How much happiness do you derive from fabric shopping? (or pattern shopping, or anything else for that matter). My initial suspicion that I was not alone in feeling overwhelmed and not filled with joy with too much stuff turns out to have some sort of basis after all. I am grateful for everyone who has participated in the #makeyourstash conversations on Instagram or reached out to myself or Pilar, sharing how they feel about their stash and often echoing the “too much” sentiment. So the question for today:
Why do so many of us have so much <insert fabric, patterns, other item of choice> and if we don’t like it, why on earth are we still doing it? How can we stop?
I recently listened to an episode of the Wardrobe Crisis podcast by Clare Press, featuring Richard Denniss. He authored “Curing Affluenza” (which I am also reading) where he discusses the madness that is our culture of happiness. We have grown up to believe that status is linked to buying things and then throwing them away – and the more expensive the better! As someone who loves a bit of realism, Richard’s words were utterly refreshing (and he’s Australian which automatically made the podcast even nicer for me). Feeling inspired, here’s my two cents on the matter.
My fabric shopping gives me “transient happiness”
Richard’s description of “transient happiness” is pretty spot on when it comes to my fabric shopping. Over the last few years I have mindlessly amassed a load of stuff. Here’s the breakdown my shopping cycle.
By the time my fabric arrives I have totally lost the excitement I had when I bought it. In my subconscious I have already seen and worn the garment so it is not new and shiny anymore. Which means I was ready to move on… before I even had a happy post day. Honestly the shopping hit of happiness is probably not too different from the social media drug – you might have seen some articles like this one which outlines the addiction (a hit of dopamine with every “like”). As an aside, I feel particularly sad at the thought that social media might be causing childhood depression.
Why do we keep on buying?
I really like the term affluenza as it describes so much of how I feel about the commercialism surrounding sewing that has really grown in the last few years. The makers movement and sewing is often associated with words like slow, considered, mindful. Conceptually this works; you are much more likely to love and care for your clothes if you put in the time and effort to do it yourself.
However being an active participant in the sewing community in the last few years I have also observed that people fall so hard in love with sewing that it almost becomes DIY fast fashion. Every year in the UK there are more patterns, more fabric, more shops and there are definitely trend patterns. Bloggers are everywhere, new resources (e.g. YouTube, books and podcasts) are released frequently, Instagram is huge – and so is the inclination to buy and consume.
Is it a problem?
For many home seamstresses, sewing is a way to avoid fast fashion as we care more about the stuff we make and take the garment worker out of the equation. So the buy, wear once and throwaway cycle is less applicable. However, what IS completely applicable is the tendency to buy a lot of new stuff – especially fabric. Every year there are more small online shops, more indie patterns, more bloggers… Though in the grand scheme of things you could argue the percentage of people who make their own clothes is likely pretty small relative to the mass market so its not really a problem.
Even if not clothing, disposability also permeates other areas of our lives. Single use coffee cups, single use coffee capsules (this can be such a problem you might have heard of Hamburg in Germany banning capsules in government buildings), and of course the ubiquitous plastic water bottles. We grew up in a culture where its ok to use things once and throw them away – and for the most part we still think its ok! <rant over>
Waste does not disappear when you throw it out – it has to go somewhere
What can we do?
Embrace materialism instead of consumerism
This might sound weird – but maybe it would be a good thing. If we are material and love what we buy (instead of loving the act of buying) then we would have a lot less of a problem. In the case of fabric, if I am honest with myself I have loved buying more than having or making. But this is really personal preference. In last week’s “why use up your stash” weekly conversation a few people said that they loved their stash because of the awesome clothes they would make, and because there would always be something to sew when inspiration struck. I really like that they were totally fine with having a lot of stuff because they loved what they had and its useful to them so in that sense it is not wasteful.
Channel your fabric budget into something else
When you make a conscious choice to spend elsewhere other than buying fabric you can make a difference. Richard Denniss makes the argument that the economy doesn’t necessarily stop growing because we stop buying stuff. We still spend money but if we as a collective buy enough other services we can change the shape of the economy. For example, we could buy sewing classes, or spend money altering or fixing our clothes if we didn’t want to do it ourselves. If everyone who had a broken dress zip went to get it fixed or learned to do it themselves instead of buying a new dress, there would be a lot more shops offering to fix these dresses or teach you how to DIY. Pretty comforting thought don’t you think?
Personally I will be embracing what I have and using what I have via challenges like #makeyourstash, thinking about how much I want to have and clearing out the rest (and not replacing it), and channelling my money and time into other sewing type things. Keep you posted on how it goes!
How happy do you get from buying fabric versus sewing the garment? Are you a minimalist or do you love stuff? Do you unwittingly partake in disposability culture even if not with clothes?
I love Richard’s quote!
Buying fabric makes me happy but having fabric without sewing doesn’t. When my stash grows I get stressed! Isn’t there some term out there “S.a.b.l.e” or something, “Stash/supplies Acquired Beyond Life Expectancy” ????????. That would be a nightmare for me! I don’t buy fabrics just because they are on sale or popular, I’m usually clear about what I want to make with what I buy, if there are similar fabrics in my stash already, if it’s true to my taste, or if it’s just a lesser version of what I want (in that case I don’t get it, I wait for the real deal). I get the biggest high from completing a project and making memories in them.
Thanks for the great convo started as always, Kate!
Hi Sil, if the SABLE term didn’t exist before it does now! I am guilty of buying stuff because its popular, although towards the end of last year I got fabric fatigue. Maybe because I saw some popular thing, filed it in my mind but by the time I decided to buy it, then 10 more people had already made something so I felt like I didn’t want to use it anymore (one of the joys of sewing for me – to be fun and different). As I mentioned on IG I will be buying all the expensive fabrics when I lift the buying ban. Its so far been a hard 3 months but I feel the addiction is nearly cured!
Always love to read your posts Kate! So mindful, provocative and inspiring all at once 🙂 I just realized yesterday that although setting my intention to STOP all fabric and pattern buying in 2018 hasn’t been 100% successful, setting my intention has definitely slowed me down! I’ve sewn up 7 out of my stash and bought 3 but my pattern buying remains a little crazy still. I’ve only used 3 patterns but I’ve bought about 10! And all have been online. I think honestly if I ONLY bought patterns at my local shops I wouldn’t have a fraction of the ones I have so perhaps that will be my next move. Online shopping for fabric and patterns is really the culprit at least for me.
Hi Kathleen, thank you as always – feedback like yours give me motivation to keep writing for sure, and I also always enjoy reading your comments! Happy that your shopping has been curbed in line with your intention. I have managed to stop all the fabric shopping for 3 months but I have bought patterns. Somehow it doesn’t feel quite as bad to have a load of digital ones – I get them printed in batches when I decide I really want to sew something up. I will go and check out your blog to see what you’ve made! PS – try unsubscribing from all the emails from all the stores. It definitely helps!
I 100% have fabric fatigue at the moment. I’d decided to make my stash this year and have pretty well stuck to it and when I’ve not I’ve made sure the item is made swiftly rather than just adding to the problem. I’m also trying to work on making basics to make the me made pieces in my wardrobe to ensure they get more wear than just my pretty dresses and dungarees regardless of how much I enjoy making them! It’s such a good challenge, i’ll definitely be following your progress. Great idea Kate!
Great post! I recently found your blog and love your views.
I’ve been thinking about this the last months a lot. My stash has grown a bit to big and I totally recognize the buying thrill instead of the material. So I’ve started to pause each buy at least a week. Often the primair ‘need/thrill’ has past, our I realized I already own such a fabric/pattern.
For me buying fabric can also be a substitute for sewing. If I have little time or feel to tiered I substitute buying for sewing…. not something I’m proud of, but realizing it is the first step of changing.
Hi Anne! Nice to meet you here and thank you for your comment. I don’t think you are alone in the buying thrill. These days if I find something seemingly irresistible, if I can’t find the pause button in me I head for the swatch button. Chances are as you say I’ll be over it by the time it arrives or its not what I imagined. I also find the blogging hobby a substitute for the sewing one – it’s impossible for me to keep up the sewing motivation all the time even if I wanted to!
This was a very interesting read. I have wondered about my buying habits as well. I now am willing to pay more for a garment that I know is handmade by a small business, I spend less on fast fashion but I have come to realize that I spend way more on fabric now that I ever did before. The shift in spending and consumption has made me wonder about the impact my dollar is having.
But, I do have to say, I am equally as excited to cut, stitch and wear as I am to buy the fabric.
Right, so I had the exact same shift in spending and consumption. For several years I’ve had 6 large storage boxes of fabric, and even if I sew a lot and buy very little, I seem to be making no dents in it at all. At least it doesn’t go off?! If I’m keen for new clothes then I just need to do a little rummage through the boxes! I guess it’s trying to think about the 30+ wears as recommended by fashion revolution, and thinking about how I can buy better. Thanks for your comment 🙂