Tuesday, July 06, 2010


Some very thought-provoking posts going around the blogosphere recently about DIY, crafting, clothing, the value of time vs. money, perfectionism, and why we even bother to sit down in front of the sewing machine [or perch on the couch with a pair of knitting needles]. "Is this really the best use of my time?" is a sentiment that I am so, so familiar with, especially when ripping a seam out for the third time in a row.

Yet here we are, in it for the long haul, most likely, dedicating our time and energy to improving our skills at a craft that we could easily forego but choose, instead, to tackle despite frustrations and the quirks of "imperfection," because there's something in it that keeps drawing us back: creativity, self-expression, individuality, self-reliance, liberation from "standardized" clothing sizes, protestation against human rights abuses, a desire for environmental sustainability, or even to subvert what the media tells us about how we "should" look or how we "should" feel about our bodies.

[Bread baking: another craft we could easily outsource from our lives, and must consciously make an effort not to. But homemade bread, like clothing, can be so, so worthwhile.]

One of the cool things about crafting is the great learning curve associated with it. And not just in skill level, but also in tolerance levels. Sometimes this turns against us, like if we get more and more picky about specific imperfections [that whole "what can you live with?"].

But sometimes this is also really helpful. Spend more time constructing a garment, and you recalibrate your "set level" for what type of materials you work with, how well your seams are finished, what type of patterns you want to try, which techniques you utilize.

Spend more time crafting and less time shopping, and you recalibrate your "set level" for what feels like a "normal" frequency of shopping. Spend less time shopping, and you also recalibrate your "set level" for what feels like a "normal" amount of stuff to buy on each trip.

If you take this line of thought one step further: decrease how often you consume, and decrease how much you consume each time you do go shopping, and you decrease the consumerism within.

This past weekend, I was out shopping for the first time in who knows when. I'd forgotten how many things there were out there that I didn't know I was supposed to want to buy -- little wallet doodads, cell phone holders, bling for your purse, etc. etc. etc. Since I've been slowly decreasing how much I shop for about 4 years now, it was really startling to step back into that world again. I felt totally overwhelmed. But I could also see how, for someone who has continuously shopped for those same 4 years, all these trinkets might seem like the status quo for what one should acquire.

But then there are other times when it doesn't work so neatly. Like I'll go through fabric shopping droughts followed by deluges, the crafter's version of yo-yo dieting where you diet then splurge, diet then splurge. And even though I want to think that my overall fabric consumption is trending downwards, a peek at my stash indicates that just might not be the case.

[I cut down the skirt to fit Hana. And as a consolation prize, I ordered some more AMH voile to try again. What was I saying about fabric yo-yo dieting?]

What do you think? Does it actually work that way? In theory, it follows. But in practice? Not always? In certain circumstances? For me, it seems like it practice follows theory when there is alignment between theory and values so that wantiness doesn't get in the way.

Is it even possible to recalibrate our "set levels" for consumption when desire collides with the justification that "it aligns with my values"? Or is it not even about that? Is consumption, in some form or another, inherent to what it means to be a human being living in the 21st Century? (I hope not!)


Zoe said...

Such a great post Jessica, thanks so much for writing your thoughts on this. You always make such interested and well-expressed points.

In answer to one of your questions, I really believe that yes, you can recalibrate yourself to consume less. Much like you, I have been consciously winding down my shopping activities for the last three or four years, well in fact I went cold turkey rather than winding down by signing up to the Wardrobe Refashion pledge. At first it felt so hard and I physically had to prevent myself from going in certain shops for fear of temptation. These days, as my feelings on sustainbility and such has strengthened, I feel immune to that previous temptation and could happily walk through any store (apart from a delicious haberdashers) and come out again without a purchase.

Just last night I was talking to my friend who has no money at the moment, and she said that she couldn't go into the shopping area of town because she hadn't any money, I thought 'So?', but realised that temptation for her was still present despite her claims to have similar shopping habits (i.e. none) as me.

The cool thing is, that now when I buy a zip, it feels like a treat!

I massively aggree with you about all the new shit that seems to pop up, and how many people, women in particular since most of these products are aimed at them, must get sucked in to the belief that they are necessary.

I don't think this excessive consumption is a necessary evil of life in the 21st century. Just like the rejection of these values in the late 60's and into the 70's by many after the excessively consumerist 1960's and early 60's, maybe these things are cyclical. With enough people feeling the way we do and talking about it, hopefully a significant chunk of people will start to really question the values that seem so predominant presently. The more I think about it though, the more I think we need to question capitalism in general, do you have any thoughts on that?

Sorry, I'll stop chewing your ear off! I just get really into these topics and you present such great openners! Thanks again Jessica.

Sigrid said...

I've been thinking about these things off and on for a long time so it's really exciting to see a thoughtful discussion emerging from other's personal experiences. I do think that the practice of consuming less does affect how we internalize the theory that we should consume less.
As Zoe notes, at first it's hard, but after awhile, it becomes a bit of a relief not to have to process so many clamoring demands for our money.
But, now that I am not shopping for clothes, I feel a greater need to find the fabrics I really want !

affectioknit said...

I love that red fabric!

Ivy said...

One of the things I've noticed when I go shopping now is that not only is it a recalibration of what I need, it's also about what I'm looking for.

Knitting (and someday, sewing, if I ever get decent at it) allows me to create things with such great detail and fit. Now, when I go to stores everything just seems bland. It's all the same, and it's all the same colors and trends in every store and heaven help you if you need a brown shirt when brown isn't in. The things I love about style, the cute little details or unique spin aren't there. Well, at least not at the price range I shop--maybe if you pay enough they're there, but let's face it, that's not most people.

Minnado said...

Love this post - you write very succintly. I think for some people maybe consumerism is a huge part of their lives and identities. I have been cutting back on what I buy and I have to say I have found it liberating - I gave up buying new clothes in january. I thought it would be harder than it has been - I now feel free of that urge to go in and find a bargain when I see the SALES sign in clothes shops.

Loving your blog

Ali said...
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Ali said...
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Ali said...

Another beautiful post, Jessica. I want to say yes, of course, that we can recalibrate with practice. After letting our values and our practices fight it out for long enough, they'll learn to get along. But I think (and I'm perhaps being too candid here) what can be more terrifying to some is to live so incredibly logically. Everything we want reduced or replaced by what we "should" do. There is something a little exciting about a bit o' recklessness.

That's what makes this cultural shift so amazing and enlightening and hard. I'd argue that the act of making the items you own can redefine the worth of goods (sweat equity, if you will). More importantly, the sometimes long and frustrating process of making an item inherently exhausts the consumer-model that depends on impulse and instant gratification. The question is, is this enough to turn the "set level" way down?

In my day-to-day life, I have very little desire to go shopping. But this is where I get into trouble: I go home to visit my family, I'm on holiday, etc etc. Going shopping is a social activity and any scintilla of restraint I show is usually heralded as some major accomplishment. In comparison, my purchases appear miserly. Compared to my "real" life, however, I know it's downright indulgent.

Maybe this shows that I've still got some work to do, or, more likely, that I'm terribly impressionable. But I think that's where environment plays a large role: If we surround ourselves with people (and places) that are trying to recalibrate to a more healthy level, we're more likely to find balance, too. I'd even go so far to say that it's no wonder the crafting/sewing community is so large and wonderful -- perhaps we're all finding in each other the inspiration to be creative apart from the consumer model. Maybe re-setting the set level collectively can go a long way toward re-setting the set level within.

Ali said...

[Sorry for the comment-stalking, Blogger kept saying it rejected my comments, so I kept paring and re-posting, when they were posting all along!:0]

jessica said...

Zoe - wow, what a great response! I do hope that we can recalibrate to lowered consumption ... after all, we did calibrate ourselves to a heightened level, so hopefully the reverse should be possible! As to capitalism, oh boy, now there's a whole other post right there!

Sigrid - I feel you 100% about how fabric becomes paramount when you dial back the clothes shopping!

Ivy - completely understand what you mean about everything looking the same in the stores! Crafting is so incredibly liberating.

Minnado - thank you! I also find it liberating to not consume so much [and I'd imagine many other crafters feel the same way] ... I hope we can convert more people! I don't want to prejudge people for whom consumption is a large part of their identity, but it seems like there could be so much more to life.

Ali -- you're too funny! But seriously, the idea that it is not just individual but context, environment, society and norms is dead on. We're moving upstream ... but I wonder if we can create little pockets of countercurrents, and how we can make those bigger?

Zonnah said...

I think it has a lot to do with peer pressure and how much you are around said peer presure. I think getting older, being out of school, and no tv / fashion magazines help in this area. I just got done reading the little house on the prarie series and it really brought home how much we waist. One thing that stood out was they hardly ever bought anything and when they did it was something they treasured the rest of there lifes.

Patchwork Architect said...

This was a great topic for a blog post. I feel there is a shift in our generation to become more self sufficient. I love the feeling knowing that I can make it, grow it or even trade it. We recently had a craft fair in my town and I found myself more willing to pay a little extra to encourage others to pursue their craft. I haven't shopped at any big box store in months.