Book Review: Folk Fashion - Understanding Homemade Clothes

Hello lovelies! Today I'm back with a short and sweet review of a book I finished earlier this week: Folk Fashion - Understanding Homemade Clothes by Amy Twigger Holroyd. I've had the book on my radar for a while and finally purchased it at Ysolda's booth when I was visiting the Edinburgh Yarn Festival in March.

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"Folk Fashion" explores the role and importance making your own clothes can play in our lives and in our society as a whole. "Folk fashion" in itself is defined as "the making and mending of garments for ourselves, family and friends; the items these activities produce; and the wearing of those clothes once they are made."

I was immediately intrigued by the extent the book looks at homemade clothes. Too often (in my opinion) we are only talking about the making part of them, sometimes we include mending, but I've rarely seen such a thorough account of the role altering and wearing homemade clothes can have in a maker's life. Amy takes us from the idea through the creation / alteration / mending stage to wearing our makes out in public and expertly weaves our own experience together with research on sustainability and very interesting case studies.

The entire book is set on fashion being a "good of the commons", something that deeply spoke to my heart as an economist. While it takes a bit of time to wrap your head around what Amy means with "fashion as common land", the essence of the concept is this: "[...] a valuable resource, shared by a community. Within this resource, I see all of the garments in existence - new, old, fashionable and unfashionable. On a more conceptual level, I see every way of dressing throughout history."

Why is this metaphor valuable and important? Because it gives us a concept and understanding of how free or not free we are in our clothing choices - a true good of the commons is accessible to everyone, always; and I think we can all agree that mass industrialization and commoditization of clothes has led to anything but a diverse and accessible "landscape" of fashion.

I also loved how Amy explained the importance of fashion in constructing your own identity. Often, fashion is looked at as frivolous and an indulgence, when, really, it is one of the most profound ways of how you can express yourself and your values - and reconstruct your identity, should you wish to do so.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who's gone through a massive life change and then looked at their closet a while later and felt like the clothes hanging in there just didn't represent who I was anymore!

While the core of the book is the relation between folk fashion and sustainability, I absolutely loved how broad Amy's perspective of the concept of sustainability is. She does not only talk about the direct environmental and social impact of making your own clothes, but also includes well-being, slowing down (both in making and consuming) as well as critical thinking and behavior change in her definition of sustainability. I often think that a sustainable life and business - something that is built to last - comprises a lot more factors than environment and ethics, and I was glad to see such a thorough examination of what sustainability can mean included in the book.

In addition to outlining the myriads of relationships between folk fashion and sustainability and which impact they can have on both our own lives and society as a whole, Amy also shares insights into her Reknitting Project which I found absolutely fascinating. You will have to read the book for a full account of what she did there, but the basic gist is this: A group of volunteer knitters explored ways of reknitting - think mending, altering, adding, subtracting - existing garments from their wardrobe. The way they go about this and the fact that they tackled both homemade and store-bought garments blew my mind. It's also compelled me to look at my own wardrobe and I've already put aside a sweater I'd love to "re-knit" in the future!

Besides the excellent content of the book, I also really enjoyed the way it was written. It's probably not everyone's cup of tea because it is indeed a little bit "scholarly", but that's exactly what I loved. Amy treats the topic of folk fashion with a care and respect and professionalism we rarely see. It was refreshing to read an account of someone who does not only include anecdotal evidence, but looks at hard facts: Amy combines larger scale studies with cleverly chosen case studies and quotes from other makers and the extensive list of resources she's used in writing the book only speaks to the thoroughness of her research.

Overall, I really, really enjoyed this book. It should be a staple on the book shelf for everyone who is active professionally in the "folk fashion" scene - be it designers, publishers or coaches - but I also think it's incredibly interesting for everyone who makes their own clothes. Especially if you enjoy a little bit of critical thinking and evaluation of your own consumption and making behavior!