Naturebound – The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again?) of Self Sufficiency

My mother has an enormous number of skills that she, by and large, keeps to herself. It’s not intentional, it’s more like she assumes that either a) everyone can do that, or b) no one has any interest in doing that. This has been a source of great frustration for me over the years. Example conversation:

Lexy – My university roommate taught me how to knit! Look, I’ve made dish cloths!

Mom – if you wanted to learn how to knit, you could have asked me to! I used to teach knitting at a yarn shop, and I used to sell my Fair Isle sweaters as a side business.

She proceeds to point at an assortment of things around the house she’d made. I have never seen her knit before in my life. Had I been more of sleuth, I might have put two and two together and connected the giant chest of assorted yarns with someone having skill to turn them into things, but no.

If your skill isn’t known to people, they will not know to ask you about imparting it. That’s not an indication of a lack of interest.

My sisters and I have taken to asking my mother directly if she’s done the thing before we begin a new hobby or art type. Doodle got my mom’s leatherworking tools. No luck with bookbinding experience, though she does have the tools to make a book press. Calligraphy? She did her own wedding invitations. Pen and ink drawing? The lady can draw perfectly parallel lines!

And yes, of course she knows how to sew.

Another of her random highly skilled jobs was working for Naturebound (the Kit People). This company is no longer in existence, but in the 80’s, you could purchase kits from them to make outdoorsy clothing. Khakis, down jackets, and an assortment of bags, to name a few. Along with packing and shipping kits, my mother would write the instructions for each kit, and do line art of the pieces and steps to go with it.

The company was sold by its original owner in the late 80’s, and while my mother considered making an offer, she ended up declining. She had me, a second kid on the way and a full time position teaching at this point, and no background in clothing design. I can’t tell you what happened to it after this, as the answer is not on the internet.

From her middle teenage years through to the late 80’s, it had become more and more uncool to make your own clothing. Wearing something that didn’t come from a store was a good way to get bullied at school, and even get comments from other adults in the workplace. It became a point of pride that you had the money to afford to have someone else make your clothing for you. You’re not wasting your own time making it. While she loved the company, she didn’t see a future for something whose sole purpose was encouraging people to make their own clothing.

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">I suspect a huge part of this shift is the shift towards dual income households – who has time to come home and work on your own projects when you've had a full day of work, and still have children to care for. It's the same reason that most people don't have the skills required to build a deck. I suspect a huge part of this shift is the shift towards dual income households – who has time to come home and work on your own projects when you’ve had a full day of work, and still have children to care for. It’s the same reason that most people don’t have the skills required to build a deck.

While I’m not claiming that no one has been making their own clothing since the 80’s, I am saying it fell out of fashion with the rise of fast fashion and cheap machine-made clothing.

I wore a lot of second hand clothing as a kid – and felt an excruciating embarrassment for it in the moment, nothing quite exactly this year’s style. I would have handled clothing made by my mother even more poorly, I am certain.

Adulthood, and the decreasing quality of store-bought clothing, has changed this. I remember the absolute joy of getting that GAP sweatshirt to join the hordes at my elementary school. The excitement of going to the mall with money to spend on clothes with the price tag still on!

Now I just want to have a tee-shirt that isn’t translucent enough to read small font text through it. And, in a more abstract sense, something made by someone who is getting a living wage. My focus is less on “many” and “new” and more on quality. I’m not alone in this, considering how much more easily I can find a pair of eco-friendly locally made sweatpants.

I feel as though something is shifting, and has been for several years. I am very likely late to the game. I don’t know if it’s the internet connecting like-minded hobbyists, the fact that you usually have to layer two women’s tee shirts to achieve translucency, or the crushing weight of consumerism and capitalism, but I feel like home-made is having a great come-back, along with buying second-hand.

Of course, we have the mask making cottage industry making people dust off their old sewing machines. But beyond that, there are so many youtube channels devoted to home-made clothing (and a million other things), pinterest is overrun with blogs and ideas, and enthusiastically responding to a clothing compliment with “I got it second hand!” is almost as common as “It’s got POCKETS!”.

Self sufficiency is in. Reducing waste is in. Reusing is in.

Even without the internet, I know a lot of people who are working on making things for themselves instead of relying on their credit cards, including a man who makes and sells beard oil, and a woman who has several sweaters she’s hand-knit for herself.

My mother has a great many skills that she has been passing down to my sisters and I gradually over our lifetimes. When I expressed an interest in expanding my sewing ability past hemming pants and making masks, with the desire to make my own clothing, she knew just the thing to get me started.

Those boxes of yarn have, since the late 80’s, been neighbours to an assortment of Naturebound kits. Some of the corduroy has dissolved, and everything (but especially the instructions) smells MUSTY, but it’s still good. Wash before use.

Any guesses what my first project was? What projects have you been working on?