Monday, April 18, 2016

A tale of two saves 1

The weekend is almost over and I did not sew a single item from scratch. But, I did clear my mending pile.

The purple T was a hot pink T in a former life. I think I bought it at the Gap on the corner of Bancroft and University avenues, when I was an undergrad (?!?). It's probably from the late 1980s because the tag says that it was made in the US, and the construction was done without shortcuts. If you've read Sew Fast, Faster, Fastest (SFFF), then you know what I mean.

I wore that shirt a lot, and it held up very well.  One day, it encountered a pen.  Can you see the pen ink stain?  Scrunch dyed in a plastic shoebox with cobalt blue Procion MX.  My basic recipe.

I bought the navy shirt later.  The tag said that it was made in Mexico, so it was probably made in the 1990s.  The shirt may have been made in a medium-wage country, but it was made very cheaply.  That is, the right shoulder was sewn first, then the neckband was sewn in flat.  Finally, the left shoulder and neckband was sewn in one step.  That's the fastest method explained in SFFF and one I would never use in my own grandma sewing.

This left a scratchy lump at the left neckline that caused red welts on my skin every time I wore it.  A snowy night, binge Netflix, and I ripped out the neckline and redid the neckline the right way.  I also shortened the unisex shirt and curved the side hip as shown here.

Astute observers may notice that there are three items in the first picture, but only two saves. I rarely wore the black shorts. I thought it was because of the (too long) length. But, after I shortened it, I realized that I still don't like it. Slim-fitting longer shorts may be elongating, but they are not comfortable.  I like my shorts roomy enough for sitting and bicycling.

They are in the outbound box.

As I went though my mending and refashion pile, I noticed a progression.  I could see the increase in construction short-cuts as manufacturers tried to produce in the US, then MX, then central America.  But, China could beat them on quality for the price because Chinese wages allowed them to take the extra time.

Now China is too expensive and clothing manufacturing has moved on to the next low-wage haven.  I don't want my clothing's country of origin tags to be an atlas of human misery and ecological destruction.  That leaves welts on the soul.

We can't compete on price.  We have to compete on quality in a broad sense.  That means taking into account the external costs of our economy, ecology and fairness.

Fashion Revolution Day is actually the week of April 18-24 this year.  Be curious about #whomademyclothes.


  1. My husband has a Gap sweater from the late 70s that's gave him when we were teenagers. It still fits and is in great condition with no pilling or stretching out. It wasmade in the USA

    1. Some of my 30 year old clothes look better than my 3 yo ones. Which begs the question, why do I even bother buying new clothes when I already have complete wardrobes in both LA and CO?

  2. Does this mean you think we should vote for presidential candidates that oppose free trade? Or is it better to have tighter regulations?

    Your blog has inspired me to learn how to sew and to be more mindful of where my clothes come from and what goes into them, but it's not realistic for me to make all my clothes from scratch. And while I hear you and agree with respect to welts on the soul, reducing welts on my soul doesn't do much to help the people working in these sweatshops or to save their environment from damage. What do you think I should do?

    1. I'm for thoughtful and fair trade, between and within national borders. I don't decide whom to vote for on single issues.

      I can't tell you what to do. When I was a student, clothes were expensive and we have fewer of them. But, they were better than what is in the stores now. You can't walk into the Gap and get a $12.50 t-shirt (about $30 today), that is well-made in the US.

      Also, note that these 'heritage' brands like Gap and Levi's were busy in the 1980s moving their factories out of SF (which had unionized) to the southern US states, which were not. Then they chased lower wages to MX, then farther south into Central America, to China, and now to Vietnam.

      I saved jeans for my daughter that have the Int'l Ladies' Garment Workers Union label in them. These were not 'premium' brands. These were mass-market Lee and Calvin Klein jeans.

      The closest equivalent is NYDJ, which make their jeans in LA. There is no union label in them. You can get them at Nordstrom (and discontinued styles in some sizes at Nordstrom Rack).

      I don't make everything I wear. But, by making some of my own things, I can afford to spend more $ to buy the things I can't make, like jeans.

      Tighter regulations on paper have no teeth. When deciding between two imported items, I do have a slight preference for things made closer to where they are consumed.

      Kathleen Fasanella of the Fashion Incubator blog explains that, clients and factories that are in the same hemisphere and time zone can work more closely. That's better for quality control of the goods and for monitoring factory conditions for the workers. It also means shorter times to market, which lowers transportation costs and waste (when too much is produced).

      Kathleen is a very experienced garmento and I agree with everything she says, good and bad, about the garment industry.

      When it comes to food, however, I do not prefer to buy local. LA is a desert and it is much better to import food than to import the water to grow food. LA is also a port town, and ocean shipping is the most energy-efficient way to move goods.

      Where you live and your budget (time and money) determines the best options for you.


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