Fast fashion is toxic. There are deep pits full of clothes we’ve all chucked because we lack the basic ability to mend them. But you know you could alleviate that shit, recycle garments and insulate your freezing flat with curtains and quilts – and yourself with zero-heating duvet suits – if only you could master The Sewing Machine.
And there’s the fear. The Machine is spiky. It whiffs of scary Victorian lady. There are sinister loops, spikes and dials. It looks like it would nail your palm to the table faster than you can say ‘applique’.
Sooner than I could have believed possible I’m whirring away
So when the time comes to give my Sunday afternoon to a beginner’s class at Fabrications on Broadway Market I don’t want to go. But I’m so glad that I do.
The instructor in the scary art is Barley, the owner, who shows up wearing an amazing self-made dress (it’s recycled from a man’s shirt. The straps are made from the stripy sleeves! How cool is that?). In the first ten minutes I conquer my fear by threading and re-threading the machine and – sooner than I could have believed possible – I’m whirring away.
This class is brilliant for beginners because you get all the basics that you need to be self-sufficient and learn more at home, and because you get to make something from scratch, and finish it under an expert trouble-shooting eye. Barley is a marvellous teacher: patient and clear, but also open and creative. We’re precise about learning basic stitches and hemming techniques and how to fix common mistakes, most of which we make in the first hour, but there’s no boring itty-bitty pattern that you ‘MUST’ follow. My confidence sprouts and soon I’m rifling through the scraps basket and patching bits and pieces together like I’ve been doing this for years.
Words cannot express the pride and joy that I feel on beholding my slightly wonky cushion cover. Three months later, I’m still secretly sad when visitors don’t notice it. More importantly, it hasn’t fallen apart. Unlike some of the skills I’ve learned on my mission to get practical, save money and screw up the planet less, sewing really is an essential for life. And – thanks to that scary machine – things come together unbelievably quickly. Since learning the basics I’ve run up tablecloths and hot water bottle covers in a trice. Thread is cheap and mending is easy, mostly. I’ve spliced together bits and pieces of second-hand clothing, adding collars or sleeves. I’m now considering curtains, and getting properly excited about spending long winter evenings with scraps – not a sentence I thought I’d ever say. And there’s help out there for when I get out of my depth, much of it free. These days, London’s positively thrumming with crafting classes, mending meet-ups and sewing circles. Many boroughs have free drop-in sessions or a repair café where you can get advice on how to fix or make stuff. And that crafty community is no longer restricted to church-going ladies: it’s friendly, sweary, creative and right on. Go for it: you’ll meet good people, save cash and save a few garments from the old landfill too.
Fabrications, 7 Broadway Market, E8 4PH. Classes from £5. Beginners’ machine-sewing class £75. Book here.
Best workshops in London for making your own stuff.