As you sew, so shall you reap

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If not to unclog choked landfills, or stand against labour exploitation, or stick it to an annoying tailor, learn the art of threading your own fabric... to own your waistline and avoid exercise

It was said that the ancient Greek hero Hercules was given 12 extraordinary tasks by the Greek king Eurystheus in order to atone for his past sins, tasks that are now chronicled as the 12 labours of Hercules. However, there was a thirteenth task that wasn’t covered by any of these poets, which was when Eurystheus asked Hercules, this great killer of beasts, to find a saree blouse tailor who did a good job at a reasonable price. Legend goes that Hercules, who barely broke a sweat killing dangerous beasts, went on his knees and admitted failure. While this story might not be entirely authentic, the truth is that finding an efficient, and talented tailor who does not charge half your month’s pay may as well be a Herculean task, which is why, this year, I’ve decided to learn how to sew.

I suppose sewing — the very word, evokes images of grey-haired women with a smile on their face, sitting down with needles and cloth pinned to a frame and giving unsolicited advice, or maybe the tailors you’ve encountered thus far — but what I’ve found is that almost no one thinks of sewing as something they see themselves doing. I mean, unless you’re a fashion student, why would you even consider sewing? It just seems too complicated and fiddly to be a hobby. The truth is that it is complicated, most definitely fiddly, and invariably requires copious amounts of patience to figure out, but sewing, a habit once passed down from generation to generation, is a skill worth acquiring.

My own interest in sewing, which began as a simmer, went, during my quest for a good tailor, into boil the previous year because of an argument with a seemingly well-meaning tailor. It was supposed to have been a simple exercise — I had spotted a beautiful cotton fabric at a shop, and taken it to the tailor with a specific design in mind. My tailor, however, insisted on modifying it because my design would not suit good, modest girls such as myself. Needless to say, that fabric is now collecting dust in the bottom of my cupboard. While I don’t intend to become a dress whiz or a designer overnight, I believe that learning how to sew will help me execute simple projects without spiking my blood pressure.

Another reason why my interest in sewing was sparked is that I tend to shop online occasionally — ok, maybe a little more than occasionally, a fair amount — perhaps a little more than fair — fine, a lot. I shop online, a lot. Occasionally, I find issues with the fit; issues which can be easily sorted out through simple alteration, except very many tailors today will not help you out with it.

This past year, I’ve also been reading about the ill effects of fast fashion on the environment, as well as the awful conditions for workers in the factories where the production is outsourced to. Fast fashion refers to clothes that are produced in bulk quickly and inexpensively, to allow consumers to purchase the most recent trends at low prices. While sharpening the supply chain and outsourcing production to countries with cheap labour (like China, Bangladesh and India) might be an excellent decision business-wise, the impact it has had on the environment has been staggering.

Lucy Siegle, a British journalist, noted that 80 billion kilograms worth of fabric was produced in the year 2010, and “to get that 80 billion kilograms of fabric into shape takes 1,074 billion kilowatt hours of electricity, for which we need 132 million tonnes of coal and somewhere between six and nine trillion litres of water”. This statistic just skims the surface, and the more you read about the environmental impact of fast fashion (it truly is the gift that keeps on giving), the more you want to run to your wardrobe and throw all the offending brands away. Don’t, though. Apart from choking rivers, fish, and birds, fast fashion also chokes landfills because of its short lifespan. Button-down shirts which lose buttons, blouses whose seams rip after a single wash in the machine, and pants which grow holes at an alarming pace are all common problems which the average fast fashion consumer faces — problems which can be set right with the help of needle and thread. My learning how to mend clothes might not save the world overnight, but it will save my shirts, and right now, that seems enough.

Six months ago, I bought a Salwar Kameez online. It was the most beautiful shade of yellow, like tangible sunshine. But when I put it on, the fit was off. It was snug around my hips and restricted movement, although it fit perfectly everywhere else. I didn’t return it in the hope that some day in the future, I would lose the weight required to make it fit the way it’s supposed to. Yesterday, after watching a few YouTube tutorials on how to sew, I made a quick trip to a crafts store to pick up basic needles and thread. I snipped the offending stitches at the side to make the kameez more loose at the hips, and gave it a new hem. I tried it on, cautiously, and I’m happy to report that it fits the way it’s supposed to. I’ll confess though — I did, however, spend an extra minute in awe and happiness of the finished product. Although, I don’t know what made me happier — that full feeling of satisfaction of having done this by hand, or that I don’t have to diet to make clothes fit me anymore.

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