Zoe Edwards explored making different types of garments which led to an annual event, Me Made May where sewists are encouraged to wear something they made each day. She now hosts regular podcasts interviewing interesting, inspiring and knowledgeable people, focused on how to sew (and live) more sustainably.
Tell us about Me Made May. What inspired you to start it?
The Me-Made challenges began back in 2010 when I was living in Barcelona, Spain. Initially, it was a personal challenge that I undertook on my own in March of that year. At that point I had been busily sewing clothes for myself for a couple of years and when I hung all those items up together, it was beginning to look like a wardrobe! I’d been exploring making different types of garments (undies, a coat, jersey items) and feeling a desire to extract myself from what-we-now-call fast fashion. However, I felt I needed some kind of push to really start relying on my handmade items the same way I did on RTW items.
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Inspired by Canadian artist Natalie Purschwitz who spent a year wearing only things she’d made for her Makeshift project, I decided to challenge myself to only wear things I’d made myself (excluding bras, tights, socks and shoes) for a whole month. So I did it! I was pretty chilly for most of the month, but I learnt a lot.
I decided to try again in a warmer month when I could put more of my me-made wardrobe to the test. I put a shout out via my blog to see if anyone wanted to join me a couple of months later in May, perhaps by wearing just one self-made item each day if they wished. I thought a handful of people would be interested, but it ended up being closer to 70! We did it again the following September (it was called Self-Stitched-September), and it took a couple of years for the Me-Made challenges to settle down to being an annual challenge taking place every May.
How did you get started sewing garments?
My mum was a seamstress when I was small, doing dressmaking and alterations from home when I was little. She’s very small (5ft 0″) so has always altered the garments she’s bought or thrifted. So sewing was always going on in my home, although it was modeled to me as a skill set to make money or make garments fit you, rather than a creative endeavour or potential source of joy.
I was a fairly quiet, creative kid (and then teen), and an only child, so I spent a lot of my early years on my own, making stuff and exploring different creative and crafty disciplines. By my late teens, I had landed on clothing as the focus for my own creativity, and went on to study Fashion Design at University.
I didn’t really start making a lot of my own clothes from scratch until my late twenties. I’d been upcycling garments and making accessories for years, but it wasn’t until I was working in a soul destroying job in a low-end clothing company (this was about 2007) that I discovered the burgeoning online DIY sewing scene.
Like many sewers of my generation, we’d previously dabbled in the depressing offerings of the Big Four commercial pattern companies, but when the indie sewing pattern scene began to emerge (for me, that started with Colette Patterns and the initial version of the Burdastyle community site) that finally we had access to patterns for clothes that actually reflected our style.
A year later, in 2008, I had jacked in my ‘fashion’ career in London and escaped to Barcelona, Spain. I was cobbling together an income doing English-speaking childcare: picking kids up from school and talking and playing with them in English for a few hours each afternoon. I had a lot of spare time during the day until it was time to go to work. That was when my garment sewing REALLY kicked into gear!
You’ve launched a podcast Check Your Thread. Tell us a bit more about the messages you wish to communicate through the guests you invite to join you. What can listeners expect?
Yes! I began releasing weekly episodes for CYT in August 2021, although previous to that I’d spent two years sitting with and developing the idea, plus working out how to actually make one!
It’s about nerding out about making clothes, whilst exploring how to minimise the negative impact that it may have. Basically, I am on my own personal journey of working out how to sew (and live) more sustainably. I do that by talking to interesting, inspiring and knowledgeable people as well as undertaking some of my own investigations, and the listeners are invited to join me on my journey.
The main message that I hope to communicate is that there is no such thing as sewing (or doing anything) sustainably, we can only really hope to be more sustainable. Rather than feeling depressed by that, I hope that I project that there’s a lot of freedom, fun and fulfillment to be found in that: there’s no ‘one way’ to sew more sustainably, it’s a choose your own adventure kind of thing!
Upcycled clothes. When you go thrifting, do you have a special garment or project in mind? Or does the thrifted item inspire the garment. Which comes first?
To be honest, I do very little upcycling. I prefer sewing garments from scratch, mending/altering existing garments, and making stuff using my fabric scraps and leftovers. I do love visiting charity shops though. When I go thrifting, I’m looking for stuff for my kids that I can’t or don’t want to make for them (shoes, coats/jackets, school uniform), or sources of fabric such as curtains and throws.
Do you plan your work out ahead of time, or do you just dive in with your materials and start playing?
This is such an interesting question! Unlike a lot of your featured creatives, I’m a maker rather than an artist. Often I’m working with an existing sewing pattern drafted by someone else, although I almost always monkey around with it in some way. So the creativity for me is often in the planning and development, rather than through play, although there can be elements of play, particularly when piecing scraps and leftovers.
Planning and thinking through projects brings me a lot of joy in itself, and it’s a way to connect with my love of sewing when I’m not actually physically able to do some sewing.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I’m very lucky in that I have a very small permanent sewing space. I have a table in the corner of our living room, next to the dining table. It means I can keep my sewing machine set up all the time, although there’s not enough space for my overlocker to sit alongside it, so I have to swap them over constantly! The easy access to the dining table is very helpful.
I also have some shelves with files of patterns and books, a vintage 1960s sewing box with my notions in, a cupboard with more patterns and haberdashery, and a stack of plastic tubs where my scraps live. My actual fabric stash lives in the airing cupboard in the bathroom!
I find the topic of sewing spaces fascinating, and had a great conversation for the podcast with a regular contributor, Shams el-Din Rogers, about the topic of sewing spaces that I recommend to anyone else who is interested.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I use the Trello app to log my fabrics, project ideas and the progress of my current WIPs. I’ve also just downloaded the Stash Hub app, a sewing companion app, the inventor of which I recently met and spoke to, but I have yet to start uploading my fabric. I’m pretty time-poor at the moment!
How often do you start a new project? Do you work actively on more than one project at a time?
I love having a few projects on the go at the same time, at different stages. If I’m working on a ‘meaty’, lengthy project, such as the patchwork denim quilted jacket that I have almost finished, it’s great to have some quicker wins on the go at the same time, such as a batch of undies for myself or one of my kids.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
I’m a garment sewer and that skill fulfills the wardrobe requirements for myself, and to a lesser extent, my kids, so some of my projects are simply dictated by need. With two growing kids, one of them always seems to be in need of one type of garment or another!
My own wardrobe grows at a far slower pace, and I add to it with careful consideration and intentionality. Which is not to say that making my own items is not a source of fun or opportunity for experimentation. Sometimes I make something because I have to know what it’ll look like outside of my head! My scrappy knit cardigan is a prime example of this, I just had to see if that technique would work on discarded knitwear. But I’d never make something if I couldn’t see a place for it in my wardrobe. I also have a rough formula of mending a garment in between each making project (#makeonemendone). This stops the mending and alteration pile from getting too out of hand.
What kinds of creative projects are your favorites?
At the moment I’m massively inspired by the possibility of using scraps and leftovers to make garments. Fabric production is a damaging and wasteful industry, so using as much of the textiles we’ve bought as possible is one way to sew in a slightly more sustainable way. I would argue that sewing with scraps and leftovers can also be a really creative endeavour, more so than simply picking a pattern, choosing some suitable fabric, then putting it together as per the instructions. I really hope the sewing community starts to see scraps and leftovers as a valuable resource. I made a couple of scrappy sweatshirts for my husband that got a great reaction when I shared them on Instagram, so I’m hopeful.
Tell us about your blog and/or website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
My long-running blog, So Zo What Do You Know?, is where I post some of my favourite makes, those that have a lot of thought and meaning attached that can’t be expressed in an Instagram caption! I also road test and review free sewing patterns and tutorials there. My Instagram @sozoblog is where you’ll find all my sewing endeavours. And my podcast, Check Your Thread, (the website and @checkyourthread on Instagram) is where you can nerd out about making clothes, whilst exploring how to minimise the negative impact it may have.
Interview posted May 2023
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