Posts Tagged 'american-made clothing'

Tuesday Treasures

Sometimes I wonder how a small group of people who refuse to buy a few pieces of clothing from some really big companies makes much of a difference in the giant, global garment industry. But then I remember that, even though it is important to avoid paying money to buy clothes that were made in sweatshops, more than that I am trying to live every day and raise my children in a way that satisfies my own conscience. I know you are, too. So I’ve decided that, every Tuesday, I’ll feature items that are from you. If you’d like to join in the fun, please submit a link to a blog post or pictures of an item or items that:

a) You made yourself.
b) You found at a garage sale, thrift store, or other resale shop (or even something that was given to you!).
c) You bought from a company that makes items in the U.S.A. or uses Union workers.

Make sure to include information on where you got your supplies, where you found the pattern or tutorial for your featured item, or where you bought the item itself, especially if it’s a store or website where we can shop, too. The idea is that we have a whole mess of items to show off that didn’t come from sweatshops in Madagascar or Malaysia. Even if only a few of us participate, we can support and encourage each other in our quest to avoid temptation at the mall.

There. Now that that’s out of the way, here’s my entry for this week:

Saturday morning, two of my best friends and I met for breakfast and then hit the garage sales together. I lost track of how many we went to, but here was my haul:

I spent $11 on these items, total. They include . . .

A “Chicken Scratch” apron and matching pillowcases (for pillowcase dresses? or skirts? or matching aprons for the girls? or just to hold pillows?) for $1 each.

Several vinyl tablecloths for making some Booster Seat Cushions for my two youngest for $0.10 and $0.25 each.

A vintage cloisonne belt for $1.

About 10 yards of knit fabric for $5.

And a bag filled full of zippers, some of them 20+ years old and still in the package, for $0.50. Check out the made-in-the U.S.A. goodness. 🙂

I also found a dress that I actually tried on in Target before I started this whole anti-Target kick. When I tried it on, it was $30. When I found it at the garage sale, in the right size, it was $1. That’s $30 that I didn’t give to a company that uses sweatshops. Not bad.

Anyhow, now it’s your turn. Click on the link below and show me the treasures you made, found, or bought this past week and link back to this post (grab my button or just link directly) so your viewers can join in, too!

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Read-along, Anyone?

As I do more research about sweatshops and labor inequality in the garment industry, I’m finding myself completely overwhelmed by all that is out there. I feel like I don’t have a basis for understanding globalization, what it means for our economy and the economies of the countries where our clothes are made, and what I can do to help change working conditions for people on the other side of the world. A quick search brought up this book:

and since it’s described as “highly readable,” (and it’s less than $20 from Amazon) I decided to give it a go. I’m hoping that, somewhere between finding ways to keep my four kids busy and out of trouble this summer and working to keep my house from being declared a world Superfund site , I’ll get it read. Anyone up for a read-along? A sort of virtual book club? No? Well, if not, I’ll try to give you all a summary of what I’ve read every once in awhile. And if you’re still not all that interested, check out some changes that will be coming to my blog in the coming weeks — more resources on where to buy union-made clothing, more tutorials, and a weekly focus on thrifted and homemade items that features YOU and YOUR stuff. So make sure you stop by tomorrow and every Tuesday to share the pre-loved and handmade items you’ve rescued or created with your own two hands. And whether you’re a regular reader or a first-time visitor to my site, I hope you’ll take some time this week to check out the tags in the clothing you wear. Visit your favorite stores, look at the labels, and take note of where your clothes come from. Ask the salespeople if they know where their stores’ clothes are made and who makes them. And then ask yourself how our biggest companies can produce all of their products outside of the United States, yet still offer rock-bottom prices. The answers, I think, will change the way you shop.

The Summer Necessity Swimsuit Tutorial!!!

Because I had such trouble finding a tutorial on how to make a child’s swimsuit, I decided to write down the steps to make the simple swimsuit I created for my daughter. You can use these same steps to make a suit for your child or even for yourself! This method uses folded-over elastic rather than ribbing, so it really is fast and easy!

So here you go . . .


First, you’ll need a pattern for your swimsuit. I made my pattern by tracing a dance leotard and adjusting it a little by holding it against my daughter.  You could also trace out a swimsuit that fits well (this is the easiest method — seriously, just lay it down and trace it out, stretching the edges so they lay flat), or even head into your favorite store and find a suit you like and “borrow” its shape. If you have absolutely nothing you can use, you can try putting your child in a tank and underwear and tracing out the shape of those items while she’s wearing them, like this:


Only trace out one half of each pattern piece; you will place it on the fold when you’re cutting out your swimsuit. Also, be sure that the length of the sides and the width of the shoulders and crotches are the same for both the front and the back pattern pieces that you make (this width also needs to be around 1.5″ or more to accommodate the elastic when it’s folded over).  You can decide for yourself whether or not to add seam allowances; swimsuit fabric has a lot of stretch, so unless your suit pattern is very, very snug, they’re not really necessary. To be certain your suit pattern will fit well, you might want to make a “muslin” out of an old t-shirt.

Okay, now that you have your pattern, let’s get started!

Here’s what you’ll need:

Swimsuit Fabric (1/2 yard for up to size 6, bigger children will need more fabric)
Swimsuit Lining Fabric (Optional — same amount as swimsuit fabric)
Swimsuit Pattern
Ballpoint Pins (pins for knit fabric)
Elastic (I used 3/8 inch “swimsuit elastic,” and it’s fabulous, but 3/8″ knit elastic will also work)
Rotary Cutter (Optional)

*** Please note; I used a 3/8″ seam allowance for my suit unless otherwise noted, but you are welcome to use one you are more comfortable with; swimsuit material has so much stretch that small changes in seam allowances do not make a big difference. You do, however, want the shoulders and crotch of your swimsuit pattern to be at least 1.5″ wide to accommodate the elastic once it’s folded over.***
***Another quick note: I used lining in my swimsuit, but you don’t have to. If you decide not to, just skip the steps that involve sewing the crotch seam in the lining and basting the lining to the wrong side of the swimsuit fabric.***
***Okay, last note, I promise — Click on any of the pictures below to see them larger.***

1. Lay each pattern out on the fold of the fabric. Swimsuit fabric has 4-way stretch, so it doesn’t matter which orientation your fold is — horizontal or vertical — unless your fabric has a directional print, then you need to make the fold parallel to the direction of the print. I did mine this way to conserve fabric. Cut out the pieces. Because swimsuit fabric is slippery, I like to use my rotary cutter rather than scissors to cut it out because the fabric shifts less.

2. If you are using a lining, lay out your pattern and cut it out as well.

3. Now make sure you have four pieces; a swimsuit front and back and a lining front and back.

4. Sew crotch of swimsuit together, right sides together. Do the same with the lining.

5. Now you have two pieces instead of four. Lay the lining over the suit, matching crotch seams and with wrong sides together.

6. Match the edges all along the suit and lining.

7. Starting at the crotch seam, baste with 1/4″ seam allowance all the way around the whole front and back of the suit and lining. To baste, you turn your stitch length up as high as you can and sew without backstitching. The swimsuit lining will stretch and shift slightly as you baste, but don’t worry; it has a lot of stretch, so feel free to shift and stretch it to match the edge of the swimsuit fabric when you need to. This is a very important step; it will make the rest of your sewing on this project much, much easier.

8. Your suit should now look like this:

9. Now measure around your child’s thigh along her panty line. I just hold the elastic up against her leg rather than using a tape measure. Cut two of these lengths.

10. Stretch each length of elastic across the leg holes against the wrong side (lining side) of the suit, matching sides and centers of elastic strip and leg hole. Pin.

11. Back stitch (sew forward and back a few times) at the beginning of the elastic and leghole. Then strrrreeeeetch the elastic as you sew it just inside the edge of the material using a zigzag stitch (that is no wider than the elastic) or a serger. Be careful to stay inside the edge of the leg hole; you don’t want to miss any of the swimsuit material as you’re stretching and sewing the elastic. Zig zag or serge all the way to the end of the leg hole, stretching and sewing as you go, and back stitch when you reach the end. Do this on both legholes.

12. Your suit’s legholes now look like this:

13. Sew your suit’s shoulders together, right sides together.

14. Measure armhole elastic against your child (place it along where you’d like the armhole to fall) and cut two of these lengths.

15. Pin elastic along armholes as with legholes, matching sides and centers. Sew as before — backstitch, stretch, and sew using a zigzag stitch.

16. Your armholes now look like this:

17. At edge of one armhole, fold elastic over once on wrong side of fabric and pin.

18. Topstitch on right side of fabric using a longer stitch (3+) or a zigzag stitch that’s no larger than the width of the elastic. Stretch the elastic as you sew, just like before. Do this on both armholes and leg holes.

19. Your suit now looks like this:

20. Cut elastic about 1/2″-1″ shorter than the neck opening and stitch it together into a circle.

21. Match centers and sides of elastic circle with centers and sides of neck hole on wrong side (lining side) of suit. I like to put the elastic’s seam at the back of the suit. Sew, as before, by backstitching and stretching as you sew using a zigzag stitch or a serger.

22. Your suit now looks like this:

23. Fold over and topstitch the neck elastic just as you did with the armhole and leghole elastic.

24. Your suit now looks like this:

25. Pin side seams together, right sides together, and stitch.

26. Once side seams are stitched, fold their seam allowances to one side along each seam and pin.

27. Tack these seam allowances down using a few stitches forward and back.

28. It’s helpful to remove the basting around the neckhole (and the armhole and legholes, although this isn’t totally necessary) to allow the material there to fully stretch. If you try to pull the suit on and the openings won’t stretch enough, this is why.


Your finished suit should look something like this:

and this:

Hurray for you! You just made a swimsuit! Now go try it out in the pool!!!

Summer Sewing Necessity: Child’s Swimsuit

My 5-year-old daughter started swimming lessons this week, and I was surprised at her first lesson by how small her swimsuit has gotten. I mean, it’s really small. The straps pull at her shoulders and the bottom doesn’t cover, well, her bottom. Because I don’t buy clothes that were not made in the U.S. (or internationally by a company whose labor practices I trust completely), I couldn’t run out and get one at the mall or Wallyworld. I searched online, but there were slim pickings. And nobody wants to buy a used child’s swimsuit; we all know they pee in those, am I right? So I was left to make one. Gulp. I’ve never made a swimsuit before, and I couldn’t find a pattern for a one-piece at Joann’s. I couldn’t really find a good tutorial online, either. So, I got some fabric, 1/2 yard of swimsuit material and 1/2 yard of lining, and, even though I was honestly scared to try, I went for it. I used a leotard that fits my daughter well for the basic shape and sort of laid the pattern over her to decide where I wanted the armholes and legholes to fall (ie, how much chest and fanny coverage I wanted). It’s really a simple design, because, like I said, I know nothing about making a swimsuit. I just sewed on and folded over elastic on the edges rather than adding ribbing, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.

It has many imperfections, and I spent a good deal of time ripping out errant stitches. She loves it, though, as you can see. Silly girl.

It fits her very well. I didn’t expect it to fit so much better than any of her store-bought swimsuits ever have. I guess that’s what happens when you make something rather than buy it. 🙂

I learned two important lessons from making this swimsuit. First, knit elastic works way better than braided elastic when you’re folding it over on armholes and leg holes. WAY better. Second, you shouldn’t be afraid to try using a new fabric or a new technique. It might not turn out exactly like you wanted it to, but projects are like children; you can’t expect perfection with your first try. 😉

Like this and want to try it yourself? Click to Get the tutorial!!!

Why Buy Fabric When It’s Made Outside of the U.S., Too?

A few commenters brought up some great points in response to my last post. Choosing to make clothes rather than buy those made outside of the United States is all well and good, and it’s definitely cheaper than buying American-made, but what about fabric that was made outside of the U.S.?

The main difference between supporting foreign fabric production and supporting foreign garment production lies in the methods used. First, fabric manufacture, unlike garment manufacture, is highly mechanized with specialized equipment, and very few workers can produce a huge amount of fabric. So, simply because it employs less people, a fabric production facility outside of the United States has less opportunity to exploit workers. Second, because they are required to use complex, computer-guided machines, employees in fabric-production facilities need to be familiar with the operation of the equipment, which usually requires on the job training. In short, workers must be better trained, which usually means that a) employees make a higher wage, even in third-world countries, and b) employers, who often provide training to their new hires, are motivated to protect that investment by retaining their workers. They spend time and money training their employees, then must keep them satisfied enough that the those workers don’t leave and force the employer to spend more time and more money training another new hire. In addition, workers who are already trained and make the decision to move to another facility are more in demand and can thus expect higher pay.

Contrast this system with garment production, which uses a large number of relatively unskilled laborers who are fairly easily replaced. Owners and managers in this industry have little or no motivation to care for their workers’ health or job satisfaction, and often (usually?) don’t. When a garment production company outside of the United States needs to increase profits and/or lessen costs, the workers are often the first to feel the effects.

Now, all that said, I am not saying that fabric production conducted outside of the United States does not exploit its workers ever or at all. Foreign textile producers are not subject to the same workers’ rights laws and safety regulations to which American producers must conform. Workers can still be underpaid, work longer hours, and be exposed to toxic chemicals. Also, machinery itself can be very dangerous. And because the process of fabric production is so automized, hiring fewer workers is possible, but hiring fewer workers means less jobs are available over all.

Some also maintain that when we boycott non-U.S-made garments and the companies that sell them, we are actually hurting the depressed economies that often breed sweatshops. Sure, workers are paid pennies per pair of jeans, but if you don’t buy those jeans, you are, after all, depriving workers of those pennies. And by buying only fabric, we are supporting an industry that seeks to eliminate as many jobs as possible in order to manage costs. And it’s true that not buying a pair of Old Navy jeans keeps a few cents out of the pockets of sweatshop employees. However, the amount it keeps out of Old Navy’s coffers is much, much higher. We’re telling Old Navy to change the way it does business and we’re supporting companies that do business in a way that doesn’t build profits on the backs of exploited workers.

In the end, we really need to ask ourselves what we hope to achieve by boycotting non-American-made clothing. On a surface level, we are avoiding contributing personally to immoral business practices. On a slightly deeper level, we are trying to force companies to limit production to the U.S. because this is the best way to ensure that workers aren’t exploited somewhere in the process. Ultimately, though, it would be wonderful if Walmart, etc. paid even their international manufacturers a fair price for their garments. Then workers outside of the U.S. could benefit from plenty of jobs and better pay. It would also allow U.S. manufacturers to compete in an international market. This kind of thing, though, would mean higher prices in both our department and discount stores, at least until everyone got on board. However, we are willing to pay a little more to ensure that men, women, and children outside of the United States are not suffering so that we can save a few dollars or own ten pairs of jeans. And that is the real strength of this movement; we need to prove to ourselves and to large corporations that we are willing to change our American, sale-oriented mindset. In short, we must be willing to pay more for U.S.-made products. And we need to be willing to make what we cannot find or simply cannot afford.

As far as buying fabric made outside of the United States, it’s no question that there is likely some exploitation inherent in foreign fabric production as well as foreign garment production. However, the fabric production industry’s transgressions are not nearly as egregious or as commonplace as that of the garment industry. By buying fabric, ideally domestic but often necessarily foreign, we still ensure that we don’t support sweatshop-made clothing and we do this in a way that is personally achievable. If you live in an area where domestic clothing is available or find a reputable company that sells domestic clothing over the internet, and you have the funds to pay for it, by all means, please buy it. Support those companies (but do a little googling first to make sure those companies aren’t exploiting immigrants to the United States). However, if you don’t have access to these kind of items or don’t have the cash to cover their cost, you shouldn’t feel guilty about grabbing some fabric and spending a few hours crafting. Foreign fabric production does have the potential to exploit its employees, but you can feel confident that, because of the way fabric is made, you are not contributing to the sweatshop and child labor inherent in the garment industry.

Chaos. Everyday.

Four kids. Two parents. Everyday life. Stop in often for new updates, crafts we've been working on, and a journal of life with four kids age five and under.

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