Takeover Series: Sew-It-Yourself

Part 1 of this week’s Takeover Series is Suzanne Alexander. She is a Geographer and Maker with a passion for environmental stewardship and fighting the effects of human induced climate change. Suzanne is the 1/2 of the girl-boss duo behind this year’s Clothing Swap during Fashion Revolution Week YYC this April.


Hey there folks, Suzanne here!

Calgary Pride 2018 wearing a self sewn and drafted Bisexual pride halter top.

Calgary Pride 2018 wearing a self sewn and drafted Bisexual pride halter top.

Today, I’d love to chat with you about sewing. Home sewing is having a real resurgence these days, and I must admit that I’ve been caught up in the excitement. I learned how to sew as a preteen from my mom and my excellent junior high Home Ec. teacher, but I didn’t continue the practice until recently. The urge to make a special shirt for Calgary’s 2018 Pride festivities reopened the sewing world, and wowza is it more exciting than it was when I was younger.

There is such an incredible sewing community online, and small, women-led pattern and fabric companies to support. As I began sewing again, it’s been really important for me to be conscious of the fibres I work with and the waste I create. I’ve been having so much fun searching for fabrics to upcycle, and finding a use for old clothes that are no longer wearable. One such example is a bedsheet that’s been transformed into a #kalleshirtdress and more than a few pattern weights (next up for rest of the sheet, PJ’s!).

At Value Village, I’ve found metres of great fabrics that I’ve used to sew swimwear, an in-progress #kalleshirtdress tunic, and who knows what I’ll do next with the remainder of my thrifted fabric stash. Another awesome place I’ve found heaps of thrifted fabric is a theatre costume sale held at the Walterdale Playhouse in Edmonton. The costume designers I met that day gave me so much encouragement and technical sewing advice, and those interactions make the fabric I got all the more special. Did I mention that I paid $5 for two giant bags of fabric??? As a part of our takeover this week I took on the challenge of sewing co-planner of the Clothing Swap, Emily and I a couple of workout tops out of entirely thrifted fabric gathered from our colleagues at Fashion Revolution YYC.

In Australia wearing my first self sewn bathing suit top from thrifted fabric, paired with bathing suit bottoms from one of my favourite Canadian companies Nettle’s Tale.

In Australia wearing my first self sewn bathing suit top from thrifted fabric, paired with bathing suit bottoms from one of my favourite Canadian companies Nettle’s Tale.

Have I convinced you to yet? Here are three more reasons to sew with thrifted fabric:

  • It’s low stakes. For amateur sewers like myself, cutting into fancy or expensive fabric can be so stressful! Using thrifted fabric can feel a bit less stressful because of the lower cost investment and knowledge that you’ve already done the good deed of giving the fabric a second life. So if a mistake happens, you haven’t been as wasteful.

  • It’s interesting! You often have to get more creative with thrifting fabric since you don’t necessarily know the exact fibre content or fabric details, and you’re more likely to find a quirky or edgy fabric that you may not have chosen when shopping new fabrics. Maybe this will mean experimenting with vintage prints, or a statement yoke!

  • It’s more ethical environmentally, obviously!! Choosing organic and natural fibres are always great practices, but the reality is that so many textiles already exist in the world, and giving them the longest life possible is the best option. The Reduce and Reuse aspects of sustainable living are the most important, even when Recycling is an option.

One of a few jars of scraps waiting to be stuffed into a Closet Case Pattens’ floor pouf.

One of a few jars of scraps waiting to be stuffed into a Closet Case Pattens’ floor pouf.

In the online sewing community, sustainability and ethics in our practice is a constant thriving conversation. I’m inspired every day by seeing how other sewists use their scraps, sew with thrifted fabric, and make use of every part of paper pattern waste. One project that I’m currently saving my scraps for is a free pattern for a big floor pouf created by Closet Case Patterns (check out their Instagram at @closetcase.patterns) designed to use up all the fibre waste a sewist creates. The pattern is designed so you can stuff the pouf with all thread clippings and tiny fabric scraps that would otherwise hit the landfill.

Sewing as a practice has made me much more interested in the art of garments and the incredible process it takes the create them. Ready to wear fashion never made me feel as knowledgeable or style obsessed as sewing has. It’s made me love every ruffle so much more, and become mesmerized by top stitching, and constantly asking people if I can feel the fabric in their clothes to figure out the fibre content. The pride I feel when I show off a self-sewn garment is huge, and I feel so grateful to be able to develop my craft in harmony with the natural world, rather than in spite of it.

Happy sewing!

PS - if you want to learn more about sewing or get tips on what patterns to use, check out the podcasts Love to Sew and Sewing Out Loud. And follow @truebias, @blackbirdfabrics, @inthefolds, @helens_closet, and fashion rev YYC’s own @assembleworkshop.

Thumbnail Image via Unsplash by Hermes Rivera

Suzanne Alexandersewing