Hi everyone, while I’m on a quick holiday, my brother is looking after the store, house and pets (didn’t volunteer for the baby), and a couple of amazing ladies are guest blogging. Kim is a hilarious Melbourne inner city cyclist, blogger (read hipster) and you can find her writing at her tumblr, or on . Kimberley when not writing works at…hold on, I’ll not give it all away!
I dominate when it comes to secondhand shopping.
Now, I know that, in the hipster enclaves of inner-north Melbourne, this is not a particularly bold statement. I mean, everyone and his ironic sausage dog is wearing secondhand – sorry, preloved – clothing around these parts. But I’m not like those wacky kids with their old-man sweaters and Clean Up Australia Day 1995 t-shirts. I don’t just dabble in secondhand clothing – it’s a full-time job for me, baby.
I’m actually serious. That’s my job. I manage an op-shop, and it’s awesome.
One of the best things about my job – other than the fact that I get to add to my Sweet Valley High collection – is that, when you handle literally hundreds of garments a day, all from different eras and manufacturers, you start to develop a sense for what makes a quality garment.
This is great news for you guys, because I’m about to tell you the three things I look for in a garment before I make a decision on how high I can jack the price up. (Come on, you know those hipsters can afford it.)
It’s an obvious one, but one that a lot of us neglect when we’re sewing at home. My justification for sloppy seams is one you’re probably familiar with:
“I don’t have an overlocker, so they’re going to be crap anyway.”
The problem with this (other than my obviously piss-poor attitude) is that, unfortunately, seam quality is probably the single-most important factor that separates a quality garment from an average one. And whilst an overlocker would make things easier, there are other options out there. French seams are an obvious choice – they look lovely, they’re relatively easy to master and you get to talk about your seams with an outrageous accent (see Python, Monty for reference).
I’m also personally partial to a Hong Kong seam. It’s a less popular option because it’s fiddly, time-consuming, requires a whole mess of bias binding and will probably cause you to throw your fabric scissors across the room at some stage. That said, if you can master it, you’re in for a sturdy garment and a lifetime of smug.
I have an unhealthy fixation with the fibre content of fabrics, to the point where my friends and family are no longer surprised when I stick my hand up their shirts to examine the care label.
“Ah,” I will usually say, looking sage. “Cotton/linen. Just as a I thought.”
“Please stop touching me,” they will usually respond with.
Contrary to what some (usually pompous) people will have you believe, there is room for both natural and synthetic fibres in this world. They all do different things, and it’s important to take that into consideration when you’re selecting your fabric.
If, unlike me, you don’t have the luxury of whiling away countless hours caressing second-hand garments, you may have to do a little research in your own time. Learn about different fibres and what they do. Learn about different constructions and what they do.
For example, a pattern might call for you to use a single-knit jersey. But what are you hoping to get out of this garment? If drape is important to you, maybe you want to use a viscose rayon jersey. But if you care more about appearance retention or movement, maybe you’d prefer a cotton/elastane blend.
Look, I get it. Not every wants to be a big, textile-obsessed loser like me. Not every one wants to make a big folder full of fabric samples, each lovingly labeled with its history and properties. But at least take the time to think – really think – about what fabrics you’re using.
By the time I’m finished constructing a garment, I already hate it. This is because I have fingers like sausages and they often refuse to make things work the way I want them to. (We all have our crosses to bear.) However, the result of this bilious hatred of both garment and sausage-like fingers means I’m often too emotionally exhausted to care about the little details.
This is a mistake.
Styling details are the cream to your garment’s coffee. The garlic sauce to your kebab. They’re that little something that might seem unimportant, but can make that garment you’ve slaved over really pop.
The most beautiful garments, the pieces I’ve really fallen in love with at my store, are ones that have styling details that seem to be chosen with care. Perfectly matched zips. Buttons that aren’t just sad, black plastic disks. Cleverly contrasting trims. A little contrasting yoke on the inside that no one will really see, but is just kind of nice to have there.
I look at styling details as a way to add personality and flair to your garment. You can go stock-standard if you like, but it’s kind of like not bothering to sign a birthday card. Sure, that Hallmark poem might be nice – but it doesn’t really say anything about you, does it?
We all sew for different reasons – to save money, because it’s fun, because we hate what’s available to buy commercially. And, of course, the beauty of making things ourselves is that it won’t ever look like what you’ll find on the rack. There is, however, a difference between something that looks ‘handmade’ and something that looks ‘handcrafted’.
Sure, it takes a little more time, a little more effort, but just think – years from now, that piece you lovingly crafted, with beautiful seams and gorgeous fabric and perfect detail, might end up in a secondhand store somewhere. The sales assistant will pull it from a pile of lesser garments, hands quaking with excitement.
Then that sales assistant will steam it, hang it up and sell it to some jaded hipster for at least five times more than what it cost you to make it twenty years earlier.
Surely, that’s something that we can all get behind.