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Nov 28, 2012

Shopping vs. Making It Yourself: The Creativity Conundrum



I've been pondering this question for a long time, readers, and I can't remember what prompted it:

Is home sewing intrinsically more creative than shopping for ready-to-wear?



Does sewing exercise our creative muscle in a way shopping cannot?




It seems like a no-brainer (sewing IS creating, after all).

Yet there's such a wealth of shopping options out there -- different places to hunt, styles from all eras available -- you really do need a well-honed, creative eye to put yourself together today.  Which is, I believe, part of the reason why clothes shopping/personal style blogs are so popular and serve such a valuable function.  I find many of my favorite style blogs as inspiring as my favorite sewing blogs.

Think about the houses we live in.  Who has the more creative job: the architect, the builder, or the decorator?  I think few of us would choose the builder, who is just constructing something somebody else (the architect) has designed, and which someone else (the decorator) will furnish.  I think for many home sewers, making clothes is more like building than like architecture or decorating.  Do you agree?


Before I ever started sewing I was very interested in mid-century decor, and I always considered this highly creative, even if I wasn't actually making anything (except the look of the room) myself.  Sort of like curating.  What are decorators if not skilled shoppers? I guess it depends on where you're looking.  Ikea, not so creative; city dumpster, more creative.



Of course, the home sewer, even if she/he is making something very basic, is creating something from scratch (albeit from purchased fabric and notions) -- the product of one's own vision -- even if the pattern is commercial and followed to the letter.









Readers, I turn to you.

Do you think sewing is more creative than shopping, since you're making something yourself, even it's everyday work clothes?

Can a non-sewer with a masterful eye be equally as (or more) creative than somebody zigzagging their way through a polyfleece pullover project?

And to the sewers among you: do style blogs inspire you as much as sewing blogs?

I want to hear from you!



45 comments:

  1. Recently I've been drafting my own patterns as well, and I think that verges into the realm of architect.

    Also, Coleterie often posts about trim and detail inspirations, which strikes me more as interior designer.

    I definitely find sewing to be a creative endeavour. Especially on the men's clothing front, there aren't that many options when shopping and in the end I'd rather wear something I made.

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  2. i think everything depends on how creative the shopper/seamstress is.. there are people that have tons of money and spend a lot on clothes and still dress horrible.. there are people with lots of sewing skills that still wear horrible clothes..
    i prefer sewing, 'cause i like having unique, one of a kind garments.. if i shop, i always go for flea market or thrift finds (and most of the time end up altering those finds, to make them work for me)

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  3. I don't know which is more or less creative, but I know which takes way more effort; shopping!

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  4. In all honesty, my secret default position has always been that sewing/ DIY is more creative because of the sheer amount of time/work that goes into it. BUT, you definitely have me re-considering my position, Peter.

    I love to shop, but with a carefully curated eye. It takes me hours and plenty of stores before I find exactly what I want. I am equally influenced by style blogs and sewing blogs.

    Peter! Wanted to add that you inspire me so much. I am a neophyte at sewing, just finally got my Domestic treadle (running with a Fashion Mate 237 on a spoked wheel) up and running. I look forward to your posts and when I couldn't get the hand of treadling, I just thought of some of your posts.

    Most things are possible with hard work, dedication and practice and I look forward to creating garments soon (still working on those straight lines on paper).

    Keep writing! =)

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  5. Peter, Peter, Peter, those pants!!!! I love those pants!!!! In your case, certainly sewing is more creative, but I think it depends on the person. I cannot get over those pants. I will have to make me a pair of toile pants. Now that's creative!

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  6. I think it really helps on both fronts if you have some sense of style. There are people that sew just basic things and while it is great they are sewing...it's not really all that creative. There are some great creative clothing designers that I love their RTW clothes. I think it is harder for sewists to buy clothes, due to that whole "I can make that". As long as you do go ahead and "make that", then I think it can be more creative. I have made several creative pieces that I have only worn a few times. They are just hard to wear more often. Then I have some basic pieces like black pencil skirts that I wear all the time. Not really creative, but at least it fits me well.

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  7. Depends on what you're making & how or what you're shopping for & how. If you pick up a pattern, buy basic fabric & trim from Big Box Fabric Store, & make it up as directed, there's not a ton of creativity there -- much like the house builder following the architect's vision.

    If you draft your own pattern from a design of your own, hunt around for unusual materials, & create a couture-worthy gown, that's pretty darn creative.

    Grabbing a pack of socks at one store isn't creative, but assembling a fashion-forward ensemble from a selection of thrift-store items can be.

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  8. Peter, I think sewing is more creative. It also results in better constructed clothing. (Much, much better than say a cheap item from Walmart.) Also, if you're trying to get a vintage wardrobe as I am, it will save you a lot of time and money. I've found lots of great vintage patterns I want to make. I just have to figure out how to alter the size to fit me! Give Willy and Freddy kisses for me.

    Hugs

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    Replies
    1. Hi, I just recently learnt to resize a pattern after finding a fabulous cheap vintage pattern that was three sizes too big. I used this tutorial,and found it actually pretty easy (once I got over the scariness of cutting into the pattern) http://www.threadsmagazine.com/item/4368/making-sense-of-pattern-grading
      Best of luck!

      Delete
  9. They way I've looked at it is that people can be creative with whatever they want it's just that commercially made clothing tend to have a higher chance of someone else the similar style. Whereas by making the clothing yourself you have a one of a kind because it's made by you.

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  10. I'm working with plaid at the moment. I wanted a plaid garment for ages. Even before I started to sew I couldn't buy a plaid garment because the lines never would line up! I hate it when they don't, it gives such a cheap look. I think sewing is creating but I also think that when I had the money to buy great designer clothes (Chanel for example) I wouldn't sew. So for me sewing is a necessity because I love garments that are well constructed. When I'm not creative while sewing I usually end up being sad about the garment I've made, because it looks like I've bought it in the store. Then I think it's not worth the trouble!

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  11. I like to think I'm awesomely creative whether I'm making or buying or styling :-)

    Truthfully, there are people who style clothes like it's an art and there are people who make clothes that are (sorry to be unkind) horrible.

    It depends on the scenario. Mind you, a person who makes beautiful clothing and wears it beautifully gets top marks for creativity in my book.

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    Replies
    1. I totally agree - you have to have an "eye" for the creative touches.

      Delete
  12. I've always thought of my sewing self more as an aspiring artisan than artist. But I think it definitely depends on the sewist.

    I'm going to be pondering city dumpsters as a creative medium for some time. =-)

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  13. I would compare shopping and sewing to reading and writing. Reading requires a lot of skills, but it is inherently passive. Like shopping. Writing requires a different use of the same skills as reading, adding a bunch of new, active ones into the mix. I also think that the idea of levels of literacy applies to one's sense of style, and abilities as a sewist.
    Creativity to me isn't just that whole colour and style thing, it's the gritty engineering problem solving side of it too. I am sure if they did one of those brain activity scans on a shopper and a sewist while doign their thing, a lot more bits of brain would be firing in the second one! :)

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  14. I certainly think shopping *can* be creative, in the ways that you mentioned above. However, I think sewing both forces and allows us to be *more* creative - you have much more choice in style, shape, size, texture, colour... and you really have to make those decisions, because the clothes won't just fall into your basket otherwise!

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  15. Ikeahacker.com is pretty darn creative though...readers are really creative in making kea products into something new

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    Replies
    1. Yes, that hack site is great. Taking something basic and re-engineering it into something stylish, more functional, etc. So there is latitude for creativity with Ikea!

      Delete
  16. Most of sewing is craft related. For me that is the most creative. I make vintage aprons, pillowcases, place mats and list goes on and on.
    For me this is the way I feel most creative.
    People love to receive what I make for gifts etc.
    I also sew vintage baby clothing when I feel like it. There are so many embellishments you can buy or make to add some fun to your clothing.

    I also chop up existing clothes for my daughter and re-construct them. I cut out sleeves and add sleeves from another garment.
    Chop off bottoms and add lace, or whatever else she likes. For me this is being really creative with things I already have.

    I also like to create DIY projects out of things that I find at thrift stores. I must admit, I do cheat, I get many ideas off of pinterest or other sites.

    Clothing for myself I just buy. I am not interested in sewing adult clothing. I love, love your pants.

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  17. Isn't this rather and apples vs oranges situation? A person can dress creatively by what they choose (RTW or hand-made--or both) to wear, what accessories they use, and so forth. To me, sewing is about the craft itself. When you make something you have created something whether it's a haute couture suit or a fleece vest. I like some style blogs and some sewing blogs--all grist for the creative mill.

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  18. Peter, you had me mulling over this all morning! I've come back to say: I think any creativity that shopping has, sewing also has. A sewer still has to shop for fabric and patterns before sewing garments...but the sewers creativity doesn't stop with the shopping!

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    Replies
    1. But neither does the shoppers: they have to put an outfit and/or total look together, right?

      Delete
  19. Peter, Cathy needs some more appropriate clothing for dumpster diving !

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  20. Ah, well the biggest insult on Project Runway is always "She's a fine SEAMSTRESS but she's not a DESIGNER."

    When comparing sewing vs. shopping, I don't necessarily think that one is passive (therefore non-creative) and the other is active (therefore creative). There are different ways to shop just as there are different ways to sew. And a lot of the decisions you make while you shop are the same decisions you have to make when beginning a sewing project (fabric, fit, color, design, drape, wearability). A creative person in either arena can pair things together in non-traditional or interesting ways and know how to change, layer, take away, or otherwise manipulate something to make it better --- even if that's just tying a scarf in a certain way or adding a pair of vintage heels to an otherwise casual outfit. Sewing as an ACT actually requires more logic and spatial skills (putting these abstract pieces together in this particular way makes it become what in 3D?). In that way, I don't think sewing is inherently a "creative" act, but many creative people do sew because they enjoy having control over the design process that can come with it.

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  21. I loathe shopping. There is nothing creative in it for me; it is a chore. Even grocery shopping fills me with dread. On the other hand, I know people who love shopping and have a wonderful time putting outfits together and choosing accessories and the like. This is creativity for them. I was driven to sew BECAUSE I hate shopping so much. There is no pleasure for me in buying a $200 pair of pants (unless I got them at the op shop for $2) whereas $200 worth of fabric has my mind abuzz with all sorts of ideas.

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  22. As a practicing architect and fashion sewer I have often thought about how the similar the processes are between creating garments and creating buildings. First you establish a need, you design and refine, imagine colors, textures, shape, and form. You select the material and imagine the details; select doorknobs and buttons, etc.
    They then need to be built or constructed. Whether they are columns, drywall, and tile, or interfacing, lining and fashion fabric, they are both ways of creating three dimensional space and form from two dimensional items. They have foundations, supports, and skins.
    Any finally they are lived in.
    These days I do mostly management at work so sewing is now my major creative outlet, and I get to be my own client.
    And the more I sew my own stuff, the more disenchanted I am with the selection, quality, and fit of the items I find in stores.

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  23. All sewists are creative in that they create garments but style bloggers who create a look out of a few disparate pieces are creative too.
    It's all very subjective. One person's creativity means they go out looking like a storm in a paintbox, another makes perfectly sedate clothes for work. Both are vaild.

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    Replies
    1. There are some bloggers whose premise is "I'm a cute young or youngish girl, watch me wear clothes."

      But if they have taste, style, an understanding of design and fashion history, an interesting way of putting themselves together I'm fine with them.

      Delete
  24. Oh I looooooove your toile trousers Peter.

    This is going to sound incredibly wanky, but I feel more ENMESHED with my clothes when I make them myself. When I reverse-engineer each pattern piece and seam and topstitch row of some designer piece I've realised I can't have unless I get down and dirty and figure out with grunt work and elbow grease how to create myself... once its completed I have this deep, inside feeling of, yes, I know you, and you are mine. I see, I sew, I have. i HAD to create because unless I did, it did not exist in my world.

    Hey, I warned you it was wanky.

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  25. Nice way to frame the topic for discussion Peter, but I can't believe anyone is seriously considering that shopping is more creative than making. I mean, when you are making, you are CREATE-ing something, which I think is a far more meaningful act of CREATE-ivity than choosing among some stuff someone else designed, manufactured, and retailed to you. In one case you are problem solving, building, engaging more deeply with the world, creating. In the other case at the most basic level, you are consuming.

    Its true that just because someone serges up a polyfleece pullover from a pattern, they are not going to suddenly look well dressed. In my opinion though, looking good is a matter of having good taste and a good sense of style. Even though this is a real skill and seeing the choices of others who are good at it is inspiring, "creative" just wouldn't be in the top of my list of adjectives to describe it.

    Is the connoisseur more creative than the creator? I really don't think so. In a perfect world I'd like to wear something I made myself that looks great. Though falling short in perfection, I'd still rather wear something that I made myself than something I bought.

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  26. "I find many of my favorite style blogs as inspiring as my favorite sewing blogs."

    Me, too. No matter how fluent a sewer you are (I'm not), you aren't going to be able to compete with the range of ideas you see in RTW and Couture. In addition to superb pattern makers and sample makers, they have the ability to research museum archives as well as their own collections. They can design their own fabric and notions like trim. Chanel has, or had, a 70+ farmer who as a sideline makes trims for them on hand looms she designed herself.

    Where they can't compete is in fitting. If you have special fitting needs or are particular about the way clothes fit, you can't beat home sewing.

    I don't see the two worlds as in competition. As a home sewer, I'm delighted to see the creativity of the professional fashion world. The only time I'm irked is when the clothes are overpriced for the quality.

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  27. I consider myself a pretty creative person and collecting images of designs and choosing fabrics and notions are the most fun parts of sewing for me. People have complimented me on my color and print sense.

    But my creativity is definitely bounded by my sewing skills, time, and ability to experiment. I try to make only things that I think I would enjoy wearing and would be flattering. Even simple garments require tests. I can't reproduce Lessage embroidery, for example, so I'd be unlikely to select that kind of design. Oh, and don't get me started on people who will show their "inspiration," usually a designer runway image, and their dumbed-down version.

    So very sad.

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  28. Well I know that I personally started sewing because I was dissatisfied by what I could find in shops! I think it's a lil bit about whether you're trying to emulate chain store styles or not, you know? Interesting post, I've been pondering this question more than I care to mention, haha.

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  29. Sewing is creative, shopping not...I would never even dream of putting the two in the same league. Like another reader wrote, apples and oranges, or bananas and kumquats.

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  30. Willy sighting! [To the left of the toile pants]

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  31. The way to combine the creativity of sewing AND shopping is to SHOP at a THRIFT STORE and then JAZZ UP your purchases in some way with SEWING.

    What I LOVE about thrifting is that you can take your purchase and do whatever you want to it, no matter how "haute' the item; it could be a leather jacket, f'r instance. One certainly would be reluctant to cut into and mess around with a leather jacket one had paid FULL RETAIL PRICE for (upwards of $300), but the SAME jacket that once cost $300 retail, found on the hanger at a THRIFT store for, say, $10-$20 (or even LESS) one can 'go to town' on it without remorse or hesitation and make it into something that $1000 wouldn't buy one!

    I find it freeing to not have to sew 'from the ground up' and to be able to freely 'tinker" a ready-made piece of clothing/furniture/what-have you! But, of course, the thing with from-the-ground-up sewing is that all-important FIT issue: if you haven't got 'fit', you haven't got "s--t" when it comes to "chic"! Oh, and POSTURE, too. Someone should tell these so-called "fashion mavens" (Yes, Anna del Russo, I am looking at YOU) that no matter how pricy or how couture the outfit, it looks like an OLD SCHMATTA when one walks about with one's HEAD leading the way!

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  32. Shopping? Well, it can be creative... but it can also be expensive, time-consuming, frustrating, etc. When you find exactly what you want, in the color(s) you want, at a price you're willing to pay, that's luck, considering how long you probably had to look for it. Sewing wins, hands down.

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  33. My hypothesis is that if you could do an MRI or PET scan while subjects are sewing or shopping that the sewist would be using more brain functions. While that may not capture all aspects of creativity I think it could be an indicator. Shopping for an outfit certainly is creative in the way of building a collection and using design sense but sewing also includes that in choice of fabric, trim and pattern modifications.

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  34. Yes sewing is definitely more creative than shopping. I consider shopping to be a immediate gratification or stress reliever. Sewing is more creative and provocative.

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  35. Wonderful post! I love sewing, and I love shopping. I think they are both creative but in different ways.

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  36. Late to the party but whatever! I love shopping and I love sewing. Hmmm I think coming up with a styled outfit and wardrobe takes vision and good understanding of certain principles like proportions etc. Some people are very creatively dressed.Good effective shopping in itself isI like to think a skill. I think sewing is a means to an end. Sewing itself is a skill too. THe creativity comes with pattern interpretation or in designing pattern etc... I read both sewing and fashion blogs but admit I get more creative inspiration from fashion blogs. Seems hard to find sewing blogs that share the same style I like.

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