Wednesday, 31 May 2006

the social fabric

I was amused to read in yesterday's Age that making one's own clothes is, in another fine exercise in subeditorial punsmanship, "sew hot right now." Guess I shouldn't be surprised given that the handmade/DIY vogue (I don't like the word "craft") has been going strong for at least five years now and with all those young women buying sewing machines it was bound to happen sooner or later.

Still, surprised I am, if it is actually true that really making clothes (and not cutting holes in them aka 'customisation') has ceased to be extraordinarily daggy and started being hip. I'm surprised because good dressmaking is very, very difficult. For one thing you need to be able to imagine accurately how particular fabrics are going to react and appear when they are manipulated in certain ways. And as well as knowing how to sew properly, which isn't that hard to learn if you're patient and have some good sewing manuals from the 1950s and 60s, you also need to know how to alter a pattern so the garment fits properly, which is very hard indeed. Hanging around fabric shops, unfortunately you do encounter many women wearing bad and obvious homemade clothing with puckered seams and hems, droopy shoulders, misplaced darts and so forth. (Only very rarely do you see anything anywhere near as disastrous the getup Keira Knightley is wearing at GFY today, however.)

I have been sewing for a long time and am pretty good at the mechanics of it. But I haven't made much progress at all on the fitting / adjusting front. My general, not very satisfactory solution is to stick mostly to simple cuts and make things a bit on the small side so they ease up to the right shape with wear. In the right frame of mind I enjoy making tricky things like jackets but accept unless I fluke something they probably won't be worn. Dressmaking is a bit like a cross between knitting and making model aeroplanes in some ways, at least it supplies similar satisfactions, partly a kind of soothing trance and partly the pleasure derived of making stuff with your hands. Plus you get to buy lots and lots of nice fabric like all that stuff pictured above. I guess what I'm saying that dressmaking is not really an instant gratification type activity, but with patience and practice it can eventually become quite rewarding.

Well, the reason I'm posting about this is not only to bore you with my opinions on dressmaking, but also to ask those of you who are interested in such things to notice the decision of the huge fabric chain store Spotlight to take advantage of the federal government's new industrial relations laws and make their retail staff trade off weekend penalties and overtime payments for an across the board 2c per hour "pay rise" (up all the way to $14.30). I used to work in retail and the weekend penalty rates is all that made it financially feasible really. The worker who complained about this stood to lose $91.35 from her weekly pay. Read more about it in Brian's discussion at LP.) If you give a damn about stopping this sort of reversion to the bad old days then I ask that you don't buy materials or anything else from Spotlight any more. Part of the rhetoric associated with the DIY revival is that by making your own stuff you are not particiating in the exploitation of people who work in sweatshops and get paid a tiny fraction of the profits, well I think if that means anything it should also take into account the people who sell you the materials you use. A few good places in Melbourne to buy better and cheaper material than what you can get from Spotlight are:

Darn Cheap Fabrics Phone 03 94550699, 164 Burgundy Street, Heidelberg
Clear It! Factory Outlet Phone 9415 1339, 188 - 192 Brunswick Street Fitzroy
Rathdowne Remnants 60a Brunswick Road, Brunswick East, Victoria ph 9387 7444

More suggestions?


Just Like A Woman said...

Thanks Laura, I've been looking for an excuse to stop shopping at Spotlight - although they have mountains of bolts piled high, most of it's not great quality, and I always leave there feeling vagely annoyed that I've wasted my time rummaging around for nothing. I love the three places you've already mentioned - Darn Cheap also have a great store at Glenhuntly. I also like the Remnant Warehouse in Prahran, Dancing Queen in Lennox Street, Richmond and I've heard good things about Horizon Fabrics in Hawthorn, but haven't actually made it there yet. And of course Kazari Warehouse for the most amazing Japanese textiles.
If you're really serious about creating garments you'll actually enjoy wearing, I suggest investing in a dressmakers model that you can adjust to your own exact measurements - it's totally foolproof and the results are a perfect fit every time.

Thanks for a fantastic blog and good luck with your new blog-venture too.

Ampersand Duck said...

I'm glad to have an excuse not to go to Spotlight too, but there's not a lot of choice in Canberra... Ganters or Lincraft. Sigh.

worldpeace_and_aspeedboat said...

we've got a similar problem here in Sydney, Ducky. in the past few years all the good quality fabric stores have closed down, and Lincraft has gone from lovely quality fabric to selling insta-craft shit like fake flowers and hot glue guns. there's nothing but Spotlight, and the strange Chinese fabric stores left.

the strange Chinese stores are great for velveteens, some standard cottons and if you want pre-pleated skirt lengths, go no further. but nothing sells lovely, good quality, quirky or just interesting fabric around here.

Melbourne has always had it hands down for fabric - apparently all the imports go there? something a friend told me about a decade ago. seems to be true - you've always got nicer stuff for a better price down there.

and another whinge - where are the old-fashioned haberdashery sections in stores now? nothing in Grace Bros/Myers any more, and bugger all in chanins like Target and KMart. again, there's only Spotlight around here, unless you want to struggle with the behemoth that is Parramatta Westfields to try and get into Lincraft.

elaine said...

here we go:

For denim, "stripper style" fabrics (think spangly, stretchy, great for fancy dress) and wonderful, modern and traditional craft fabrics go to GJs Fabrics on Lygon Street, East Brunswick (up near Albion Street). Don't forget to check out the back room.

While you're in the 'hood, drop into the Knitters Workshop. It's on the East side of the road up toward Albion a bit from GJs.

The Clegs remnants store is up there too.

Also the Sydney Road has a few good 'uns if you browse. Brunswick Fabrics (super cheap and worth the look through some hideous stuff for the $1.50/m gems that go for upwards of $15 in some other places), Unique Fabrics (also sell sari fabric and saris) and Anne's (I think) are all around about Albert Street.

Now, I'm going to CUT UP MY SPOTLIGHT CARD. Right Now.

Val said...

Just before Spotlight was outed as a nasty employer, I made a trip to one of their outlets to get materials for my bookbinding / scrapbooking hobbies. They are great for the latter, emergency only for bookbinding, but what put me off going there ever again was the abysmal service and disorganisation. However, in hindsight I think that the staff there have probably been treated horribly for years, and who can blame them for being less than overflowing with customer service skills.

Kate said...

Ebay is a great place for fabrics, I think -- I don't sew, though I'd like to learn how to, but even the basics of garment-making out of forgiving knitted fabric are somewhat terrifying to me.

kate said...

I'd put in a vote for Kazari in Richmond too. There are cottons, silks, remmnants from old kimonos and new stuff.

Anne's in Sydney Rd, (near the evil Spotlight) often has affordable finds, and there is a muslim shop a couple of doors up that sells fabric too - most of the customers are buying great swathes for head to toe coverage.

There used to be an Italian import fabric shop accross the road in the same neck of the woods, but I think it's gone now. Ebay is also fun, otherwise track down fabric designers you like and see if you can buy direct online.

I think I saw a retro fabric shop in High St Northcote, near the Catherine Manuell shop. I didn't go in but it might be worth checking out.

And for knitters, I'd suggest Wool Baa in Albert Park. The lady is lovely, they help you if you can't understand the pattern, they have lots of books and patterns for beginners and it's not daggy.

JahTeh said...

I'm still using fabric I bought from Dimmey's 10 years ago, yes, I confess to being a fabric hoarder. I don't just shop for dress materials, I'm finishing a dress (anyone having a party?) in curtain fabric, very light in weight but the richest terracotta rust with gold leaves and flowers. Half price because it was the end of the roll and I'll take the risk of someone having it in their bedroom.
Buy expensive fabric and keep the patterns simple and timeless.
I heard about Spotlight and was glad I gave up shopping there years ago.

Just Like A Woman said...

I also confess to being a dreadful hoarder when it comes to fabric. I forgot to mention Ebay - all you poor souls in places other than Melbourne need look no further, some of the most fantastic textiles known to mankind can be had on Ebay if you know where to look. There are a few vintage fabric specialists in there and the quality is not to be compared to the likes of your Spotlights etc.
Happy haby hunting!

Lucy Tartan said...

It will cost me a bit of pain to stop shopping at Spotlight. their fabric is mostly rubbish but they're pretty good for interfacing and basic notions and so on.

The retro shop you mentioned Kate, if it's the one I'm thinking of, is called Flashback and it sells nice vintage fabrics at ridiculously expensive prices. Good if you want a bit of 1970s Finlandia and can't be bothered trawling eBay or the op-shops.

Other Kate - I think knits are MUCH harder to work with than wovens!

Fabric hoarding works for me, too. Melbourne is really lucky for fabric shops, I admit that. Darn Cheap sounds terrible but is actually utterly brilliant. They sell ends of rolls bought from those designers who still manufacture in Collingwood and Preston.

cristy said...

I have justed started to learn to sew and currently have a sewing machine on loan for three months.

I have only made one skirt so far and since it was under close instruction it looks good. The concerning thing is what my next piece will look like...

I always thought that spotlight sold light fittings until all this controversy broke out. Now I will never walk in the door to see how very wrong I was.

kate said...

I've just been instructed that this weekend's birthday boy would like a softie. Now I have to go and buy stuffing from somewhere that is not Spotlight...

Other Kate, I'd suggest starting with plain non-stretchy or satiny fabrics - practice making up square cushions or similar and then work up to more complicated things like clothes.

Cousin Sonja said...

If anyone wishes to take their protests against Spotlight even further, you can send an email to the owners of Spotlight via

World peace and a speedboat, I agree about the dire state of Sydney fabric shopping, but have you checked out Tessuti's in the Mid-City Centre? They sell a lot of ex-designer fabrics, and have some very nice things.

cousin sonja said...

actually, Tessuti is in the Glasshouse in the city, not the mid-city centre. sorry!

dogpossum said...

spotlight is my #1 fabric shop. i live in brunswick, and while i do shop around (rathdowne remnants, esp), there's one on sydney rd which i'm boycotting as the owner shocked me silent the other day with some horribly, horribly racist and offensive swearing at a couple of muslim ladies.
i also have friends who work for spotlight, so i'm kind of torn.

...btw, I'm one of those people in the ill-fitting home-made clothes you see in fabric shops. I like to think it makes me more interesting.

fluffy said...

The Spotlight in Brunswick is absolutely atrocious and I don't go there unless I absolutely must. They've somehow turned a perfectly viable fabric shop into a chaotic junkyard manchester come homewares come $2 shop come drapers come upholsterers etc etc. Everytime I go there I come away annoyed.

Further to Elaine's recomendation, G.J.'s Discount Fabrics is at 443 Lygon Street, Brunswick. The ladies there are quite lovely as well. The front room is more for the quilters, but don't leave without checking out the treasure trove in the back room.

Helen said...

I gave up sewing in about 1994, but I'll continue not to buy fabrics from Spotlight, so there!!

There is a fabrics warehouse in Brunswick st Fitzroy which used to be good, as I've been out of it (ahem) I don't know about them now. And yes, Dimmeys (and Forges in Footscray, which is actually Dimmeys in disguise) is one of those places where you sift through piles of shite and find a gem.

This post reminds me of an old one of mine, (one I just ran up on the old machine, no darts or anything like that) of the tragedy of a hardware store-ophile having to boycott Bunnings because of its link to Gunns woodchipping.

Brownie said...

oh it's just like burning our Draft cards.
Spotlight in Ballarat is now a huge department store selling party supplies as well and I am happy to join you in cutting up my card.

Lucy your photo above is lovely - the mashed raspberry colour looks so good with the lichen green fabric. I spend a lot of time admiring the work of others craft blogs.
Copperwitch has very pretty floral mice for sale, and anyone who thinks John Quiggin with his 126 incoming links is a major blogger, will be struck speechless to discover that the legendary Melbourne Loobylu blog is linked to by 800 other bloggers.
Sewing is the new Rock n roll, so rock on.

Lucy Tartan said...

I cut up my card and posted it back with a note saying why. That will show them.