I love skirts. Long, full, gathered, brightly coloured and richly patterned skirts have been my favourite thing to wear for many years. I love the traditional skirts of many parts of Europe with their richly embroidered details and cheerful sprigged florals. I love the full skirts of 19th century dresses. I love the batik wrap around skirts of the 1970s. I love tiered skirts with their crazy mixing of colour and pattern.
Since I realised all I had to do was buy twice the length I wanted, chop it in half, whip up two side seams (if you leave the selvedge attached you don’t even need to zigzag anything) add an elasticised waist and hem and voila! I was ready to step out, I have filled my wardrobe with skirts in whatever fabric took my fancy.
Then, of course, there’s the amazing potential for extra detail – contrasting hems, rickrack edges, chicken scratch embroidery, rows and rows of ribbon, mix and match panels – so good! The more time on my hands, the more loveliness I can add (remember, I’ve never embraced the less is more philosophy!)
For the last 18 years I have teamed my skirts with reasonably fitted tshirts that neatly covered my quick to sew elasticised waist – I confess, I have been victim to the notion that I couldn’t add a full blouse that needed tucking in to an elasticised waistband because I would look like a trussed up bag of potatoes. But now, with the wonderful liberation that comes with age and ever growing confidence, as well as lovely inspiration from around the webby world (the styles of the gorgeous and creative Phoebe Wahl and Ms. Partshade-Fullsun have been very encouraging!) I now know I can add whatever I like to my gathered skirts! And this winter I have been doing so with gusto.
I’ve added big colourful patch pockets – absolutely awesome for gathering eggs and seashells and carrying whatever tools around the place I might need – and wide fabric belts to my repertoire and many mornings lately, my routine includes, let out and feed the poultry, gather the eggs, feed and chat with the sheep, then plunder my fabric boxes in the shed and come back with armfuls of potential. Then, I sit here in my jammies and whip up a new skirt and possibly belt, and by 10am I’m newly dressed – shirts tucked in! – and ready for another good day.
Of course, I do like to squish in as many things as possible, so I often put on supper, or mix up a cake to bake, or put on the washing whilst I’m sewing and this here skirt and cake are the products of just that. There were Plymouth Rock chickens to collect from Wyndham and quilting for mum on the agenda so I was up early, my fabrics already picked out, sewing and baking – a Jamie Oliver recipe – Sweet Potato and Apricot loaf – and on the road by 10:30. And it was indeed a good day. There was great company along each step of the way, quilting was finished, cake enjoyed, four beautiful chickens brought home, a gorgeous sunset to stop and admire … and a beautiful skirt stitched up from vintage opshop fabric teamed with an opshop shirt and velvet belt that fulfils the Kate Bush in me! Pretty much everything one could hope for in a day :-)
And this practice of skirt making connects with so many of the ideas I hold as not only important but essential to a life well lived. I refuse to be told by merciless, environment and community exploitative, greedy big businesses what the current “must-haves” are. I refuse to conform to what our mainstream society declares is attractive or beautiful at this one point in time. I refuse to treat my clothes as disposable items that are only good for a year or two before being discarded. I refuse to play that game where an item of clothing that was adored one year is expected to be laughed at and scorned a couple of years later. And I utterly refuse to walk around looking clone-like.
Every day when I wake up I want to be a creative participant in life – not a passive consumer. I want to make what I can, using what I have or what I find. I want my clothes – let alone my home and activities – to be symbols of who I am and what I love. I want to tread gently on this earth but also embrace and celebrate the joy and satisfaction humans have gained for thousands of years from adorning themselves with loveliness.
I read in a recent memoir, by a woman who survived the Holocaust, that being able to dress herself in proper clothes and put on lipstick made her and her fellow survivors feel like real people again. Being stripped of her clothes, having her head shaved and being forced to dress in filthy rags by the Nazis stripped her of any sense of being a human and part of this world. Being able to choose how to dress herself again helped her feel like a valuable human being with inherent dignity once more.
Now I’m not comparing my incredibly privileged skirt making to this woman’s experience. But reading her words strengthened my belief that to dress up – to gather what we love, hold is pretty, and adorn ourselves with it is such a natural and positive thing to do. And as such, I know it’s time to reclaim our clothes and the pleasure we receive from dressing ourselves from the ugly, exploitative, disposable industry that has become the world of fashion.
Make and wear what you love! Make and wear what makes you feel good and comfortable! Make and wear what says “This is me!!!!!” Step away from the dreary blacks and greys that the clone producing businesses tell us we should wear – let me tell you how many birds flaunt their stuff with black and grey – NONE! – and embrace the energising and cheerful beauty of colour and pattern! And look after it and wear it for as many years or decades as you like and when you no longer want to wear it, add it back into your fabric pile and smile when it pops up in a quilt, or a curtain trimming, or a sweet pair of shorts or dress for little ones. Or wash it, neatly fold it, and send it off to the oppie where someone like me – or the fabulously stylish and creative folk of Freetown – will pounce upon it with delight and give it another whole new life.
You’ll love it … and our earth will thank you!