Stitching and social justice

On 24 April it will be the one year anniversary of the Rana Plaza garment factory disaster in Bangladesh, where 1,127 workers were killed and thousands more were injured when the building they worked in collapsed on top of them. The images from Bangladesh exposed the treacherous conditions workers, mostly women, and some as young as 12, are forced to work in to make clothes for western brands.

This horrific disaster, the worst disaster in the history of the global garment industry, highlighted in the starkest terms
the horrible reality behind the goods we buy that are often produced under exploitative conditions. And while it's something we are all pretty aware of, most of us feel quite powerless to do anything about it.

Sure, we can make ethical choices about what we buy and we can make our own clothes: but these solutions remain for the most part the reserve of those of us with the means and the leisure time to do so. And, of course, no ethical activity can exist as an island: where was my sewing machine built, and what working conditions were the people who produced my cheap fabric faced with?

But, just because something is a small act, a mere plaster on a much greater global system of inequality, does not mean that we should pack up our sewing boxes. On the contrary!

You could therefore view sewing as a small attempt to reject the exploitation model, as well as a pursuit carried out for, among other reasons, enjoyment, creative fulfilment, and mental wellbeing.

But we can't just pat ourselves on the back. We need to support campaigns that are fighting for real change. For a world where people in countries like Bangladesh could also have the luxury of time to pursue hobbies, where they could live in a dignified way and not at the mercy of a pay slip from a dangerous garment factory, and for a world where the lives of some are not valued higher than the lives of others.

Until our model of production changes, these kinds of disasters will keep happening.

What needs to change:

  • Western governments must better regulate so that companies cannot profit from cheap labour in countries where they can exploit loose regulations. These companies should be not just bound by their shareholders to return a profit; they should be bound by conditions that make it illegal to outsource to factories where safety standards fall short or where workers are not paid a living wage. Following the Rana Plaza disaster some of the world's largest brands signed a legally binding agreement on safety in Bangladesh factories; this makes these brands more accountable for what happens in the factories that make the clothing they sell, although it does not cover wages. It's a start, but more companies need to sign up.
  • While compensation won't bring back the lost limbs and the lost lives, we should call for the companies involved in the Rana Plaza disaster who have not already done so to pay into the International Labour Organization (ILO) compensation fund for the dependants of those killed or injured.  It's crazy that they have to be pushed to do this; it's more than an understatement to say that it is the least they could do.
  • For countries like Bangladesh, the reality is that these factories are a lifeline for people as there are few other employment prospects. But why is this? It is not some sort of natural order of things: this situation happened because of trade deals that come tied to obligations to unilaterally remove barriers to trade that give developed countries full access to poorer countries' markets without reciprocal access for developing countries to wealthier markets in places like Europe and North America. This makes these countries the ideal playing field for western companies.The west must stop strangling third world countries like this and should be helping to develop sustainable economies rather than seeking to restrict the authority of governments or remove regulation designed to protect people and planet.
  • In parallel, we need investment in small-scale garment production industries in western countries. It might sound far-fetched, but if we can invest in military pursuits, why can't we invest in publicly-funded pattern cutting and sewing libraries/workshop spaces! Imagine an average town/city/high street. And now imagine that some of the retail businesses were replaced with small businesses/collectives that offered different ways to consume/clothe yourself: like affordable libraries where you could rent the equipment, or shops where people who made custom fit clothes could sell their wares at the local level.
Here are some useful links to just some of the campaigns working on this issue:

War on Want
Maquila Solidarity Network
International Labour Rights Forum
CleanClothes Campaign
Worker Rights Consortium (WRC)

Alternative Trade Mandate

I hope you enjoyed this departure from my usual type of post. I'll hopefully be writing more on this subject and carrying out some interviews with people who campaign in this field as I'd like to think more about how we can link campaigns for social justice and home sewing.

Let me know what you think about this topic!


Belladone in stripes

I always think it looks in equal parts brilliant and terrifying when there are so many layers of fabric draped over the machine when you are in the midst of a crucial stage.
This is the moment during the making of my second Belladone dress when everything seemed like it was almost coming together but there still seemed to be so much going on; I was scared of forgetting which pieces were supposed to be stitched together and which were not.


But luckily it worked out and now I have a second Deer & Doe Belladone dress, this time in light pink stripes!

Small bust adjustment
As explained in my previous post about my Belladone wearable muslin (which has incidentally been worn a lot recently with this lovely early Belgian spring), I had to do an SBA on the pattern. I just went for it and cut it out straight away on this fabric without doing a test first – living on the edge.
It worked perfectly though and the fit is just right.

I followed Lladybird's slash and pivot adjustment method for removing excess on the upper back piece. I took some pictures too so you can see the exact steps of what I did as I always like to see close up images of pattern adjustments!

Step 1:
Slash up the middle of the pattern piece at a right angle to the seam line. Leave a wee hinge about 1.5cm long.  
Step 2:
Overlap the edges by the amount you need to take out. (You can work this out by pinching out the excess on your muslin).
Step 3:
Tape the pattern pieces in place and smooth out the seam line to make sure it is straight.  

It was also great to read Lauren's post as not only was it useful in terms of the adjustments, it was very useful in terms of stripe matching! I copied how she did it in terms of matching up the chevrons at the waistband, and did my best to line up the other pieces.

Here it looks OK I think...

...but it is a bit off kilter at the centre back...whoops...

Adding a lining
As the fabric (cotton) is quite thick and not particularly smooth, I thought it would be comfier to line the skirt so I used some lightweight yellow cotton batiste.

I attached the lining to the seam that joins the bodice and skirt pieces. Then I sewed the zip in, attaching it to both the outer fabric and the lining at the same time

I sewed on some ribbon to hide the seams on the inside. This ribbon just happened to be what I had lying around (pretty sure this ribbon was bought in Glasgow going on seven years ago or something silly, so nice I finally got round to using it...). But I actually think the colours go together really well together, as if it was all meticulously planned, ha.

The resulting colour scheme really makes me think of sweets and wrapping paper. So maybe I should wear it with black tights and black nail varnish or something so it is not too sickly sweet.

Don't look too closely, I see some stray ends of thread....

The lining is also fully contained in the hem, so there is no way it's going anywhere now that I've locked it down completely.


Now, to think about what kind of Belladone my third will be.


My Kim skirt


Say hello to my Kim skirt, so called because this lovely soft wool fabric was one of the fabrics that Kim from Reves Mechanique brought along to the fabric exchange as part of January's sewing blogger meetup in Antwerp, and I was the lucky one to go home with it at the end of the day.

Thanks, Kim! I only hope that whoever got some of the fabric remnants I brought has enjoyed them as much as I've enjoyed making this skirt. Fabric exchanges are great because it's a chance to give a good piece of fabric a new home if you are not going to use it, and it's a chance to receive some one-of- a-kind fabrics, the likes of which you might not find again.

I used the By Hand London circle skirt app which I think is just amazing! They've done the maths for us! I still think it is useful to understand the calculation behind the app though: just think, one day you could be stranded on a desert island and you'd have to make a circle skirt with no app...

Maybe when I was doing my Higher Maths back in the midst of time the mysteries of Pi would have been more exciting if we'd combined the lesson with a jaunt downstairs to the Home Economics department to make a circle skirt. I am also prepared to eat my words as I specifically remember ranting as a teenager about how I would 'never use maths in the real world'. How wrong I was!

The best thing about this skirt though was that it was my first attempt at a lapped zipper. Stupidly (or daringly) I didn't do a practice zipper first. I just followed some instructions and went ahead directly onto the skirt; much unpicking and one very improvised rescue method involving bias binding later and I have what I hope can be described as a lapped zipper!



Coucou, Coco !

coco 5

It's a Friday night 'Coco Party' with me and my guest of honour - my new Coco dress! (And my self timer camera came along too for good measure.)

I was very keen to get my hands on the Coco pattern ever since Tilly started teasing us with hints about it - and I certainly was not the only one!

But just over a week ago the wait was over. I returned home to find Coco had crossed the Channel from London to Brussels and had been delivered safe and well.

In terms of the pattern and the accompanying instructions (both in the pamphlet and in the various in-depth posts on her blog) Tilly has succeeded in what she set out to do: create a simple yet well drafted knit pattern that would be appealing to seasoned stitchers and beginners alike.

Coco 4

I decided to make the size 2 and it fits perfectly even if it is a little loose at the side seams (hence the red bow-belt I've added). I really like it this way as if I want it to look smarter and more defined I can add the belt and if I want it to be slouchier I can just wear it as it is. Next time I might make the size 1 out of interest to see what that will be like.

The great thing about knits I think (or relatively loose fitting knits anyway) is that if the fit is not perfect then it is not as big a disaster as it would be if you were using a woven fabric.

I didn't embellish the dress in any way. I'm just really happy to have made a bright red, comfy, and slightly 60s'-style dress with a lovely boatline neckline!

The fabric is a red medium-weight jersey that is not too stretchy. It came from Berger (I'm still eternally grateful to Jo for telling me about this wonderful fabric emporium not very far from my house at all). I also discovered that Berger has a BASEMENT, i.e. double the fabric perusing pleasure. I somehow managed not to catch on to that on my previous two visits!

Now I'm on the hunt for some nice striped knit to make one in Tilly's Breton style.

Big hurray for Coco!

coco 6