A Year Of Wearing Clothing Only Made By Hand

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Getting clothes has never been easier.

You can get any article of clothing you could ever want or need online from your phone or computer, sometimes delivered the same day. But given that ease, it's less likely than ever that you have a hand in making whatever you're wearing.

Could you trade convenience for a wardrobe made up of clothes you made yourself? Carolyn Smith has been doing it since she was a kid.

"I was about 11. It was white t-shirting fabric, and it had pink seagulls printed on it," said Smith, speaking to Charles Monroe-Kane for "To The Best Of Our Knowledge." "Tragically, or maybe not so tragically, I have no photos of myself wearing this dress. Maybe it looked absolutely terrible. I've got no memory. But I do have a strong memory of the fabric, and I suppose if I can remember this fabric so strongly, that it must be I'm a true addict."

That handmade hobby went hardcore for Smith in 2016 — she spent an entire year wearing only things she made. That includes socks, tights, underwear and shoes. The result was a technical challenge to be sure, but after a year of challenging herself to create increasingly ambitious additions to her closet, Smith isn't looking back — it's all about handmade for her, and she thinks we call can do it.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

Charles Monroe-Kane: So what were your rules? What rules did you set for yourself for a year?

Carolyn Smith: Just that I wasn't going to touch anything that I hadn't made by myself for one year. It seems pretty hardcore, and there are times when I was just like, "What the heck am I doing? This is just so crazy." But I've been sewing for myself my whole life anyway, so I had pretty much a full wardrobe of clothes that I'd made for myself — it was really just the shoes that I had to work on.

CMK: Looking at your blog, everyone here asked the same questions: "What about the shoes? How did she make shoes?!?"

CS: Shoes were definitely the most challenging part of the whole year. I didn't have much to go by — we don't have any shoe-making classes or anything like that here in Perth (Australia). We're kind of a bit dinky that way.

CMK: I can't envision how the hell a shoe is made. Can you run through the process?

CS: It depends on the shoe. So it's fairly easy to make a pair of clogs — just get a piece of wood and carve the bottom part of the clog. Make it look like a wooden sole, and then just nail a couple of strips of leather over the top, and you have a shoe.

CS: To make a pair of boots, you pretty much make the upper first. You make that part that will go around your calf, stitch all that together, attach it to a sort of bottom piece that you will shape around your shoe last. You know what a shoe last is?

CMK: Nope.

CS: So a last is like a fake foot, and you will mold your leather or other material around this fake foot, glue it all in place and glue a soul underneath.

CS: For a high-heeled shoe, you would attach the heel last of all — nail it in from the inside.

There's a lot of glue involved, lots and lots of glue. I've heard about some really hard core people who would be like "I'm going to make a shoe and there'll be no glue in it. It'll just be 100 percent hand-stitched." And I would say that's an extremely challenging prospect. I always used massive amounts of glue in my shoes.

CMK: Why did you do this?

CS: It was a challenge. Could I trust my craftsmanship to wear it every day? And I felt like I pulled it off, which was surprising to me.

CS: I haven't bought clothes for a long, long time. But even when I did used to buy clothes, I'd go in and be like "Oh, well I like this but I just wish it was a bit longer," or maybe "I wish it was green instead of blue."

CS: There'd always be something wrong with the thing that I saw. You know, I'm too particular I suppose. I'm way too fussy. I've a very firm idea of what to wear, and I hardly ever see what I want to wear in the shop, so I always try and give it a go at making it myself. I don't think I've worn a ready-to-wear item of clothing even since I've finished the year.

CMK: Are you wearing your own clothes right now?

CS: Yes! I have on a long blue dress — it's the Vogue pattern. A friend had an indigo vat, so we dyed our own linen with indigo, and I made a dress out of my indigo-dyed linen. I'm (also) wearing a pair of lilac shoes I just made fairly recently.

CMK: I have a question there. A bunch of people in the office were certainly inspired by looking at what you made. So I assume there's a number of listeners out there who feel the same. What would you say to our aspiring shoemakers or clothing makers?

CS: I say just give it a go. Just have a go at it. It can be fun. You might just think "Oh, I want a red dress." So you make a red dress. I just love it.

I love the fact that it's both technical — it can be challenging. It's something you do with your brain as well as your hands.

CS: To me it's just a whole thing, and then every time you walk out of the door, you're telling the world a story with what you're wearing.

CS: You're presenting a side of yourself, saying something about yourself with what you wear every day. I just feel so proud when I walk out wearing something I've made myself, and even if I don't tell anyone I made it myself. In fact it's more of a compliment if someone will say to you "Oh, where did you get that dress?"