Material encounters: fashion sustainability examined through beginners’ experiences of learning to sew clothes at home

Cooke, S., 2024. Material encounters: fashion sustainability examined through beginners’ experiences of learning to sew clothes at home. PhD, Nottingham Trent University.

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This thesis explores the experiences of beginners learning to sew clothes for themselves at home, considered in the context of fashion sustainability. The study investigates how people learn clothes sewing skills, the resources they use, and the difference this learning makes to their relationship with clothing. The research is informed by literature addressing sustainable fashion, fashion theory, craft theory, amateur craft and home sewing. Literature relating to design, sustainability, degrowth and new materialism provide a wider contextual frame for the study and its conclusions. The research uses a combination of qualitative, ethnographic and participatory methods, brought together in a novel configuration – the video elicitation/workshop (ViEW) encounter – in which participants’ journals and self-recorded video clips informed conversations about their experiences of learning to sew clothes. Three themes, developed from an interpretative thematic analysis, are addressed.

Craft learning and emotion highlights contradictions between sewing’s online portrayal and the material reality of learning to make clothes at home. The importance of home sewing outcomes relative to the enjoyment of the process challenges romantic notions of sewing.

Wearability of homemade clothes is identified as crucial to the satisfaction and enjoyment of sewing. Six wearability factors – fashion, fabric, fit, form, functionality and finish – are identified as contributing to the structural integrity of home-sewn clothes and their physiological and psychological fit for the maker-wearer.

Materiality considers the material aspects of digitally mediated contemporary clothes sewing practices: the material encounters, the embodied experiences, and the material circumstances in which they are situated. These aspects reveal the physical mechanics of clothes making and the reality of clothes as three-dimensional forms, inviting reflection on the materialities of clothing production within (and beyond) the home.

This thesis concludes that enhanced material engagement with clothes, through the process of trying to make them, alters sewists’ perceptions of clothing and its production. The positive affective experiences of making, and the changed perceptions of clothing, indicate the potential of home sewing as a sustain-ability (an ability that enables people to behave more sustainably), while not necessarily offering a route to garments or sewing practices that are materially sustainable in their own right.

Item Type: Thesis
Creators: Cooke, S.
Twigger Holroyd, A.Thesis
Townsend, K.Thesis
Date: March 2024
Rights: The copyright in this work is held by the author. You may copy up to 5% of this work for private study, or personal, non-commercial research. Any re-use of the information contained within this document should be fully referenced, quoting the author, title, university, degree level and pagination. Queries or requests for any other use, or if a more substantial copy is required, should be directed to the author
Divisions: Schools > Nottingham School of Art & Design
Record created by: Jeremy Silvester
Date Added: 21 Jun 2024 09:48
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2024 09:48

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