How Much Me-Made Is Enough?

Hey Makers!

When I saw the ask go out with this prompt, my immediate response was, “The question of how much me-made is enough?!! I think about this ALL THE DAMN TIME.” Which is embarrassingly true. But first – let me introduce myself: I’m Madeline, @hart_anders on Instagram and hartande on Ravelry. You may have read my contribution to the community post on queer sewists! My insta bio, “Queer woman, seminarian, knitter, sewist, dog owner, Minnesotexan” covers the basics, although I guess I’m Minnesotexuckian these days. My journey with handmade clothes started early, though I only began to make my own in 2014.

Three kids in handmade clothes

My siblings and me in Granmom-made Easter clothes, San Francisco, mid-90s. I’m on the left.

I come from a family with a strong tradition of creativity, of make-do and mend, of hand-me-downs and second-hand shops, of over-dying and changing buttons. When shopping, my mom’s refrain was always, “I know you want it, but do you need it?”

That question plagues me. My initial response to the question, “Do you aim for a 100% me-made wardrobe?” is YES! Of course! I’d love to have a wardrobe made entirely by me. Jeans that fit perfectly. Tops that are long enough; that fit just how I want. Sweaters in colors I want; cardigans that button without straining across the chest or hips. Dresses that work for my style. I daydream about this me-made wardrobe. I plot out how to convert my RTW into me-mades – make that body longer, lengthen the hem, shorten that sleeve, take in the waist, add pockets. . .  I imagine a smaller closet, with just what I need. I dream a sort of me-made capsule wardrobe, filled with all the things I love and that all work together in a cohesive palette.

And then I think about my beloved second-hand sweaters, sweaters I’ve carefully darned and patched. Or my RTW jeans that have had the crotch repaired because everything else is still good fabric. Dresses I’ve overdyed to give a new life. The two sweaters I inherited from my grandma. My flannel shirt that is so ubiquitous in my wardrobe that I based the colors of my imaginary me-made wardrobe entirely on it. I think about the sweatshirt, missing sleeves and collar, that first entered my life when I was 8 as a hand-me-down, which I still wear. RTW dresses I bought on a whim and loved. All the clothes I’ve taken care of – that cardigan for at least 8 years, those blouses for 6, those jeans for at least 4 years. All the socks I’ve carefully darned, all the tights with the feet cut out since I wear them with boots anyway. The bras that fit, after years of searching.

So, clearly, a 100% me-made wardrobe is not going to work. I’ve got too much RTW I love, and I certainly don’t have the time or money to replace it all with me-mades. Maybe 100% me-made is a goal I head in the general direction of, instead of a finite destination. Here’s where the second part of the question really gets at me – how much me-made is enough? My honest and most immediate answer is “I’ll tell you when I get there.” How much me-made is enough is a delicate balance of time, energy, money, and the current contents of my closet.

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Me at my brother’s wedding in Minneapolis, summer 2017, in a me-made self-drafted skirt and one of the above mentioned cherished blouses, purchased in 2012. (Fabric: Stellar Slub in Dark Lemongrass, by Andover, from The Cloth Pocket, in Austin TX).

That 100% me-made wardrobe. When I was thinking about my #2018makenine, these questions plagued me. How much is enough? Do I need it or do I want it? Do I want it because people in the sewing community I think are cool and interesting have made it? New patterns come out and I want to follow the “in-crowd” and make them, regardless of need/utility/function.

When does my me-made become more about who I aspire to be rather than what I’m wearing? The struggle of creating identity in the midst of social media is real, as is the struggle to differentiate myself. Making has helped me feel at home in my body and my identity, so ensuring that my makes help center me in myself, and don’t become my crutch is key. Am I replacing my RTW purchasing with me-made purchasing? I already own plenty of sweaters; no matter how much I love the knitting process, I don’t need any more. Similarly, see the five pairs of jeans in my dresser. No matter how much I think a pair of mustard yellow jeans would be an awesome addition, the truth is that I really don’t need more jeans.

What about cost? The fibers I love – whether for knitting or sewing – they’re not cheap, and I’m a grad student on a very limited budget. And as much as I love thrifting, I have complicated feelings about thrifting to remake, when you don’t need to shop in a thrift store in the first place. Sustainability? My yarn and fabric: I haven’t the foggiest how sustainably sourced most of these are, because the sustainably sourced and trackable yarns and fabrics are out of reach for me financially. And is making all my own clothes sustainable for me, personally? I have a suspicion that it would begin to suck out the joy of making, if I truly had to make everything I wanted to wear.

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How much me made is enough? I think that’s a question each of us has to answer ourselves, based on why we’re doing this and where we’re coming from. I can’t tell you when is enough. Maybe you prefer to sew fun items, not basics, or clothes that aren’t practical. Maybe your sewing practice is all about learning new skills, or working with new fabrics, or you love to knit accessories, and not clothes. Your definition of enough is your own. And mine, for now, is “I’ll let you know when I reach it, but I haven’t yet.”

My #MMMay18 Pledge this year is: I, Madeline (@hart_anders), sign up as a participant of Me-Made-May ’18. I endeavour to wear at least one item of me-made each day during May 2018. I will take good notes of holes in my wardrobe. I will also spend some time each week of MMMay18 documenting my wardrobe and thinking/writing about how much handmade is enough, in a public forum of some-sort.