Made to suit herself – Barbara Sherlock

Fast buying of fast fashion equates to a lack of thought, says Barbara Sherlock who believes many people buy for the moment, without really considering whether the style or the colour or the fit of a garment really suits them. That means these clothes are likely to be thrown away after a short wearing time not just because they aren’t the latest trend, but because the wearer knows deep within themselves that the clothing doesn’t really help them look their best.

Barbara Sherlock upcycled a wool skirt into a sleeveless vest for The Slow Clothing Project.

Barbara Sherlock upcycled a wool skirt into a sleeveless vest for The Slow Clothing Project.

“If people shopped slowly and more carefully, they would buy garments they could use for a longer time. This doesn’t mean we can’t add some garments for ‘flash’ but it does mean less waste in both eco terms and the consumer’s budget,” Barbara says. 

Barbara’s sewing has come a long way since she retired from full-time work as a teacher/librarian in 2002. “I’ve improved my skills and techniques and importantly for me, I can now adapt patterns so that garments fit properly. Where I live I don’t have ready access to fabric shops for quality fabric, but I do have access to op shops. It’s there I have found really beautiful fabrics, some vintage, some current, not always large pieces, but usable for many smaller or mix and match projects. I’ve also found quality garments for recycling and upcycling and recently had some clothing in an art exhibition of recycled textiles.”

About 60 percent of the garments in her wardrobe were made by Barbara, who lives at Lake Macquarie in the Hunter region of New South Wales. “The garments are not ‘high fashion’, but ‘my fashion’. They fall within the range of current fashion trends, but they suit me because I adapt the clothing to fit my figure, my lifestyle and my age group. However, just because I’m older doesn’t mean I wear dowdy. I like variety in colour, from vibrant to soft, and like to intersperse less standard designs among my basic patterns. I’m an avid op shopper. Several of my outfits are high-end labels, discarded by previous owners because they are yesterday’s fashion. To me they are classic garments worth keeping for years to come. Op shops are also the source of vintage garments. I try to co-ordinate these with current fashion. For example a 1950s wool and mohair car coat goes well over a pair of winter stretch knit slacks that I made. Op shops are also the source of beautiful materials, both vintage and modern and I use these to make some of my pieces of clothing. Over the past two years, I’ve started to make more of my clothes from recycled articles, either upcycling whole garments, or using the materials from them to make new ones. An upcycling project I enjoy is to turn a man’s shirt into a pretty, feminine lady’s shirt,” she said.

“Slow clothing gives me the opportunity to take the time to get the process right and to make things of quality. For example, knowing that the inside of a garment looks good because I’ve used recycled silk ties to sew a Hong Kong finish to the seams or I’ve used lace to finish the hem of a dress. It also gives me time to design and put in place garment details and embellishments that satisfy my need for creative expression.

“My early attempts at sewing clothing were not encouraging. I started sewing in primary school when we had to make a sundress by hand. It didn’t fit very well and certainly was not a high fashion garment. I tried again in my mid-teens. This time I thought I couldn’t fail, as my dressmaker aunt lived with us and I would learn from her. I wasn’t naturally skilful at sewing. Auntie would show me, I’d go away and try it. When it didn’t work I’d come back for advice, try again, come back for more advice, and at that point Auntie’s patience would run out. ‘Oh, give it to me. I’ll finish it.’  I ended up with some lovely clothes, but not many dressmaking skills. However, I persisted and over the years, despite raising a family and working, I continued to make clothes. It wasn’t until I retired that I started to develop a deeper interest in sewing, and my skills have improved considerably since joining my local group of the Australian Sewing Guild. The encouragement, advice and sharing of expertise among these ladies has been invaluable.”

The garment Barbara made for The Slow Clothing Project is a sleeveless, collared vest. “The pattern is one I’ve used many times before, both for me and for friends. I found a navy and white wool Fletcher Jones pleated skirt in an op shop. Vintage garments from that maker are always of the highest quality but alas no longer fashionable and, double alas, this skirt didn’t fit me. I unpicked the pleats and seam and was left with a single piece of fabric. I’d read that it was possible to press out the permanent pleats using a vinegar and water solution and brown paper. I tried it and it worked fairly well. The original skirt was pattern matched to perfection, but I was working with a limited amount of material. I managed to pattern match a lot of the garment but not all. I found that I didn’t have quite enough material for the front, so I pieced scraps together so the collar was made from the skirt material. I added some plain navy material left over from another sewing project but it didn’t look right with the plain navy dominating the front. The pockets were cut from the check material and in the pattern were sewn to the inside. Instead, I sewed them to the outside and by doing so the dominant navy material assumed a much lower profile.”

“The edges of the garment are finished in strips of kangaroo hide. These came from my husband’s workshop. He is making a fairground organ and the bellows are covered in the hide. Since he made three sets of bellows before he was satisfied with the quality, there are lots of leather offcuts, some of which I’ve used on the vest. .I hadn’t sewn leather before, but this particular leather was very soft and easy to sew. The buttons came out of my button stash. They were sewn on by hand and then strips of the white kangaroo hide were threaded through the buttonholes and knotted in place.”

The concept of slow living is a feature in Barbara’s life. “I really enjoy cooking, especially baking.  Well cooked, nutritious food is important. I find it disappointing that TV has turned cooking into an entertaining spectacle that makes food into a sensation rather than a satisfaction of a basic need. Surely a slow build-up of basic skills, whether in cooking or sewing or gardening or handyman activities is better than going for the spectacular every time?“

And in terms of advice for those beginning their sewing journey? Barbara suggests “Learn the basics first, but courses are almost non-existent. So try the “each one teach one” approach by finding someone who’ll teach you basic sewing and dressmaking skills. Then try finding, or founding, a group of people who want to go further than basics, and help each other.”

Well done Barbara. It is great to see you developing and wearing a style that is true to yourself.

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