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Yeah! I Made it Myself by Eithne Farry
But do you want to dress as Joan of Arc?
Sunday 21 May 2006
I'm launching a Slow Clothes movement, patterned after Slow Food. We'll delight in the skills of sewing, the millennia of ingenuity in textiles, the sculptural intelligence in cutting and assembly of garb. We'll enthuse about the satisfaction of making and reworking, and the quiet pleasure of maintenance and prolonged wear; about the way that learning how to do it yourself leads to the realisation that you don't like the way it's commercially done - practically, morally or economically.
Now and again in Eithne Farry's book, there is a line that suggests that she might be a potential SC recruit, as where she confesses that she enjoys gathering ruffles by hand. (An agreeable, repetitive motion, like rattling a stick along railings.) But mostly what she proposes in this manual of DIY fashion are the very opposites of Slow Clothes: the garment equivalents of double cheeseburgers. In just a few minutes, you too can slap together a couple of pieces of cloth, staple the hem, safetypin the neck, and go to a party where you then spend hours telling people how clever you are to have made this dress.
To Slow Clothes-ers, this is an infuriating book. It's laid out (respects to www.carrstudio.co.uk for the enticing design) as a sequence of projects, in which Farry demonstrates a real, rare gift for clear instructions; converting finger action into bullet-pointed prose is not easy. She gives sound advice on the minimum basic kit required - first buy a seam ripper - and an excellent checklist to diagnose what caused which mechanical snarl-up, with the fine motto DO NOT FEAR THE SEWING MACHINE. She has a fab eye for a remnant, to judge from the shirt print on page 16, and her list of style icons is indeed stylish - Audrey Hepburn in Givenchy, Edith Head, Clarice Bean. And yet I ended up wanting to strangle Farry with her own garter-stitch belt.
In part, this was a reaction to the many pages of Farry's non-instructional writing, which trills ("the sort of bag that inhabitants of fairy kingdoms would bring to dances"), blathers ("spend the afternoon eating beetroot sandwiches with squishy blackberries for afters"), and overworks a silly-girly vocabulary "really lovely", "teeny", "nice", "pretty", "when we were little". Her imagery is often off-target, too, as when she writes that the lengthwise grain of fabric is "very strong and dependable, like Cary Grant"; actually his charm was in his suppleness and potential unreliability - that is, he was cut on the bias. Never quite knew how he was going to hang. Besides her fairy-cake tweeness, my desire to stick pins in Farry was also provoked by her faux-modest, but highly self-promotional self-presentation. Entire pages are given over to narratives of her sartorial disasters, moreover some with pictures. Now that constitutes an intrusion into private grief. We'd rather not go there.
Even more space is ceded to fantasies of clothes she has yet to construct - "a sea-green dress fit for a mermaid", "a carbon footprint dress": it's like being made to read the slogans on T-shirts. Then Farry insists that we need to be told to the last thimble what's in her tote bag, what was in her granny's handbag, how she goes outside to look at the trees when couture makes her "feel stressy" or how she wore her Joan of Arc outfit with knitted chainmail collar to the library. Her ditzy-little-me-ishness irritates, since every profession of incompetence is an assertion of superiority. All that insistence that sewing must be fun, fun, FUN, able to be done while also watching TV and anyway abandoned the millisecond boredom sets in. No commitment, no reward in the development of skills. Hey, only third-world sweatshop serfs have to know how to do this stuff properly.
Most depressing to a Slow Clothes-er is that Farry's projects are unappealing, not worth even the minimal effort required. The photographs of her pullover surgical scrub dress, little shoulder cape, and strand of felt lanterns, all of which she treats as successful projects, look poor things despite their witty placement in the layout. I was going to pass my copy of the book to a seven-year-old friend who has started customising her Barbie wardrobe (the initial step for many Slow Clothes-ers), but that puce satin shroud for "flaunt-it girls" drooping from a hanger on page 141 would put her right off. I shall buy her a vintage Vogue Sewing Book instead. Scary, yeah! But inspirational.
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