The Vogue Suit and the Economics of Sewing

Between all of my other sewing projects on the go – I’ve been working steadily on my new suit jacket, and doing a bit of thinking too. 

As for the jacket, I’ve been using some bright orange rayon seam binding to finish the seam edges at the back, resulting in a rather striking look. It also appears to be a completely unintentional homage to the Pantone colour of the year – Tangerine Tango.

I’m still going to need to catch-stitch the seam allowances down to prevent them from flopping about though. I’m waiting to try it on to see whether or not it will need shoulder pads – if it does, I’d like to try making my own. With no lining to cover them up, I’d like them to match the rest of the jacket. More on this soon!

I’ve also found the pattern for a matching skirt – Vogue 8543. It has as equally interesting lines to match that of the jacket:

As for the thinking – there’s been a fair bit of chatter on the blogosphere recently over what we pay for our clothing, or what we pay for fabric. Whilst I tend to feel the same way as Carolyn on releasing such intimate details about my fabric habits, other seamstresses openly talk about what each garment cost them, which I will admit often makes me envious that I don’t live in a country with options as inexpensive as theirs, nor do I spend the time to go ‘thrifting’. 

But it became personal for me the other week whilst in Cleggs, where I came across the silk fabric above which I thought equally beautiful and appropriate to be a lining fabric for my jacket front, sleeves and skirt. I arrived at the counter and chatted with the fabric enthusiast on the other side of the bench, each of use talking about what we were making at the moment. As she lowered the shears to start cutting into the silk, she asked what I was going to sew with it. 

“It’s going to be the lining for a suit jacket I’m making :)”

She recoiled her arm like the fabric had suddenly morphed into a funnel web spider and said with a look of horror:

“You DO realise how much this costs, yeah?” 

Never have I been made to feel guilty over a fabric purchase before. As I walked out of there, I began to question my habits a bit…

I do have a budget for fabric, which I don’t overspend on (I don’t underspend, either) and I also believe that their ain’t no point in making a dime if you aren’t going to spend some of your coin on things that bring pleasure and happiness. I love beautiful things. My budget fits my fiscal status – had I started sewing as a University Student, then my budget would have matched the times here too. 

So as what can be considered ‘expensive’ or ‘cheap’ differs from person to person due to so many reasons that my head begins to hurt when I try to round them all up, why do we judge others who fall outside what we consider to be reasonable? And how do we come to define our upper and lower limits of ‘reasonable’ in the first place? 

Were I to purchase a suit of this fabric quality (wool and silk? I’d be lucky to find something in this combination in the first place) in a retail store in my town, I’d be looking at spending well over AUS$700 (and I’d still have to pay more to get such a thing altered to actually fit me properly). So the fact that I can make one for less than $200 to me makes it a very economical option. Never mind that since starting this suit I got a promotion, and will now be site based – meaning I’ll be swapping my corporate uniform for steel-capped boots and hi-vis clothing. Hot.

I buy a fair bit of fabric online – for many reasons. Mainly because it’s cheaper (I’m using the USA as a benchmark here). In a country that is geographically isolated from the rest of the world and has a small population (23-odd million) to boot – things cost more, because there’s less people to support a broader range of products that can be stocked on shop floors and still allow a business to turn a profit. Also because it costs a bomb to get it here in the first place. But we also have a minimum wage that is more than double that of a certain country in the Northern Hemisphere – so we have the higher living standards of our fellow country-people to support as well. But these issues are not always the cause of the higher prices we pay; I’m sure most Aussies are familiar with iTunes’ blatant price gouging where a song costs 70% more from the Australian iTunes than it does from it’s American counterpart, even though our respective dollars have been sitting comfortably at parity for some time now. 

So whilst I’m accustomed to paying more when I walk into a store (which I won’t stop doing either – the sensory experience is a wondrous thing), there’s also the other end of the price argument spectrum. 

When I read of a certain blogerette’s purchase of silk jersey for $12/yard – alarm bells start going off in my head (…once the envy disappears). I ask myself – how is this even possible? Lady Katza of Peanut Butter Macrame recently posted about how the “manufacturing of fabric is just as problematic in the social justice and environmental arena as any other massively consumed goods” (read her very interesting post on that here). 

Like the Lady K, I’m not always aware of where my fabric comes from, how it came to be, how much the workers were paid and the conditions they had to work in. Fabric manufacturing is complex, wasteful and resource hungry, like most other manufacturing industries that pander to the masses.

I’m obsessively anal about not wasting the fabric that I purchase – I ALWAYS have a pattern in mind before purchasing fabric. Where the bolt is a non-standard width – I often pre-calculate using the pattern pieces how much to buy, as this non-standard-ness voids the recommendations on the back of the pattern slip. I still feel horrid putting my scraps in the bin, and dream about the day of owning a home that comes with a backyard so I can add my silk scraps to the compost for future use on my imagined veggie patch. 

So, besides not judging others against our own personal ‘reasonable cost’ barometer, what’s a fabric enthusiast to do when she wants to do the right thing regarding the cost and origination of said fabric? I just might have to ask if my favourite fabric haunts have the ability to track where the fabric they sell actually comes from, a la what the International Labor Rights Forum does for sweatshops, blogged about here by Waves from No Signposts in the Sea.

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8 thoughts on “The Vogue Suit and the Economics of Sewing

  1. I am with you, I really can't understand how some countries sell their fabric for so cheap, while up in Canada, the prices are ridiculously high. I'd love to support the local fabric stores as much as I can, but when a meter of silk crepe costs upwards of $35, I have to turn to the internet instead.

  2. If you really want to care about how everyone else in the world lives, then you will end up unable to live in your own part of the world. I'm 45 years old, and have read book after book about how xxxx industry is destroying the xxxx eco-system. I have honestly had to give up caring about what I do other than simply doing the best I can. If you try to eat vegetarian you will discover that some of the people who produce lentils live in near slavery conditions. It is impossible to live in the western world and not have an impact on the developing world. A couple of years ago I simply threw up my hands and said "I do my best and if you (the world) don't like it then just f**k off". It is beyond impossible to do right by everybody, so just do the best you can.

  3. It's always hard when people make their personal judgement calls on our fabric shopping habits. lol. Despite that, you have a gorgeous jacket-in-the making.

  4. Agree with the others – unfortunately there are some out there who make us feel guilty with our spending habits. The inside of a garment should be just as nice as the outside – that's called 'finesse' and taking pride in your work. Don't let anyone take that away from you. As for changing the world – unless the real culprits are taken to task, things won't change – too many greedy companies, so the poor get screwed all the time. Have a great week.

  5. I also had an assistant in Clegs disapprove of my choices. It's my money, I'll spend it how I want to! And after that, it's my fabric, I'll treat it how I want to. (She also disapproved of my plans to wash it). It's very strange for an assistant in a fabric shop to be trying to dissuade us from purchases, but I suppose the service is a bit more friendly and personal there, so the staff are a bit more real and less robotic. (If that's the fabric I think it is, I highly approve of your choice. I tried buying silk (meant as) lining fabric for my latest project, and it's just too thin and transparent for what I wanted. I wish that I'd gone for the heavier meant as garment fabric instead, when I decided to splash out on a silk lining.)

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