Homemade Vs. Mass-Produced

Do you want to know something that really saddens me? When creative people put lots of effort, time and energy into making their own clothes, then compare those clothes unfavourably with mass-produced garments made in a factory then feel pretty rubbish about their work. And do you want to know something that seriously pisses me off? Well, it’s the other side of the same coin really. But what pisses me off is the attitude that so many of the general public hold that home-made garments (and yes, for the purposes of this post I am going to refer to our creations as homemade because, let’s face it, they are made at home) are inferior to factory made clothes without really being able to express why. I would argue that so many unthinking people who have adopted this view are actually the recipients of a lot of brainwashing delivered through a couple of generations worth of advertising. That advertising has been designed to train us into rabid consumers, perpetually several purchases away from happiness. I want to spend a bit of time today explaining why I feel homemade garments are just as good, if not far better, than mass-produced garments.

Ok. I would really like to talk to some teenagers about where they think those sweatshirts in Nike Town come from and how they actually got into the shop. I think the responses would be pretty funny if, in fact, they were able to offer more than a shrug and a confused expression. Garments aren’t popped out of a factory fully formed, kids. Garments, whether made in a factory in Asia or on your mum’s kitchen table all start life as a bunch of fabric, some reels of thread, and any other things like zips or toggles that are needed for the final product. The differences between those two scenerios is quantity (1000′s of metres of fabric or 2 metres of fabric, for example), quality (the stuff on the kitchen table is likely to be better) and cost (the fabric, thread and notions on the kitchen table will be many times more expensive).

Creating a garment is simply a series of procedures. Cutting out the pattern pieces, stitching seams, pressing sections, applying interfacing: all procedures that must occur for a garment to come into being. The difference between a homemade garment and a factory made one is that at home, usually it’s just one pair of hands that completes those procedures, and a factory it’s tens or even hundreds of pairs of hands that each complete a procedure. Which follows…

….the maker of the homemade garment is usually more highly skilled than many of those pairs of hands in that factory. At home, he/she making a garment must figure out how to complete each step and in what order to do them. Most garment factory workers are classed as unskilled as they usually perform one repetative task day in day out. This is sadly one of the reasons many are exploited around the globe, but that is a whole area I’ll go into more directly another day.

If you’ve ever spent time unpicking mass-produced garments, you’ll often find they have been constructed in a way that is different to how you would approach constructing a similar garment. That doesn’t make your approach in any way inferior. A factory’s methods of construction and order of each proceedure has been calculated to save the company time, and therefore money. It doesn’t make those garments any sturdier or destined for longer life. The order of construction most of us home sewers are likely to employ are also much more likely to facilitate alteration if needed at a later date. Similarly, seam allowances in mass-produced garments are often 1cm (3/5 “), rather than the 1.5cms (5/8″) we often work with at home, simply to allow for tighter lay plans (when all the pieces are fitted together like a jigsaw in the most economic way) and therefore to save on overall fabric usage.

Possibly the main reason mass produced clothing can sometimes have a slightly crisper appearance to homemade clothing, is that the factory has all manner of machinery home sewers don’t have access to. And because of the quantities in question, it is worth their while to employ technicians to tweak those machines so each procedure is completed with maximum efficiency. For example, there will be machines that have been set up to work perfectly with chiffon, because that is probably all that machine will sew all year. It doesn’t need to work on denim the following week, or shirting the week after, like our hardworking domestic machines. And as nice as that brand new, ultra-crisp look can be, we all know that it doesn’t last the first go through the laundry.

Little known fact about me: my parents used to regularly take the mick out of me for always smelling stuff when I was young. I think I may rely on that sense more than most people do, so believe me when I say that I enjoy the ‘box-fresh’ smell of a brand new mass-produced garment. Why do they have that smell? Because mass produced garments are made from new fabric which has not been washed before going into production. It would be viewed as an unnecessary cost. Almost all fabric is tested before going into production, the percentage a garment is likely to shrink by after washing due to the fabric is calculated and factored into the pattern. Homemade garments don’t really have that ‘box-fresh’ smell because the fabric hasn’t come directly from the fabric manufacturers and most home sewers pre-wash their fabric before starting (hands up who learnt that lesson the hard way?!).

Many (I hesitate to write ‘most’ because I don’t know for sure) suppliers of high street fashion knowingly create clothes from cheap fabric that has performed poorly in the legally required testing. Fabric is tested by independent companies and can be tested for many things, but there are about four specifics tests it must be put through, however the scores it needs to achieve in those are actually really low to be deemed acceptable for commercial garments. Many suppliers are fully aware, but do not care, that the garments they produce will not retain anything like their original appearance five or ten washes later. Most home sewers, by contrast, go out of their way to pick good quality fabric to invest their sewing time and effort into for a final garment (as opposed to a toile/muslin).

Talking of cheap fabric. Many high street suppliers will also rely heavily on using fabric with a very big lycra/elastane content for garments that are meant to be woven but close fitting, like sheath dresses or tighter trousers. This way they can create an acceptable fit for a wider range of customer body shapes. But home sewers do not need to rely on super-stretchy fabric or hoping their measurements fit the manufacturer’s standards (which most people don’t). Even relatively inexperienced home sewers can create garments with a superior fit to much of what is on offer on the high street.

Most retailers will order garments from their suppliers in quantities of 1000′s or 10,000′s. Which makes the likelihood of seeing someone else wearing ‘your’ top pretty high. When was the last time you walked into a cafe and felt embarrassed because another woman was wearing a Simplicity 3835 as well?!

I could go on, I really could, but I need some sleep. If anyone still feels less than proud of their homemade clothing, then they are crazy and I can’t help them.

Massive love to everyone who has invested their time and creativity into making their own clothing. You look incredibly hot, BTW!

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