A New Year (ethical) Resolution

Sewers (as in someone who sews) are often exceptional collectors of fabrics, trimmings and buttons and we have cherished relationships with our respective collections. I realised long ago that the enjoyment I get from acquiring new supplies and imagining what they could be made into is almost as fulfilling as completing the finished piece. Visualising options – so may possibilities! - is a necessary part of the design and planning process. It might look like daydreaming to some, but there's a lot going on behind those faraway eyes.

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My own selection habits have had to sharpen up, taking into account how garments made in different fabrics have to hang together as at least some kind of coherant collection. I've had to broaden my gaze as I'm not only choosing shades that I'm personally drawn to, I need to consider colours that suit other complexions and tastes. Still, I find myself experiencing that magpie twitch when faced with a gorgeous sample of fabric or exquisite button. I'm improving at resisting the temptation of buying without knowing quite what I'm going to do with it. Without a plan, these compelling new supplies are both charged with opportunity and a rueful reminder of that already over high fabric pile.

Recently, a couple of likeminded textiles addicts have offered me lengths of fabrics that they, too, have hoarded over time. With the proviso that I'll only use natural fibre fabrics, I've acquired a new stack of small amounts of irresistible fabrics. Interestingly, these unplanned adoptions are less emotional than the ones I make on my own. Alone, I fall for colour combinations I rarely see, prints that evoke something from the past or a novelty that I think I'll never come across again. Whereas the fabrics that have been bequeathed to me, lovely as they are in their own right, present more of a design challenge to figure out how to incorporate them. The challenge of using what I already have is not only my challenge; before buying more and more, I think it's important for all of us to remember what we already have and consider if there is a way to re-purpose or re-use before opting for introducing more new material – any kind of stuff, really - into the world. To me, a resolution is a promise you make to yourself and it doesn't need to be scheduled by the commencement of a New Year. If a resolution is to be made, then make it whenever. So, my Un-New Years Resolution is to be discerning and considered with my acquisition of the new and embrace the challenge of using what already exists.     

Tamsin  ✂️

Contemplating an Ethical Festive Season 

As the year comes to a close we find ourselves so busy, planning the time to be spent with family and friends and doing our Christmas Shopping. I know some people who totally adore the whole shebang and others who feel overwhelmed by all there is to do. As I get older, I find the last days of the year are also a time for reflection of what's passed, of where I am now and what's ahead in the new year. I know others are reflecting, too.

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When it comes to sustainability, all the wheels can fall off the wagon at Christmas. Our good intentions of only buying what we need and minimising the accompanying packaging is harder to adher to. Step one is to be aware of what we're purchasing and what it's packed in; Buying something that merely has novelty factor almost guarantees it's going to end up as waste in landfill, much better to buy something that the receiver will care for and look after. Step two is to know that small changes in our purchasing habits, like remembering our bags-for-life, really do make a difference.  It's about considering the choices we make and putting kindness at the centre of it all, to others, the environment and ourselves.

Have a Happy Sustainable Christmas!
Tamsin   x

Saturdays at Skibbereen Farmers Market

In May and with some trepidation, I began getting up earlier on a Saturday morning to head off to  Skibbereen Farmers Market.  Having had several years experience of the bricks and mortar kind of retailing, being outside in what is basically an open tent and subjected to the weather, was a scenario that was a little daunting. However, my partner, Donagh Carey, a fine artist, was to join me and together we brought a combination of wares that possibly hadn't been seen together at Skibbereen Market before.  

Skibbereen Farmers Market is everything you want a market to be.  A diverse collection of local stallholders selling interesting  things that you actually want to buy.   For those who appreciate Slow Food, you can do your weekly shop at Skibbereen Market and be confident that you're buying from the person who has produced it and who has travelled just a few miles.  You can only get fruit and veg that's in season, because you'll only find local food here.  There are stalls specialising in collectable jewellery, glassware or china, secondhand books and vinyl records.  There are contemporary ceramicists  and knitters of hand dyed yarn, plus many stalls selling plants for the garden or polytunnel  and a lady who grows her own  flowers and sells the most charming cut flower bouquets.  It's a real authentic market.

Having a website is grand, in fact in the 21st Century it's essential, but I was missing out on  interacting with clients and getting feedback. It's one thing presenting images and descriptions online and a totally different experience meeting people one-to-one and hearing their responses and seeing how the clothes actually fit.  And of course, for customers, it's much easier to know whether something is going to suit you if you have it right in front of you and can see and feel it.  I've even customised a private fitting area complete with mirror and carpet so you can try things on.  

There are many lovely aspects to spending a Saturday at Skibbereen Farmers Market and they are all connected to the people who are there, both stallholders and market goers.  Having an opportunity to have conversations about sustainability and what it means, finding out what resonates and what is important to different people and explain how I'm approaching sustainability in the collection, all make for a very fulfilling day at the market.  One lady, dreamily lost in her own thoughts whilst examining a garment made of printed cotton fabric, suddenly commented, "These remind me of clothes I use to wear".  That will do for me.  

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We'll be at Skibbereen Farmers Market on the Fairfield off Bridge Street every Saturday from 9am to 2pm come rain or shine (but probably not hurricane).  Contact me for me details on anything to do with the collection or the market.  For more information about the work of Donagh Carey click here.

Tamsin

All The Nice Girls Love A Sailor (Shirt)

Story of Our Kinsale Shirt

 
Hark, now hear the sailors cry
smell the sea, and feel the sky
let your soul & spirit fly, into the mystic...
— Van Morrison

Our Kinsale shirt is inspired by the tradition of the sailor suit, but how did the universally recognised sailors apparel, particularly the sailor collar, come about in the first place?

In the beginning, there was no official uniform for seamen, they would have worn their own clothes and being away at sea for so so long, they tended to let their hair grow.  Sailors used grease or tar to hold their long hair in place so that it didn't get in the way as they worked. There wasn't much opportunity for bathing or laundering on a ship, so to protect their clothing from the tar, they wore a piece of cloth over their shoulders which became known as a 'tar flap'.

Eventually, the naval forces formalised the dress code and although sailors were no longer allowed long hair,  the tradition of the tar flap was incorporated into the uniform with the sailor collar that we know today.  Due to the perilousness of the sea, sailors were (and perhaps still are) a superstitious lot and it may have seemed prudent to retain the collar, in spite of it's original function having become obsolete.   Even nowadays, it can be considered good luck to touch the collar of a sailor.

The archetypal dress of a sailor with the flap collar, neckerchief and bell bottom trousers has a singular look, conjuring lively sailors disembarking their ships after months journeying away at sea before returning to shore. There's a romance and mystery to the look of the classic sailor uniform, unlike anything a land-locked civilian might ordinarily wear, evoking the exotic and adventure, an irresistible combination.  

 
source: Twisted Limbs and Crooked Branches

source: Twisted Limbs and Crooked Branches

source: Authentic French Fashions of the Twenties

source: Authentic French Fashions of the Twenties

There's something inescapably appealing about uniforms in general and the sailor suit has long been referenced in the styling details of clothing for us non sea fairing folk, initially being popularised in the 1800s in women's fashion as well as young boys dress, hence the popularity of the sailor suit for page boys at weddings.

source: Chanel, Couture and Industry

source: Chanel, Couture and Industry

Around 1913, the French designer, Gabrielle Chanel rebelled against the accentuated feminine shape that had long prevailed in women clothing, with it's restrictive corsetry.  The fashion was for women to wear dresses which were boned to create a tiny waist, and an exaggerated bust and hips and inevitably this constrained movement as well as requiring someone to assist with all those fastenings and laces.  

Chanel  designed clothes with a relaxed cut, taking elements from mens clothing, including mens workwear which had a more utilitarian feel and was eminently more practical.  She also utilised fabrics never before thought of as suitable for women clothing; knitted jersey in wool or silk was mostly used for sports and beach wear and in it's natural colour state, for mens undergarments.  During the war, traditional fabrics were in short supply as they were used for uniforms, so it was easy step to persuade people of the necessity of turning to jersey clothing, which helped revolutionised the comfort and practicality of womenswear.

Gabrielle Chanel (above) in 1913 wearing her own clothing designs, of a heavy jersey sweater with sailor style collar and linen skirt.  At the time, it would have been  unusual for a woman's garment to be pulled over the  head and years later, American Vogue commented "To many rich women, the charm of Chanel lay in the remarkable fact that they could dress themselves without anyone's help." 

In more recent times, to mark her engagement at Buckingham Palace, Princess Diana wore a navy ensemble complete with a white sailor collar blouse and red ribbon bow.  It is thought this was a nod to the traditional dress once worn by younger members of the royal family since the times of Queen Victoria and Czar Nicholas.

What we think of as a sailor suit is now mostly worn by junior servicemen and only on ceremonial occasions and has been replaced by a modern boiler suit style uniform for everyday wear.  The traditional uniform with sailor collar designed to protect clothing from tar and the bell bottom trousers, practical for rolling up when scrubbing the ship's decks, has been updated to meet the requirements of modern day life in the Navy. However it lives on, providing inspiration in clothing design, to be reinterpreted and re-configured again and again.

source: Diana, Her Life in Fashion

source: Diana, Her Life in Fashion


Detail of the Kinsale shirt in pure cotton with carved mother-of-pearl buttons

Detail of the Kinsale shirt in pure cotton with carved mother-of-pearl buttons

Our Kinsale Shirt borrows the sailor collar from the traditional naval uniform as well as referencing the twenties, when women's clothing became more androgynous, adapting the fit to suit a contemporary femininity.  This version with three quarter length sleeves is in a beautiful, fine cotton jacquard of elephant grey with brick red and ochre patterned stripes.

Fast Fashion and the Myth of Greater Choice

'Fast Fashion is sold to us as expansion of choice.' - Oma

 

Every week on the high street, there will be a new display of garments to browse, new styles and colours. Not only that, but if we don't buy that top we can't live without, we can be pretty sure it'll be gone by tomorrow. Best to get it now whilst it's still there, it can always be returned if we change our mind – it can, but will we be bothered? And as it is so cheap, why not get that other little top that's reduced, too? And now we have two cheap tops which we may or may not wear, but it's not as if they cost much, I mean they were practically 'for nothing'. Then repeat and repeat, never spending much, but somehow not seeing how these routine spending sprees actually add up to a bit more that we thought we were spending. But we fell in love with them and they bring a dopamine rush which feels lovely. How long does that feeling last? How long do the tops last? How long do we love those tops and is it ok to fall out of love as quickly as we fell in? Buying frequently makes it hard to love everything deeply.

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What if we were to buy occasionally, to spend time considering the place a garment would have in our wardrobe, the value it might have in terms of number of wears and the sheer pleasure we get from wearing it again and again. We have been educated out of thinking that way about our clothes, out of thinking of things as made to last – after all that isn't congruent with practicing mass consumption. Just consider how many items we get through daily that are actually designed as single use items – from food packaging , to face wipes and take out coffee cups. We've been encourage to think about clothing in this way, too, that it's ok to get just the one wear from something, or even no wears. What happens to all these hardly worn garments is for another blog post, but what if we purchase fewer items less often, make thoughtful and considered choices and look after through careful laundering and repair? This is how older generations regarded clothing, as something that should last, that should be worn until it wore out.

In a world of instant gratification, is boredom to blame for our need for a fast fashion fix? In fact, which came first, the constantly changing availability of variety or the need for instant gratification? Either way, if you truly love something, do you get bored of it? Or do you take care of it, cherish it, wear it to bring you luck and grieve for it once the day finally comes and you have to admit it's time to part. The chances are that will only happen if the garment was of good quality design, construction and materials at the start. Without these characteristics, it is unlikely a garment will last very long whether you love it or not.

It was Vivienne Westwood who coined the much quoted phrase 'Choose Well, Buy Less, Make It Last' and I read a blog post recently where the writer had decided to radically change the way he purchased clothes. Based on a monthly spend of approximately $150 per month, rather than select multiple cheaper fast fashion items, he would choose one really good piece, that he would take time to consider before committing himself.  One thing about higher priced items is they tend not to sell out so fast. At first, he said it actually hurt to spend so much on a single item, not to mention resisting the temptation offered by cheap fast fashion, but in time he realised how much more he appreciated the superior quality and design of the new clothes and ultimately he liked them better.

In food, we have become interested in where our food is from and who made it. The rise in attendance at Farmers Markets by producers and customers alike is testament to this and means that through buying locally, we may even know who made it as well as where it was grown or made. What is it about this that makes us want to invest and return regularly for more? We enjoy buying locally from small producers and we like buying from people we know. We choose quality and knowledge over the supposed greater variety and cheaper prices at the supermarket. However, there's no point having more options and being able to pay less if it's not the food we want to eat.

It's no secret that Fast Fashion is not made to last and if it did it might be harder to justify throwing it out. We actually expect the seams to unravel and fastenings to fall off or it not to survive going through the washing machine.

Detail from a handmade, slow fashion dress

Detail from a handmade, slow fashion dress

 We have no idea who made our clothes apart from what the label tells us is the country of origin. This will only state the final place of assembly and be far from the whole picture. All consumption is going too fast and the environmental impact of single use items in landfill is increasingly under the spotlight, but it seems particularly wrong to treat clothing as a single use items.

Fast Fashion is presented to us as providing greater variety, but I'm far from convinced it's a choice we need and it rarely rewards our soul with lasting beauty and pleasure. It's a mind shift, just as what happened in the Slow Food movement; we can learn about what makes a better garment from the fabrics, to the design and construction. And we may understand that spending more on fewer clothes may go against what we've been taught in recent years, but will be more satisfying in the long term. By finding out more about the story behind our clothes, where they were made and who made them, we might just start falling in love with (fewer of) them and value their provenance and integrity as well as how we express ourselves through them.

Tamsin