That handmade scarf may just save the world after all (OR why I love to sew)

We love handmade

Thank you so much to everyone who entered my Sew Mama Sew giveaway day.  I had such fun reading all of your comments.  It was great to hear all of the reasons that everyone gave for why they love to sew.  One of the comments that has got me thinking was regarding sewing to save money.

If I'm being totally honest I would have to tell you that, for me, sewing isn't really about saving money.  I have a little too much of a fabric obsession for that. Although that doesn't stop me from using 'saving money' as a justification for my fabric purchases (particularly when talking to my husband!) And it doesn't mean that I don't love a bargain and get enormous pleasure from making 3 T-shirts from a $5 remnant (take that Kmart!) but it isn't really my main motivation. When you can shop online and buy a (very cute) mass produced dress for around $5 without ever leaving your sofa; when it takes you no more than 5 minutes to search, choose and buy; sewing to save money alone simply isn't enough.

I read an interesting article this morning entitled "Sorry, Etsy.  That Handmade Scarf won't Save the World."  The author makes the point that buying handmade has, in some circles, come to "connote moral virtue, signifying an interest in sustainability and a commitment to social justice.... but thinking of it as a social good is problematic".  I have to disagree.  She suggests that we can't expect people to spend $50 on a handmade scarf when they can get one for $5 from Kmart.  That the Kmart scarf is good value and that is why people choose it. Well; yes and no.  On the face of it the $5 Kmart scarf is good value.  But therein lies the problem. It's such good value (or at least, so cheap) that many of us wouldn't think twice about spending $5 on it.  We see it. We like it. We buy it. We wear it for a while, but then next month we see another scarf in Kmart that we like better.  It's a nicer colour. It's only $5, we buy that too. The scarf gets a hole in it, or it goes bobbly.  Doesn't matter; It was only $5 - it'd be easier to buy a new one than to mend it.  Into the bin goes the scarf, off to join all the other $5 Kmart purchases in landfill.

Compare this to the $50 handmade scarf.  Would you buy it without thinking very carefully about it in the first place? No, because $50 is a lot to spend. Would you look after it - treat it gently, wash it by hand, mend any holes in it?  Of course you would. Because handmade things are special, they were made with love and we treat them accordingly.  And therein lies the true 'value'. When it comes to handmade we don't buy something unless we need it and / or truly love it.  We are more considered in our purchases and much less likely to impulse buy. 

But perhaps talking about BUYING handmade is missing the point somewhat.  An overwhelming majority of you said that you loved sewing because you found it relaxing, because it was a way to unwind and de-stress. There certainly is something wonderfully therapeutic about sewing (or knitting, or any other sort of handcraft).  It’s the perfect antidote to our usually busy, fast paced, consumer driven lives.  Using our hands to create something is a wonderful opportunity to slow down, to escape the everyday, to indulge our creativity and to make something that can’t be undone. 

So; what if we stopped talking about buying handmade and started talking about making our own instead. I consider myself very fortunate to have spent my childhood with my mum always digging in the vegetable garden, making play-dough on the stove, sewing many of our clothes and mending our favourite toys.  I grew up knowing that things can, and should, be mended, that food and clothes don’t just materialise from the supermarket or the mall; that I can make these things by hand and that if I don’t know how to do this then I can learn.  A belief in your ability to do just that is a very special thing.  My 4 year old, Ella, seems to already be absorbing this lesson.  She often tells her friends that she likes their dress, or their soft toy and then asks if their mama made it for them. This fills my heart with happiness, not because I am proud of having made things for her, but because I am proud to have taught her that such things can be handmade.

Handmade things are always loved the best!

Handmade things are always loved the best!

We live in a throwaway society, the amount of waste that we produce is unbelievable, and I believe that the handmade movement encourages people to get back to the ‘make-do and mend’ attitude that our grand parents held.  If we can make things by hand then we can begin to comprehend the true value of them; our eyes are opened to the resources required to make everyday objects and the effort involved in creating them and we begin to understand that they have a value far beyond the $5 price tag assigned to them by Kmart.

If we can begin to consume less. If we can begin to discard less, If we can change the way we think about the things we buy and use, then we may find that we can make a very real difference to the world.  Even if I’m wrong and all our efforts are nothing more than a drop in the ocean, even if the actions of a few can do nothing to counteract the overwhelming majority, it doesn’t matter in a way, because it’s a start.  It’s a step in the right direction and, along with trying to spread the word, it’s all we can do for now. And every day that we spend working on our quiet revolution we find ourselves becoming happier, calmer and more fulfilled.

That handmade scarf may not save the world, but it might just save me.