Forgotten so soon?

In Memorium

I’ve been looking in the sewing and fashion media all week, and seen nothing – NOTHING! – about any memorial, reminder or update to the Rana Plaza disaster on Wednesday, 24 April 2013.

The Guardian has come up, as usual, with some interesting stuff – the April 2017 headline is heartwarming and hopeful – but below it is more dreadful,  dreadful news about the garment industry. Here’s a current link (April 2017).

And lest we think that all is well because we ‘only buy UK made clothing’ or – in the case of my American readers, ‘only US made clothing’, this is no guarantee whatsoever that workers will be treated in accordance with the law or even permitted normal everyday human rights such as freedom of facial expression. Yes, you read that right. A worker was allegedly disciplined for smiling, at a garment factory in the UK.

Of course there are garment factories where workers are treated with dignity and respect, and paid fairly, too. I know someone personally who would go back to a job as a machinist at David Nieper’s factory in Derbyshire like a shot, if she had not moved too far away for her husband’s career, and I am certain there are others.

However, the problems in the garment industry with pay, safety  and workers rights are endemic and universal. Sadly, little has changed fundamentally since the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in 1911 in New York City in 1911.

Here in the UK, wages in the textile industry are, overall, the lowest of all UK manufacturing industries. River Island, New Look, Boohoo and Missguided have recently been accused, in Channel 4’s ‘Dispatches’, of using – allegedly indirectly –  UK factories which pay their workers less than half the statutory minimum wage. Again, a Guardian link.

Such factories should not even exist in this country, the fifth or sixth richest in the world, in the 21st century. Well, they shouldn’t exist anywhere, but …

Sew your own, and take pleasure in so doing. Then wear it with joy. Try to use fabric that would otherwise be discarded – charity/op/thrift shop finds, seconds, ‘mill-ends’ – but don’t agonise over it, as most fabrics (certainly not all, and those marketed as ethical, eco-friendly  and/or organic are not always quite what they seem, sadly … )  are produced in decent-enough conditions, by hard-hatted and white-overalled technicians operating sophisticated, expensive machinery,  rather than semi-skilled labour.

When you buy clothes, whether from a big name, a supermarket or a small boutique, be aware that gross violations of workers’ rights can be – and are – found in almost every country, factory, workshop or living room in which garments are made.  The differences between what might be termed  high street or mainstream brands and  retailers are not so marked as to in any way justify buying from one instead of another. Look for brands which are open and transparent about their manufacturing locations,  auditing processes and attitudes towards trades unions. A brand wishing to appeal to the more responsible consumer will provide such information on its website – but of course you have no idea how much of it is true.

The Ethical Trading Initiative, the Clean Clothes Campaign and Labour behind the Label will all give you more information.

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CHILD LABOUR

Made in Turkey

We’ve all read the news reports and seen the Panorama  and other TV investigations and exposees showing the horrendous conditions in garment factories in the Indian subcontinent. We probably then looked at the labels in our clothes and were happy when we saw ‘Made in Turkey’ thinking something on the lines of ‘Well, at least it’s better than Bangladesh, Turkey even wants to join the EU – they can’t be that bad …’

Now it comes closer – much closer – to home.

The kids who have to sew to survive

Charity sewing – dresses

Fabrics

I’ve been enjoying myself hugely the past couple of weeks, with mountains of lovely fabric to cut and sew into  simple, easy peasant dresses for girls.

fabrics
Mountains of lovely cotton!

Above are the three lovely fabrics I mentioned in my last post – a useful soft blue chambray, a vibrantly-crimson Rose and Hubble marble effect poplin, and a beautiful silky lightweight daffodil-yellow twill. The first two were one-off specials from the lovely Kath and daughter Janet, of Kath’s Fabrics on Preston Market, and the third a clearance offer from a specialist shirting wholesaler.

The old style of ‘pillowcase dresses’ are,  thank goodness, losing favour for impoverished girls in the third world.  I always thought they looked very dodgy myself, and apparently there have been some instances of people using old worn-out actual pillowcases to make ‘dresses’.

Yuk! I cannot accept that these were made with good intent, unless they were made by someone with intellectual or psychiatric issues. 

There’s no good reason to make clothing that we wouldn’t be happy to see worn by a child of our own family in a similar climatic and cultural environment.

Bright, clean and pretty fabrics – unworn! – are surely what should be used, and these need not be expensive to buy if a little time can be invested in the search for them. In any case, why not make the task as pleasant as possible for yourself, too? I’ve loved sorting through my remnants to find fabrics and trims which co-ordinate, contrast or tone with the main fabrics, putting together colour and pattern combinations which please my eye and which I hope will please the eye of a girl far distant from me.

Dress styles

When I read Jacqui’s (Jacqui Onslow, from DAGAW UK) request in her response to me – ‘Please, no pillowcase dresses’ – I thought that perhaps here was an appropriate and worthwhile outlet for the lovely cotton fabrics pictured above. 

Jacqui mentioned that peasant dresses were popular – ‘nice roomy ones’, she wrote – and this gave me a good excuse to indulge in some of my favourite reading. I LOVE costume and clothing history!

There are several different types of peasant-style, or rather, so-called peasant style, dresses from different parts of the world. They all have a few important things in common – they’re easy to make, fit and to wear, are designed so as to not be physically restrictive, and they offer a degree of coverage that makes them ‘respectable’ in societies where this was, or still is, important.  

The first batch of dresses I’ve sewn are a bog-standard style, with an elastic or drawcord gathered neckline, a roomy bodice and full ‘puff’ sleeves, simply cut in a way that gives a raglan effect. It’s similar to the Carmen or gypsy style blouse,  popularised in the 1930s and 40s by the film star Carmen Miranda. The Carmen style, however, is an off-the-shoulder look, which these little dresses most assuredly are not! 

The first five finished dresses are in the picture below – the other dozen or so still await their elastic or their drawcords!

dresses
The first five dresses – the first five of many!

Sleeves, pockets and, in some cases, hem bands, are sewn from contrasting or toning cotton remnants I’ve saved from dressmaking and craft projects over the years, or which have been given to me by kind friends, acquaintances and the ever–generous Kath and Janet.

I’m making these to fit 4 – 10 year olds approximately. I tried one of the smaller ones on a neighbour’s tiny, slight 5yo, and it was big, but not unfeasibly massive, on her, so I think my sizing is probably OK. Really, most of them are the same size, just with slightly different armhole cut-outs, neckline elastic/drswcord lengths and total dress length. I’m putting elastic in most of the sleeves, but not all of them.

Each one should fit a child for at least a couple of years, as children grow upwards much more than they grow outwards between toddlerhood and puberty.  So if it’s a few inches too long when a child gets it, it’ll be a few inches too short a few years later, and about right for most of the time in between, I hope.

This style of dress, tunic or top is very quick and easy to make. There are umpteen different, easy-to-follow, free, tutorials, diagrams and downloads available, although I drafted my own pattern, and it can be embellished as elaborately as you like, so could even be made, in the right fabric, and perhapswith a wide sash,  for a special little girl’s First Communion or  bridesmaid dress.

This first batch aren’t embellished or ‘fancy’ in any way, but a neighbour heard what I was doing (the village grapevine flourishes!) and came over with a carrier-bag FULL  of lovely, quality, braids, piping, ric-rac and other goodies last week, so who knows what the next batch will be like!

Musings on fabric and sewing

(In case you’re wondering, my conversation with Consumer Advice re opening of patterns purchased on-line is still ongoing and so I am not yet ready to post anything. WRT objectively faulty or misdescribed patterns, whether purchased online or in person, please see my earlier post  here)

Me

When it comes to the crunch, I’m retired with a small pension, and I don’t actually need to work if I live in a reasonably-frugal, but not uncomfortable, way.

I could sit on the sofa and eat bon-bons all day if I wanted – but then I’d be the Enormously-Obese Lady who does nothing, not the Fat Lady who sews. No, not a good idea.

Why I sew

I sew because I enjoy sewing for its own sake – I revel in the ingenuity of the machinery, for one thing! and a ruffler attachment delights me – as well as to fulfil creative urges. I love fabrics of all sorts and enjoy the hunt for lovely ones almost as much as actually finding them – being retired, I have the time to do this, and being in Lancashire I often find sources, and surprises, almost on my doorstep.

Oh, and I sew because it’s often easier, faster and cheaper for me to sew for myself than it is to buy clothing that fits, that I like, that is of decent quality AND which comes from an acceptably-ethical-to-me source.

Why I buy so much fabric …

Add to the last two paragraphs above, the indisputable fact that the Fat Lady cannot resist a bargain, and what do you think happens when she lights on Egyptian cotton, soft as silk and almost as drapey, or a pure natural linen, or a wool gauze, and finds out they cost £1 – £3 per metre?

Or sometimes even less per metre when she asks ‘How much is left on that bolt?’ and on being told, says ‘How much for the whole thing?’ 

What do you think happens when she comes across designer curtaining/light upholstery fabric  – which you might find in Milan, London, Tokyo or Dubai for £100 or more per  metre – for £3 – £8 per metre?

Well, let’s just say that all my friends have very expensive-looking curtains and sofa cushions, and I have unending piles of highest-quality bedlinen …

I also have cupboards, drawers and shelves piled ridiculously high – even unmanageably high! – with fabric. The tipping point came recently when I was offered the following three 100% cotton fabrics in quick succession: 

  1. a traditional denim-blue chambray, 150 cm wide at £1/m 
  2. a bright red Rose & Hubble poplin, 114 cm wide at £2/m
  3. an Egyptian-grown, UK-woven, very high threadcount, but lightweight (110 gsm),  shirting/light dressweight single twill, 90 cm wide at £3/m.

All three fabrics are high-quality examples of their type. The shirting twill, in particular, is of a quality very hard to find nowadays at any price, let alone at £3/m!

So I bought 10 metres of each fabric, and then wondered what to do with them – and with all my other fabrics, too.

… and what should I do with it?

I suppose I could sell the fabrics, perhaps via Etsy or Ebay, but you know what? I can’t be arsed. If I wanted to earn money selling fabric, I’d ask my favourite market trader if she wanted to employ me occasionally.

Could I make things ‘on spec’ to sell – to a boutique, at a craft fair or on Etsy or Folksy? Well, I could – I’ve done it before – but do I want to? The answer to that, at least at present, is a big, fat ‘NO’.

I cut three metres off the chambray to keep for myself – I have a Burda pattern in mind, for which I think it will be ideal – and then, after overlocking all the newly-purchased fabric’s raw edges and putting it in the washing machine, I consulted Mr. Google, where I found

Dress a Girl Around the World UK

which delivers new, handmade cotton dresses (and shorts for boys) to projects for impoverished children in some of the poorest parts of the world. The website was a bit vague and not really up-to-date, so I contacted them through the website’s contact form, and received a prompt response. The UK organiser, Jacqui Onslow, visits Uganda regularly, as she is a trustee of an educational charity over there, and institutions and projects elsewhere are supported, too.

Well, there’s a bit of religion involved, apparently, which I have to say I’m very much opposed to on principle, but as I’m a pragmatic person and don’t particularly want to do voluntary work in rural sub-Saharan Africa myself, I’m glad that other people do. I know a university lecturer in nursing who regularly helps deliver modern nursing education in one of the poorest countries in the world; he’s never struck me as ‘religious’, so I was very surprised to learn that his and his colleagues’ efforts are sponsored by  – I think – the Church of Scotland.

Personally I think it’s abhorrent that religion – in one guise or another – is so often an accompaniment to the provision of basic education, infrastructure  and healthcare, but it’s even more abhorrent that corrupt governments and politicians accumulate vast wealth at the expense of  poor folk who must suffer and die prematurely, illiterate, hungry and diseased, in squalor. So I’ll turn a blind eye to any bits of preachifying which might creep in here and there from good folk doing their bit to help. Count me out of any hallelujah praise the lord type of thing, though!

Anyway, I’m now making dresses for little girls. I can’t think of a better use for most of my cotton fabrics – can you?

More soon, when I’ve taken photos. Although I say it myself, some of them are very cute!

Consumer Advice – Confusing Advice?

Confused-Cat-Meme-2

Paper pattern puzzlement

I received a reply on Tuesday from Consumer Advice to a further question about my legal rights when I buy a paper sewing pattern. Sadly, not from the helpful Daniel, who seemed to understand what I was asking about, and translated nigh-incomprehensible legalese into an easily-understandable answer to my question. Instead, it came from someone who was, I am sure, trying to be helpful, but who seems to have just quoted what I can only assume are the relevant paragraphs of the applicable law. I am not unintelligent, but I simply do not understand what it means.

I have tried for four full days to untangle the answer to my question from within the email response I received, but I simply cannot. So, I am going to have to ask again, and rephrase my question. And hope that the helpful and understandable Daniel gets to answer me!

In the meantime, then, to more interesting things …

Fabric delights.

I was feeling annoyed at someone today, so took myself off to buy fabric in the nearby city; my favourite stall on the open market – a fabric stall, of course – is always manna to the soul, and never more so than today.

‘I know what you’ll like’ said the proprietor, ushering me round to one side. ‘Look, I’ve got three bolts of this. I’m sure it was a mistake, it shouldn’t have been in the junk bin at the wholesalers! But it was. So …’

It is the loveliest, silky-soft, highest quality, light dress weight/medium shirting weight, 100% cotton, high thread count chambray in a perfectly-traditional mid denim blue.

I bought some – actually, I bought quite a lot. I have a couple of summer dress patterns I’ve toiled already, but it’d make wonderfully-soft summer pj tops, a perfect shirt, or a cool, drapey, gored or panelled skirt. It’d also make simply glorious, luxurious bedlinen.

I also picked up a couple or three metres of a high-cotton-content polycotton in a turquoise polkadot, at just £1.50/m, and was given a small piece – just under a metre – in a powder-blue polkadot by the stall-holder.  Then I walked down to another shop, and brought back several pieces of colourful, unususl cotton prints.  These – and probably some of the chambray, too, are all for a charity project in which I hope shortly to become involved. All the fabrics – bar the chambray – are currently drying on the rack outside, having gone through a good hot wash.

I am so lucky where I live – fabrics galore within easy reach!

FAULTY OR MISDESCRIBED PAPER SEWING PATTERNS

CONSUMER ADVICE

My advice – OPEN your paper pattern as soon as you get it home, and check it as thoroughly as you can.catsew

As I mentioned in my previous post, I wrote to Consumer Advice – an arm of the much-respected Citizen’s Advice.

I’ve received a very helpful, informative and positive reply from them, in which they encourage me to disseminate the information they have provided among the hobby dressmaking community. There is more – considerably more! – than I have written below – several posts’ worth! – but I wanted to get this first valuable piece of information out there pronto.

I do want them to expand  further on a couple of matters so I need to compose my query with examples – these people aren’t sewers, after all!  In my email to them regarding the right of refund for faulty patterns, I mentioned missing or mislabelled pattern pieces as faults I have personally experienced, and also told of a not-entirely-fictitious situation where a skirt pattern was described as sitting at the natural waist – but was actually drafted to sit on the hip – and had a finished garment measurement at the putative ‘waist’ significantly larger than the one stated, clearly demonstrated by flat pattern measuring. 

Question

What are my rights in law if a paper pattern I buy from a UK retailer is faulty or misdescribed, given that I am unable to, or prohibited from, inspecting the pattern prior to purchase? (Examples given of faults and misdescription as above) Pattern retailers almost all state that refunds or returns are not permitted once the envelope has been opened.

Response from Consumer Advice

*** please note the information below applies to ENGLAND AND WALES. If you are not in England or Wales, you MUST check locally ***

Dear Ms FatLady

With reference to blah blah We understand that blah blah and you wish to know blah blah …

Faulty and misdescribed goods

The situations you have described would fall into this category. 

Where goods are faulty or misdescribed, your rights are not affected by whether you bought in-store or online. Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, all goods supplied by a trader to a consumer must be of a ‘satisfactory quality’ – among other requirements, they should be free from faults and be fit for the purpose they were made for.
Goods should also match any description that was provided.

If the goods do not meet these requirements, then you have 30 days to reject the goods and ask for a full refund.  

The fact that the goods have been opened would not prevent you from pursuing … the above remedy – the law allows for the need to open and inspect the goods before any problem can become apparent.

Yours sincerely

Consumer Advice 

(my bold and my italics)

*** please note the information above applies to ENGLAND AND WALES. If you are not in England or Wales, you MUST check locally ***

Caveat venditor

The long evolution of consumer protection

 … has its most recent triumph in the UK in the Consumer Rights Act 2015. The buyer is  protected – by law and in law – during, and after, the purchase of goods.

Caveat venditor, which means ‘let the seller beware’, now guides consumer transactions. Caveat emptor – let the buyer beware – has been turned on its head.

The Consumer Rights Act 2015

This Act details and codifies the rights and protections available to the consumer, and the responsibilities of the trader. You can find it here. It includes, and strengthens, much old legislation , and adds entirely new levels of protection. Both Which? and Citizen’s Advice have helpful articles on it.

In brief, it makes the seller responsible for problems that the buyer might encounter with a service or a product, and prohibits the seller from making any statements, contracts or conditions which place the buyer at an unfair disadvantage,

After thoroughly reading the Act, and various on-line commentaries on it by legal experts, I not only had a headache and the sense that the formerly-free-flowing channels of my brain had been stuffed with cotton-wool, I had also come to the firm belief that retailers in the UK DO NOT have the law on their side in their blanket refusal to accept returns of a paper sewing pattern where the envelope has been opened for inspection, leaving the pattern itself undamaged and unmarked.

On Sunday afternoon last, I emailed a query about just this matter to  ‘Consuner Advice’, an arm of Citizen’s Advice. I am told I may need to wait up to 5 business days for a response from a trained or qualified advisor; I await this response with eager anticipation!
In the meantime, some thoughts.

PAPER SEWING PATTERNS ARE ‘GOODS’

PatternCollage
other brands are available, of course!

They are tangible, non-perishable, mass-produced items. A pattern, like any other such item sold  by a trader, must be fit for purpose and ‘as described’. If a skirt pattern is described as ‘sits at natural waist’ and ‘to fit waist measurement 90cm’, when cut out according to the pattern and made up as instructed, it should not have a waist of 100cm and leave a person with a 90cm natural waist naked from the waist down to … to wherever it slides to.  If it does, the pattern is at fault. It is either technically incorrect, or wrongly described.

I can quickly recognise these types of all-too-common errors when I examine the printed pattern, but the policies of almost all UK pattern-retailers would suggest that I cannot return this faulty or not-as-described pattern because I have opened the envelope to look at it. Not being able to look at a purchase puts me at a grave disadvantage, and for the seller to do this is contrary to the law.

The novice sewer – and there are many – buys a pattern expecting that it to be technically correct and accurately described. Why shouldn’t it be? Isn’t that what the buyer has paid for? When it falls around her ankles, or squeezes him like a tube of toothpaste, s/he will recheck their body measurements, and the measurements provided on the pattern envelope, then blame themself rather than the pattern.

kitten-sewing-thread
awwwwwww!

 

Of course, realistic expectations are needed!

No normal person would expect the result on the left from the sewing pattern below … would they?

cat pattern again
sew your own kitten

          

 

 

 

 

HOW CAN YOU BE AN INFORMED CONSUMER / PATTERN BUYER?

This is difficult in the currently-existing situation, if you want to use a printed paper pattern. 

All  the major pattern retailers – online and bricks-and-mortar – attempt to limit (I believe illegally), the buyer’s right to recourse or refund. (please someone correct me if they know of one which doesn’t). 

Burdastyle, which sells only Burda products, including paper patterns, offers 90-day returns on all its products, provided they are unused, undamaged, and in the original packaging.

In all events, I suggest  careful perusal of reviews on sites such as PatternReview.com  (registration – free – required), sewing blogs, or asking friends who sew for recommendations. Be aware that, for various reasons, many pattern reviewers will only say nice things about even the most horrid patterns. If you’re a larger person, the Curvy Sewing Collective carries honest reviews of a limited number of patterns, and if you’re a cynic who despises sycophants, give GOMI a chance if you can cope with often-brutal honesty and occasional bad language.

I do recommend buying from a local independent business, if possible. The pattern will cost exactly the same wherever you buy from, and the only times – all two of them! – in sixty years of sewing when I’ve actually seen inside a pattern envelope before paying for it, have been in small independent shops! 

 

DOWNLOADABLE SEWING PATTERNS

I’ve not even touched on digital, print-at-home patterns. Digital products are covered for the first time in the new Act, and the sale of digital sewing patterns has exploded in the past few years, along with the Indie pattern-makers and sellers, some of whom have high-quality, innovative products, and others … not so much.

I feel, though, that they are an odd hybrid beast – they are not purely digital as they are of no use until they are printed onto paper, at which point they become tangible and concrete, assuming no digital problems arise. I think they’re a discussion not just for another day, but for another month or more – after I’ve received a response from Consumer Advice, perhaps.

More soon