learned the hard way?
  • How could the world of secondhand be better and more accessible?

 

You can talk about one or two of these, or something else altogether (as long as it’s secondhand related).

 

So what’s an audio essay?

It’s a recording you make–using either your phone or your computer.

 

You email it to me at [email protected], and I edit and mix it, and add it to an episode. 

 

It can be anonymous or not…you control your story here! Also: I will not accept written essays for this. 

 

I recommend that you write it all out, then record it.  It’s okay if you make a mistake while recording, just say that part again and keep talking. I’ll edit it when I put it in the episode!

 

Record in a quiet room, away from fans/air conditioners.

 

Your recording should be anywhere from 3 minutes to 10 minutes long.

 

The deadline for this project is September 10, but the sooner you send it, the more likely it is to make it into an episode!

 

Please include your name, IG handle, and pronouns.

 

I can’t wait to  hear what you all have to say!!

 

Want to Support Amanda's Work on Clotheshorse?

If you want to share your opinion/additional thoughts on the subjects we cover in each episode, feel free to email, whether it’s a typed out message or an audio recording:  [email protected]

Clotheshorse is brought to you with support from the following sustainable small businesses:

Thumbprint is Detroit’s only fair trade marketplace, located in the historic Eastern Market.  Our small business specializes in products handmade by empowered women in South Africa making a living wage creating things they love like hand painted candles and ceramics! We also carry a curated assortment of  sustainable/natural locally made goods. Thumbprint is a great gift destination for both the special people in your life and for yourself! Browse our online store at thumbprintdetroit.com and find us on instagram @thumbprintdetroit.

Picnicwear:  a slow fashion brand, ethically made by hand from vintage and deadstock materials – most notably, vintage towels! Founder, Dani, has worked in the industry as a fashion designer for over 10 years, but started Picnicwear in response to her dissatisfaction with the industry’s shortcomings. Picnicwear recently moved to rural North Carolina where all their clothing and accessories are now designed and cut, but the majority of their sewing is done by skilled garment workers in NYC. Their customers take comfort in knowing that all their sewists are paid well above NYC minimum wage. Picnicwear offers minimal waste and maximum authenticity: Future Vintage over future garbage.

Shift Clothing, out of beautiful Astoria, Oregon, with a focus on natural fibers, simple hardworking designs, and putting fat people first.  Discover more at shiftwheeler.com

High Energy Vintage is a fun and funky vintage shop located in Somerville, MA, just a few minutes away from downtown Boston. They offer a highly curated selection of bright and colorful clothing and accessories from the 1940s-1990s for people of all genders. Husband-and-wife duo Wiley & Jessamy handpick each piece for quality and style, with a focus on pieces that transcend trends and will find a home in your closet for many years to come! In addition to clothing, the shop also features a large selection of vintage vinyl and old school video games. Find them on instagram @ highenergyvintage, online at highenergyvintage.com, and at markets in and around Boston.

St. Evens is an NYC-based vintage shop that is dedicated to bringing you those special pieces you’ll reach for again and again. More than just a store, St. Evens is dedicated to sharing the stories and history behind the garments. 10% of all sales are donated to a different charitable organization each month.  New vintage is released every Thursday at wearStEvens.com, with previews of new pieces and more brought to you on Instagram at @wear_st.evens.

Deco Denim is a startup based out of San Francisco, selling clothing and accessories that are sustainable, gender fluid, size inclusive and high quality–made to last for years to come. Deco Denim is trying to change the way you think about buying clothes. Founder Sarah Mattes wants to empower people to ask important questions like, “Where was this made? Was this garment made ethically? Is this fabric made of plastic? Can this garment be upcycled and if not, can it be recycled?” Signup at decodenim.com to receive $20 off your first purchase. They promise not to spam you and send out no more than 3 emails a month, with 2 of them surrounding education or a personal note from the Founder. Find them on Instagram as @deco.denim.

The Pewter Thimble Is there a little bit of Italy in your soul? Are you an enthusiast of pre-loved decor and accessories? Bring vintage Italian style — and history — into your space with The Pewter Thimble (@thepewterthimble). We source useful and beautiful things, and mend them where needed. We also find gorgeous illustrations, and make them print-worthy. Tarot cards, tea towels and handpicked treasures, available to you from the comfort of your own home. Responsibly sourced from across Rome, lovingly renewed by fairly paid artists and artisans, with something for every budget. Discover more at thepewterthimble.com

Blank Cass, or Blanket Coats by Cass, is focused on restoring, renewing, and reviving the history held within vintage and heirloom textiles. By embodying and transferring the love, craft, and energy that is original to each vintage textile into a new garment, I hope we can reteach ourselves to care for and mend what we have and make it last. Blank Cass lives on Instagram @blank_cass and a website will be launched soon at blankcass.com.

Gabriela Antonas is a visual artist, an upcycler, and a fashion designer, but Gabriela Antonas is also a feminist micro business with radical ideals. She’s the one woman band, trying to help you understand, why slow fashion is what the earth needs. If you find your self in New Orleans, LA, you may buy her ready-to-wear upcycled garments in person at the store “Slow Down” (2855 Magazine St). Slow Down Nola only sells vintage and slow fashion from local designers. Gabriela’s garments are guaranteed to be in stock in person, but they also have a website so you may support this women owned and run business from wherever you are! If you are interested in Gabriela making a one of a kind garment for you DM her on Instagram at @slowfashiongabriela to book a consultation.

Vagabond Vintage DTLV is a vintage clothing, accessories & decor reselling business based in Downtown Las Vegas. Not only do we sell in Las Vegas, but we are also located throughout resale markets in San Francisco as well as at a curated boutique called Lux and Ivy located in Indianapolis, Indiana. Jessica, the founder & owner of Vagabond Vintage DTLV, recently opened the first IRL location located in the Arts District of Downtown Las Vegas on August 5th. The shop has a strong emphasis on 60s & 70s garments, single stitch tee shirts & dreamy loungewear. Follow them on instagram, @vagabondvintage.dtlv and keep an eye out for their website coming fall of 2022.

Country Feedback is a mom & pop record shop in Tarboro, North Carolina. They specialize in used rock, country, and soul and offer affordable vintage clothing and housewares. Do you have used records you want to sell? Country Feedback wants to buy them! Find us on Instagram @countryfeedbackvintageandvinyl or head downeast and visit our brick and mortar. All are welcome at this inclusive and family-friendly record shop in the country!

Located in Whistler, Canada, Velvet Underground is a “velvet jungle” full of vintage and second-hand clothes, plants, a vegan cafe and lots of rad products from other small sustainable businesses. Our mission is to create a brand and community dedicated to promoting self-expression, as well as educating and inspiring a more sustainable and conscious lifestyle both for the people and the planet. Find us on Instagram @shop_velvetunderground or online at www.shopvelvetunderground.com

Selina Sanders, a social impact brand that specializes in up-cycled clothing, using only reclaimed, vintage or thrifted materials: from tea towels, linens, blankets and quilts.  Sustainably crafted in Los Angeles, each piece is designed to last in one’s closet for generations to come.  Maximum Style; Minimal Carbon Footprint.

Salt Hats:  purveyors of truly sustainable hats. Hand blocked, sewn and embellished in Detroit, Michigan.

Republica Unicornia Yarns: Hand-Dyed Yarn and notions for the color-obsessed. Made with love and some swearing in fabulous Atlanta, Georgia by Head Yarn Wench Kathleen. Get ready for rainbows with a side of Giving A Damn! Republica Unicornia is all about making your own magic using small-batch, responsibly sourced, hand-dyed yarns and thoughtfully made notions. Slow fashion all the way down and discover the joy of creating your very own beautiful hand knit, crocheted, or woven pieces. Find us on Instagram @republica_unicornia_yarns and at www.republicaunicornia.com.

Cute Little Ruin is an online shop dedicated to providing quality vintage and secondhand clothing, vinyl, and home items in a wide range of styles and price points.  If it’s ethical and legal, we try to find a new home for it!  Vintage style with progressive values.  Find us on Instagram at @CuteLittleRuin.